What to do at the Weekend: Explore Busch Gardens
As we’re about to head back to Florida, it’s got us thinking about one of our favourite theme parks the state has to offer…Busch Gardens in Tampa Bay.
What we did at the weekend:
Visited Busch Gardens
Location: Tampa Bay, Florida
Our rating: 10/10
Busch Gardens, Florida
When people think of Florida, Walt Disney World and Universal Studios immediately come to mind.
Busch Gardens often gets forgotten.
Probably due to its location in Tampa Bay…further out of the way of all the well-known parks in Orlando.
But Busch Gardens is fantastic.
We love it, and definitely recommend you visit if you’re holidaying in the sunshine state!
What is Busch Gardens?
If you aren’t already aware of Busch Gardens, then the name might be slightly misleading.
As we mentioned above, Busch Gardens is a theme park that blends fun and thrills, with beautiful surroundings and wildlife.
Not only does the park have some incredible rides, but it is also home to a whole host of animals for you to meet.
Its immersive African-themed areas as a constant throughout the park.
The park’s combination of rides and animals makes it the ideal place for everyone.
If you’ve read our Universal Studios blog, you’ll know that Tanith isn’t a fan of big rides.
You can usually find her watching Ben and the other riders from the sidelines with a cold drink.
One thing we both love though, is animals.
As Busch has a bit of everything, it provides us with a great balance of activities for a day out in the sunshine.
So, Ben can enjoy the rides to his heart’s content, before taking the adrenaline down a few notches and viewing the incredible animals in all their glory.
What rides are there at Busch Gardens?
Busch Gardens has some fantastic ‘BIG’ rides for all the thrill seekers out there.
Some of Ben’s favorites include:
- Montu – With seven inversions and a 60-foot vertical loop. Montu is the impressive looking big yellow one you first see when you drive up to Busch Gardens. It regularly makes its way into the top 10 coasters in North America.
- Kumba – A legendary steel rollercoaster with an initial 135-foot drop and a sense of weightlessness as you spiral 360 degrees.
- SheiKra – The big red one! A floorless coaster famous for its massive 200-foot, 90 degrees drop at the start. Before this initial drop, it leaves you hanging over the edge for a moment and then plunges you down into 70 mph dive. Afterwards, there is a pretty awesome track to enjoy and a secondary drop at the half way stage. This ride gives you your ‘money’s worth’ from a wait perspective. Think of it like Oblivion at Alton Towers… only on steroids.
- Tigris – A very different ride to anything he’s been on before, Ben went on Tigris for the first time in 2022 and absolutely loved it. A launch coaster, Tigris combines 60mph backward and forward motion, catapulting riders through twists, turns and a spectacular heartline roll.
- Iron Gwazi – Relaunched in 2022, Iron Gwazi is actually the tallest and fastest hybrid wood and steel rollercoaster in the whole of North America. With top speeds of 76mph, the ride hurtles down a 91-degree drop and three inversions, after climbing 206 feet up!
Alongside these firm favourites, there are a few other ‘thrill’ coasters to enjoy during a visit to Busch Gardens.
Scorpion is one of Busch’s older rides, and one of only three of its kind left in the world.
The steel coaster takes you up to 50mph, with a 360-degree loop and plenty of twists throughout.
A ride even Tanith will go on (shocking I know) is Cheetah Hunt.
Mimicking the speed of a cheetah, Cheetah Hunt has a launch start, and two further launches throughout the ride which winds its way above the park.
Plus, it’s the longest coaster at Busch Gardens – spanning 4400 feet in length -, so definitely worth a go!
Water Rides at Busch Gardens
As with most theme parks, Busch Gardens is also home to two water-based rides – a log flume and rapids.
Plus, they provide the perfect tonic to a warm Tampa Bay day.
The Congo River Rapids
The Congo River Rapids gives you that rough, white-water rafting-style experience as you travel down the river.
There are plenty of bumps and small drops along the route which splash water over you and your raft-mates.
But if you happen to avoid a drenching on those, then the waterfalls and water jets powered by amused bystanders and fellow guests are guaranteed to get you soaked!
But that’s the whole fun of a water ride isn’t it?!
Overall, the Congo River Rapids at Busch are one of those ‘oldies but goodies,’ it’ll get you pretty darn wet and it’s a fun ride too
Stanley Falls Flume
Like Ben, if you visited Busch Gardens pre-2016, you’ll likely remember “Tidal Wave” which was truly a magnificent beast of a log flume.
However, after its sad retirement, the Stanley Falls Flume is your go-to log flume in Busch Gardens.
Definitely a lot less intense than its retired counterpart, this is a pretty standard log flume ride that’s suitable for any age.
On this, you travel through a jungle-themed course before diving down a 40-foot drop which will have you covered in water.
What animals can you see at Busch Gardens?
As we said earlier, one of the great things about Busch is that it’s not just a theme park.
There are loads of incredible animals to see during your visit.
With over 200 animals living at Busch, wandering around the enclosures or riding the safari train provide the perfect break from rides.
From lions, cheetahs and tigers, to penguins, reptiles and primates, there is such a wide variety of animals to explore.
The Seregenti Express
Taking the weight off our feet and getting out of the sun for a short while, one of our favourite things to do at Busch is ride the Serengeti Express.
The Serengeti Express is a gentle train ride, taking you through Busch Gardens’ very own Serengeti Plain.
From the train, you’ll be able to see many of the free-roaming animals that live on the plain, including rhinos, giraffes, zebras, and hippos (to name a few).
On its route through the Serengeti Plain, the train also takes you around a good section of the park, stopping at other stations across the park.
