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Weeki Wachee Springs

Day Tripping to Weeki Wachee Springs

| Jodi Schwarzenbach |

If you are looking for a day trip that leaves you wondering if you are still in Florida, put Weeki Wachee Springs State Park on your calendar.  Located just a couple hours from Sarasota, packing up the family for a day of fun and being home by sunset is completely doable.  Best part is soaking up the incredible natural scenery and peering into waters as clear as they get.  Second best part, there may be mermaids involved.

The Clearest Water

On our visit to Weeki Wachee Springs State Park, we were strictly there for a morning of kayaking in the springs that we had heard so much about.  Rumblings of “beautiful” and “super clear water” did not even begin to describe the beauty of the surroundings.  Choosing a tandem kayak for the day, my husband and I set out for a couple of hours of true amazement.  The bubbling of the water was an instant draw as we were given a quick push from the launch area into our adventure.  The appealing clinking sound of the water over rocks and the kayak over the water had a very calming effect.  And, of course, peering into crystal clear water took your breath away.  It was shallow in some areas compared to depths that appeared close but were deceiving when putting the paddle down to check.  The temperature felt nice on legs that had been warming in the sun.  The current made paddling downstream very easy, and a bus waits for you at the other end to drive you and your rented kayaks back to your parking lot. 

The Under/Over Views

Under the water you could see gentle grass ebbing and flowing with the current like synchronized singers.  Fish of many different species could be seen traveling in schools that were mesmerizing to watch.  Rocks and sand mixed with deeper pockets of sparkling water kept the eyes scanning the distance to bank more beautiful memories.   Just when we thought it could not get any better, another kayaker pointed out a mother manatee swimming just below the surface.  We were so caught up in the moment, the thought of capturing it with a camera evaded everyone. The graceful manatee once again reminded us that there is a certain peaceful way in which creatures and plants of the spring move.  Nothing hurried or erratic allowed.  It is all a seemingly choreographed dance.  Though we looked, we never caught sight of the baby manatees that were said to be trailing the mama.   Above water, the senses were also delighted with birds and turtles, all types of flora and fauna and natural beachy areas where the sun would dazzle off of shallow pools of that crystal clear water.  The blue skies and fluffy white clouds overhead made interesting shadows on the water for an overall senses’ explosion of the best kind.

Weeki Wachee Springs

What Else is There to Do

Though we were all about the water on our day trip to Weeki Wachee, the real star of the show is the mermaids.  Known for “real” mermaids entertaining guests for 75 years now, the mermaid show is something locals treat all visitors to.  In addition, there is a waterpark with great slides for added fun.  From the website: 

“Weeki Wachee” was named by the Seminole Indians. It means “little spring” or “winding river.” The spring is so deep that the bottom has never been found. Each day, more than 117 million gallons of clear, fresh 74-degree water bubbles up out of subterranean caverns. Deep in the spring, the surge of the current is so strong that it can knock a scuba divers mask off. The basin of the spring is 100 feet wide with limestone sides and there, where the mermaids swim, 16 to 20 feet below the surface, the current runs a strong five miles an hour. It’s quite a feat for a mermaid to stay in one place in such a current. Flowing from the spring, the Weeki Wachee River winds its way 12 miles to the Gulf of Mexico. NEWTON PERRY

In 1946, Newton Perry, a former U.S. Navy man who trained Navy Frogmen to swim underwater in World War II, scouted out Weeki Wachee as a good site for a new business. At the time, U.S. 19 was a small two-lane road. All the other roads were dirt; there were no gas stations, no groceries, and no movie theaters. More alligators and black bears lived in the area than humans.

Sadly, the spring was full of old rusted refrigerators and abandoned cars. The junk was cleared, and Newt experimented with underwater breathing hoses and invented a method of breathing underwater from a free-flowing air hose supplying oxygen from an air compressor, rather than from a tank strapped to the back. With the air hose, humans could give the appearance of thriving twenty feet underwater with no breathing apparatus.

Submerged six feet below the water’s surface, an 18-seat theater was built into the limestone so viewers could look right into the natural beauty of the ancient spring.

Newt scouted out pretty girls and trained them to swim with air hoses and smile at the same time. He taught them to drink Grapette, a non-carbonated beverage, eat bananas underwater and do aquatic ballets. He then put a sign out on U.S. 19 that read: WEEKI WACHEE. And on October 13, 1947, the first show at the Weeki Wachee Springs underwater theater opened. It was the same day that Kukla, Fran and Ollie first aired on that newfangled invention called television, and one day before Chuck Yeager broke the sound barrier. On that day, the mermaids performed synchronized ballet moves underwater while breathing through the air hoses hidden in the scenery.

However, in those days, cars were few along U.S. 19. When the girls heard a car coming, they ran to the road in their bathing suits to beckon drivers into the parking lot, just like sirens of ancient lore lured sailors to their sides. Then they jumped into the spring to perform.

In the 1950s, Weeki Wachee was one of the nation’s most popular tourist stops. The attraction received worldwide acclaim. Movies were filmed at the spring, like Mr. Peabody and the Mermaid. Sights at the park included the mermaid shows, orchid gardens, jungle cruises, and Indian encampment and a new beach. The mermaids took etiquette and ballet lessons.

For more information and to make reservations for your fun day trip, please visit Weeki Wachee Springs State Park.

Photos of Weeki Wachee Springs State Park from their website.

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