In Florida, mermaids aren’t just for kids, and they definitely are not delegated to the realm of pure fantasy. My own Florida mermaid obsession began at 20-something, when I first learned and began writing about the manatee-mermaid connection (more on that later). Nearly 50 years later, I’m part of the Mermaid Mafia and I chase around the state whenever I hear of a new-to-me mermaid experience.
Some of my experiences described herein were made possible by sponsored travel, but all opinions are my own.
1. Weeki Wachee Springs State Park
Florida’s obsession with mermaids all began here more than 75 years ago when an ex-frogman trainer discovered the beauty and clarity of Weeki Wachee — home to Florida’s deepest, most effervescent natural springs. Instead of military guys, he took to training beautiful women and invented an oxygen apparatus that avoided the need for scuba tanks to facilitate underwater breathing. In 1947, the mermaids of Weeki Wachee Springs began enchanting audiences in a sunken 18-seat theater.
Today, the theater seats 400 — expanded when ABC took it over in 1959. Through the decades, the mermaid show grew from a little-known roadside attraction in undiscovered northern Florida into a world-recognized phenomena. It’s now part of a state park with a water park and Wilderness River Cruise.
Pro Tip: The park also offers seasonal 2-day Junior Mermaid Camps for kids and Sirens of the Deep Camp for adults. Camp participants, it should be noted, do not learn to breathe through tubes like the mermaid performers as it requires extensive training.
2. Mermaid Manatee Tours
If you’re still wondering about that mermaid-manatee connection, here’s the place to explore it. Citrus County — especially its two coastal towns of Crystal River and Homosassa Springs — could easily claim the title of Florida’s manatee capital. In the cold winter months, manatees, aka sea cows, herd into the constant 72-degree spring waters that riddle the limestone caverns and rivers of Citrus County. What does that have to do with mermaids? Folklore has it that sailors of yore mistook manatees for mermaids. If you’ve ever seen a manatee — bulbous and girthy with a face only an environmentalist could love — you’re probably wondering just how much rum those sailors were drinking. Nonetheless, they both have the siren connection (manatees are of the order Sirenia). And they’re both incurably loveable and fascinating.
With its proximity to Weeki Wachee, it’s little wonder that the mermaid fascination has flowed into the waters of Citrus County. Swimming and snorkeling with manatee tours has always ranked as one of the state’s most endearing wildlife experiences, and now, outfitters have added a mermaid component. At least two that I know of combine the experience of swimming with sea cows and swimming with a mermaid tail: Crystal River Watersports’ Manatees & Mermaids and Snorkel with Manatees’ Siren of the Springs in Homosassa.
Pro Tip: If you plan on staying in the Citrus County area to commune with mermaids, there’s just no other choice for accommodations than Crystal Blue Lagoon Bed & Breakfast in Crystal River. Mermaids are the fun and not-so-subtle theme, plus the charming four-bedroom cottage sits at the edge of two springs, where manatee sightings are practically guaranteed.
3. Mertailor’s Mermaid Aquarium Encounters
The mermaid tours typically provide tails for the experience, but in case you’ve decided by now to go full-on mer-creature, you can order your custom tail or fins at Mertailor, only minutes from Homosassa and Crystal River. While you’re there, you can take in a Mermaid Aquarium Encounter a la Weeki Wachee (but in a tank much smaller than the Weeki Wachee theater) and tour the extremely cool aquariums of amazing exotic marine life, including a ray touch tank.
Owner Eric Ducharme, in fact, performed at Weeki Wachee before he became a mermaid tail designer and an important character in the now popular Netflix docu-series MerPeople, filmed in Florida. His creations range from guppy tails for the kids to whimsy, “fantasea,” and walking tails.
4. Mermaid Tale Trail
Also near Weeki Wachee Springs, the town of Brooksville and surrounding communities pay homage to the classic Florida attraction with its Mermaid Tale Trail. Unveiled in 2022 to celebrate Weeki Wachee’s 75th anniversary, it consists of 27 life-sized mermaid statues that have been hand-painted and decorated by Florida artists and placed at various attractions and businesses — from a city park to a winery. The trail’s website has maps and background information about the statues and their artists. In February, the town of Brooksville, where the trail is easily walkable, typically throws a Florida Mermaid Trail Festival.
5. Key West Mermaid Festival
Florida’s western coast doesn’t have a monopoly on the state’s mermaid lore and attractions. Key West seems a natural place to find mermaid mania and its annual festival proves that to be true. The 4-day event benefits the nonprofit organization Reef Relief. July 4–7, 2024, celebrates the festival’s fourth year. Mermaid meet-and-greets, sailboat tours, and Key West-style parties break out all over town as mermaids big and small descend upon the “Southernmost City.”
Pro Tip: En route to Key West, build another mermaid stop into your itinerary. The Mermaid Experience at Hawk’s Cay Resort northeast of Marathon teaches kids to swim like a mermaid (with or without a tail) followed by a mermaid makeover.
6. Wreck Bar Mermaid Shows
At B Ocean Resort (formerly the Yankee Clipper Hotel), the nautically themed Wreck Bar has windows looking into the property’s swimming pool, making it a perfect setup for mermaid shows. (Somehow, sipping a bubbly mimosa just seems right when you’re watching mermaids swim around before your very eyes.) Whether you’re taking the kids to see the G-rated matinee brunch version or the adults’ nighttime burlesque show, you can enjoy cocktails and a meal in the ship-shaped bar while mermaids perform.
The kids love the weekend afternoon performances, which not only entertain, but also educate about the environment. Families come dressed in Little Mermaid costumes and love the photo ops with the mermaids after the show. These mermaids take turns making short appearances while holding their breath, so there’s not the distraction of breathing tubes other shows use. I took my granddaughter and her mother to the family brunch. My granddaughter, 9 months old, loved the bubbles we blew to her but was perhaps a bit young to appreciate the show. She is, however, in training for my group of “Mermaid Mafia” friends, so you can never start too soon.
Wreck Bar offers burlesque shows with mermaids or “aquamen.” The resort even schedules Sunday morning mermaid yoga classes on the beach plus private mermaid experiences for special occasions.
Pro Tip: While mermaiding in southern Florida, book a stay at Acqualina Resort near Miami in Sunny Isles Beach. Only guests ages 7 and older staying at the resort have access to its Aquamermaid lessons. Younger guests, however, have the opportunity to swim with a mermaid.
7. Under The Sea – Journey Of The Little Mermaid
Walt Disney World
At age 4, my son had practically memorized the Disney animated movie version of The Little Mermaid. Sharks, vibrant fish, a “hot crustacean band,” a formidable villainess, and a girl with a tail: What’s not to love? It surely drove his attraction to the sea above and below the water.
This Magic Kingdom Park attraction takes you under the water aboard a clamshell to visit Ariel’s world. You can also meet and greet an Ariel character nearby at Ariel’s Grotto.