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I grew up in Florida and we moved to various areas of the state throughout my childhood. But for the majority of it, we were in the Tampa Bay area, in Clearwater and Sarasota mainly. Therefore, Busch Gardens Tampa Bay was a frequent trip for my family and I. Since I joined the military, I take my younger siblings almost every year when I return home. Hence why I feel pretty qualified to write this ultimate guide to Busch Gardens Tampa Bay!
Since I moved away from Florida, I’ve lived all over, and visited amusement parks in California, North Carolina, and Virginia. With the exception of Disney World (which, I think counts as more than a simple theme park, it even as it’s own zipcode), Busch Gardens Tampa Bay is hands down my favorite. If you haven’t been to Busch Gardens Tampa Bay, I strongly recommend you go! And in this guide, I’m here to explain why and help you make the most of your trip!
Planning Your Trip to Busch Gardens Tampa Bay
- Download the Busch Gardens App. I only found out this existed on a trip a couple years ago. The app includes a park map, as well as ride wait times and show times. It definitely comes in handy! If you don’t want the app, you can get paper maps at the front of the park.
- Power banks to charge your phone, especially if you plan on taking a lot of pictures or using the Busch Gardens App. And make sure you charge them! I almost always forget that crucial step. You can find plenty of these on Amazon, like this one here.
- Reusable water bottles. While you can re-use plastic water bottles in the park, this is definitely the cheaper and more environmentally friendly option. Plus, hydration is a must in the Florida heat, and you’re way more likely to stay hydrated if you don’t have to pay for it!
- Sun protection. Sunscreen, sunglasses, a hat. Even in winter months, the Florida sun is relentless. I prefer this homemade, organic sunscreen.
- Close-toed, comfortable walking shoes. Busch Gardens Tampa Bay is a big theme park, so you’ll be doing a lot of walking. I’ve seen plenty of people in sandals or even heels but I definitely wouldn’t recommend that.
- Snacks. While you can buy plenty of snacks at Busch Gardens Tampa Bay, you’ll be paying theme park prices so I’d recommend supplementing with some snacks of your own.
- Disposable ponchos. Florida weather is notoriously unpredictable. It could start pouring rain while the sun is still out, especially during the summer months. It’s much better to be prepared than walk around in wet clothes all day. Amazon has this 12 pack with 6 kids sized and 6 adult sized so your whole family is covered!
- A change of clothes, or at least a change of socks! Speaking of wet clothes, Busch Gardens Tampa Bay does have a few water rides. If you plan on going on these, I STRONGLY recommend you bring an extra pair of socks. Wet socks are the absolute worst, especially when you’re walking around all day.
Thrill Rides at Busch Gardens Tampa Bay
This would hardly be a guide to Busch Gardens Tampa Bay if I didn’t include what the park is most famous for!
- Tigris. Busch Gardens’ newest coaster is also Florida’s tallest launch coaster! I’m super excited to try this one out on my next trip!
- Sheikra. Sheikra is a dive coaster, and smashed several world records when it was built in 2005. Most recognizably, it was the first roller coaster with a 90 degree drop. It was also the longest, tallest, and fastest dive coaster in the world until Busch Gardens outdid themselves with the Griffon at their Williamsburg Park in 2007.
- Cobra’s Curse. This is another newer coaster I haven’t tried yet. This one is “Florida’s first family spin coaster”, allowing riders as small as 42 inches with an adult.
- Cheetah Hunt. This is a triple launch coaster and is the longest thrill ride in the park! It’s one of my personal favorites.
- Montu. This roller coaster is shockingly smooth and is an amazing adrenaline rush with 7 inversions and was actually the first coaster in the world to include a simultaneous loop and roll!
- Falcon’s Fury. This 335 foot drop tower is NOT for those with a fear of heights. I braved it once during the soft opening and that was enough for me! If you can calm your racing heart, the view over Tampa Bay is incredible at the top though! Falcon’s Fury is unique in that, at the top of the drop tower, the floorless seats actually fold in so that you’re facing the ground as you plummet. I know, it’s diabolical.
- Kumba. This is my absolute favorite roller coaster at Busch Gardens Tampa Bay! And is actually consistently voted as one of the best roller coasters in the world!
- Scorpion. This is the smallest coaster in the park and is great for younger guests of Busch Gardens who are still old enough for a thrill!
Family Friendly Attractions at Busch Gardens Tampa Bay
Honestly, everything in Busch Gardens Tampa Bay (with the exception of the thrill rides listed above) is family friendly! From animal exhibits, to shows, to water rides, there’s no shortage of family fun! Here are some of the highlights in my opinion:
- Animal experiences! This is the absolute highlight of every trip to Busch Gardens Tampa Bay for me! But more on this later, it’s earned a whole section to itself.
