Weeki Wachee Springs: My Ultimate Mermaid Camp Experience

That's me, Solo Travel Girl, swimming in Weeki Wachee Springs. Photo: Tammy Middleton/Studios Middleton

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Flailing in the crystal-clear water, a voice called out behind me, “Hello mermaid!”

Turning around, a young boy who was about four or five years old, stood on the sidewalk looking down on me, eagerly waving. Looking around and wondering who he was greeting, I quickly realized he was waving and calling out to me, Mermaid Jennifer. At 54 years old, I was trying something completely out of my comfort zone, swimming in a deep body of water wearing a tail and living my best mermaid life. So, I waved back and slapped my tail.


Solo Travel Girl sits on a rock and waves while underwater in Weeki Wachee Springs, June 2024. Photo: Tammy Middleton/Studios Middleton
Solo Travel Girl sits on a rock and waves while underwater in Weeki Wachee Springs, June 2024. Photo: Tammy Middleton/Studios Middleton.

Perception is reality. While I was struggling to keep afloat, he probably saw a mermaid frolicking in the spring. In that moment, I truly understood and embraced the privilege of swimming in the waters of legendary Weeki Wachee Springs.

This was my second and final day of the Friends of Weeki Wachee Springs State Park Sirens of the Deep Mermaid Camp and second day in my life of ever wearing a mermaid tail. What’s it like wearing one? At first, terrifying.

As my siren instructor Mermaid Kathy said, put both your legs into one leg of a pair of leggings and you’ll understand. It’s confining and unnatural.

Before jumping into the spring for the first time in a tail, I panicked because I was convinced I’d drown. I told my instructor I was going to sink. She assured me I wouldn’t and when in doubt, “just float on your back.”

During my two days at camp, I swam in the spring eight separate times, albeit brief. Each time I ungracefully jumped in, the 72-degree cold water shocked through my body but after a few minutes of swimming (or flailing), my body warmed up.

While wearing a tail, my legs instinctively wanted to kick apart and tread water. It took effort and time to think of my two legs as one appendage. Although not graceful, I swam like a mermaid and when necessary, I comfortably floated on my back. Thankfully, foam floats were my security blanket, too, although, it’s much easier navigating the water without one. Once overcoming my fear of drowning, I experienced how swimming in a mermaid tail is a mythical experience.

A Weeki Wachee mermaid drinks from a Coca Cola bottle during a June 2, 2024, performance, like the original Weeki Wachee mermaids did in the 1960s and 1970s.
A Weeki Wachee mermaid drinks from a Coca Cola bottle during a June 2, 2024, performance, like the original Weeki Wachee mermaids did in the 1960s and 1970s.

A Brief History of Weeki Wachee’s Mermaids

Weeki Wachee Springs State Park is an iconic Florida attraction, entertaining visitors well before Walt Disney World opened in Orlando in 1971. Since 1947, mermaids have been swimming their tails off and the park’s sign brags of being the only city with live mermaids.

The tourist attraction, located about an hour north of Tampa, was the vision of World War II Navy frogmen trainer Newton Perry. He built a small tank that became a theater for the world-famous mermaid performances. Weeki Wachee Springs is a first-magnitude spring and more than 100 million gallons of groundwater bubbles out daily. Even more impressive, it’s the deepest known freshwater cave system in the United Sates.

Initially, performers did not wear mermaid tails but pretty costumes as they performed underwater ballets and enjoyed mermaid picnics for tourists. They ate bananas and drank Coca Cola underwater while breathing through air hoses designed by Perry and still used today.

The original theater was replaced by a larger one in 1959 and Weeki Wachee Springs became a state park on Nov. 1, 2008. Over the years, hundreds if not thousands of merfolk performed in these waters entertaining millions of tourists from all over the world. Today, the park employs about a dozen women and men (mermaids and princes) who perform 16 – 20 feet below the water’s surface. Paying homage to the original sirens, today’s mermaids eat fruit and drink from Coca Cola bottles.

Visitors can enjoy 30-minute shows multiple times a day. With elegance, precision, and smiles, these sirens make underwater ballet look easy.

As I learned, being a mermaid is hard and exhausting work. After my first day at camp, I went back to my hotel room and slept for a couple of hours, woke up to eat a protein-packed meal, then slept a solid eight hours before rolling into day two. Although hard, the work and experience are rewarding and magical.