So, not only can you see the incredible wildlife…
…but it also provides great transportation around the park.
One of the main things for us is seeing how well looked after the animals are in the care of Busch Gardens.
Those in enclosures have plenty of space to roam around, and those in the safari have the freedom to explore their surroundings.
Busch is in fact one of only two dozen zoos/attractions in North America to have received the Humane Certified seal of approval from American Humane.
American Humane is one of the biggest certifies of animal welfare in the world, working to ensure the health, welfare and safety of creatures big and small.
Animal Experiences and Safaris
If you want to make your trip to Busch Gardens that little bit more special, they also offer a number of animal experiences.
These can be booked in advance on the Busch website.
Their experiences available include a 30-minute Serengeti safari, taking you up close to the animals on the 65-acre Serengeti plain.
If you’re lucky – and the animals are in the mood – you may also get the chance to hand-feed giraffes during this specific tour.
Busch Gardens has you covered
If there’s a specific animal you love…Busch may have you covered with one of their other experiences.
- Private Rhino Safari
- Specific Insider Tours for Penguins, Tigers, Orangutans, Cheetahs, Elephants, Gorillas, Hippos and Aldabra Tortoises
- Sloth Encounter
- Animal Care Centre Tour
- Keeper for a Day Tours
Food and Drink at Busch Gardens
There are plenty of dining options at Busch Gardens.
Whether you want to sit down and eat, or grab something quick and easy on the go, there are a lot of great spots to choose from.
Our personal favourite is the Zambia Smokehouse.
You’ll find it beside Sheikra…providing the perfect entertainment while enjoying your food!
As you’d expect from a smokehouse, here you can sink your teeth into a variety of barbecue food.
It’s definitely not one for vegetarians/vegans however!
We generally go for the Zambia Sampler, which gives you a little bit of everything.
With this you get ribs, brisket and bbq chicken, served with seasoned waffle fries or coleslaw.
When you need a little afternoon pick-me-up, Moroccan Delights is the place to be.
This is Busch’s ice cream parlor, serving up delicious frozen treats, milkshakes and sundaes.
Our go-to is a whippy ice cream in a waffle cone, served with hot chocolate sauce!
Other Food Options
Those are our regular haunts at Busch Gardens, but there are plenty of other options available.
From burgers, and chicken tenders at Zagora Cafe, to Chick-fil-A and a pizzeria overlooking the Serengeti – there are some great sit-down dining options.
For light bites and quick food, there are Twisted Tails Pretzels, Pantopia Drinks and Snacks and Dragon Dog (serving gourmet hot dogs).
If you want to cool off with a nice cold beer, wine, or cocktail, the Girafe Bar is a pretty special spot.
With both indoor and outdoor seating, this bar gives you incredible views over Busch’s Serengeti Plain while you sip your drinks!
How to get to Busch Gardens
If you’re hiring a car while in Florida, then it’s really easy to drive to Busch Gardens.
We generally stay up in Orlando, and from the International Drive area, it takes around 75-90 minutes to drive to Busch depending on traffic.
If driving isn’t your thing, there is actually a free shuttle available with your Busch Gardens ticket.
Busch Gardens Bus Pickup from Sea World
The number of pick-up spots isn’t always confirmed until the day of travel, and so, you may not arrive at the park until after 11.30am.
We picked up the shuttle from Sea World Orlando, and it was super easy!
All you need to do is book a spot online for the day you want to visit.
You can do it by visiting their booking page here.
The bus will then fetch you from the same spot you were dropped off at an agreed time, before making its way back up to Orlando and making the same drop-off this way around.
How much does Busch Gardens cost?
There are several options for purchasing your Busch Gardens tickets.
You can buy single-day, Busch Gardens only tickets from their website.
However, these do work out quite expensive at $134.99 each!
As Busch is owned by SeaWorld, you also have the option of buying a multi-park (two or four parks) ticket.
This gives you access to Busch, SeaWorld, Aquatica and Adventure Island – depending on what you pick.
If you want to visit a couple of parks, it definitely works out more cost-effective to buy a multi-park ticket – with offers generally available for these combined deals.
The four-park ticket gives you unlimited access to all the parks, alongside free parking for $229.99 when bought directly through Busch.
Free parking is a good incentive as if you drive to Busch, parking is $30 per day.
Attractions Tickets Direct
For our trip this year, we bought our tickets for Busch through Attractions Tickets Direct during their Black Friday Sales in 2022.
For £199 per person, we have 14-day unlimited access tickets to SeaWorld, Aquatica and Busch Gardens, with free parking at all locations.
Within this, we also get 1-day access to Discovery Cove.
This is an all-inclusive day resort designed to replicate a tropical paradise.
We visited for the first time in 2022, and absolutely loved it!
If you want to know more about Discovery Cove, we’ve got a whole separate blog post on that here.
For £199 each…these tickets are amazing value for what is included!
This is definitely a great way to secure your park tickets, while saving yourself some money at the same time.
Staying in Tampa?
If you are based in and around the Tampa Bay area, then the Tampa Bay CityPASS® might be more suitable for you.
This ticket allows 9 consecutive days to attractions in the Tampa area, including Busch Gardens.
It looks like pretty good value at £110.95 each from Get Your Guide.
A fantastic day out
Busch is definitely worth a visit when in Florida!
It has some fantastic rides and brilliant animals to see.
One of the main things we love about Busch is that it’s far quieter than most of the other parks up in Orlando.
Everything is nice and spaced out, so it never feels crowded.
Meaning you can enjoy your visit, without being swarmed by people!
That is high up on our reasons for loving this theme park.