Visiting the mermaids at Weeki Wachee Springs is a once-in-a-lifetime experience. For Declan and me, it means we never have to visit there again during our lifetimes.
Yes, there are mermaids that suck in air through hoses like they’re in a hookah bar (just picture that for a moment), and a big tank and lots of bubbles. Ultimately, however, it’s a big ol’ piece of cheese wrapped in an interminable wait.
I’ll admit it. Visiting the springs was entirely my idea. As a native of central Florida, I’d heard about the springs from the time I was a wee lad. It’s part of old Florida, a throwback before the glitz and glamour of Mickey and Universal forever changed the tourism landscape.
When the idea of a spring break trip to Orlando surfaced, I made Weeki Wachee Springs a stopover before visiting my sister in Tampa.
Maybe the blinders of adulthood clouded my vision of the springs, because many people certainly seemed to enjoy their outings. But there wasn’t enough to do at the park, with long times either in line or waiting to get in a line. They have a crack marketing staff, though, because we heeded the website warnings that the park would be closed once capacity was reached, prompting us to arrive shortly after opening time.
But there were only three mermaid shows the entire day, and the first one didn’t start until 11. So, what to do for two hours? The boat ride through the springs filled quickly to overflowing, so we took in the wildlife show, instead. It was your basic turtle, snake and gator show, with cheesy humor throughout.
Waiting is the hardest part
And then we waited. Declan spent five minutes on playground equipment that was about eight years too young for him while I made a business call. We had already made a complete circuit of the grounds and had no desire to swim at Buccaneer Bay, half of which wasn’t operating on the day we visited.
We were among the first in line for the mermaid show. Lines open 30 minutes before the show and fill quickly. Once ushered into the theater, we sat around and enjoyed the black-and-white archival footage of mermaids frolicking, and the show was introduced by concert footage of Jimmy Buffett performing “Fins,” complete with lip-synching mermaids.
The show was “The Little Mermaid,” so we all know the story. Ariel, while celebrating the mer-equivalent of a quinceanera, gets to go topside, where she saves a drowning sailor boy. To woo him, Ariel strikes a deal with an evil witch who takes her voice in exchange for getting legs. Fighting ensues and love triumphs over evil.
To their credit, the performers were graceful. Personally, I’d be thrashing and gasping for air instead of calmly lip-synching or performing that far underwater.
However, cheese rules this performance, and likely any other performance at the springs. Despite their grace, the performers essentially were taking air hits off a hose like the one you find at the gas station to put air in your tires. It’s a mental picture that’s hard to move past, like watching a junkie jonesing for a fix.
The witch looked like she has long strips of cloth like you’d see at the carwash in her hair. And when Ariel’s friends joined her birthday celebration, the costumed turtle was just too much. Declan and I were crying by the time it surfaced to the stage and started “dancing.”
The audio track included many voices singing a song. I failed to mention that live fish swim around the tank, and while the song was playing, a feeding fish passed by our viewing portal, mouth opening and closing as if it was singing along. We drew stares as we laughed uncontrollably.
After the show, Declan really wanted to take a boat ride, so we waited another 40 minutes (at least) for a 30-minute boat ride that didn’t reveal much in the way of wildlife.
Fortunately, the Italian restaurant where we had lunch offered sangria, the better to wash the taste of what we now call Waitee Longee out of my mouth.