We decided to throw the traditional Thanksgiving day traditions out the window and go to Busch Gardens in Tampa, Florida. Our plan was to enjoy the day at the park when it surely would not be crowded and then return home to a scaled down Thanksgiving day feast. We were a bit surprised to learn that Busch Gardens had raised their admission price to $64.95 per person. We were pleased that they offered a $10.00 discount off each ticket if they were purchased online, which we did.
Tickets in hand, we traveled to Tampa via interstate I-275 which was unusually void of vehicular traffic. The nice thing about Busch Gardens is that it is easy to find from all points in Florida. We traveled from the South so we exited off I-275 at the Fowler exit (exit # 51) and then we traveled East on Fowler to the park which is extremely monstrous and it cannot be missed as you drive down Fowler Avenue. There is a McDonald’s and a Dunkin Donuts on Fowler, right across from the park in case you need to stop for food or coffee before embarking on your adventure.
Another really nice feature of Busch Gardens is their parking lots. The lots are close to the park entrance and they have a steady flow of trams to and from the main gates. The $9.00 parking fee is a bit excessive. Why not include free parking with the increased park admission? Some would argue that the $9.00 fee enables them to have the employees and trams needed to get the visitors to and from the park with little wait time.
Having bought the tickets online paid off because we entered the main gates quickly by showing our printed tickets and scanning them at the turnstile. I was a little surprised at the large crowd at the front gates at 10am. I had imagined the park void of all but a handful of visitors. We did as most park visitors do, we made a dash for the roller coasters.
Busch Gardens is renown for it’s beautiful animal exhibits and it’s out of this world roller coasters. These roller coasters are not for those with queasy stomachs or fear of heights. The Montu, Kumba, & the Shiekra are fast, high, and scream-inducing roller coasters like many have never seen before. I personally do not like roller coasters so I usually do not ride them when I go to Busch Gardens. I have ridden the Kumba, Montu, & Gwazi in the past and I have to admit that they are exciting and awe inspiring.
We went to Montu first and I gladly waited down below while my thrill seeking family members waited in a very short line. Here is how Busch Gardens describes the Montu – one of the tallest and longest inverted roller coasters in the world. Experience the thrill of an inverse diving loop and a 60-foot vertical loop while you endure speeds of over 60 miles per hour and a G-force of 3.85. That makes my stomach queasy just by reading their description of the ride!
My family rode the Montu and when I encountered them afterwards, two of them were not as steady on their feet as they had been minutes earlier. I always get a kick out of watching people as they exit the roller coasters.
Next we walked the short distance to the Edge of Africa exhibit which gives you an up close view of African animals in enclosures that closely resemble their natural habitat. These are not cages or pens, but rather very large and open air areas for them to roam. We were very pleased to find out that arriving at the park early in the morning meant more than beating the crowds, it allowed us to see the feeding of the animals. We arrived and found 2 park employees sitting on the ground inside the meerkat exhibit. The 2 meerkats were quite amusing as they scurried to and from the park employees who were feeding them. For those of you have forgotten, the meerkat is the cute animal (Timon) from The Lion King who is best friends with Pumba the Warthog.
The park employees then told us that they were heading over to the lion exhibit and we should come along if we wanted to watch the feeding. I always enjoy a theme park more when I encounter warm and friendly employees. The African Lion exhibit was totally impressive. I love wild life and being able to walk up to a huge glass wall and stare face to face with 2 huge lions was exciting. The male lion walked up to the glass and was examining the small crowd of visitors as if he was trying to decide which of us was to be his morning meal. I had seen lions in zoos before but seeing one this close gave me a better understanding of why they are called “king of the jungle” The lion is a big, muscular, and obviously powerful beast with large fangs and enormous paws. I was fully expecting the park employees to throw the lions full slabs of steaks but they only dropped in small pieces one at a time.
The rest of the Edge of Africa exhibit consisted of scenic habitats of hippos, hyenas, vultures, a Nile crocodile.
Next we boarded the Skyride for a scenic trip over the park to Stanleyville. The Skyride takes you high above the Serengeti Plain where you can look down upon zebras, water buffalo, and an array of other African animals. This view gives an impressive view of the vast area that is the Serengeti plain. The Skyride dumped us off at Stanleyville which is home to SkeiKra, Stanley Falls Flume, and Tidal Wave.
This area is the lair of Busch Gardens most feared roller coaster, The SheiKra. Here is how Busch Gardens describes the ride – The name SheiKra evokes the power and speed of an African hawk as it twists and plunges – giving riders a 70 mph, adrenaline-pumping experience like no other. At 200 feet, SheiKra takes the crown as Florida’s tallest roller coaster. What blows me away about the SheiKra is that the ride takes you 200 feet up and then drops you 90 degrees straight down.
Busch Gardens recently renovated the ride and now the cars that you ride in have no floors so your feet and legs dangle in the air. I took one look at this ride and knew that it was not for me. The SkeiKra has to be the most impressive roller coaster that I have ever seen. Only 2 members of my party had the nerve to ride the SheiKra and one of them admitted that he had his eyes closed during the entire ride.
Next we visited the hospitality house where we sat by the lagoon and enjoyed 2 free beers. The weather was cool and breezy which made the day that much nicer. The wooden roller coaster, Gwazi is nearby so we headed there. Here is Busch Gardens description of the Gwazi -Gwazi is Busch Gardens Tampa Bay’s mammoth double wooden coaster. It is also the Southeast’s largest and fastest double wooden roller coaster boasting more than 1.25 million board feet of lumber and over 2 million bolted connections. Named after a fabled lion with a tiger’s head, Gwazi races riders through almost 7,000 feet of track and is two distinct coasters intertwined: I actually rode this roller coaster and it was a lot of fun. It is a lot faster than it looks and it was a rougher ride than I had expected.
We were not able to see everything that the park has to offer because it is too much to do in 1 day. Busch Gardens has something for everyone to enjoy. Thrill seekers can spend the day riding some of the world’s best roller coasters and other rides, kids can enjoy the Land Of The Dragons, animal lovers can enjoy the many beautiful animals and exhibits, and anyone will marvel at the endless array of beautiful gardens and flowers. We thoroughly enjoyed ourselves on this Thanksgiving day trip and we will return soon.