Job requirements for Weeki Wachee mermaids

07/21/2014 12:00 AM

07/16/2014 11:42 AM

When considering a mermaid’s career, one doesn’t tend to ponder the occupational hazards.

Afternoon thunderstorms, for instance.

During my recent visit, the weather threatened to inject unwelcome reality into the mythical underwater world at Weeki Wachee Springs State Park (weekiwachee.com), the historic attraction north of Tampa in rural Spring Hill.

“There is inclement weather approaching,” announced the host at Weeki Wachee’s Mermaid Theater, adding that the afternoon show might need to be cut short for the safety of the aquatic performers.

The dark clouds didn’t keep visitors away. I had to park in the most remote corner of the parking lot. And there wasn’t much elbow room in the underwater theater, carved out of the side of the attraction’s famous spring.

Weeki Wachee — a Seminole Indian name meaning “little spring” — is so deep that the bottom never has been found. More than 117 million gallons of 74-degree water bubble up daily from the caverns. The limestone-lined basin is 100 feet wide.

To join Weeki Wachee’s roster of roughly 16 mermaids, potential cast members must complete the park’s training program and execute a formidable 120-foot dive into the spring. It’s a feat that requires holding one’s breath for more than 2 minutes.

Watching the park’s underwater production of Hans Christian Anderson’s The Little Mermaid, those physical demands are overshadowed by the graceful choreography and the beauty of the bubbles released as the mermaids breathe through underwater air hoses.

Mermaids also are available for photo ops near the gift shop. The meet-and-greets on my visit generated long lines of fans, mostly little girls curious about what it’s like to swim with a tail. It’s an old-school exercise in imagination for the iPad generation.

Although mermaids attract most of the attention, Weeki Wachee also offers a view of Florida wildlife on float-boat river tours.

There’s also the sandy beach of Buccaneer Bay, with its flumes, tube rides and other cooling diversions. It’s included in the park’s $13 admission. For lunch, try the Mac Daddy Combo at BeckyJack’s Food Shack, 1/4-mile west of the Weeki Wachee intersection on S.R. 50.

Mermaids eat seafood, too.

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