Diving into Mermaid Life in Central Florida

Answer the siren’s song.

Written By Cynthia McFarland

For centuries, tales (pun intended!) have circulated about these mythological sea creatures. Call them sirens, mermaids or mermen—the fascination surrounding these underwater charmers has only increased.

Thanks to movies like The Little Mermaid and the recent Netflix docuseries MerPeople, there’s no end to the intrigue surrounding mermaids.

There are a handful of places in the Sunshine State where you can see mermaids—including here in Central Florida.

Photo courtesy of VisitFlorida.com

Weeki Wachee Springs State Park

Weeki Wachee deserves much credit for making mermaids mainstream, and the Spring Hill attraction owes its start to a long-time Ocala connection.

Newt Perry was a champion swimmer and stunt double for Johnny Weissmuller in the locally filmed Tarzan movies before being recruited to instruct a secret group of Navy swimmers and divers in the 1940s. Those “Frogmen” later became known as the Navy SEALS.

During that time, Perry invented underwater breathing technology that allowed swimmers to extend their time beneath the surface with free-flowing air hoses that supplied oxygen from an air compressor.

Figuring that what worked for Navy swimmers could also work for “mermaids,” Perry founded Weeki Wachee. Ever since the first show debuted in October 1947, tourists have flocked to watch mermaids cavort in the crystal-clear waters.

Perry sold his interest in the park in 1950, but Weeki Wachee became one of the country’s most acclaimed tourist attractions in the 1950s and ‘60s. The attraction was purchased by the American Broadcasting Co. (ABC) in 1959 and became a state park in 2008. 

Weeki Wachee is still home to its world-famous mermaids with 30-minute shows performed seven days a week at 11am, 1:30pm and 3pm. Theatre doors open 30 minutes before showtime. After each show, at least one mermaid is available to pose for photos with guests.

Kayaking and paddle boarding are also available at the park.

Weeki Wachee Springs State Park
6131 Commercial Way, Spring Hill
(352) 610-5660


Photo courtesy of Mertailor’s Mermaid Aquarium Encounter

Mertailor’s Mermaid Aquarium Encounter

Eric Ducharme fell in love with mermaids when his grandparents took him to Weeki Wachee as a young boy. In the early 2000s he actually became one of the performers there, but Eric had even grander aspirations.

Following his vision of making mermaid tails, he founded his company Mertailor in 2003, launching a successful career in an unusual field. 

“The world of mermaids, or better yet, ‘merpeople,’ has grown tremendously over the last 20 years,” says Eric. “This year we’re celebrating 20 years here at Mertailor in the manufacturing department of our mermaid tails. While every day is work, I love what I do and I’m living my dream.”

In December 2021, Ducharme expanded his business and opened Mertailor’s Mermaid Aquarium Encounter in Lecanto, bringing to life innovative mermaid shows as well as “interactive aquatic adventures for all ages.” 

With a total of 20 exhibits, visitors get a close look at sea creatures like moray eels, peacock mantis shrimp, seahorses, giant hermit crabs, clownfish, lionfish, scorpion fish, epaulettes and bamboo sharks. 

Thanks to “touch tanks,” guests can even interact with sting rays, sea stars, urchins and more. 

The stars of the show—mermaids and mermen—also make a big splash in the 15,000-gallon Caribbean Saltwater Aquarium. 

Since MerPeople debuted on Netflix, curiosity about the life of professional mermaids has exploded. 

“There are a lot of people out there interested in this world under the sea,” says Tristan McDonald, 36, aka “The Red River Merman,” one of the real merfolk featured in the Netflix docuseries, and a Mertailor’s merman. 

Mertailor’s Mermaid Aquarium Encounter is open seven days a week and offers four Aquarium Encounters daily. Each encounter includes a stroll through the aquarium and one mermaid show.  

Encounters happen at 10:30am-12pm, 12-1:30pm, 1:30-3pm and 3-4:30pm. Seasonal times may vary. Online bookings are suggested.

Mertailor’s Mermaid Aquarium Encounter

4100 W Gulf to Lake Hwy, Lecanto

(352) 513-3278


Photo courtesy of FAST

Merfolk Underwater Dance Lessons

If all this talk of mermaids makes you think of donning a tail and taking a dive, you’re in luck. 

This year Florida Aquatics Swimming & Training (FAST) in Ocala began offering Merfolk Underwater Dance Lessons, and the response has been dynamic. Having an honest-to-goodness merman for an instructor doesn’t hurt.

“I was a dancer for Disney for 10 years and toured all over the world with Disney Live and Disney on Ice,” says Tristan McDonald.

When he gained weight after he quit dancing professionally, McDonald took to the water with a mermaid tail. What started out as exercise and a way to lose weight became an amazing career. 

A merman since 2013, McDonald started his program in Shreveport, Louisiana, and originated the mermaid program at the University of West Florida in Pensacola. In 2022, he moved to Ocala to perform with Mertailor.

 “There are a lot of professional mermaids, but I don’t know of any others that teach,” says Gemma Fleming, director of programs at FAST. “There’s more to the water than swimming up and down the pool.” 

To sign up for Merfolk Underwater Dance Lessons at FAST, you must be able to swim a 25-yard freestyle and 25-yard breaststroke, hold your breath a minimum of 30 seconds and be able to roll over on your back in the water.

Each session features eight hour-long classes once a week. There are separate classes for adults and “guppies” (kids). Students wear a mono fin that binds the feet together, not a full mermaid tail.

Students learn breath control, buoyancy, aqua ballet and how to swim and maneuver with a mono fin—all the fundamentals needed to be a professional merperson. The rest is up to you!

Florida Aquatics Swimming & Training

4635 SW 67th Ave. Rd., Ocala

(352) 820-4222