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Monday, June 13, 2011

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Last Weekend I Went to Mermaid Camp

And by mermaid camp I mean the two-day “Sirens of the Deep” mermaid camp that’s run by the former mermaids of the inimitable Weeki Wachee Springs, the open-since-1947, visited-by-Elvis live mermaid city in Weeki Wachee, Florida, that features an awesome underwater theater built into a natural spring.

I know, you're very jealous. The good thing, though, is that you can go, too, and become a certified mermaid like me. Here's what to expect.

On Day One, you gussy up mermaid-style, slip yourself into a tail and a bra top (or whatever you prefer, but you sluttier types do have to wear a top of some kind), and pose for dry photos in the Mermaid Lagoon. I had a black sparkly tail generously loaned to me by The Mertailor, wore a halter top I’d glamorously purchased from Target the day before, and bedecked myself with necklaces I might have found in a sunken treasure chest (or on a display rack provided by camp leader/merqueen Barbara Wynns). The tails all have fins stuck in the bottom, so it's important to spread your feet apart to give your tail the proper fannage. I just made that word up, which is something mermaids are allowed to do, being not of this world. It's also very important to suck in one’s unmermaidly belly. The phrase “suck and spread!” is thus repeated many times by the camera-wielding mermaids surrounding you, who are only trying to help. They're also on hand to adjust one’s unwieldy “sisters,” should such an adjustment be needed, and/or to dab one’s overly dewy skin.

Me with former mermaids Sami Brown and Barbara Wynns.

Then you get to have lunch, and after that you watch a Weeki Wachee mermaid show in the underwater theater, where a curtain rises to reveal "real" mermaids swimming and posing in the spring. There are two shows at Weeki, and we saw “Fish Tales,” which goes over Weeki’s extremely cool history and features mermaids eating, drinking, and doing all kinds of jealousy-inducing mermaid moves.

After, you get to go into the spring itself. I stood and took photos as my aptly named fellow camper Loralee swam fetchingly in her tail, and I sighed and smiled and clicked away as two turtles began swimming behind her.

Then it was my turn, and I foisted myself into the cold water off the small dock (actual performing Weeki mermaids enter through a tube in a secret room) and promptly lost both my fins, which popped off my feet and hid at the bottom of my tail. Then the turtles turned to me and I almost passed out from horror, screaming and flailing until I realized I could just stand up in the shallow water. And then I stood and screamed and flailed as the turtles came at me, staring with their beady eyes like miniature Godzillas. If Godzilla were flat and kind of looked like a giant roach with a snake head and moss on its back.

It was a low moment, and I felt slightly defeated as I went home. And by “home” I mean Barbara Wynns’ mermaid mansion, where all the volunteer former mermaids and campers gathered for pina coladas, roast chicken, salad, and pumpkin pie with whipped cream, and where we all received gift baskets.

On Day Two, you spend the whole day in the water, coming out for breaks when the current mermaids are performing. You learn glamorous mermaid poses, you learn to undulate in mermaid style, and you learn to remember to smile and make pretty mermaid faces instead of grimacing as you twist your body in strange ways while wearing a constricting tail. Later in the day, your family and friends can come to the theater to watch and take photos. Each camper, by the way, has a former mermaid assigned to help her, and Barbara Wynns is in the theater itself talking on a microphone to everyone in the water. It's quite strange the first time your head is under water and you hear that god(dess)-like voice call your name, talking right into your ear.

I came in determined to make peace with the turtles that day, and I tried to to think of them as friendly dogs, as Weeki artist-in-residence and my fellow camper Julie called them, or as representations of mother earth, as Barbara more stretchingly did. And I thought that if pro mermaid extraordinaire Hannah Fraser can swim with sharks … I supposed I could swim with a damn turtle. So I shook one of their slimy hands and fed another a piece of bread and tried to turn my wince into a smile when it snaked out its head and chomped down.

But then! We swam and swam in that crystal-clear spring in our mermaid tails, and everyone was laughing and happy and beautiful, women in their 20s and women up to their 70s (the oldest still-performing Weeki Wachee mermaid Vicki Smith is 71; she started performing at Weeki in 1957 and swam for Elvis back in 1960!). And then a manatee swam in from the river — the first time a manatee’s shown up at camp. I was instantly in love and suddenly forgot about turtles and all the friends and family with cameras watching us from the theater, and I ignored my poor partner, ex-mermaid Crystal who kept calling out to check on me, and I just followed that manatee, who rolled around and around and played with us all afternoon.

And that was when I became a mermaid, and I even have the certificate to prove it.

The Sirens of the Deep mermaid camp is run by the former Weeki Wachee mermaids and the Friends of Weeki Wachee.

Previously: Five Ways to Become a Mermaid.

