Growing up in Florida I was used to seeing tourist literally everywhere I went. The grocery store, church, and believe it or not, even at my school which had a weird retirement apartment complex located in the back of the campus.
Tourist can be both fun and annoying. It was always fun to meet new kids who’d come down for a week of sunburning while their folk’s got heatstroke. Annoying because you always had to explain everything to them at least twice before they could understand your southern accent.
Growing up with tourist meant growing up around tourist attractions. None were as alluring and mystifying as the world-famous mermaid show at Weeki Wachee. Located on the Gulf side of the state, off US Route 19, the city of Weeki Wachee (whose name comes from the Seminole Indians and means “little spiring.”) was incorporated the year I was born to promote what has now become Florida's oldest roadside attraction.
To quote the Southwest Florida Water Management District website, it didn’t take long for Weeki Wachee Springs to become “a mecca for mermaid enthusiasts.” Which, up until now, I had no know even existed.
“The magical allure of the mermaids swimming in a first-magnitude spring has drawn visitors from around the world. Today, visitors can still witness the magic of the mermaids, take a river boat cruise, and canoe or kayak on the Weeki Wachee River.” The history of this place is fascinating, and you can read more here.
After my trip to Florida last week, I wanted to get to know Weeki Wachee Springs more because it was a place I wanted to go all my life. But for some reason either my dad didn’t want to spend the money to go see mythical creatures or my mom didn’t want her husband and children to see a roadside aquatic strip show. I’m sure that’s not what it was or is, but it’s how my boyhood mind remembers it.
That memory of course came not from seeing the show or visiting the park, but from one of the many glossy brochures that could be nicked from any hotel lobby. It was the closest thing to a Playboy that I could get my hands on. On every cover were scantily clad women, with long golden hair hovering in the water. Maybe I am one of those weird mermaid enthusiasts?
Inside the trifold marketing material were all the other attractions that could excite an adolescent mind – exotic animal shows, wild flume rides, and the standard picture of an alligator thrown in for added thrills and danger. As if mermaids (and mermen) weren’t enough. I’m sure it was a dream come true for all those lucky tourists.
Sadly, the town didn’t survive. As if 2020 wasn’t bad enough, the Florida state legislators passed a bill to shut the place down and I have no idea what happened to the remaining 12 resident of the town. However, the area is now a state park and remains a mecca for tourist and locals alike.
If you find yourself on U.S. 19, just north of Tampa, do me a favor and stop in to enjoy this 538-acre state park where you can experience the pleasures of a first-magnitude spring while sitting in a 400-seat submerged theater watching the live mermaid show. Just remember to wear your sunscreen and stay hydrated.
If you’re not into mermaids (or mermen) then you can kayak around the crystal-clear spring looking for manatees and other strange, mystical life forms. Or risk your life on the giant slide that beacons your inner child like a siren calling out to sailors. And, if you are really, really adventurous, you can go cave diving in the spring’s cave system. But be warned. Rumor has it the spring is so deep that the bottom has never been found.
If you make it down there, look for the lost dream of a young boy and perhaps the mermaid (or possibly merman) who is holding in her (or his) heart waiting for me to come and retrieve it.
images taken from google