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Winter Waterland Holiday Festival is this weekend at Weeki Wachee Springs State Park

Veteran mermaid Stayce McConnell, 30, left, and Wyatt Cloinger, 20, prepare for “A Mermaid’s Christmas” on Wednesday afternoon.

WILL VRAGOVIC | Times

Veteran mermaid Stayce McConnell, 30, left, and Wyatt Cloinger, 20, prepare for “A Mermaid’s Christmas” on Wednesday afternoon.

WEEKI WACHEE

You know it's Christmas in Hernando County when the mermaids don their red and white tights.

Even Santa puts on his flippers and takes a dip during Weeki Wachee Springs State Park's annual Winter Waterland Holiday Festival, from 7 to 10 p.m. today and Saturday.

The show, "A Mermaid's Christmas," is a bit like the Rockettes meet Cirque du Soleil, with Mr. Claus along for the ride. Except the stage is underwater.

And it's a tricky business to dance and sing underwater at night, even with holiday magic in the air.

"They're fighting the current, and turtles nip at them," said park spokesman John Athanason. The spring, 80 feet below them, releases 117 million gallons of water a day. This creates a 5 mph current that forces mermaids to use those tails.

The holiday performance features Carol of the Bells, in which mermaids flip and twist in unison, making the underwater dance seem effortless. Other songs include Jingle Bell Rock and Santa Baby, which ends with veteran mermaid Stayce McConnell, 30, in the arms of Santa. (Spoiler alert for the kids: Mr. Kringle is played by 20-year-old Wyatt Cloinger.)

Back on land, mermaid elves will read holiday stories, and Mr. and Mrs. Claus will be available for holiday wishes and photos.

This year's festival includes a miniature Weeki Wachee village, built by park ranger Ed Hamilton and decorated by several local artists, including Evie Harper, Julie Komenda and Patricia Ritter.

Volunteers also created giant sugar plums and candy canes, along with a variety of mermaid-themed murals.

The Christmas trees were donated by Lowe's and Home Depot in Spring Hill. After the event, the park will donate the trees to the Salvation Army to be given to families in need.

It's a lot of work, and many of the performers have day jobs. Mermaid Carli Dofka, 25, teaches high school, and 20-year-old mermaid Shannon Tooker serves in the Coast Guard.

But ask the guy in the red suit, and he'll tell you it's worth every minute.

"It's the best job I ever had," Mr. Claus said.

Shary Lyssy Marshall can be reached at slmarshall.sptimes@gmail.com.

Fast facts

Winter Waterland Holiday Festival

Where: Weeki Wachee Springs State Park, 6131 Commercial Way, Spring Hill

When: 7 to 10 p.m. today and Saturday

Admission: Adults (13 and up) $6; kids (6-12) $3. Kids 5 and under and season pass holders get in free.

Information: (352) 592-5656

Additional hours: Weeki Wachee Springs State Park also will be open from 7 to 9 p.m. Dec. 18 and 19 for visitors to stroll through the park and enjoy the holiday lights. Admission is $1 per person for that weekend.

Winter Waterland Holiday Festival is this weekend at Weeki Wachee Springs State Park 12/10/09 [Last modified: Thursday, December 10, 2009 3:34pm]
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