Located an hour north of Tampa Bay along Florida’s West Coast, Weeki Wachee Springs State Park has been entertaining visitors since 1947. The sprawling 538-acre park is home to the country’s deepest freshwater cave system that contains approximately 6,700 feet of underwater caves. More than 117 million gallons of fresh, clear, 74-degree water bubbles out of subterranean caverns daily.
Former Navy Seal Newton Perry developed the site while looking for a location to start a new business following World War II. At that time, in the mid-’40s, the area was home to more wildlife than people. Bears and alligators dominated the landscape. Newton cleaned the spring, which was filled with junk, developed an underwater air hose for breathing freely underwater, and recruited and trained pretty girls to act as mermaids. Live underwater performances followed shortly after, with mermaids performing synchronized ballet moves.
The park’s most famous attraction is now one of Florida’s oldest remaining roadside attractions. The mermaid show, located 16 to 20 feet below the spring’s surface, still features various synchronized swimming and dance routines. Talented mermaids frequently perform the Little Mermaid, Peter Pan, and Beauty and the Beast to astounded audiences. Audience members enjoy the show from a 400-seat submerged auditorium dug into the side of the spring 16 feet below the surface. The auditorium was built in the early ’60s by the American Broadcasting Company (ABC), which purchased the property from Newton Perry.
Weeki Wachee Springs State Park is also home to Buccaneer Bay Water Park, Florida’s only spring-fed Waterpark. The park is home to four giant waterslides, a white sand beach, and an adjacent swimming area. The park offers a guided riverboat cruise down the Weeki Wachee River for those looking to enjoy Florida’s diverse flora, fauna, and wildlife at a relaxed pace. Canoe and kayak rentals allow guests to explore the magnificent turquoise waters at their own pace and discretion. The park also holds an animal show introducing visitors to many of Florida’s native critters, like snakes, alligators, and turtles.
Weeki Wachee Springs State Park is a unique travel destination for those looking to explore Florida beyond the corporate theme parks and bland modern attractions.