Friends of Weeki Wachee Springs State Park Sirens of the Deep Mermaid Camp

For over a decade, Friends of Weeki Wachee Springs State Park have offered the Sirens of the Deep Mermaid Camp for adults (most camps are for women only, but one camp is co-ed) looking for the ultimate mermaid experience.

Instructors are the OG mermaids, the ones who performed during the 1960s and/or 1970s and have stories that will make you giggle, cry, and blush. They are the Sirens of the Deep. Now in their 60s and 70s, they’re still swimming with grace and vitality. They generously share their knowledge and passion for mermaiding and the spring. Mermaid camp is a fundraiser for Friends of Weeki Wachee Springs State Park, too.

Park visitors can soak and float in Buccaneer Bay and the springs adjacent to the mermaid performance area. However, this mermaid camp is the only opportunity for non-performing mermaids to swim in the performance area including in front of the theater windows. Having this access makes attending a privilege.

Enjoy some of my Weeki Wachee Mermaid Camp experience in the video above. If the video doesn’t load, view it on YouTube here.

The Mermaid Camp Experience

I was one of eight campers who was quick enough to register and pay in January to attend a June 2024 camp. We ranged in age from 30 years old to mid-60s and some traveled several time zones to attend. For five of us in the pod, it was our first time. Our abilities varied from novice (me) to mermaiding every week. One camper is a resident mermaid in her hometown. Most women brought their own gorgeous tails and monofins. For campers who don’t have their own, like me, the camp has pretty teal-color tails and fins to borrow.

How does one put on a Weeki Wachee mermaid tail? Well, it’s almost like putting on a pair of wet blue jeans two sizes too small. I sat down on the deck and slipped one foot in at a time into a pair of short snorkeling fins placed in the base of the teal-colored tail. Once secured, I pulled it up over my legs and laid down on my back to shimmy the tail up beyond my waist. The fit was snug, as it should be. No one wants a wardrobe malfunction to spoil the mermaid’s maritime magic.


Mermaid tails! Teal-colored tails are loaned to campers; the colorful ones belong to campers. Weeki Wachee Springs State Park, Fla., June 2024.
Mermaid tails! Teal-colored tails are loaned to campers; the colorful ones belong to campers. Weeki Wachee Springs State Park, Fla., June 2024.

The next challenge was getting in the water, which involved either staying on the ground and scooting myself to the dock’s edge or standing up and hopping backwards. Doing the latter gave me vibes of school potato sack races, except backwards in a much prettier sack.

Time in the water depended on when the active mermaids were either performing or practicing. When I was practicing my mermaid crawl, I heard encouragement like, “yes, beautiful crawl,” from an underwater microphone but then realized it was meant for the practicing mermaids. Not me.

We weren’t in the water when they performed and on the first morning of camp, we sat front in center in the theater to watch how the professionals do it. These women make underwater synchronized swimming look so easy as they elegantly ease into each move and breathe from the underwater air hoses. That’s something not used during camp because users need to be SCUBA certified.

Breakfast and lunch are included both days. Coffee, hot chocolate, hot cider and tea are available to warm up campers chilled by the water. Time in the water varied from 10 to 40 minutes.

Living my best mermaid life during Friends of Weeki Wachee Springs Sirens of the Deep Mermaid Camp. Photo: Tammy Middleton/Studios Middleton
Living my best mermaid life during Friends of Weeki Wachee Springs Sirens of the Deep Mermaid Camp. Photo: Tammy Middleton/Studios Middleton

Capturing Mermaid Memories

Photo day was like school picture day, a time to look and perform your best. As a solo traveler, capturing decent images of myself is a challenge so I appreciated the option of purchasing a photo package.

Photos were first taken on land and each attendee had her own individual session. For those who didn’t bring enough bling (like me), beaded necklaces and tiaras are plenty. Props are encouraged, too, and if you don’t bring your own, the photographer has some.

After group photos, it was time to look gracefully in the water for individual and group photos and videos. Smiling and looking pretty underwater isn’t as easy as it seems. Looking through the videos, I can see how I struggled staying underwater. Despite this, the photographer captured some great footage and images of my magical mermaid experience.

Following lunch, we received certificates of completion and one last group photo with our instructors. Three of them sat at our feet, linked arms, began swaying side to side and broke out in song.

