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Weeki Wachee Springs State Park in Weeki Wachee, Florida, north of Tampa.

If you’re looking for a swimming and nature adventure with springs, wildlife, and mermaids (oh my!), then look no further than Weeki Wachee Springs State Park, located off of U.S. 19 in Weeki Wachee, Florida, about an hour north of Tampa. Our article takes you through some of Weeki Wachee’s 70-plus year history in the Sunshine State and tells you what things to do and see at Weeki Wachee.

First, let’s share some highlights and fun facts from the park’s esteemed history:

–Weeki Wachee began when former U.S. Navy man Newton Perry was searching for a site to start a business and eyed U.S. 19, at that time, a small two-lane road. “More alligators and black bears lived in the area than humans,” according to the park’s website. Perry had a background training Navy Frogmen to swim underwater in World War 2, and he began to experiment with underwater breathing hoses and a way to breathe underwater with a free-flowing air hose that supplied oxygen from an air compressor. He also began to hire local young women to train to swim with the air hoses. They would perform by doing aquatic ballets and had spectators watch them from a newly built 18-seat theater. The theater allowed visitors to watch the show but also to view the sparking, clear water from the springs. Weeki Wachee was born and offered its first show in 1947. The name Weeki Wachee means “little spring” or “winding river” in the Seminole Indian language.

One of Weeki Wachee’s modern-day mermaids. She’s holding the breathing apparatus used during their performances.

–Word spread about Weeki Wachee, and by the 1950s, it was one of the most popular roadside attractions in the U.S. Park attractions included the mermaid shows, orchid gardens, “jungle cruises,” and a new beach. Movies like “Mr Peabody and the Mermaid” were filmed there.

–Believe it or not, ABC (as in the TV network) purchased Weeki Wachee in 1959 and began to promote the park. It built a 400-seat theater still used today located in the side of the spring and 16 feet below the surface. It also developed themes for underwater shows. Potential mermaids came from around the world to try out and perform in shows like, “Alice in Wonderland” and “Peter Pan.” They gave eight shows a day to sold-out crowds. Find some cool pics of the mermaids and the park at the link here.

The entrance to the Underwater Mermaid Theatre.

–ABC sold the park in 1984 to Florida Leisure Attractions, and it was then sold to Florida Leisure Acquisition Corp. By 2008, it became part of the Florida State Parks System.

–Although not as heralded as it was in the past, Weeki Wachee and its famous mermaids still make appearances throughout pop culture, including in the Kelly Clarkson video for “Stronger,” in a 2023 Netflix documentary called “MerPeople,” and as the backdrop for a Penn and Teller comedy special. During our visit, an appearance of the mermaids during a Jimmy Buffett concert in Tampa was shown before their performance (Buffett even once swam with them).

Weeki Wachee Springs has the deepest freshwater cave system in the U.S. It’s so deep that the bottom has yet to be found. “Every day, more than 117 million gallons of clear, fresh 74-degree water bubbles up out of subterranean caverns,” according to the park’s website.

People swimming at Buccaneer Beach, with the lazy river part seen off to the left.

Things to Do at Weeki Wachee Springs State Park

Fast forward to modern times, and just what is there to do at Weeki Wachee Springs State Park? We’re glad you asked. Let’s get some basics out of the way and then we’ll fill you in.

First, the park is open 9 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. daily. Expect to pay $13 for each adult and $8 for kids ages 6 to 12. Those 5 and under are free.

When the park reaches its capacity, it will not allow new people in–and it does indeed get busy on certain weekends and holidays. When we arrived around 9 a.m. for our visit over Labor Day weekend, we found a snaking line of people ahead of us. Everyone had to wait (im)patiently beside a variety of mermaid statues.

A map of Weeki Wachee Springs State Park.

Once in the park, you’ve got a few different choices:

Hang out at Buccaneer Beach. The beach area consists of some sand and grassy areas and a decent-sized area in the springs for swimming. Their “lazy river” is a small, roped off area beside the swimming area. There are also water slides that are sure to be a hit for the young’uns. (Note that the water slides are open seasonally, although swimming remains open.) You may wonder if there are alligators at Weeki Wachee when you swim there. The good news is that there are not. They prefer darker waters, not the clear spring water–which is constantly monitored anyways so if something unexpected did come through, park officials would know.

Take a river cruise. Although we didn’t have a chance to do the river cruise, we feel confident it’s a beautiful ride. The Wilderness River Cruise runs between 9:30 a.m. and 4 p.m. Seating is first-come, first-served.

Watch the mermaid show. Part of the allure of Weeki Wachee is enjoying the clear springs, and the other allure is its majestic mermaid history. If you’re serious about wanting to discover more mermaid history, then you must check out one of the mermaid shows at 11 a.m. or 3 p.m. There’s no additional cost for the show beyond your admission to the park. When the park is busy, seating fills up quickly in the theater for the shows. Get in line early if you can. While waiting, there are some TV monitors that will show you video and images from the park’s history. The mermaid show itself is visually stunning, both in terms of how the mermaids and other actors move around effortlessly underwater but also for how the springs appear underwater (including fish!). Even if the 30 minute or so show itself isn’t calling out to you (it’s more geared toward kids), it may be worth a visit so you can say you’ve seen an underwater show.

Discover more about Weeki Wachee’s wildlife with the Ranger Experience.

Learn more about the park’s wildlife in the Ranger Experience. Park rangers will fill you in on local wildlife, including tortoises, snakes, and alligators. It’s a cool, low-key show for the animal lovers in your group, taking place at 10 a.m., noon and 2:15 p.m. daily.

Go kayaking or stand-up paddleboarding. Enjoy the springs and Weeki Wachee River (which flows 12 miles into the Gulf of Mexico) by renting a kayak or stand-up paddleboard. Rentals are available from Weeki Fresh Water Adventures, or the company can help you launch your own equipment if you have it. The kayaking and paddleboarding experiences in the river are said to be easy even for beginners. One tip: Use non-disposable food and water containers for your river adventure; throwaway, single-use items aren’t allowed. Find out more about that rule here.

Grab a bite to eat. You can bring a picnic to Buccaneer Bay or grab something to eat at the Mermaid Galley, Captain’s Quarters, Pirate’s Grubb, Snack Shack, or Tiki Bar.

The park also has a gift shop, restrooms, a shower station (good for getting sand off before driving home), and a playground. Plus, there are a couple of mermaid statues where you can pose and snap a few pics.

Buccaneer Beach and the Lazy River at Weeki Wachee Springs State Park.

A Few Final Tips for Your Visit to Weeki Wachee

–Arrive early for cooler temperatures and fewer crowds. The beach area gets crowded as well, which is another reason to arrive early.

–Use the park map to help you. It’s available in this brochure, but we prefer the map we received onsite. See a picture of it earlier in this story.

–Kids’ floatation devices (including life jackets) are allowed in the park; other floatation devices are not allowed but can be rented at the park. Get the skinny on park rules here.

–Have everyone in your party with you when you purchase admission to the park.

–It’s OK to bring food and drinks to the park, but keep them in outside areas (such as the beach).

–Know that admission fees are non-refundable, including for bad weather.

–If you like the somewhat kitschy, historical feel of Weeki Wachee Springs State Park, consider visiting Silver Springs State Park, which was once operated by the same company as Weeki Wachee. Silver Springs, located in Ocala, also has a long history in Florida and even became famous in Hollywood movies and TV shows. Find out more about Silver Springs State Park in our article here.

–Sorry, wanna-be mermaids….costumes aren’t allowed in the park!

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