As many of you know, I travel up and down the Southwest Florida coastline teaching classes and workshops. At the end of the week, I’m ready to sit by my BBQ pit and watch the puffs of smoke come out the stack. This is about the highest mental activity that my poor little brain can handle at this point. However, once in a while the wife kidnaps me and takes me on a trip. I know I’m in trouble when she says, “Grab your camera bag and let’s go.” My mantra is “happy wife, happy life”. This has kept us out of divorce court so far. Anyway, we were talking about taking the day off sometime and hiding. Sunday is usually paperwork day as she does the fun task of bills and counting the money for her company as I do mine. So, I guess Sunday is a workday in our house. I grabbed my gear as instructed and headed for the car. She pulled out a wadded up piece of paper that had map quest written all over it. Since she hasn’t had the time to travel as much I helped her load the address in the GPS Lola. Lola is usually kind, however I do keep a hammer close by in case she needs a little “recalculating adjustment”. As I’m putting in the address, the city was Weeki Wachee. I looked at her and said, “Ugh, where the hell is this?” She said, “Surprise!”. I was totally lost, I was convinced that she was going to take me to a make believe place and the water that I had been drinking had arsenic in it and this was it, I was going to be shown the pine box. She explained that one of her clients used to be a “mermaid”. At this point I was reaching for the car door to exit the vehicle. I thought I was going to have to call the people in the white coats to come and “visit” her. I said, “Mermaids?”, “Have you been sniffing the nail polish bottles again this week?” Then the other paper came out about the mermaid show in the Florida State Park in Weeki Wachee. Since this had the state seal on it, I figured this has to be legit. It wasn’t long and Lola said, “There are some tolls on this route.” This is where the fun began.
Ok, I looked over the paper map that she had printed and we were going north…way north. I saw that I-275 was part of the route and figured that this was the toll and we were on our way. As we made it to St. Petersburg, we came upon the mighty Skyway Bridge and we paid the $1.25 to cross. No big deal. Lola went quite for a while and then she got us on to 569, I think. We encountered another toll. Ok, another $1.00. I sat back in my seat enjoying that I wasn’t having to drive until five minutes later we came upon another toll. At this point, I’m getting a little irritated driving through “tollville”. Here’s the short end of the story, by the time we got there, we had gone through six toll booths and spent almost $7. I’m not known for being cheap, but this makes about as much sense as sticking your tongs on a nine-volt battery. I looked at the paper map and saw there was a cut through Brooksville and I informed her that we would be taking this route home as to get to the tolless I-75. After what seemed like an eternity….two and a half hours later….we finally arrived. I was hoping this was going to be everything that the hype that I was sold on, or I was going to be like Clark Griswold going to Wally World and punching the moose. I got out of the car and managed to get vertical again and I was greeted with naked women all around me. There we statues in the parking lot of mermaids lined up in a row that had seemed to forgot their tops, I could see this would be a great family fun place. Angie looks at me and asked if I would like to have my photo taken with one. It felt really strange having my wife ask this question and all I could think was how viral this would have gone through the internet. I looked at her and said, “I’m good.” It was only noon and it has been a very interesting day so far.
We found the entrance and paid the fee and was handed a map. This looked like quite a place. As we wondered the grounds we saw several stage areas. Also, it looked like this place had been built in the 1950’s and they just reopened up the doors today. It was really interesting, but weird at the same time. There were only a handful of folks in the park when we arrived. As we followed the paths that were on the map, we realized that we had completed the park in 20 minutes. Since it was lunch time we decided we better get something to eat and regroup. They had a nice, indoor area to get sandwiches and such and the prices were decent. As we are sitting there munching down on our chicken fingers, we looked at the provided map and a insert fell out, on the top it read, “SHOW SCHEDULE”. Ok, now we are getting somewhere. As it turned out, there was going to be a mermaid show coming up in a few minutes so we inhaled our lunch like the dog does with a piece of cheese, no chewing required.
