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Crystal River and the surrounding area is an outdoorsy person’s dream. It’s popular for manatee encounters, scalloping season, and world-class fishing. But what happens when your Crystal River kayaking trip is rained out? As I learned, “seas” the day and head to the Mertailor’s Mermaid Aquarium Encounter in Lecanto, Fla.
A Boy’s Dream Became a Man’s Reality
The magical aquarium is a dream realized by founder Eric Ducharme. This followed his attainment of another dream, that of being an underwater performer at the famous Weeki Wachee springs in the early 2000s. Weeki Wachee is the only city with live mermaids. In 2008, it became part of the Florida State Park system. This means, mermaids are on the State of Florida’s payroll.
But I digress…
As a child, a visit to Weeki Wachee inspired Ducharme and at the age of 13, he was sewing mermaid tails. At age 16, Ducharme started his company called Mertailor. More than two decades later, he’s grown a successful business selling mermaid tails and fins to customers around the world. Certainly, the popularity of films like “Splash,” “Mermaids,” and “The Little Mermaid” keep the aquatic maidens top of mind in pop culture.
Visiting Mertailor’s Mermaid Aquarium Encounter
The aquarium opened the end of 2021 and includes two sea life touch tanks; rescued macaws and parrots; tanks filled with sea critters like crabs, sea horses, and fish (sharks, rays, lionfish – to name a few); and of course, mermaid shows!
Although physically small, the aquarium bursts with wonder, joy and curiosity. If you don’t stop and view each exhibit, you’ll be finished visiting in about 10 minutes. If you do this, you’ll also miss out on what makes the aquarium special.
What you need to do is stop at each exhibit to observe and learn about the sea life. Listen to the guides as they explain what’s living and thriving in each tank.
I watched a hermit crab munch on lunch and another try to escape its tank. The mermaid show is in a large tank which serves as home to a host of different species of fish. While the mermaid performs, it looks as those the fish are part of the choreography, almost like a real-life Ariel! I’m not sure how often it happens but I saw a mermaid bump her head into a large ray.
Where Dreams Come True for Mermaid Lovers
Hidden away from visitors is where dreams come true. It’s the back part of the building and where mermaid tails and fins are handcrafted for customers around the world. Prices range from less than $100 for a tail sling made of a poly-spandex blend to around $2,000 for a custom silicone mermaid tail. Mertailor also sell stylish swimwear (and other wear) for men and women with some for sale in the gift shop at the entrance of the building. The studio is not open to the public, but you may catch a glimpse and see how magic is made.
The entrance to the aquarium is a fun gift shop with mermaid and sea life related items. And yes, you can purchase your own mermaid tail. Although tempting to purchase once, I didn’t think I’d get much use out of one so I opted for a pair of mermaid-like leggings. They’re pink in a fish, err, mermaid scale pattern and I love them!
When planning my trip to Crystal River in Citrus County, I planned to paddle with an outfitter offering clear kayaks. I envisioned paddling over clear waters looking down on the magnificent manatees, just like the photos and videos I saw on social media. Mother Nature had other plans and I’m so glad she did!
Mertailor’s Mermaid Aquarium Encounter was an unexpected and great alternative. In recognition of mermaid puns, this aquarium will really “mermaid” your day!
Nuts & Bolts About Mertailor’s Mermaid Aquarium Encounter
Mertailor’s Mermaid Aquarium Encounter
4100 W Gulf to Lake Highway
Lecanto, FL 34461-9215
Tel: (352) 513-3278
Open daily, 11 a.m. – 4 p.m.
An admission fee is collected.
Mermaid shows are three times a day.
The venue is also a great place for gatherings like birthday parties and small group gatherings.
Where to Stay in Crystal River
Plantation on Crystal River
9301 West Fort Island Trail
Crystal River, Fla. 34429
Hotel Direct: (352) 795-4211
Visit the Discover Crystal River Florida website for additional things to do in the area including Homosassa, Iverness, and Floral City. .
If you like offbeat things to do like me, check out Dames Cave in the Crystal River area!