Weeki Wachee Springs, or how I learned to love mermaids.

Writing a blog makes travel more interesting–if we find something fun, that’s great.  If we find something horrendous, I have something to write about.  This has made me a connoisseur of tourist traps of all varieties.

This week we went to Weeki Wachee Springs, a 67 year old roadside entertainment that falls into the category of “so bad it’s good”.  We had a great, strange, time.

Weeki Wachee was opened in 1947, the same day Kukla Fran and Ollie premiered.  The big deal was the mermaid show–swimmers in a lagoon who are getting air pumped into tubes they can suck on .  The seating is below water level, and there are huge windows into the lagoon.

The list of “famous” people who have visited includes Elvis, Don Knotts, Arthur Godfrey and Larry the Cable Guy.  With a distinguished honor roll like that, how could we not go to visit?

The place does a good business, I guess, but you couldn’t prove it by us. First off, we decided to go on a Monday in early December, in the rain.  There was no worry about beating the crowd:

In the parking lot, getting out coats and hats.  Notice the vast emptiness behind the girls--no problem finding a parking space.

In the parking lot, getting out coats and hats. Notice the vast emptiness behind the girls–no problem finding a parking space.

The joint was deserted. In the summer there is a large water park, but it was sensibly closed for the season.

We paid our $13 entry fee, and strolled in. The girl selling tickets said they had sold 27 tickets that day. No security lines, no security at all.

Decor is what you might expect. A large turtle in the first pond we saw:

Okay, it's plastic.  No food or vet bills that way.

Okay, it’s plastic. No food or vet bills that way.

You got a mermaid theme, you need to have mermaids everywhere:

Not quite like the one in Copenhagen harbor.

Not quite like the one in Copenhagen harbor.

We were hungry, but had not stopped elsewhere so we could have the full Weeki Wachee experience. Therefore, our first stop was the Mermaid Galley Restaurant.

I had the corn dog (classic theme park food, I should think), everyone else had burgers.  There was an order of fries, and an order of the chili cheese fries.  This is not a gourmet operation:

The Guide Michelin won't be calling.

The Guide Michelin won’t be calling.

My expectations were not low enough.

Following our afternoon repast, we headed for the wild animal show.  There we found the other customers of the park, and had a very pleasant, intimate show:

Why sit in the stands in the rain when you can get right up close and near cover?

Why sit in the stands in the rain when you can get right up close and near cover?

The “show” (at least in the rain, for 9 or 10 of us) consisted of a very knowledgeable and personable young man presenting a few reptiles he is raising and maintaining for the park.  We had a wonderful opportunity to get right up close with them, to ask him anything we wanted and to actually learn a bit.

The stage where all this was presented was beyond tacky and hideous, but who cares?  We had a good time.

Next up was the big mermaid show.  When this place was built in 1947, the lagoon theater seated 18 people.  Then it was expanded to 50, now it holds about 300.  You go down a flight of stairs and are sitting perhaps 15 to 20 feet below water level, watching through large windows.  The performers come up from a hidden entry, and are carrying their individual air hoses, which they switch on and off as needed.  Being a mermaid is a major honor in west Florida.

The show is a retelling of the Hans Christian Andersen tale of the Little Mermaid, who longs for legs.  The Evil Sea Hag gives her legs but takes her voice in return.  The mermaid falls in love with a human, who fights the Sea Hag and gets the mermaid’s voice back for her.  Everybody lives happily ever after, The End.  Not a heavy drama, but this isn’t Broadway.  It’s enough of a plot to amuse the children and move the action along for a 25 minute show.

 

The show was fine. Everybody liked it, no tears were shed, the Little Mermaid and the Prince got married.  The swimming was excellent, the girls were pretty, the music was loud.  What more can you expect?

After the big show, we went on the river cruise.  20 minutes up and back on the Weeki Wachee Spring, we saw birds and trees and fish.  The spring is fed by the deepest know fresh water cave system in the US, 407 feet down.  Overall, this may have been the best part of the day.

Cypress tree covered in Spanish Moss

Cypress tree covered in Spanish Moss

The water is perfectly clear and the “river” is only 3 feet deep.

Nothing hidden on the bottom of this river.

Nothing hidden on the bottom of this river.

I love oddball tourist attractions, and this is about as oddball as they come.  If you are ever on the west coast of Florida, just north of Tampa, don’t miss it.  But eat before you go–the food is pretty bad.

On the way out of the park, we saw one more mermaid.

weekiwachee-162

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