Into the Wild

Mermania Strikes the South

By Debi Lander
Photography courtesy of The Mermaid Academy, Fin Fun Mermaid Tails, Weeki Wachee

Becoming a mermaid is not just a fantasy. At mermaid schools around the South, the dream can become a reality.

There’s a thaw in the ice-covered waters of Disney’s “Frozen,” thanks to the comeback of Ariel, the “Little Mermaid,” who propelled the popularity of a new swimming apparatus – a tail. Children everywhere have dreamed of joining Ariel and Sebastian, the crab, under the sea after watching the Disney version of Hans Christian Andersen’s story. And now, adults have joined the mermaid frenzy.
This summer, the dream is real, with mermaids rising from the deep and creating a huge splash. They show up in “schools” at mermaid conventions and lessons, and in jewelry, makeup lines, blankets, fin-shaped backpacks and, of course, mermaid swimming tails.
Mermaid schools, popping up at many resorts in the South, have become one of the highlights of family vacations. Young girls, typically ages 6-12, don mermaid tails for mermaid lessons at resort pools. Mermaid-themed birthday parties – lessons and photo shoot included – are in high demand.  
You’ll find child and adult-sized Lycra and Spandex stretchy tails for sale at pools, and for rent at some locations or through online companies. Wiggling both legs into the mono-finned contraption while negotiating shallow water makes for quite a sight. Most lessons include use of a tail for the session.
Wondering where you or your child can join the merworld?
Lessons at the Sanderling Resort in the Outer Banks of North Carolina include various mermaid swimming techniques (think dolphin kick and fluid underwater movements). After class, an optional underwater photo shoot proves the memories aren’t just a “fish story.” Sanderling’s mermaid swimming instructors are all lifeguard certified and knowledgeable about using mermaid tails safely and effectively. Minimum age is 7, and kids are required to pass a swimming test before joining a class.
Brooke Rowe, an instructor at the Kitty Hawk facility, says, “It’s really heartwarming to hear our young students tell us their dreams are coming true. We’ve even had some returning students who excitedly showed us the tricks they’ve been working on.”
Alabama’s Spectrum Resorts in Gulf Shores offers girls a transformational mermaid class, including games like diving for treasures and swimming through underwater hoops. They can enjoy optional pirate and mermaid beach photo shoots before class.

Angela O’Rourke, owner of The Mermaid Academy near Orlando, says, “The experience allows participants to live out a fantasy and make a lifelong memory.” The Mermaid Academy provides instructors and gear for programs at 15 hotels in the Orlando area. Parents find the option another way to give their kids a magical experience in the city known for making dreams come true.
Lessons from the Mermaid Academy cost $30 and last one hour. They are open for all ages and swimming levels. Swimming aides (bubbles, arm floaters, life-vests) may be worn. Parents may even assist their youngster during the lesson. An additional fee includes a photo shoot.  
“No one leaves disappointed,” says Angela. “Attendees love the classes and everyone has fun.”
The mermaid experience can become an obsession, though. Mermania, a 2017 convention of adult and teen merfolk enthusiasts, took place in Greensboro, North Carolina. A 2018 event called SoCal Scales & Tails will be held in Long Beach, California. Many of these professional mermaids and mermen work as actors in films. They invest thousands of dollars in silicone tails, suits and headpieces. But, they also teach classes.
If your daughter slips into the craze, the stretchable, swimsuit-material mermaid tails will cost you around $50-$110. You can choose among realistic mermaid scale prints to others that sparkle and shimmer. Not to forget the little boys, shark fins, worn on a waistband, cost approximately $40.  
Weeki Wachee, the kitschy and original home of mermaid shows, continues to attract curious tourists just as it has since it opened in 1947. This old-school facility showcases mermaids in naturally formed underwater caverns, some of the deepest in the U.S. Visitors watch through an underground window in the theater. Look closely to see the mermaids occasionally sneak a gulp of air from a hose hidden in the watery set. The half-hour act, performed 16-to-20 feet below the surface of the water, involves mesmerizing acrobatic moves.
  Weeki Wachee is serious about mermaid instruction and they offer a more intensive curriculum at their multi-day junior and adult mermaid camps. Those interested should apply early – all of the 2018 dates have already sold out.  
If you want to join the sirens of yore bobbing along in mermaid coves, get yourself a tail and whisk off to the nearest mermaid school. As Sebastian would sing, “We got no troubles, life is the bubbles, under the sea.”

Read More in DeSoto Magazine online.