Busch Gardens is a fantastic and often overshadowed theme park in Tampa, based on 19th-century Africa – so you can expect plenty of animals, thrilling rids and a totally different experience to other well-established parks in the state. Read on to discover our favourite hidden gems across the park, to make sure you really get the most out of your visit.
Busch Gardens actually began life in 1959 as a hospitality park for visitors to the Anheuser-Busch brewery – makers of Budweiser, Michelob and Rolling Rock, among countless others. Here, people could taste the company’s beers, visit a small bird garden, and go up onto the roof of the brewery to look over the surrounding Tampa area. The small park soon grew into an attraction in its own right, and in 1965 the Serengeti Plains opened up, offering 29 acres of space for African wildlife to live and roam freely.
Today, Busch Gardens is better known for its vast number of thrill ride and rollercoasters, but the animal exhibitions still pack a punch – over the years the park has opened further enclosures and habitats for a wide range of animals including gorillas, crocodiles, tigers and even flamingos. Think of it as a Floridian Flamingo Land – except, you know, with better weather and more things to do.
Attractions: What Not to Miss
While the big, impressive animals are of course the most famous at Busch Gardens, Curiosity Caverns is great for those looking for something a little quieter – and darker. Here you’ll find all manner of night time critters, including bats, snakes and sugar gliders. This is a great escape from the midday heat, and you’ll learn plenty about common nocturnal wildlife – and bust a few myths about their “creepy” factor.
The Skyride is often overlooked as simply a transport system from one part of the park to another, but it’s actually a brilliant ride in its own right, and you shouldn’t miss it while visiting the park. It passes over most of the animal areas, including Edge of Africa and Rhino Rally, climbing high enough to give you a great view of the whole park. If you want to get your bearings or you just want to rest your feet without missing out on any of the action, this is definitely the ride for you.
Busch Gardens boasts many new and popular rollercoasters, but this fantastic wooden track from 1999 promises a seriously thrilling experience. The track is set up as a duel between two coasters, with a whopping six fly-overs (a world record) – where the two coaches hurtle towards each other at terrifying speeds, giving the impression you’re about to collide. This ride is so underrated that there are rumours it may be put out of action within the next couple of years, so get there quick before it’s too late!
There are a number of hotels close to Busch Gardens Tampa, particularly on Busch Boulevard, where you’ll find plenty of budget options like Quality Inn and Best Economy Inn, as well as a number of motels.
If you want something with a little more luxury, you’re right in the middle of Tampa here, so there are plenty of options – and don’t forget that Walt Disney World is only a short drive away, making Busch Gardens perfect for a day visit during a longer theme park stay!
What’s in the area
Tampa offers plenty to visitors to Florida, particularly thanks to its beautiful coastline and busy city centre. If you haven’t had enough animal entertainment, there’s Lowry Park Zoo and Florida Aquarium, while SeaWorld is just a couple of hours away, and Busch Gardens Tampa’s sister park Adventureland promises plenty of water-splashing fun on a hot day! If you’d rather take a break from the theme parks and attractions, visit the Tampa Bay History Centre to learn more about the city itself, or simply head to one of the 165 parks within city limits for a quiet afternoon.