Weeki Wachee Springs State Park has been spotlighted in a nationally cast ray of sunshine, thanks to a video profile of the park hosted by the Midway Main Street YouTube channel.
"Florida's Mermaids: The History of Weeki Wachee Springs," has accrued nearly 15,000 views since its Aug. 5 debut on Midway Main Street, a YouTube channel that boasts 139,000 subscribers and a host who has morphed his passion for theme parks into a vividly filmed and highly informational video series.
Midway Main Street videos generally showcase theme park attractions such as Disney World, Disneyland, and Universal Studios Florida. Yet the show's host, popular YouTube personality Rob Plays, saw something special in the land of the mermaids.
"Usually video ideas come out of everything from stumbling across an old article in the newspaper to remembering something from a book to suggestions from subscribers. In the case of Weeki Wachee, I was actually browsing videos on the State Library and Archives of Florida and came across these old videos of mermaids doing a show underwater," he said. "The more I read into its background the more fascinating the place became to me. More specifically, its resiliency felt like the makings of a great story."
Rob saw Weeki Wachee, not just as an enjoyable theme park, but as a vibrant example of resilience and historical significance.
"You've got this little roadside attraction that grows more and more popular, hits a golden era when it has the backing of a company like ABC, and then almost loses it all when Disney comes to town," he said. "Yet despite all of it, they still make it out on the other side. And they do it by sticking to this original idea. It would have been so easy for an attraction like Weeki Wachee to try and change everything up or mimic competitors when times got tough, but by holding onto this classic show, it helped them stand out."
Although unable to visit Weeki Wachee Springs because of the current health crisis in Florida, Rob packed his video with both modern and classic footage of the park, along with an exhaustively researched and highly animated chronicle of Weeki Wachee facts and trivia.
"As it turns out, I haven't actually had the pleasure of visiting Weeki Wachee yet. I only recently moved to Florida last year so my experience with non-Disney attractions down here is pretty slim," he said. "Under normal circumstances, I would have made a trip out there while writing the video, but with the pandemic, I know much of the park is still closed. Though I definitely intend to visit once things are back to normal and I'll be making a beeline to the mermaid show when I do. Kayaking down the Weeki Wachee river also sounds like a fantastic time!"
Rob has parlayed an enthusiasm for theme park destinations into a scholarly interest regarding the origins and workings of these parks.
"In the earlier days of the channel, it was more exclusively dedicated to Disney history. At the time I was living in New York City and still trying to build up a career, so taking trips down to the theme parks wasn't really an option for me. My background was in media and I was a lifelong Disney World fan, so I just kind of merged the two together to act as both a creative outlet as well as a way to channel my fandom," he said. "Over these eight years, however, it's evolved from a love of the Disney parks to a love of learning about history and sharing interesting stories with people. The best part of this channel for me is that I get to come across an interesting story or topic that I know nothing about, and then get to spend the next few weeks studying it inside and out. So with that, I changed the scope of my channel so that I could find even more fascinating hidden corners of history that I could learn about and share."
In the future, it is the intention and mission of Midway Main Street to explore and explain the unique magic of theme parks, in Florida and beyond.
"I know that in general, I want to explore the history of Universal Studios a bit more, as well as some of the bigger World's Fairs of the past, and smaller amusement parks across the country. In regards to the smaller amusements, I plan to just let those ideas come organically. YouTube can be pretty fast-paced to create for, so I'm seldom planning content months ahead of time. Often it's a matter of putting a video out there and going "Alright, let's find the next topic!" He said. "It keeps it fun and exciting."
And ultimately, Rob Plays looks forward to experiencing the fun and excitement of Weeki Wachee Springs.
"(Weeki Wachee is) a historical part of central Florida," he said in the video " Florida's Mermaids: The History of Weeki Wachee Springs", which can be seen now at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=k-XnTl2n5VI.