Overview – Busch Gardens Tampa
I am on my 4th annual trip to the gulf coast of Florida and thought I would write a quick post on my kids favorite aspect of the vacation, the day we spend at Busch Gardens Tampa. We love Busch Gardens and their water park Adventure Island ( see Adventure Island Review) . It is usually the highlight of the trip. Unlike Disney, there are times of year when it is not crowded and we are able to enjoy a full day of activity without standing in line the whole time. We always stay in Siesta Key when we go to the West Coast of Florida. This post is only about the theme park but you can read about Siesta Key ( see Siesta Key, Fl review ) in one of my earlier posts. We drive about an hour North to get to the park from Siesta Key, as it is in Tampa Bay. Overall, we have had a great experience in Busch Gardens, and my children can’t wait to go there when we touch down in Tampa. If you plan ahead, you can save some money and compared to Disney, it is a bargain. Read on and I will give some tips on how to save.
I buy my tickets in advance and print them at home. We like to do one day at Busch Gardens and one day at Adventure Island. They sell 2 day passes which can be used at either park. We do one day at each place. You are not allowed to visit both places on one day, but they do have passes that also fit that criteria. I use my AAA card to get $9 off each ticket. For may family of four we saved $36. Not a huge windfall but I give them as little as possible. The park was open from 10 AM – 6PM on the day we went. It was a Monday in April.
Arrival / Main Entrance
Busch Gardens Tampa does the parking similarly to other theme parks. You arrive at a giant lot and take a shuttle tram to the front gate. It is a pretty good system and allows for more parking a little farther away from the front gate. It also runs as long as the park is open so you don’t have to worry about being stranded at the park.
At the main entrance there are ticket kiosks and lockers. We utilized a locker here because we brought our lunch with us. They will not allow you into the park with lunch, which I think is absurd. I realize they want to sell you overpriced garbage for lunch but not allowing food into the park is just not very customer friendly. The vast majority of people will do the easy thing and buy lunch there but for the few that are trying to stick to a budget, it is not convenient at all. There are only two picnic tables at the entrance. That is supposed to service all patrons. It is absolutely ridiculous. I was pretty annoyed by this as it is not even an attempt to satisfy their customer base. This is my 4th straight year coming here (paying $360 for the tickets each ear) and I felt like they were treating me poorly here. Buying lunch for 4 people here costs somewhere in the vicinity of $40-$50. I just wasn’t going to do that, so we got outside the park early and grabbed one of the two picnic tables. I saved a nice amount by bringing bottles of water and a sandwich we made ourselves. Score 1 for me !
If you want the full Busch Gardens experience, there are more ways to get you to spend and we fell victim to some of them. We got a card that you can load pictures on from the snapshots taken on the various coasters. We got all of the pictures and then reviewed them and picked one. It was $25 for the picture and a frame but we thought it was ok to get one so we had the memory to look back on. Every time we went on a coaster, we had a picture so we made sure to narrow down the pics and only get one. We agreed before the rides that we were going to make a certain face when the picture snapped and so we had fun looking at the various goofy pictures.
Once inside there is a a good variety of stuff to do. The them for Busch Gardens Tampa is Africa and so they have a lot of native African animals. We saw Gorillas, Hippos, Cheetahs, Lions, Orangutans, gazelles, Elephants, Tortoises, fish , penguins, and a bunch of different birds. There are also other animals that are not from Africa like Alligators, Tigers, and Wallabies. Overall, the animal aspect s pretty good.
I normally do not like any type of zoo as it bothers me to see animals in cages but the kids like to see to it and the enclosures seem pretty spacious with water elements and areas they can escape people, so I look past it here (I know, I am a hypocrite).
The animals are fun to see but we are here for the rides and this place has some real good ones. My children are 11 & 13 year old girls and have always been afraid of the big coasters but this year they broke out and we rode a few of the bigger ones. We rode Kumba, Cheetah Hunt, and Montu, three of the best.
Kumba is a large traditional steel coaster with 7 inversions. Cheetah Hunt is a fast coaster that goes almost a mile, and Montu is a hanging coasters with 7 inversions.
All of these are super fun and we rode over and over. It turns out the school vacation week we go every year is not a universal school vacation week. We have heard only two states have vacation that week so the park is pretty empty. There were times we had zero wait time. We arrived and went straight on the ride. For large theme parks, this is unheard of. It was a dream come true for roller coaster people. My oldest daughter got in about 20 rides and she was exhausted by the end.
The only Coaster we didn’t do was Sheikra. This is one crazy ride and none of us really wanted to do it. I would have done it if the kids wanted to but I was secretly glad when they said they didn’t want to try it. It is a giant steel coaster with a huge loop and a 90 degree drop. The thing that is crazy is that the end two seats are out over the outside of the track. The track is only underneath the middle two seats.
Also, the ride hangs over the edge of the drop for a 2 or 3 second count before it continues. Riders are hanging on the edge and waiting. It is a little frightening to be honest.
That covers coasters but what else do they have ? There is bumper cars, water flume rides, the water rapid ride, a little kids area, a sky ride to relax on and a bunch of other things to see and do. If you are in the mood for games of chance, they have an area that has games to win stuffed animals and similar stuff. Adjacent to this is an arcade that is indoors and air conditioned. It is not overly large but the kids always like to go in and play some games. We brought our lunch but we did stop and get ice cream before we left. There are a number of places we went that had treats of all kinds.
The biggest thrill ride here is another one we didn’t dare do, Falcon’s Fury. It is a 300 foot tower that drops you straight down. This is nothing new but the twist on this is that the riders are positioned to face the ground as the ride drops you. It is truly frightening from the ground. I can’t imagine how it feels from the top.
Even though we had a great time, there was a couple of things that can drive you crazy and could be better. As mentioned, the lunch situation is bad if you want to bring your own. They make zero effort to accommodate those who don’t want what they are pushing. Additionally, there is always ride closures. This is tough but most of the time, it is because they are short staffed and there is no excuse. To me, when you pay a lot to visit them, they should be planning this better or lowering the daily price. Golf courses don’t regularly close holes on the course and when they do for maintenance, they lower the price. At least that has been my experience. With the prices they charge should be trying harder in my opinion.
It is really a great day and if you are lucky enough to have low crowds, you will enjoy it even more. The price was $360 for two days and four people and so it is a reasonable amount compared to other activities. That breaks down to $45 per person per day. Not great but not outrageous. I did not review the water park in this post but it is great and has a ton to do. You can’t ask for too much more for the price I guess, other than the rides and attractions actually being open. I think the price per person per day is acceptable if you bring your lunch and don’t splurge on all the extras they tempt you with. If there are a lot of ride closures, it can be a real disappointment and the price argument goes out the window. Overall, we had a great time and would recommend this to all. Despite a few warts, I am giving Busch Gardens a 4.0 / 5.0 P-and-P Ranking. Thanks for reading.