- Congo River Rapids. This is a favorite in our family, just be prepared to get completely soaked! While you’re already drenched, check out the Stanley Falls Flume! (Note: Stanley Falls is closed as of September 2020 due to COVID procedures).
- Jungala. A giant jungle gym in the trees? Yes, please!! Jungala is fun for ALL ages. Unfortunately, teens and adults can only enjoy this part of the park if they’re accompanying a younger guest.
- Sesame Street Safari of Fun. This is the kids’ section of the park, with plenty of rides and play areas for your little ones! Jungala is right next door and there’s even a family friendly drop tower called Wild Surge, in case Falcon’s Fury is a bit too much for you.
- Serengeti Express. This is not only a great ride that takes you on a tour through some of the amazing African animal habitats, it’s a great way to get through the park! There are three stops for the train throughout the park, in Congo, Nairobi and Stanleyville!
- Skyride. Much like the Serengeti Express, aside from being a ride with amazing views, it’s a convenient way to get from one end of the park to the other. We try to do this one every time we come to the park!
Animal Habitats at Busch Gardens Tampa Bay
This is our family’s absolute favorite part of Busch Gardens! And in my opinion, it’s what sets it apart from any other theme park in the country (maybe even the world, but I’ll have to try out some international parks first). Even Busch Gardens Williamsburg pales in comparison. I was sorely disappointed when I visited the Virginia park only to discover the only animals they had were a few native to North America, whereas Busch Gardens Tampa Bay has more than 200 animal species’.
My absolute favorite part of the animal habitats at Busch Gardens are the 65 acres free roam Serengeti Plains right in the middle of the park. It’s incredible and is great to see these animals flourishing in a natural habitat. As someone who avoids most zoos because I hate seeing animals suffering in small, cramped habitats (looking at you San Francisco Zoo), I can promise you Busch Gardens Tampa Bay is not that. They even have their own conservation fund, which as of 2019, has provided over $17 million in funding to 1200 organizations across the globe.
Busch Gardens Tampa Bay also has some awesome animal encounters, including sloths, flamingos, wallabies, and an animal care center where visitors can watch animals being cared for by expert staff.
The Best Time to Visit Busch Gardens Tampa Bay
This one is honestly an extremely difficult question to answer! There are amazing events year round at Busch Gardens Tampa Bay. I personally recommend the fall or winter months to try to avoid at least some of the Florida heat. We usually try to go in the winter, because it’s cooler but also because Christmas at Busch Gardens Tampa Bay is gorgeous!
The biggest events at Busch Gardens Tampa Bay throughout the year are as follows. Please note, the specific dates change from year to year.
- Busch Gardens Summer Nights. On Friday, Saturday, and Sunday nights from 17 July until 06 September, Busch Gardens Tampa Bay has laser and fireworks shows, as well as staying open late!
- Busch Gardens Bier Fest. This event runs from 12 September until 15 November. In addition to an incredible selection of beer from local breweries and from around the world, there are special food options at 16 additional locations or “culinary cabins” throughout the park!
- Howl-O-Scream. I absolutely love Halloween so this event is one of my favorites! While not the scariest out of spooky amusement park events, it’s still pretty good, and a lot of fun. This year it runs from 01 September until 05 November.
- Busch Gardens Kids Weekends. For a more family friendly Halloween experience, take your little ones to trick or treat at Busch Gardens any weekend between 03 October till 31 October.
- Christmas Town. From 25 November until 03 January, check out a Christmas themed Busch Gardens! There’s nothing more Florida-esque than Christmas lights on palm trees! There’s just something magical about Busch Gardens Tampa Bay at this time of year!
Food at Busch Gardens Tampa Bay
This wouldn’t be an ultimate guide if I didn’t include a food guide! There is no shortage of food options at Busch Gardens Tampa Bay. Plus, it wouldn’t be Busch Gardens without beer! When dining at Busch Gardens Tampa Bay, I strongly recommend you purchase the All Day Dining Deal. For just $40 for adults and $20 for kids, you can eat at any of the 6 restaurants included in the dining deal once per hour while you’re in the park! Plus you can get some serious discounts at snack carts throughout the park! The following restaurants are included in the All Day Dining Deal:
- Dragon Fire Grill.
- Zambia Smokehouse.
- Zagora Cafe.
- Bengal Bistro.
- Serengeti Overlook Cafe.
- Sheikra Eats.
If the all day dining deal isn’t for you, it’s worth checking out the Serengeti Overlook Restaurant, a full service restaurant towards the front of the park.
And there you have it! Hopefully this ultimate guide to Busch Gardens Tampa Bay has helped you with planning your trip or inspired you to take a trip! After all, roller coasters, beer, exotic animals? What more could you ask for?!
If you’ve been to Busch Gardens Tampa Bay, how was your experience? What’s your favorite theme park?
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