We make it into the theater and it had that 1950’s look to it, dust and all. It was nice, but I was missing something. Then I realized that this show was going to be underwater. I realized that I left my grand ole’s 50mm f/1.4 in the car. I could feel the vein in my forehead growing to unimaginable proportions. I was really upset with myself. Like I say in class, use what you have with you. In this case, I had my Nikon 18mm-200mm lens attached. This is a great all around lens, but is terrible in low light. As the show was starting they played an intro video showing how the park was built and that Paramount Studios built it. Bingo, that now makes perfect sense. They showed some old video where back in the day, the women performers would stand by the side of the road (with tops on) and wave to the traffic to lure them in. They would do the show no matter if they even had just one person. Very cool stuff. After this short intro they played Kelly Clarkson’s, “Stronger” music video. She contacted them and wanted the mermaids in the video. Now I was staring to get into what was going on here. See if you can pick out the two scenes that were filmed in the springs.
Kelly Clarkson’s “Stronger” music video.
After the initial opening videos, the curtain was lifted and at that moment, I realized that I was saved. They mentioned that we were 16 feet below sea level, yes the theater was underwater, so this meant that where the mermaids were going to be was a full sun daylight shot. However, I still had to shoot through a thick piece of Plexiglas and thirty feet of water. I cranked up the ISO to 1600, set the f-stop to f/5.6 and ended up with a shutter speed between 1/500 – 1/800. This would allow me to stop the action.
This is a real spring with no restrictions. We saw a few turtles take center stage as they were swimming around. I was able to catch one of the mermaids giving it a kiss.
They told us right up front, don’t bother using a flash, as it would bounce right off the plexi. This makes total sense. However, we sat off to one side, not thinking that we were sitting in front of a curved piece of plexi. This distorted all the photos that I shot at an angle. I had to wait until they came over to our side of the theater so I could get a clean shot. If you do go to this location, sit in the middle row, your camera will thank you for it.
Another attraction was the riverboat cruise. On the ride they educate you about the spring and the environment. I couldn’t get over the color of the water. It looked as if it was liquefied aqua marine minerals. It was so clear that you could see to the bottom with no problem. The spring also brings many folks who like to kayak. They have a deal where if you rent a kayak, you can drift down stream and they’ll go down and pick you up and bring you back. This sounded much better than trying to row against the current!
On cue, when we passed the turtles, the front one waved to us. It was the craziest thing that I have ever seen. Since the turtles are on the rocks, I wonder how they are going to get down, high tide maybe?
As we approached the turn in the river, the ranger showed us a six-year-old eagle nest. As you can see, there is someone home. I believe that the ranger said that there are 2,300 documented eagle nests in Florida.
When we were wandering around the property, we ran into a flock of peacocks. We counted ten, and we even saw a white one. I’m guessing it was a female as she got on the ground and started throwing dirt all over the place. After a few minutes, she settled down and laid down. I’m guessing that she was preparing for little ones. For this shot, since the peacock was partially lit by the sun and there were some deep shadows, I knew that I was going to need some lighting help. This is a flash shot. I cranked up my little pop up flash to nuclear mode, and took one. I was a ways back and didn’t think that it was going to even be effective. I was surprised when I received this photo when I got home. The legs and belly of the bird is being lit by flash.
There was also a reptile show, but we seemed to miss that. I don’t think that was on Angie’s wish list to see anyway. At the end of the day, it was worth the long drive and being tolled to death. On the way home we did cut through Brooksville which was much easier and no tolls. On this day we were fortunate to have Grandma and Grandpa doggie sit. It’s not often we have a sitter. As we merged back on to I-75 I looked over at Angie and asked her if she wanted her L.A. Lasagna. She smiled, as we got closer to I-4 we merged east toward Orlando O-Town and we had dinner at Planet Hollywood in Downtown Disney. That was an adventure in itself; we can save that for another day. If you have never been to Weeki Wachee, I would recommend checking it out. Is it something that you would want to make multiple trips to? Well, I’ll leave that to the eye of the visitor. What ever you do…..just take I-75!
Until next time…
Keep Your Glass Clean