What comes to mind when you think of Florida? For me, prior to visiting, it was always Disneyland and alligators… Pristine coastlines and towering palm trees. A culture of people cruising through life wearing Hawaiian shirts and flip-flops; all year round. Well Florida is all of that, but so much more. We recently hit the road again and travelled some 630 miles South from home in North Carolina to Tampa, Florida.
The friend whom we were visiting in Tampa had been given a recommendation from a colleague, something that we apparently couldn’t miss. ‘An enchanted spring’, the website said after a little more research, where you can see live mermaids, take a trip on a river boat cruise, experience some of Florida’s most unbelievable wildlife or embark on an adventure paddling down the crystal clear waters of Weeki Wachee river. Florida is known for its convergence of natural springs, in fact it is said to have the largest array of freshwater springs on the planet; 700 in total.
On a gorgeous Saturday morning we drove 56 miles North of Tampa to Weeki Wachee Springs State Park. We arrived to find that the ‘aquarium’ style water park and mermaid attraction was closed due to maintenance (it is normally open all year round), but the option to rent kayaks and paddle along the 5+ mile river trail was still available. Being three 30 something year old adults, this suited us perfectly, but for families with young children the aquarium is not to be missed.
Since 1947 the park has hypnotized visitors, with it’s dazzling and mysterious entrance into a turquoise, crystal clear world of beautiful, mesmerizing mermaids, manatees, turtles and teeming underwater wildlife. Sitting inside a 400-seat submerged mermaid aquarium you feel as though you are inside the flowing spring itself.
After a safety tutorial, life jacket fitting and renting of our kayaks, off we went to the start of the 5-mile river trail. When I say that my breath was taken away by what I was to experience next is an understatement. The beauty that unfolded over the next 3 ½ hours is something that will never be erased from my memory. Think the oceans of the Seychelles, Bora Bora Island, the Bahamas? BUT FRESHWATER. A labyrinth of electric blue and turquoise water, so clear that you cannot help but gasp in delight. I almost get teary just thinking back to this day.
What blows my mind is the discovery of new secrets in nature. With technology at our fingertips and therefore this ability to research what is out there on a screen, from anywhere, we feel like we sort of know this planet, even if we haven’t personally been somewhere. The thing is we DON’T, and we never will. Even if you were lucky and strong enough to travel everyday until you were 110 years old, you wouldn’t see it all, and isn’t that a magnificent thought?
This is one of those experiences that will leave you with a newfound respect for Mother Nature. Freshwater clarity and wildlife so alive, ELECTRIC and dense your breath gets stolen from you. The sheer surprise that something like this exists and you didn’t even know or expect it. We took our time paddling with the current along this maze of beauty and in total spent 3 ½ hours on the water. This included many stops along the white sandy beaches, jumping from treetops or swinging from ropes into the deep gullies. Above us birds of prey circled and below us the crisp, translucent waters displayed a beyond impressive array of huge shoals of freshwater fish, turtles and even a visit from one of the resident manatees.
We snorkeled and swam and laughed and I almost cried because I fell in love with this place and I knew it would be a while before I would be back. The thing is, it is so mind-blowingly beautiful that we will be back and I am convinced that anyone who visits Weeki Wachee State Park will too fall in love with its beauty and splendor and wonder how you had never visited before.
To this day I still tell people about our time at Weeki Wachee and when I describe it, I always say that this was one of the most incredible days of my life. And there is so much more to see and do inside this 538-acre park. Renting your own canoes or kayaks as we did, visiting the sandy beaches and swimming area’s with 4 water slides for thrill seekers and excited kids, a relaxing river boat cruise to take in Florida’s magnificent flora and fauna or sit down to their educational animal show and get up close and personal with some of Florida’s wildlife like alligators, snakes and exotic birds.
Delicious dining options are available if a break from the water is needed.
- Mermaid Galley:
Indoor and outdoor seating located in the back of the park overlooking the woods. Sandwiches, burgers, wraps, salads, ice cream, snacks and drinks.
- Captain’s Quarters:
Ice cream, snacks and drinks overlooking the bay.
- Pirates Grubb:
Sit outside by the beach and enjoy snacks, burgers, hot dogs, chicken fingers and more.
- Snack Shack:
Snacks, ice creams and cold drinks near the swimming area.
- Tiki Bar:
A refreshing frozen drink, beer, wine and grilled food items.
Get to Weeki Wachee its mind-boggling.
Exploring Weeki Wachee Springs