Busch Gardens is all about two things: 1.) exotic animals 2.) thrill rides.
Busch Gardens is the largest zoo in Tampa, Yes, zoo—properly accredited by the Association of Zoos and Aquariums. Busch Gardens is actually one of the largest zoos in North America, boasting over 12,000 animals, 250 species, 30 of which are either threatened or endangered.
My favorite animal experience is to take the Serengeti Train, which is a slow moving passenger train that travels throughout the park and across the Serengeti Plain, which is a 65 acre section of Busch Gardens filled with giraffes, rhinos, zebras, gazelles, and other exotic African animals that are not confined to small habitats or cages; they are free to roam. Which makes for some interesting encounters. Once a curious rhino came all the way up to my wife. She could have reached out and touched it if she wanted to, but she decided to scoot away instead.
For another Serengeti experience, you can pay some additional money to be loaded onto the back of a truck and they will drive you around the plain for 30 minutes, allowing you to feed the giraffes and other animals. A few other amazing animal habitats include the Myombe Reserve, which has gigantic Western Lowland Gorillas and a couple babies still clinging to their mothers (at the time of this writing, anyway), the Edge of Africa, which has a fantastic hippo habitat that can be viewed from below the water line, and the Tiger Trail, which allows visitors to get close to the rare Bengal Tigers. It is likely that your favorite animal habitats will vary from mine; the point is there are a lot.
The thrill rides. These are probably the most noticeable objects as make your approach to the park because they all stick up from behind the Busch Gardens walls like skyscrapers. The tallest ride in the park is the Falcon’s Fury, a one-of-a-kind drop-tower. It brings you up over 300 feet, seats pivot 90 degrees at the top so you are facing straight down, and then you fall at 60mph. The closest most people will get to skydiving.
The newest ride is Cobra’s Curse which is a family spin coaster that whips you around the turns, causing the carts to wildly spin around. The longest and most popular ride is Cheetah Hunt, which uses a special magnet firing system to launch the coaster from stand-still to high speeds. My favorite ride is Montu, which is a feet-dangling good time and makes me feel like I’m in a fighter jet.
Unequivocally, Busch Gardens is my favorite Tampa Bay daytrip, because of the ease of access, the variety of things to do, and seasonal celebrations throughout the year that keep things new and exciting. I love Busch Gardens so much I even wrote a whole book about it, The Florida Explorer’s Guide To Busch Gardens Tampa. I’ll give you my number one tip from that book: arrive early and when the park opens immediately go to the Cheetah Hunt roller coaster. This strategy will give you an edge over the mass of people that aimlessly wander around the park.
Doing it on the cheap…
I’m a big fan of the BG Annual Pass for Tampa Bay residents because it pays for itself after two visits and gets you free parking ($17.00).
The Tampa Bay CityPASS gets you admission to Busch Gardens, The Florida Aquarium, Lowry Park Zoo, Clearwater Marine Aquarium, MOSI (Museum of Science and Industry) or Chihuly Collection for $107 (Adult) and $97 (Child).
Location: 10165 N McKinley Drive, Tampa, FL 33612
Admission: Ages 3 and Up $89.00 (Online price. $104 at the gate) | Children 2 and Under FREE
Hours: Varies by day and season, open 365 days a year