Weeki Wachee is a classic Florida tourist attraction. Before theme parks dominated the area, underwater acrobatics lured people from all over the world to this unique destination.
The history of Weeki Wachee began in 1946, when Newton Perry purchased the land with the idea of starting a new business. “Weeki Wachee” means “little spring” or “winding river” according to local Seminole Indians. It’s actually not that little, though; it is the deepest known freshwater cave system in the United States. Every day, over 117 million gallons of water flow out from the caverns below. The water is crystal clear and stays a constant 74 degrees year round.
The History of this Beloved Florida Attraction
Perry decided that Weeki Wachee would be the perfect place to create his vision. He cleaned out the spring, which had been filled with old cars and refrigerators, and invented a method of breathing underwater from a free-flowing air hose supplying oxygen from an air compressor. Perry also built an 18-seat theater into the limestone six feet below the surface, so visitors could look directly at the mermaids and into the spring.
Next, Perry hired pretty girls and trained them to swim in the strong currents and to use the air hoses he’d made. The girls also learned how to drink and eat underwater and how to perform synchronized aquatic ballets. The first mermaid show at Weeki Wachee was performed on October 13, 1947. Over the years, the mermaid shows grew in popularity. Movies were filmed at the spring and celebrities like Elvis Presley stopped by to see the mermaids.
Then, in 1959, American Broadcasting Co. (ABC) purchased the spring. That’s when things really took off! They built the current underwater theater, which seats 400 people. They also developed more themes for the shows that included music, storylines, and elaborate props. The Weeki Wachee mermaids performed eight shows a day and were treated like royalty everywhere they went.
Weeki Wachee Today
In 2008, Weeki Wachee became a Florida State Park. Nowadays, visitors can kayak or canoe on the Weeki Wachee River, experience thrills on Buccaneer Bay’s water slides, picnic under a covered pavilion, take a river boat tour, and of course, see a mermaid show.
The river boat ride is fun, and the guide tells guests about the local plants and animals in the area as well as some of the parks history. It’s not a long ride, but it’s informative and being out on the clear blue water was awesome.
Buccaneer Bay opened in 1982. It has four water slides, three of which drop you off in the spring. There is also a white-sand beach and an area where you can rent an inner tube and float along lazily. The kiddos will love Lil’ Mates Caribbean Cove, a water play area and wading pool for kids six years and younger. Unfortunately, Buccaneer Bay is not open during winter months.
The main attraction, however, are the Weeki Wachee mermaids. They perform multiple shows a day and with different themes. During our visit, we saw the “Wonders of Weeki” show. It was exciting to sit in the underwater theater! When the music started playing and the curtains went up, it was incredible to see mermaids swimming on the other side of the glass. They performed to different songs and even had a few costume changes. It was such a fun show!
Not many people can say they’ve seen a real live mermaid. But that’s exactly what you’ll get to say after visiting Weeki Wachee State Park. It’s one of the best things to do in Central Florida, whether you’re traveling in the area with kids, or you’re just a big kid at heart.
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