Well having wanted to visit Busch Gardens on a number of occasions and unfortunately not being given the chance, I felt I had to visit the place during my recent visit to Florida. I had always heard mix reactions about the theme park, some complimenting it, whilst other simply saying it was not there thing. Nevertheless, I was still determined to visit it, at least once to squash the rumours and determine for myself whether this place was thumbs up or thumbs down.
History of Bush Gardens Africa (Tampa Bay):
Bush Gardens is the name of two of the biggest theme parks in America, one in Tampa Bay, Florida, and the other one in Williamsburg, Virginia. Bush Gardens is currently owned by Busch Entertainment Corporation.
Busch Gardens Africa was first opened in 1959, and was a 340 acre African themed, safari park. The park was originally free for all guests as it was linked to the Anheuser-Busch brewery located on the site. The idea was that guests would first be able to see wild animals, before entering the main beer manufacturing plant. However, during the 1970s the manufacturing plant closed down, and the company decided to pay more attention to the African theme park itself, made it more exotic and entertaining and started charging guests to enter the park. The parks mixture of fun rides, family friendly environment, exotic scenery and animal has bought millions of visitors to the gardens each year.
Like most theme parks in Florida, a ticket varies in price, and can come with additional features. You have the option of buying a singular ticket, or a double ticket that allows you access into Busch Gardens and another theme park close by.
Currently ticket prices just for Busch Gardens are $50 for children (3-9), and $63 for adults. However, we booked our tickets online and thus were able to save on average $9.
We had some time in Florida, and thus decided to buy a dual ticket, which allowed us into two theme parks the other one being "Wet n Wild". We paid $102 for both passes, and again ordered them online.
I would recommend buying them online, not only do you save money, but Busch Gardens is extremely busy all year round and waiting to buy a ticket could waste precious time inside the park. Ordering online, will fast track you to a separate admissions area, which is much quicker.
(http://www.buschgardens. com/BGT/out_of_state_vis itors.aspx)
The Theme Park:
The park is open from 09:30 in the morning till 19:00 in the evening, which is plenty of time to explore the park, as long as you get there early. The park is split up into different African theme sections, all of which have different rides, animals, plants and so forth. In total there are 9 different areas, along with 4 animal exhibitions and 22 attraction rides. I will be talking about each section; however I may miss out some rides as I didn't go on them all.
Morocco is the first African section when you walk into Busch Gardens. When entering this section you can visibly see two sections that stand out from the rest, the Myombe Reserve and the Gwazi roller coaster.
The Myombe Reserve is actually one of the best features within the park. It's a lush ground of forest with wild gorillas and chimpanzee can be watched in artificially created habitat. The area is full of lush greenery, and a majestic waterfall, with the mist spraying over your face. What's even more wonderful about this area is watching these early primates. The chimpanzees look so cheeky, and when they laugh it amazing, it's also fascinating to see how quickly they can move from tree to tree.
However, I only wanted to visit this section to see the gorillas, and let me tell you they're a lot bigger in person, and it certainly beats London zoo. There was one instance where there was a male gorilla at the top of the waterfall area, and it so reminded me of King Kong. Just a little hint, if you get a chance to stare at the gorillas in the eyes don't, because you will seriously crap your pants.
Once you've got over the overwhelming experience of watching these animals, I took a ride on the roller coaster Gwazi. It's a wooden roller coaster; however it's just as fast and just as exciting. It's full of spirals and tall tracks, and is defiantly a must go on ride. The ride was even greater because you could see the entire park, you could see the Gorillas and chimpanzees, and it almost makes you think what they think about these tall rides.
Finally if you have time and like musicals you should visit the
Katanga. It's a musical of African animal folk law, done in a way that even Broadway would be proud off. I must say im not normally a fan of musicals, in fact I often find them boring, but visiting this is a must, it almost gives you an idea of what the park is about. And its only 30 minutes long so it's ok.
The area also comes with a section for traditional Moroccan food, as well as your usual pizzas, chips and burgers.
The next African theme place to visit is Egypt, which to be fair was just as exciting as Morocco.
The main attraction of me was the "Edge of Africa", which eclipsed seeing Gorillas. The edge of Africa area was like going on a real life African safari, watching Giraffes, wild birds bating in the water sections. Watching pinker than pink flamingos sipping the water. The experience was made even more exciting when we were able to see wild meerkat's as well as a crocodile lake. This area almost made me feel as if I was in Africa, although a theme park it was so real and so up close, it was simply awesome, and I now knew that people who said good things about this place were dead right.
If you want see these animals whilst sitting down I recommend taking the Serenget railway, it's a long track that goes around the entire park. Its idea for kids and older people who find it harder to walk around the park. The railways has several stop points allowing you to get off at different areas or likewise get on. It's like a real railway system.
The Egypt experience can't be complete without the Montu roller coaster. I would advise people to go on this ride first, it seems to be one of the more popular rides in the park, and waiting time can exceed 25 minutes. The ride is much more fast and intense than the other rides, you legs dangle free and there is a 65 feet drop from the top. The best bit about the ride it the waiting time at the top, if your sitting at the front, you have about 15 seconds to see the whole park, whilst having you heart in your mouth because of the height.
So the next section of the park is Stanleyville, which incorporates, which is more of a water ride and water experience theme location. Full of boat rides such as the water log and a tidal wave.
The area also includes another rollercoaster called SheiKra', which again much like the Egypt rollercoaster is fast paced and exciting. This area, unlike other is more excitement based, rather than animal viewing, but just as exciting.
Timbuktu incorporated both rides and animal observation areas, unlike Stanleyville. We were able to see Elephants, Cheetahs, Buffalos and Wild Rhinos. This area focused more on the larger animals, but was just as exciting.
Again like Stanleyville, Congo was more of a roller coaster and water ride area. Rides included the wild river rapids, and a large roller coaster known as Kumba.
Unlike most theme parks, the food at Bush Gardens was exceptional, largely because it themed it around each African setting. In each country the diners would have there special foods which included traditional African dishes, whilst also incorporating a more American Appeal, adding chicken, burgers, chips and so forth.
If your thinking of eating at one of the diners make sure you book a table, because they tend to be busy all day long.
The menus as vast and cater for both vegetarians and non vegetarians. Prices are reasonable, don't expect a $2 dish, but it's not as expensive as the Ritz.
If the fine dining isn't for you, you can always pick up food from the stores around the park, which are much cheaper and certainly more for the kids.
My Thoughts on the Park:
I loved Bush Gardens, and would have to say its right up there with Universal Studios. It incorporated a mixture of rides, animals and exotic African scenery to make a superb park. Some people may say these animals are being unfairly treated, but I disagree. They have huge spaces for movement, are fed well and their habitats are specially created for them. There's nothing tasteless about the park, its professional and fun, it's also a great place to learn new things about animals you've never seen before, or never expected to see in America.