Best Bargain Family Adventures: Mermaid Theater

Weeki Wachee Springs has been home to a live mermaid spectacular since 1947. Learn more about this Florida roadside institution from the insiders.
James T. Black

Newton Perry, a Navy diver and inventor, looked into the trash-filled Weeki Wachee Springs more than six decades ago and imagined mermaids swimming in the water. So, naturally, he cleared out the trash, built a glass-front theater 6 feet below the water’s surface so that spectators could see into the spring, hired and taught some pretty girls how to perform underwater ballets while breathing through an air-hose system he invented (adding mermaid tails a short while later), and opened one of the country’s most unusual attractions. Newton’s mermaids made a national splash when the American Broadcasting Company bought the property. In 1959, ABC built a 500-seat theater and developed elaborate underwater shows. The theater became part of a state park in 2008, but mermaids still swim in the clear, blue waters of Weeki Wachee Springs.

Meet the Mermaids!
Barbara Wynns, mermaid veteran
Barbara performed at Weeki Wachee for eight years before hanging up her mermaid tail. But now the master diver and certified scuba instructor regularly returns to the theater to appear with a group called the Former Performing Mermaids. “We held a 50th reunion of the original mermaids a few years ago and some us of older gals started talking about putting on a show just for fun,” Barbara says. “You never get it out of your blood. I don’t care how long you’re a mermaid, you start to tear up whenever you come back to Weeki Wachee.”

Heather Dubois, mermaid newbie
Heather made her mermaid debut last summer. “It takes about two years of training, practicing three times a day, so I’m still learning,” she says. “The hardest thing is getting used to the tail.” The fabric tails weigh about 5 pounds wet, while plastic-and-fabric tails can get up to 15 pounds. “That’s a lot to carry when you’re under water!”

Weeki Wachee Springs State Park, Weeki Wachee, Florida; weekiwachee.com