El Jefe doesn't give Cultist much time off, but when he does, we like to spend our hard-earned blog money road tripping through Florida, stopping at quirky roadside attractions and buying-up neat little souvenir-stand knickknacks along the way. So much so, we decided to start our own mini-travel series, "Worth the Drive."
From Everglade skunk apes to underwater theaters, Jesus Christ lookalikes to alligator farms, Cultist is determined to highlight some of the wackiest joints in Florida and the eccentric folks behind them. For this installment, we talk to a mermaid about life at Weeki Wachee Springs State Park, Florida's favorite underwater tourist trap.
Since 1947, Weeki Wachee Springs State Park has been luring travelers to its underwater theater, an idea originally conceived by an ex-Navy man, Newton Perry. According to park's web site, "Newt scouted out pretty girls and trained them to swim with air hoses and smile at the same time." When they'd hear a car, the girls "ran to the road in their bathing suits to beckon drivers into the parking lot." Florida's very own sirens.
Pretty girl Stayce McConnell was born in Homestead, but lives on Florida's Gulf Coast in Spring Hill, and for the past ten years, she's been performing in the world's only mermaid theater.
"I'm the most senior mermaid here," she told Cultist, "I train the (new) girls, teach them everything."
Adapting to mermaid life can prove quite challenging for a new girl. As y'all know, humans aren't equipped to breathe under water, but the Weeki Wachee Spings State Park experts found a simple way to cheat biology. "You have to get scuba certified because we use air hoses (to breathe underwater)," McConnell says. "There's a lot of training that goes into it."
McConnell says folks recognize her around town all the time, especially when she's out with her coworkers. "Everybody's like, 'hey, it's the mermaids.' People are always asking you to sign (autographs)."
The mermaids have been featured in several television shows, including the second season of Simple Life and Andrew Zimmern's Bizzare Worlds. "(Hilton and Richie) were funny," McConnel says. They also had Larry the Cable Guy come by recently.
However celebrity mermaid status doesn't always translate into celebrity dollars. "It's kind of like a part-time job for me now," says McConnell. "I'm (also) a bartender at Applebee's."
But the mermaid agrees that her underwater gig is pretty cool, proudly stating, "It's better than your average job."
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Watch the mermaids pay tribute to America in the Youtbue video below, then hop on bus to Spring Hill and spend a weekend at Weeki Wachee Springs State Park. Tell 'em New Times sent you.