Last Weekend I Went to Mermaid Camp

by Carolyn Turgeon

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