Disclosure: I was provided complimentary tickets to visit Busch Gardens Tampa Bay but all opinions are my own.
By Marcea Cazel
Visiting Florida and going to amusement parks is a right of passage as a child. While the majority of the parks are located in the middle of the state, there’s one with the most rollercoasters. It also has an animal conservation area and lots of activities for everyone of all ages. And it’s located near the best beaches in Florida – Busch Gardens Tampa Bay! So here’s my secrets to visiting Busch Gardens Tampa Bay.
Secrets to Visiting Busch Gardens Tampa Bay
Located on almost 350 acres in Tampa, Florida, Busch Gardens was developed in 1959 by the Anheuser-Busch company as a way to promote their products. Over time the gardens evolved into an amusement park. However, they kept in animals which had been included in the original park.
I took my pre-teenaged daughter and a friend but was slightly worried that they’d be bored. I remembered how many rollercoasters there were, and they didn’t want to ride them. We were all pleasantly surprised how much there was to do without getting on the coasters. We had so much fun, we really didn’t want to leave.
Here are some Secrets to Visiting Busch Gardens Tampa Bay, no matter the age of your family members.
Busch Gardens Tampa Bay is broken up into nine distinct areas. Originally called Busch Gardens: The Dark Continent, the areas and rides still keep an African theme with names such as Edge of Africa, Serengeti Plain and Nairobi.
There are 15 rides at Busch Gardens that are spread through the park. Half are what I’d call ‘fast and scary’ and the other half are kid/family friendly. Eight of the fast and scary’s are rollercoasters, including Tigris, which is Florida’s tallest launch coaster. If you’re a rollercoaster fan, the ones at Busch Gardens will make you very happy. Even though the girls and I didn’t ride, we got a kick out of watching them wiz by and hearing the screams of the riders.
For the ones who don’t want to hit the big coasters or aren’t tall enough, there are plenty of other rides to enjoy including a flume, skyride, river rapids and a small coaster called Sandserpent that we rode (it doesn’t go upside down or backward). The girls were still a little scared but after we got off they said they really loved it. There’s also a large carousel everyone will enjoy.
For very small children make sure you visit Sesame Street Safari of Fun. There are several kid rides including a child’s rollercoaster. There’s also a splash area (bring your swimsuits!) and shows throughout the day. And keep an eye out for your favorite Sesame Street characters who might be wandering around.
More than 300 species of animals live at Busch Gardens Tampa Bay. Busch Gardens is owned by SeaWorld so there is a lot of animal conservation that takes place at the park.
Busch Gardens gives you plenty of opportunities to get up close and personal with the animals, including at the kangaroo area and Lory Landing where you can meet small brightly colored birds named lorikeets.
Don’t miss viewing the Serengeti Plains where the big animals live. There are two ways to view: via the Skyride which is a cable car system that goes over the Serengeti Plains or by taking the train.
I suggest catching the Skyride in the Jungala area and taking it to the Edge of Africa. While up there, keep an eye out for elephants, wildebeest and other large animals.
Once you exit the Skyride, go to the train station around the corner and hop on the Serengeti Express train. You’ll get a different view of the Serengeti Plains and be able to see zebras, giraffes, ostriches and a host of other animals you didn’t see while on the Skyride.
Your best bet is to take these rides either early in the morning or later in the day before the sun sets. The animals disappear when it gets hot outside so going when the sun isn’t so high gives you a better opportunity to see more of them.
Animal Care Center
The Animal Care Center allows visitors to view animal treatment up close. When you enter there may be an employee who has an animal that you want to learn more about.
You’ll also be able to view the rooms that the vets use to provide nutrition to sick animals, x-trays and even surgery. There’s also an interactive game available for the kids where they can view the skeleton of a giraffe and go to different terminals to answer questions and learn more about different species.
When visiting any park in Florida, you’ll want to find the places that have air conditioning for when the family needs a little break. Busch Gardens offers a variety of shows during the year that are located indoors and you’ll want to seek them out. The shows rotate during different seasons but have included doo-wop concerts, rescued animal shows, and ice skating. We caught an acrobatic show that featured several members of the Flying Wallenda family.
Dining and Shopping
You won’t go hungry while you’re visiting Busch Gardens. There are 16 venues/cafes to grab a bite to eat. You’ll find options such as popcorn and ice cream along with sit down restaurants that offer hamburger or fish platters. There are always kids options available at the restaurants as well. The prices are a little high but the food is very good in comparison to some other amusement parks or zoos I’ve visited in the past. We ate at the Serengeti Overlook Restaurant & Pub. If it’s not too hot, sit on the outside patio where you’ll get a great view of the Serengeti Plains and some of the animals that live there.
There’s plenty of shopping as well. One thing the girls loved was the Pin Trading Exchange program that Busch Gardens Tampa Bay recently started. Collectible pins are available for purchase in the gift shops. Once you buy the pin(s) you want, start looking for Busch Gardens employes. Let them know that you want to trade your pin for one of theirs. Be sure to choose wisely – some of the employees have limited edition pins that are either hard to find or are no longer in circulation! The employees have to trade a pin for a pin so don’t be afraid to ask if you can look at their lanyard so you can make a trade.
Aventure Island is the water park owned by Busch Gardens. It’s located across the street and a separate entrance fee is required. There are sometimes ticket deals available if you’d like to stay in town for a couple of days and experience each park.
Where to Stay
Busch Gardens Tampa Bay is located on the east side of Tampa, close to the University of South Florida. So there are a lot of hotels available to choose from. Don’t be afraid to stay in downtown Tampa or Ybor City though if you’d like to be closer to some nightlife. Staying in St. Petersburg or Clearwater is also doable but the traffic will be much denser getting back and forth from those locations, especially at rush hour.
Visiting Busch Gardens is a less expensive way to experience a Florida amusement park without sacrificing quality and fun. It’s a great way for your entire family to enjoy themselves with a variety of options for everyone young and old. Hope you are able to use some of my secrets to visiting Busch Gardens!
An avid traveler since the age of 1 (her first trip was to Jamaica), Marcea Cazel enjoys traveling around Florida finding unique places many people haven’t discovered. With her travel blog My Cornacopia, Marcea gets the chance to visit mermaids, kayak in natural springs with the alligators and enjoy the natural beauty of the Sunshine State. Her next travel ventures include visiting all 175 Florida state parks and writing about African-American museums around the United States. When not traveling, Marcea enjoys reading, watching old movies and spending time with her family.