Busch Gardens Tampa Bay (approximately 100 miles southwest from Orlando) seems an improbable theme park, with its mix of wild coasters plus African animals: read below, for how it all evolved. The end result is a beautiful 335-acre park, of which our About.com Guide for Theme Parks says: "It's a thrill ride park. It's a zoo. It's a botanical garden. It's three parks in one!" Visitors will find:
- thrill-ride roller coasters
- fun water-rides
- lovely landscaped grounds
- fun and attractive African theming
- opportunities to view elephants, rhinos, etc.
This theme park's location in Tampa Bay puts it near St. Petersburg and Clearwater Beach, Florida-- a great family destination, with top-rated beaches; Also, Orlando is just two hours away.
Busch Gardens Background
Back in the fifties, beer-brewer Anheuser-Busch started up a beer garden (with free beer) and a bird show in front of its new brewery in Tampa Bay. Millions visited, and in a stroke of weird brilliance wildlife-lover August A. Busch Jr. added a 70-acre Serengeti Plains, which featured free-roaming elephants, giraffes, etc.
In the 70's, a Sky Ride and more African areas were added, and in the 80's the park found its true identity: the Python and Scorpion coasters were built.
Ever since, coasters and animal habitats have grown symbiotically. The brewery, meanwhile, closed in '95 but you can still get free beer in a hospitality center.
Below are highlights for families at Busch Gardens Tampa Bay: a fun park that can be manageably visited in one day.
Highlights at Busch Gardens Tampa Bay
- Beautiful grounds. Note the word Gardens: this park has beautiful trees, shady areas, fountains.
- Great theming. The North African and African architecture is a delight, with nice details: for ex., the Egypt area has a replica of King Tut's tomb, and themed souvenirs in the gift-shop. Just don't expect to find delicious themed food to match... (But exotic eats may be coming, with a new restaurant, The Kasbah.)
- Coasters. Busch Gardens Tampa has some amazing coasters: "SheiKra, a floorless diving coaster--among the best steel coasters anywhere" (according to our Theme Parks Guide); Montu, an inverted coaster; Gwazi, 8000-ft. wooden roller coaster...
- Great water rides. On a hot day in a theme park, nothing beats a chance to get soaked. Busch Gardens Tampa Bay offers: the Tanganyika Tidal Wave, the more sedate Stanley Falls Log Flume, and the Congo River Rapids.
- Animal viewing. The Serengeti keeps growing: the "Edge of Africa" has rhinos, hippos, white Bengal tigers, and more. The Myombe Reserve's Great Apes area was our fave: chimpanzees and gorillas have a huge space.
- Jungula area, new in 2008 with organgutans, tigers, rides, kids' water play (--read more at About.com's Theme Parks site.)
- Kiddie fun. Little kids, of course, love to see animals. They'll also like the Sky Ride, with its little gondolas; Serengeti Railway; kiddie rides in the Timbuktu area. And new in 2010: Sesame Street Safari of Fun, with kid-sized rides, and water fun
- Rhino Rally. This signature attraction takes you on a wild jeep ride though animal habitats: not quite in the same league as Kilimanjaro Safari at Walt Disney World, but definitely a "don't-miss" attraction at Busch Gardens.
- Shows: a variety of live entertainment, include one with Sesame Street characters*
- Christmas Town seasonal fun
Tips for Families
- the price of a Season's Pass could be close to the price of a one-day pass. Instead of trying to pack it all in, spread your visit over two or more days, especially if you have little kids.
- check out Adventure Camps and Sleepovers: mainly for locals, but dates might work for you
- if a ride is shut down, check back later: we saw a completely dry river bed turn into river rapids within hours.
- if your kids like horses, check out Clydesdale Hamlet and the Show Jumping Hall of Fame. Note: the Clydesdales will be moving, due to a change in ownership.
- combine Busch Gardens Tampa Bay with other attractions: buy a Flex Ticket that also includes SeaWorld Orlando, Universal Studios Florida and Island of Adventure, and Wet'n'Wild water park.