Vegas has just about everything you never knew you wanted: a zipline that shoots out of a slot machine, a Hooters-themed hotel — and a free-to-see 117,000-gallon reef aquarium, complete with mermaids.
The Silverton Casino’s aquarium is mesmerizing, with more than 4,000 tropical fish, stingrays and even sharks — a perfect place to escape the bustle of the Strip. More enthralling are the storied she-creatures-come-to-life: Up to seven times a day, a mermaid joins the ocean life in a sequined tail and shell bikini top, turning graceful flips and loop-de-loops. Ariana Liuzzi, 26, has been a Silverton mermaid since 2009. A synchronized swimmer from age eight for the Nevada Desert Mermaids, and ocean-obsessed since forever, becoming a mermaid was destiny. “When I was a child, I told people my first language was mermaid,” Liuzzi said (it was Slovak, but still). The tank contains tubes where the mermaids draw air, but Liuzzi can hold her breath for over a minute. In the tank, she feels like she belongs. “My favorite part is hanging out with sharks and rays,” she said. “They’re friendly and playful.”
But not all the fish are so welcoming. “Believe it or not, our biggest problem is fish picking on the stingrays and sharks,” said Ryan Ross, curator of the aquarium since 2005. Troublemaking fish get pulled out of the tank and put in a timeout until they learn to behave. One troublemaking pufferfish was nicknamed “Tyson” after trying to take a bite out of a mermaid’s ear.
Ross and his team take care of everything — from pump maintenance to fish pampering. They also care for the massive water feature in the Bass Pro Shops next door, open pools with ducks, sturgeon and turtles. The duck’s feathers are trimmed, but “inevitably, their flight feathers grow back faster than we anticipate,” Ross said. “And we’re running through the casino with a net saying, ‘Excuse me, ma’am, did you see a duck just fly by?’” For an ocean lover like Liuzzi — who also works under Ross as an aquarist — there could be no better gig. It’s the children’s reactions at the family-friendly attraction that really make the job worth it. “So many kids think I’m real,” she said.
-Andrea Kahn, Custom Publishing Writer