Busch Gardens has come a long way since it started out as a small menagerie run by the Anheuser-Busch family at their Tampa brewery in 1959. Today’s park is big, modern and thrilling, with rides a-plenty but also great animal habitats and experiences. This is definitely the park for adrenalin junkies with the array of coasters, but it also has terrific family appeal with its Sesame Street playground for young children and quiet garden areas for those who prefer to sit and watch the world go by.
What not to Miss
There are plenty here, starting with the huge 300ft drop-tower ride of Falcon’s Fury and going through powerful coasters like SheiKra, Kumba, Cheetah Hunt and Montu. The brand new Cobra's Curse is an amazing family-friendly spin-coaster while the Skyride cable car provides an aerial view of much of the park. Various kiddie rides are on offer at different points, plus water rides like Congo River Rapids and Tanganyika Tidal Wave, with its huge splashdown. Sesame Street Safari of Fun then adds more junior-sized rides as well as a water-play area for pre-schoolers.
Ice-skating spectacular Turn It Up is a must-see show and families will also enjoy Opening Night Critters- a theatrical tale where the animals are the stars of the show. More live shows can be found in the Sesame Street area, Marrakesh Theater and Pantopia Grill, ensuring several hours of indoor entertainment.
With so many of the main rides outside in the sun (along with most of the animal exhibits), it is wise to save the big indoor shows for the hottest part of the day, usually from mid-day to 4pm. Turn It Up and Opening Night Critters are all in the air-conditioned cool and provide a welcome sit-down when you need it most!
Character Meet And Greets
There are no out-and-out Busch Gardens characters, but there are regular opportunities to Meet The Keepers and learn about their animals at places like the Myombe Reserve, Walkabout Way and Jambo Junction and a host of Sesame Street friends are on hand to meet visitors and pose for photos.
There are 10 main animal habitats that all provide great up-close looks at the park’s more than 12,000 animals. You should definitely take time for the gorillas of Myombe Reserve, the kangaroos and wallabies of Walkabout Way, the clever Edge of Africa view of hippos, lions, hyenas and meerkats, and the Animal Care Center, where you can see animal check-ups, treatments, nutritional preparations and even surgeries. The Serengeti Express train also provides a relaxing ride around the main Serengeti Plain with its zebras, giraffes, rhinos and more.
The brand new Cobra's Curse family-friendly spin coaster opened in 2016, featuring an 80-foot epic snake head and an incredible queuing experience. There is nothing taller than 2014’s 300ft drop-tower ride, Falcon’s Fury, which is the highlight of the revamped Pantopia area (formerly Timbuktu), with added dining and shopping, notably the Painted Camel Bazaar and Twisted Tails Pretzels.
Is Busch Gardens’ extended programme of events and fun during the longer summer evenings. It features additional live entertainment, music and a fabulous night-time show finale, Kinetix, which combines live music, acrobatics, special effects and dancers, culminating in a grand firework spectacular. Saturday nights feature a live concert instead of Kinetix. You'll also be able to ride your favourite attractions in the dark, as these will remain open until late.
- Dates: From mid-June to mid-August.
- Tickets: Included as part of park entry.
- Times: From dusk to park closing.
Is Busch Gardens’ version of the grisly Halloween spectacular, with a separately ticketed event after regular park closing. Haunted Houses, like Death Water Bayou and Blood Asylum, and scare zones fill the park in best horror film fashion, and there are live shows and zombie-filled streets to keep you on your toes! A special dinner buffet is a one-off extra each night and there is a DJ-hosted nightclub as well. The big rides are all open, too, providing the chance to add extra thrills to riding the likes of SheiKra and Falcon’s Fury in the dark.
- Dates: Select dates from September 26 to November 1.
- Tickets: Available in advance or at the park (although many nights sell out). You can also buy Front Line Fear passes to avoid waiting in line or book a VIP Tour of the event.
- Times: From 7.30pm to 1am.
- Costumes: Not permitted.
Is Busch Gardens’ extensive celebration of the holiday season, turning the whole park into a winter wonderland at night. It features live shows, ice-skating, a special Christmas ‘village’ of crafts, food and drinks, and a million special lighting effects that give the park a truly magical festive feel. Like sister park SeaWorld, this is definitely one you will want to see at this time of year.
- Dates: Select dates from November 28 to December 31.
- Tickets: All included with regular park entry.
- Times: Shows and events throughout the evening.
Like SeaWorld, Busch Gardens also offers a terrific series of behind-the-scenes tours that provide great insight into their animal care and other facets of the park. The Serengeti Safari is one of the most popular ‘extras’ in any of Florida’s parks.
A 30-minute excursion (5 times a day, up to 20 at a time) aboard flat-bed trucks that takes visitors into the Serengeti Plain to meet and feed the giraffes while learning about the park’s environmental efforts. Children must be at least 5 and under 16s must be accompanied by a fare-paying adult.
Guided Adventure Tour
This takes just 15 at a time on a 5-hour VIP trek, with a guide, reserved seating at the Moroccan Palace Theater, front-of-line access for major rides, counter-service lunch and close encounters with many of the animals, including the Serengeti Safari (children must be at least 5 for the Safari part of the tour).
Keeper for a Day
An exclusive 6-hour behind-the-scenes tour where you join the keepers as they feed, train and care for giraffes and antelope, then move on to assist the avian team on the Serengeti. Lunch is included. For ages 13 and over only, must book at least 2 weeks in advance.
Animal Care Center Behind The Scenes
A 75-minute tour with the park’s vet and zoological staff, with hands-on opportunities as they showcase medical check-ups and other treatments. Children must be at least 8 and accompanied by a fare-paying adult.
Animal encounters abound at Busch Gardens, and some of the best come with the Meet The Keeper opportunities throughout the park, where the various animal keepers come out to talk about the cheetahs, giraffes, elephants, etc. Look for the times of these encounters on the back of your park map.
Estimated Visit Time
Busch Gardens: One day.
Busch Gardens is one of Florida’s most popular parks thanks to its great animal exhibits, conservation-minded approach and more relaxed style, making it feel less frenzied than some of its big-name neighbours. There are fewer inside attractions, however, which can make it feel very hot in summer.
Busch Gardens also features QuickQueue, the paid-for front-of-line card, available on the day of your visit. Here, it comes in 2 types, QuickQueue Limited providing a 1-time access to all the main rides; and QuickQueue Unlimited, front-of-line access all day. It can definitely save you several hours at busy periods, especially if you’re keen to do the big rides like Cheetah Hunt and SheiKra.