Updated on February 5, 2014
Weeki Wachee is better known for their glamorous mermaids than shy manatees but the name helped introduce us to one of Florida’s most enchanting winding rivers. Several times a day, the 538-acre state park carries on a live aquatic mermaid routine that first started in 1947. The arguably campy peep show still triggers a magical nostalgia for many and the show is always busy.
As anxious as I was to watch the synchronized swimmers, our paddling adventure got the best of us. We rented one red kayak and one blue canoe from an outfit by the same name, Paddling Adventures. They provided us with an over-the-phone reservation, muscle with my sister who has a disability into her seat, a map of the 5.5 mile stretch and a return shuttle ride.
We launched not far from the mermaids underwater theater picking up speed with the steady flow of the river. The turquoise blue crystalline water, transparent to depths of 35 feet or more, holds numerous schools of fish, turtles and even playful otters. Besides wildlife, three amateur high-wire artists strung a rope across the river to practice stunts. While several boats struggled to navigate the curvy banks, we pressed on looking for a secluded swimming hole. When we saw the man-made wooden platform we paused for a dip and a sandwich.
Taking photos while steering in fast moving water can be tricky. I had to teach my party the C and J stroke to avoid smacking into low-lying tree branches. Saving the best for last, manatees were said to congregate in a 140-foot hole near the Rogers Park delta. We looked for the deep dive site but couldn’t find it. Sans manatee sighting, the three-hours spent floating downstream was still the highlight of the week.