“Ohhhhh, I wish I were a Weeki Wache mermaid, that is truly what I’d like to be.”

What a very sweet and memorable moment.

Solo Travel Girl at the entrance of Weeki Wachee Mermaid Camp. Photo: Tammy Middleton/Studios Middleton.
Solo Travel Girl at the entrance of Weeki Wachee Mermaid Camp. Photo: Tammy Middleton/Studios Middleton.

A Wonderful Weeki Wachee Weekend

Weeks later, I’m still reflecting on the weekend and sharing my experience with friends and family who cannot believe I did this. Everyone who participated in mermaid camp had their own reason. For me, having worked in Florida’s tourism industry for about 25 years, this was an opportunity to experience part of Florida’s tourism history.

Over the two days, I learned more about the legacy of Weeki Wachee mermaids and pushed my personal boundaries. I now feel part of a special siren sorority. This experience affirmed you’re never too old to try something new and always continue doing what you love.

Where to Stay

There are a few hotel options in the immediate Weeki Wachee area, and there’s always the option of staying in Tampa Bay. I spent two nights at Neptune’s Grotto Old Florida Adventure Retreat in a mermaid themed room, the Muddy Mermaid. The name doesn’t reflect the room’s décor, it’s named after the Mudd River the old Florida-style hotel sits.

There was mermaid décor everywhere in the room from the cupboard handles to a toilet paper holder to bedsheets. Because I made the trip to become a mermaid, I was going all out, and the mermaid-themed hotel was perfect to rest my tired head and dream of mermaid crawls and dolphin dives.

Neptune’s Grotto Old Florida Adventure Retreat
6004 Cortez Blvd.
Weeki Wachee Gardens, Fla. 34607
Tel: (954) 254-3769
VisitNeptunesGrotto.com

Solo Travel Girl with her Sirens of the Deep Instructor, Mermaid Kathy, and her certificate of Mermaid Camp completion. Weeki Wachee Springs State Park, June 2, 2024.
Solo Travel Girl with her Sirens of the Deep Instructor, Mermaid Kathy, and her certificate of Mermaid Camp completion. Weeki Wachee Springs State Park, June 2, 2024.

How to Attend Weeki Wachee’s Mermaid Camp

Friends of Weeki Wachee Springs State Park operate the adult mermaid camp which takes place over various weekends throughout the spring and summer. Registration for all camps usually open in January and fills up quickly. I tried attending last year’s camp, but I wasn’t quick enough during the registration process. The number of campers is limited to allow for personal instruction. A professional photographer will capture photos and videos for an additional fee.

Download the Friends of Weeki Wachee Springs State Park app and follow their Facebook page to learn when registration will open.

Weeki Wachee Springs State Park is open daily and in addition to mermaid shows, Buccaneer Bay’s beach, lazy river, water slides and kiddie pool are open during the summer and the Wilderness River Cruise operates throughout the day. Visitors can also rent and paddle a kayak or stand-up paddleboard on down the Weeki Wachee River through Weeki Fresh Water Adventures.

Weeki Wachee Springs State Park
6131 Commercial Way
Weeki Wachee FL 34606
Tel: (352) 592-5656
Information on mermaid shows, boat tours, and Buccaneer Bay: weekiwachee.com
State Park information: floridastateparks.org/WeekiWachee

Friends of Weeki Wachee Springs State Park
friendsofweekiwachee.com

Florida’s Adventure Coast
Florida’s Adventure Coast Facebook page
Tel: (800) 601-4580
Visitor information for Weeki Wachee, Brooksville, Spring Hill, and Hernando County

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Solo Travel Girl

Jennifer A. Huber is the voice behind Solo Travel Girl. She's an award-winning travel and outdoor blogger and writer in Southwest Florida. Originally from Buffalo, N.Y., a hiking trail led her to a career path in the tourism industry for more than 30 years. She spent a decade with a park management company in Yellowstone, Death Valley, and Everglades National Parks. She founded the travel blog, SoloTravelGirl.com with the goal of inspiring others to travel alone, not lonely. Jennifer holds a Travel Marketing Professional certification from the Southeast Tourism Society, is a certified food judge, member of the NASA Social community, and alum of the FBI Citizens Academy. In 2023, she was a finalist in AARP's Benefits Badass competition. When not traveling, she is either in the kitchen, practicing her photography skills, or road tripping with her dog, Radcliff.

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