Carolyn Turgeon wrote the novel MERMAID, runs the mermaid-themed blog I Am a Mermaid, and is co-editor of the new upcoming annual MERMAIDS publication. She will also be at the World Mermaid Awards/MerCon in Las Vegas this August.

Top photo via Vintage Travel Postcards

27 Comments / Post A Comment

sheisjustso

i didn't know mermaids were popular enough to have their own magazine, summer camp, and awards show! what kind of awards does a mermaid win? "most glittering seashell bra"?

Tragically Ludicrous

So I don't care about the mermaid identity or whatever, but swimming around for a whole day and ALSO THERE ARE TURTLES AND MAYBE MANATEES sounds like the best thing ever.

lagreen

I love this piece--thank you for giving me a glimpse into the life of a mermaid! I really loved the paragraph that begins, "But then!". It was beautiful and touching and eloquent. Great post!

punkahontas

TOTES JEALZ!!!!

lemonyfreshk

haha omg I was so tempted to do this when it was on Groupon… wishing I had now.

punkahontas

@lemonyfreshk OMG IT WAS ON GROUPON?!?!

flapadactyl

I TOTALLY got a picture with a mermaid in 1990 when my dad & I visited Weeki Wachee Springs on our motorcycle trip around Florida. I should mention also that during this trip I listened (and sang along) to the Little Mermaid soundtrack cassette (ordered from Scholastic, natch) NONSTOP in my walkman on the back of the bike. That's just a normal fourth grade obsession, right? I also became obsessed with figuring out how they breathed from those underwater wavy air hoses. Live sparkly mermaids at Weeki Wachee beats Disney any day, plus the super-sweet glass bottom boat tours were a revelation for aspiring marine biologists! I heard that Weeki Wachee was in danger at some point of closing, thanks for reminding us of this amazing attraction!

winchesterwolcott

@flapadactyl Chris Evans is that you?

Sabriel

@flapadactyl It may have been something to do with Florida law not allowing natural water sources to be used as part of attractions? I know a Disney water park closed because of it. Glad to see the mermaids are still around though.

JuiceBox

I love watching old MGM classics with elaborate costumes and even more elaborate show numbers as a kid. Still do. When the Muppets Caper spoofed those numbers with Miss Piggy & Charles Grodin, oh my gosh I died slowly on a fainting couch! So basically what I'm saying is, FANTASTIC FUN! Plus I friggin' love camp. A camp about mermaid camp is a brilliant idea. You've opened new possibilities for me!

punkahontas

PS. The Mertailor has realistic latex tails on sale...
http://www.themertailor.com/magento/index.php/mermaid-tails.html

rmlupica

OMG, manatees!

GenericCereal

I grew up in Spring Hill, Florida about five minutes from Weeki Wachee Springs. We went several times a summer. I got to do the young mermaid camp when I was 11. It was effing magical.

LotaLota

I just bet that five minutes after you've struggled into your mermaid tail and entered the water, you've gotta go to the bathroom. Amirite?

whimseywisp

I love everything about this, including but not limited to: sparkly costumes, pina coladas, & manatees. This is WIN x infinity.

cherrispryte

YAY MERMAID POST!!!!

Also, I would like to say, based on the general shape of manatees, bellies are not at all unmermaidly.

sparrow303

I want to go to there!

Sundae

I have been looking at this FOREVER and in fact have their page bookmarked as part of my 'inspiration to save and get your fucking ass on exchange to the US' folder. So excited to see someone actually there!!

collier

Those are some darling mermaids, Darlings.

Danielle Hayden@twitter

@collier Lily? Vivian? Is that you?

collier

@Danielle Hayden@twitter Don't we wish. An absolute travesty that P.D. was cancelled.

Manatee

So happy to see this on The Hairpin. World colliding! My parents live on the Weeki Wachee and it really is an enchanting, beautiful, manatee-filled place.

maevemealone

I sent their website to my friend, who lives in Tampa, yesterday, debating whether to buy this for her as a wedding present. Not a very good wedding present right? But even, better, it turns out yesterday was her birthday! Perfect birthday present! Her fiancee is going to haaattte me...

doomfordarlings

I went to Weeki Wachee as a little mermaid-obsessed kid and those photos are still some of my favorite! A couple months ago I found the (awesome) postcards we bought on our visit. This post made my day!

Lindsay Gordon@facebook

SO JEALOUS. Growing up in Florida I definitely did Weeki Wachee. I can't believe you got to swim with a Manatee though, for reals! Mermaids are miracles!

loocheeuh

Lucky you! I have been to Weeki Wachee and it is AWESOME. I've also met Mermaids Vicki and Barbara: equally awesome. Magical doesn't quite describe it!

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