Dancing, Dazzling in the Deep
Seventy years on, Weeki Wachee mermaids still mesmerize
Gorgeous and gliding, streamlined and stunning, beautiful and balanced. Those are just a few of the ways to describe the lovely mermaids who dazzle audiences every day of the year at Weeki Wachee Springs State Park in Spring Hill, about 50 miles north of Tampa. While swimming underwater, the mermaids perform ballet moves synchronized to music, all to an audience in a 400-seat theater. The mermaids swim 16 to 20 feet below the surface in the basin of the springs, which is actually one of the deepest naturally formed springs in the United States.
While Weeki Wachee Springs State Park offers a range of things to do, such as enjoying Buccaneer Bay Waterpark, taking riverboat rides and watching wildlife shows, it’s the mermaids that really offer something out of the ordinary. “This is the only mermaid show of its kind in the world, as our venue is unique,” explains John Athanason, marketing and public relations manager of the park.
The Weeki Wachee mermaids have been performing since 1947, when roadside attractions were meant to “Wow!”—much like the GatorWorld Parks of Florida in Wildwood and the Coral Castle in Homestead. By the 1950s, Weeki Wachee was actually one of the nation’s most popular tourist attractions. After all these years, it’s still a popular place to visit, and the park recently celebrated its 70th anniversary.
What the mermaids do is no small feat, considering they perform while wearing fish tails, and swim in a strong current in 74-degree water.
The mermaids are underwater for their entire 30-minute shows, as they breathe through hand-held air hoses. The process was created in 1946, by the founder of Weeki Wachee Spring’s underwater theater, Newton Perry. He was a former U.S. Navy man who trained naval frogmen to swim underwater in World War II.
What the mermaids do is no small feat, considering they perform while wearing fish tails, and swim in a strong current in 74-degree water. Their shows are The Little Mermaid, held Monday through Friday, and Fish Tails, on Saturday and Sunday.
Many come to see the mermaids again and again. “Every performance is a little different,” Athanason says. There are slight variances in the performances, and appearances by wildlife sometimes occur. “The guests really love when the natural wildlife are present during a show, especially when the turtles or manatees interact with the mermaids,” he adds.
Weeki Wachee mermaids are also very accomplished out of the water. A hobby of Fort Lauderdale native Kristy (top left) is playing the flute. Emily (top right) hails from Pataskala, Ohio, and wants to be an archaeologist. At right, Katie, who is from Brooksville, is fluent in German.
Vintage photos of Weeki Wachee mermaids, who started performing in the 1940s.