First up in our “Picture Yourself In Florida” series are 7 absolutely amazing things to do at Busch Gardens in Tampa, near the West Coast of Florida.
Bringing together a beautiful safari park, an outstanding animal care centre, and some of the most exhilarating rides in the country, Busch Gardens is the perfect spot for a day out with the kids. Here’s how we spent our day at Busch Gardens with an exuberant 6 year old boy and an inquisitive 8 year old girl…
1) SERENGETI SAFARI
Our experience started with a Serengeti Safari, a journey across 65 acres of African-inspired plains standing in the back of a specially designed open-air safari vehicle. Having been to my fair share of Safari Parks, I thought it was going to be a little uninspiring, but boy was I wrong. The park itself is spacious and calm, and it was a real treat to be able to see so many exotic animals up close. In other safari parks, you drive around in your own car and tend to leave as ignorant as when you arrived, taking turns guessing at which exotic animals are which. In contrast, at Busch Gardens we soaked up every nugget of information from our tour guide… he was knowledgeable, funny, engaging and clearly passionate about his job, and somehow managed to field all of the millions of questions from our 6 year old!
2) FEEDING THE GIRAFFES
The absolute highlight of our Serengeti Safari was a chance to feed a giraffe. Picture me standing like the Statue of Liberty, arm straight up, cabbage leaves in hand, trying desperately not to giggle as this impossibly magnificent creature twirled its long black tongue around and slipped them out of my hand. Unforgettable.
3) CHEETAH HUNT ROLLER COASTER
Next, we raced over to Cheetah Hunt, the much talked-about ultra-fast roller coaster. At a length of 4,400 feet, Cheetah Hunt is the longest attraction at Busch Gardens, but that’s not what makes it so special, nor is it why all of the local residents and staff light up when they talk about the experience. Cheetah Hunt is inspired by the movements of a real cheetah, complete with bursts of breathtaking speed. It’s such a smooth, smooth ride, and more exhilarating than you can imagine, with lovely surprises along the way. I have to say, this is my new favourite roller coaster on earth.
4) JAMBO JUNCTION ANIMAL ENCOUNTERS & ANIMAL CARE CENTRE
The next stop on our adventure was a visit to Jambo Junction and to the Animal Care Centre, where we had the most incredible animal encounters. At Jambo Junction we got to stroke a python and a two-toed sloth (I want one!!) and to meet the cutest little Screech Owl I have ever seen. At the Animal Care Centre we learned about the millions of details that go into caring for the animals, and designing their special diets.
I suspect that for many families this more educational part of the visit is pretty far down the list compared to thrill rides… but it was actually one of my favourite parts of Busch Gardens plus an amazingly fun way for kids to learn about animals, conservation, and veterinary medicine. The most fascinating parts of the Animal Care Centre are the clinic and operating theatre – both are state of the art facilities designed to diagnose and treat animals as tiny as Screech Owls or as large as tigers. The glass wall along one side means that Busch Gardens visitors can come and watch the animals being cared for or operated on.
5) FALCON’S FURY THRILL RIDE
We decided to take things up a notch by plummeting towards the earth in Falcon’s Fury. Whoever designed this drop-style attraction certainly didn’t have anxious mums in mind, and my heart leapt a little every time I saw the 335 foot-tall spire beckoning in the distance… but I had promised the children we would each do 4 scary-but-safe things during this holiday, and it seemed it was my turn. So, hands shaking, I strapped myself in, GoPro and all.
I cannot begin to describe how terrifying it is to slowly, slowly, slowly rise, and then flip 180 degrees so that you’re hanging face down so high up that your family look like tiny anxious ants. And the wait… oh the wait before you plummet feels like years!! Before trying Falcon’s Fury I had been a little worried about the stomach-flip feeling I get in a lift, but actually being face down meant I felt absolutely fine. If fine includes screaming for dear life while racing towards the ground at an alarming rate. Definitely worth trying out, but be warned that your GoPro videos will need screening for profanities afterwards!
6) SESAME STREET SAFARI OF FUN
My little ones were itching for a bit of unscripted Run Around Time, so we decided to head over to Sesame Street Safari of Fun, a delightful play area for younger children. As we strolled past the entrance to Elmo’s Treehouse Trek and Cookie Monster’s Canopy Crawl, Danger Boy’s eyes lit up and he was off like a shot. The 3 storey play structures are absolutely fantastic and the kids could easily spend their whole week just in this part of Busch Gardens. With the climbing structures, splash park, opportunities to meet Sesame Street characters and a zippy little roller coaster (Air Grover), this is the perfect spot to take younger children without them feeling like they’re missing the action.
7) SHEIKRA ROLLER COASTER
On the way back through the park on our way home, another ride caught my eye: SheiKra, a 200 foot tall coaster with petrifying vertical drops and aching moments of anticipation. In fact, I had been trying to avoid it all day, thinking perhaps everyone would forget that I had challenged myself to ride it before the day was through… I finally got up the courage to do it… only to nearly lose my nerve again as my youngest ran up and cuddled my legs and begged me not to ride! I bid everyone farewell and up I went. The ride itself is exhilarating and smooth, and is huge fun, but what really makes it is the build-up and the anticipation as you go over the edge and STOP, suspended in mid-air with absolutely nothing but air beneath you, waiting and wondering, your life flashing before your eyes, and knowing that this is just the very beginning of the ride. A must.
So there you have it… with unparalleled African animal encounters, wonderful attractions for younger children as well as the big kids, and adrenaline rushes beyond anything you experienced as a child, Busch Gardens is the perfect spot for a day out in Florida.
SeaWorld Parks & Entertainment is a leading theme park and entertainment company delivering personal, interactive and educational experiences that blend imagination with nature and enable its customers to celebrate, connect with and care for the natural world we share. Over its more than 50 year history, the Company has built a diversified portfolio of 11 destination and regional theme parks that are grouped in key markets across the United States, many of which showcase its one-of-a-kind collection of approximately 67,000 marine and terrestrial animals.
The Company’s theme parks in Florida include Discovery Cove, a tropical oasis in the heart of Orlando where you can swim with a dolphin; SeaWorld, the world’s most popular marine life park; Busch Gardens, full of wild animals and even wilder rides and Aquatica, SeaWorld’s waterpark.
Disclosure: Compensation was provided by SeaWorld Parks & Entertainment via Mode Media. The opinions expressed herein are those of the author and are not indicative of the opinions or positions of SeaWorld Parks & Entertainment.