As a local to Orlando, but a transplant from the Northeast by way of the West Coast, I love our Florida beaches, I do. However, now and then I look for local trips or vacations for our family that are not the beach! This year, I stumbled upon a funky and fun family trip that mixes Florida history and an array of fun for the whole family. May I introduce Weeki Wachee springs?:
You may have heard of Weeki Wachee and the historic mermaid shows. We’ll get to that, it is part of this amazing trip. But, Weeki Wachee has so much more to offer, with plenty of day trips in the surrounding area and let’s not forget the springs themselves.
Weeki Wachee is located in the central west of Florida, just under two hours from the center of Orlando. It’s an easy trip on route 50 or just a few minutes longer taking back roads. It is 13 minutes to Pine Island Park, 17 minutes to Hernando Beach and 1 hour to Tarpon Springs. But you’ll find plenty to do right in Weeki Wachee.
Natural springs (like De Leon) have played an important role in Florida’s history, especially in tourism. Florida’s natural springs, along with Florida’s beaches have been the top two attractions in the state. Weeki Wachee is one of the oldest roadside attractions in Florida.
The springs and the mermaids have been much of the draw over the years to Weeki Wachee, but there is so much more to do here. You can make a day out of a trip here, a long weekend or even better a week out of a trip here. There’s plenty to do!
Where to stay:
You can find a handful of hotels in the area, which work well. But I recommend finding a house on the river, you will get a much better experience for your money. As we traveled up and down the river on our kayaks, we saw so many homes available for rent.
We chose a house that we thought would fit our family best and it was called The Funky Flamingo River Cottage! It was a hidden gem that had all we needed for our family of four (and a dog) to have a blast.
When looking for a home to rent, my Sleep Consultant mind always kicks in. I am looking for a quiet, separate room for the kids to sleep in. This way, we as parents, can enjoy our evening after the kids go to bed. This place had a 2nd bedroom with bunk beds, a trundle and a crib. It has a separate master and a pullout sofa in the living room.
The best part of our stay was our access to the outdoors and the river. Our rental home had multiple kayaks to choose from (including kiddie size ones). There was an expansive screened in porch overlooking the river and so many activities right in the home, yard and on the river for us as a family to take part in!
I felt like a good part of our experience was where we stayed. Find yourself a great home on the river! Nonetheless there is so much to do in Weeki Wachee and nearby…read on for more…
Things to do:
Visit the Mermaids:
This is a must! Visit the mermaids and Weeki Wachee State Park. The mermaids have been swimming and putting on a show in the underwater theater since 1947. Mermaid shows are offered at 11 a.m. and 3 p.m. There is also a 1:30 pm show that is mentioned to be a rehearsal show, but we found it just as great as the others. Seating is first-come, first-served.
Check out this video on the past 75 Years of Mermaid Magic!
If you have a daughter or just love mermaids yourself, don’t forget a photo opp with one of Weeki Wachee’s real mermaids!
When we went, it was off season, quiet and we got to experience so much. If you go during busy season, it is still worth it, but I recommend that you arrive early and get in line for the shows early as they seat first come, first serve.
The park is open from 9:30 am – 5:30 pm and for all of $13 for adults, $8 for children ages 6 to 12 there is much to experience here. Ages 5 and under admitted free.
Enjoy more of Weeki Wachee State Park:
Inside the park you can experience a Ranger Experience, offered daily at 10 a.m., noon and 2:15 p.m and a Wilderness River Cruise is offered between 9:30 a.m. and 4 p.m
Let’s not forget the, water park like none other, at Buccaneer Bay. Here you’ll be able to set up a camp for the day (you can bring your own umbrellas, etc) enjoy the waterslides and swim in the crystal clear and delightful 74 degree water of the springs.
Boat on the river:
If you stay in a home located on the river, most homes come with kayaks available for your use. But if staying elsewhere, you are able to rent kayaks from Weeki Wachee State Park. Along the river you’ll find clear waters, manatees, swimming opportunities and surprisingly quiet spaces to hang out. I found it quite majestic. Our family ended up paddling multiple times in the day, making having a home with kayaks available so worthwhile.
If you want a motor, there are a couple of places to rent boats from nearby. There is a benefit to this as paddling up and downstream can be a bit of an exercise. Any way you choose to do it, get out on the river. It is Old Florida at it’s finest!
Check out Pine Island Park:
While out on the springs, you can feel like you are miles away from it all, especially the beaches. But, if you are craving the beach, you’ll be happy to find out that Pine Island Park on the Gulf of Mexico is just a short (very) drive away.
It is a white sand beach, shaded by palm trees. When compared to other Gulf Coast beaches, it is more local style (aka. fewer tourists). There you will find beach volleyball courts, picnic tables, grills, a playground and an observation tower.
This is worth a stop, even if just for our beautiful Florida sunsets over the Gulf.
I Could Go On:
Let’s be real, I could go on and tell you more about the things to do around Weeki Wachee, the restaurants, special stops and hidden spots on the river. Perhaps I will, in another post. Until then, I urge you to go check out this special place in Florida. It is truly a hidden gem. Perfect for families. You won’t be disappointed.