Weeki Wachee Springs may appear to just be a small town on the Gulf side of north-central Florida, but here you’ll be able to experience close encounters with real mermaids. Ok — so maybe just people pretending to be mermaids, but when they’re flipping their fins at the famous underwater mermaid shows, you could almost believe that they were part of our world.

This aquarium-like setting was first opened in 1947 by a stunt swimmer who capitalized on underwater hose breathing techniques. From inside the 400-seat underwater auditorium, the performance area looks like a man-made spectacle, but it’s actually the natural formation of the springs, whose water bubbles up from an aquifer at a constant 74 degrees. The mermaids have been performing here for 63 years.

The mermaids, while entertaining, aren’t the only park spectacle. This 538-acre park includes riverboat cruises, Buccaneer Bay (which has four waterslides, a white-sand beach, and picnic areas), paddling adventures down the Weeki Wachee River, and educational animal shows.

Being a natural spring, the water is so clear that you can see 100 feet straight across to the limestone walls, and the area is often visited by wild animals who freely roam the river.

How to get there

An hour north of Tampa, Weeki Wachee Springs Park is located on US 19, at the intersection of SR 50 — north of Spring Hill and South of Homosassa Springs.

What to consider

  • The Park is perfect for families and children of all ages.
  • There’s a lifeguard supervised “Lil’ Mates Caribbean Cove” water play area for children under six.
  • Buccaneer Bay is included with admission to Weeki Wachee Springs State Park. Admission to the park is $13 for adults and $8 for children 6-12. Admission also includes the mermaid show, wildlife show, and a narrated riverboat ride.
  • While the mermaid shows happen 365 days a year (check the schedule here), Buccaneer Bay is only open on weekends from April to early June and daily from June to August, and weekends through September. They’re closed in the winter.
  • The mermaid show, as you’d expect, is a little corny, but children love it. Warning: The Little Mermaid show has a part where the witch jumps out, which has reportedly scared some children into leaving.
  • If you’re into self-guided adventure, definitely opt to kayak down the river. Get there early if you’re looking for a peaceful experience.
  • Try to go during the week and avoid spring break (of both high school and college).