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The mermaids return as Weeki Wachee reopens to visitors

Social distancing, limited seating in the park’s mermaid theater and other safety precautions are in place
Mermaid Whitney blows a bubble-filled kiss to the audience during a 2016 performance at Weeki Wachee Springs State Park.
Mermaid Whitney blows a bubble-filled kiss to the audience during a 2016 performance at Weeki Wachee Springs State Park. [ FITTERER, BRENDAN | Tampa Bay Times ]
Published Mar. 19
Updated Mar. 19

WEEKI WACHEE — Shut down for a year due to COVID-19, the mermaids are swimming again as the Weeki Wachee Springs State Park reopened this week. But safety precautions and some limits were put in place to protect park visitors and staff.

Visitors who want to see the mermaid show are encouraged to arrive when the park opens since seating in the iconic underwater observation theater is limited. The popular park will operate from the hours of 9 a.m. until 5:30 p.m.

The park offered its first mermaid show in 1947 and was famous in the heyday of Florida roadside attractions. After the advent of Disney World and other major tourist attractions, the park struggled. It was taken over by the city of Weeki Wachee which incorporated to get the name on maps and signs.

The Florida Park Service took over the attraction in 2008 and has been working on several upgrades to assist with river water quality while the park has been closed. Meanwhile, the city was disbanded last year by the Florida Legislature.

Another popular draw at the park, the River Ranger Experience, also reopened this week. The wildlife theater is operating but also under limited seating arrangements, according to the announcement on the park’s Facebook page. Because social distancing cannot happen on the Wilderness River Cruise boats, that portion of the park is not yet reopened.

The swimming and beach areas will be open daily at the Buccaneer Bay waterpark through Sunday to coincide with Spring Break. Then beginning Monday through May 29, the waterslides, kiddie pool and lazy river will be available only on weekends. The waterpark will return to its normal summer operating schedule May 29.

Visitors to the water park will notice one major change. The Thunderbolt Waterslide has been removed for safety reasons.

“Recent inspections of the Thunderbolt Waterslide determined it is no longer able to be maintained in a safe and serviceable condition and therefore the Florida Department of Environmental Protection’s Division of Recreation and Parks removed the slide in accordance with the park’s Unit Management Plan,” said state spokeswoman Alexandra Kuchta. “Two slides will still remain in Buccaneer Bay.”

Hand sanitation stations are available throughout the park and visitors are asked to wear a mask and maintain distances of 6 feet apart.