Sara Godwin

Time Warp at Weekie Wachee

In Baby Boomers, Birding, Florida, Parent, Travel, Wildlife on June 19, 2012 at 11:19 pm

Me, the kayak, and the river

A mermaid at Weeki Wachee

Mermaid-style water ballet

There were some pretty cool things about the Fifties: Peace and prosperity, for starters, and family car trips, and roadside attractions.  If you just happen to be nostalgic for backroads, picnics, and watching your kids transformed by a sense of wonder, you need to spend some time wending your way along the Gulf Coast of Florida, and spend a day at Weeki Waachee.

Suppose you could promise your kids birds six feet tall, a kayaking trip through the jungle, a waterslide with corkscrew turns, and, as a final lagniappe, mermaids, and know it was all true?   Once a roadside attraction based around a magnitude one freshwater spring — the kind that produces more 117 million gallons of pure water a day — Weeki Watchee is now a Florida state park, complete with uniformed park rangers whose duties include scheduling international tours for mermaids.  But I’m getting ahead of myself.

Start the day, as I did, with a five mile kayaking trip down the Weeki Wachee River. The kayaks are easy to manage, even for beginners: The current is slow, the water is smooth, and even if you managed to tip your kayak, the water is warm and shallow — you just climb back in.  It’s also exquisitely clear. That clarity lets you watch schools of fish slipping silently beneath the surface, or the spectacular wading birds that silently stalk the fish. Likely sightings include white ibis, snowy egrets, little blue herons, and great blue herons, the latter being the tall, long-necked ones that can stretch to six feet,   with a wingspan to match.  Kayaks are also quiet, so the wildlife is undisturbed. With lush forest canopy overarching the river, it’s like kayaking through a leafy green tunnel, silent, smooth, and serene. I overheard one kayaker say, “If I lived close enough, I’d do this every day,”  and I would too.  If you’re seeking peace of mind, serenity, or a sense of harmony with nature, this is the place to find it.

Buccaneer Bay is a water park with a huge swimming area, a huge water slide, and water that stays at a comfortable 72 degrees Fahrenheit. With white sand beaches for sunning, and a huge lagoon for swimming, you’ll have trouble prying the children out of the water for a picnic lunch.  Picnic pavilions with open-air tables are perfect for a packed-at-home picnic or for summer classics like all-American hamburgers and hot dogs.  Whatever you pick for your picnic, do not fail to get the chocolate-covered frozen bananas for dessert.  The person who doesn’t like chocolate-covered frozen bananas hasn’t been born yet.

Tummies full, make your way to the subterranean, underwater Mermaid Theatre.  The Navy SEAL who started the park in 1947 invented air tubes that allow the mermaids to perform underwater without SCUBA gear, and it’s as wonderful to watch today as it was then.  All of the mermaids are SCUBA-certified and go through rigorous training, and their underwater feats range from amusing to  delightfully graceful to seriously athletic: The mermaids free-dive more than 100 feet down to the karst cave from which the Weeki Wachee springs flow.  If  this doesn’t immediately strike you as impressive, it will when you try to hold your breath for the two minutes and more that the mermaid does. Most importantly, everyone walks out with a wraparound smile.  That’s never a bad way to end a day.

There are other attractions, too, including a glass-bottom boat river cruise, and Wildlife Shows starring Florida’s native animals, but whatever you choose to do, the kids will be happy, they’ll fall asleep in the car on the way home, and just for a while, it’ll feel like a time warp of the good parts of the Fifties, a nice, warm, nostalgic deja vu all over again. And the kids will never forget it.

Contact Information:

Weeki Wachee State Park, 6131 Commercial Way, Spring Hill, FL 34606

(352) 592-5656

http://weekiwachee.com/

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  1. Wonderful article. Thank you!

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