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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!

Alligator, Busch Gardens Tampa Bay
Being from Florida, we always joke that you can tell who the tourists are by the people who stop at the alligator exhibit (but we still stop, every time!)

Planning Your Trip to Busch Gardens Tampa Bay

The closest airport to Busch Gardens is (obviously) the Tampa International Airport! The park is only a 26 minute drive from the airport and there are plenty of hotels in the area. Some things I recommend you bring with you to the park:
  • 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!
Sheikra Busch Gardens Tampa Bay
Sheikra at Busch Gardens Tampa Bay Photo by Jesse Adair on Unsplash

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!
Jungala, Busch Gardens Tampa Bay
The little ones love Jungala...but I'm 24 and I love it too!
Sesame Street Safari of Fun, Busch Gardens Tampa Bay
Busch Gardens Tampa Bay has rides for guests of all ages!

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.

Hippo, Busch Gardens Tampa Bay
The hippo is a favorite in our family! My brother, Duncan, in 2010...
Hippo, Busch Gardens Tampa Bay
...And my nephew, Elijah, in 2019!
Tiger, Busch Gardens Tampa Bay
The view point by the tigers is one of my all time favorite experiences at Busch Gardens Tampa Bay!
Gorilla, Busch Gardens Tampa Bay
This big guy was taking a nap in the shade, I can't say I blame him, the Florida heat is brutal!

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!

Lanterns, Busch Gardens Tampa Bay
I mean, come on, check out these gorgeous lanterns over the aviary!

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!

 

Christmas at Busch Gardens Tampa Bay
The lights are gorgeous even before the sunset...
Christmas Lights, Busch Gardens Tampa Bay
And even better afterwards!

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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The Ultimate Guide to Busch Gardens Tampa Bay
The Ultimate Guide to Busch Gardens Tampa Bay

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49 Comments

  1. Busch Gardens Tampa Bay sounds like my idea for a fabulous theme park to share with kids. The 65 acres free roam Serengeti Plains featuring all the animals is a great way to encourage a true appreciation of nature while learning more about all the animals. I can certainly appreciate the distinction you made here when comparing to the San Francisco Zoo. This park in Tampa Bay looks to be well worth making a trip to see.

  2. Wow looks like so much to do here! Our plan was to visit the states next year, and if travel is all go we will deifinalty consider this part of Florida. Thank you for sharing!

  3. I love busch gardens! I was really surprised the first time we visited at how big some of the rides are! I agree about the animals too. We booked a jeep trip where we went and fed the giraffes off the cuff that day, It was so much fun. The park has so much to offer! this post bought back great memories!

  4. Busch Gardens Tampa Bay seems to be perfect idea for a trip. I love wildlife, and it’s amazing to observe animals so close. I would love to take such great photos!

  5. I love amusement parks and adventure rides – the scary ones and the drops and adrenaline pumping activities. Would love to visit this place when I visit Tampa Bay someday.

  6. I had no clue there was so much at Busch Gardens! I have not visited Tampa Bay before so I would absolutely love to explore Florida and spend a day here 🙂

  7. Omg I went to Tampa and never even knew about these! This looks like such a cool place for pictures especially with the animals and all. Haha really wish I knew about this before

  8. Wow these gardens have so much more than just gardens! I haven’t been to Tampa Bay and only Florida when I was little… will definitely have to keep this in mind for one day!

  9. First of all, these baby photos are TOO CUTE. I’m so ashamed that I’ve lived on the East Coast my whole life and have NEVER been to Busch Gardens! Now that I have a son, I’m definitely making my way there sooner rather than later. I’m happy that you included the bit about the Sesame Street safari of fun. He’s 16 months old, and a bit young for most things, but looks like there is plenty for him to do at Busch Gardens.

  10. My kids will love Busch Gardens Tampa Bay. It sounds like the perfect adventurous park with 65 acres of nature – wow! It will be such great fun and somewhere to recommend to parents.

  11. Busch Gardens Tampa Bay is a beautiful and a fun place to visit. We visited when my kids were 10 and 8 and they could not take their eyes off the alligators!! Some awesome rides too. Your post brought back memories.

  12. I have been to Florida many times, but have yet to visit Busch Gardens. It is on my list for my next visit. The Sergenti Plains sounds amazing and I love the idea that animals are able to wander in their natural habitat. I agree with you, I try to avoid most zoos now days because of the poor treatment and lifestyles the animals have. My daughter would love the Sesame Street Safari of Fun. It looks like such a great place to visit.

  13. Wow, seems like Busch Gardens got more awesome since I was a kid! Hopefully next time we’re in Florida, we’ll take the kids there too. Thanks for the great post 🙂

    1. It really has! One thing I miss that they used to have was the Clydesdales! They no longer have them at the Tampa Bay location since the parks changed ownership.

  14. I have not been to a theme park like this for yeeears. Busch Gardens Tampa Bay sounds like a blast, especially with all those rides! The Congo River Rapids sound perfect for hot days in the summertime. 🙂

  15. This place looks incredible! I’ve never heard of it before. Thank you for including the section about the animals there, it’s reassuring to know they have good welfare as that’s something that would put me off visiting

  16. I’m definitely not a fan of the heat so I’ll have to look into visiting during the fall. The skyride sounds amazing and I’d love to attend the Busch Gardens Bier Fest too!

  17. Can’t wait to visit this park! We love Busch Gardens Williamsburg and especially love the animals there. Sounds like this park has more of a safari theme and totally different animals.

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