Jim Abbott on Travel
Postcards from Florida
September 8, 2012
There's something about a mermaid that makes a guy a little bit nervous.
That much is obvious if you linger for a few minutes next to the pavilion where the mermaids of Weeki Wachee Springs State Park (weekiwachee.com) pose for photos several times daily at the iconic, utterly old-school attraction at the intersection of State Road 50 and U.S. Highway 19 in rural Spring Hill.
"Go on," one enthusiastic mother urges her shy, tongue-tied son, who looks to be about 13. "Go up and get your picture taken with the mermaid!"
The young dude appeals to an older brother, who responds with a "dude, you're on your own" shrug.
Your Postcards correspondent? Being a trained information gatherer, I managed to chat for a few quick minutes with the lovely Mermaid Chelsea, who told me the attraction employs roughly 16 mermaids, 10 of them full-time. No specialized swimming experience is necessary because training is provided.
Mermaid Chelsea, in fact, told me that she has yet to complete the test of making a 120-foot dive into the spring, a feat that requires holding one's breath for more than two minutes.
That dive is part of one of the two mermaid shows that unfold daily in the park's underwater theater. Although the setting is low-tech, the mermaid shows are still captivating in a way that's pleasantly unique in the era of smartphones and computerized effects in feature films.
When the sunlight illuminates the mermaids' underwater playground, it heightens the illusion that these graceful underwater acrobats are somehow mythological. Weeki Wachee, which marked its 65th anniversary this summer, obviously is part of Florida's storied past.
Now part of the state park system, Weeki Wachee offers a beach and water-park slides in its Buccaneer Bay and a short river tour that yielded a bald-eagle sighting on my visit. Not bad for $13 gate admission.
A Weeki Wachee road trip from the Interstate 4 corridor offers equally old-school diversions, from tree farms and citrus fields in Groveland to rural Mascotte on S.R. 50.
Hungry? I'd recommend a seafood platter at the BeckyJack's Food Shack, about 1/4-mile west of the Weeki Wachee intersection on S.R. 50. The kitschy decor will entertain until the food arrives.
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