The Real-Life Mermaids of Weeki Wachee Springs

If you want to see what mermaids look like in real life, you’d better head for Weeki Wachee Springs in Florida. Considered to be one of the oldest and most unique road side attractions of the state, the 430-acre theme park has been entertaining people for the past 60 years. People from all over the US visit Weeki Wachee, located an hour north of Tampa, to view its most unique attraction – the beautiful women dressed like mermaids, swimming in the cool and clear spring waters.

Becoming a Weeki Wachee mermaid is no easy task, on the contrary, it’s something that even the most experienced swimmers would find hard to do. The job involves spending almost the entire day under water, at a temperature ranging in the lower 70s. This is difficult, because the ideal water temperature for adults is much higher, between 85 and 89 degrees. Putting on 30 to 45 minute performances, three times a day, seven days a week is certainly no easy task. To add to this, the ladies have to wear tight, 15-pound mermaid tails that zip up the side and bind their legs together. It sure does look beautiful, but it’s pretty hard to swim about as though you have only one leg. Throw in a synchronized choreography routine and underwater lip-synching while trying to breathe through a hidden rubber hose and you’ve got some real heroes here. With all these factors in play, the mermaids manage to swim gracefully, with pretty hand movements and smiling faces. They sure must be highly talented actors to hide all that discomfort.

Photo: Ripley’s Newsroom

According to Stacy McConnell, a 31-year-old full time performer at Weeki Wachee Springs, making the whole thing look easy is what separates career mermaids from amateurs. “You don’t want to do a swimmer’s stroke when you’re being a mermaid. You can’t look like you’re struggling down there,” she says. They get it right after countless hours of training and rehearsals. “It’s all about being graceful and looking natural. You learn how to swim with pretty hands.”

Photo: Ripley’s Newsroom

Weeki Wachee Springs is said to have had its golden age in the 1960s, when celebrities like Elvis Presley would stop by to watch the mermaids. But even today, it is still pretty popular, with about 175,000 visitors coming in each year. And it’s not easy to become one of the mermaids. The auditions are always nothing short of brutal. McConnell says that “before we even get to talk to you, we make you get in the water. We watch from the theatre to see what faces you make.” Obviously, they wouldn’t want to waste time with people whose cheeks pop out and eyes bulge out unattractively under water. That’s not what people come to see. Predictably, even after selection most mermaids don’t last more than a year or two on the job. This makes McConnell a senior mermaid, with over 12 years under her belt. It doesn’t pay much and she has a second job, but she isn’t prepared to quit anytime soon. I suppose the lure of playing a magical character is too hard to resist?

 Photo: Ripley’s Newsroom

 

Sources: Ripley’s Newsroom, Business Week


   

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