Up to this point, my Tour Guide Tuesday articles have centered around Walt Disney World and Universal Studios. Today, I’m going to talk about a nearby, and often overlooked park, that has some of the best thrill rides in the country. Busch Gardens Tampa is only about 70 miles from the Magic Kingdom, and is a great park for both animal lovers and thrill seekers. Not only does it have more coasters than any other spot in the area, but it also is home to the fastest roller coaster in Florida. In addition, they have a water park and one of the best Halloween season events in Howl-O-Scream.
Many of my Disney and Universal tour guests ask about Busch Gardens, but typically don’t know too much about it. After hearing about some of the unique and thrilling attractions, many decide to book a tour at this park. This is especially true of guests with older kids and teens. They are often surprised at what they have been missing by not making the day-trip to Tampa! I am going to describe some of the best rides at Busch Gardens for those who haven’t been there, and then give you a few tips to make the most of your day.
There are basically 5 big coasters (all with inversions) at Busch Gardens. First and foremost, I want to mention SheiKra, which is currently the fastest coaster in Florida. This unique attraction places guests in one big coaster car with 3 rows of 8 guests. It is 200 feet tall, and it temporarily holds riders at the top, before dropping them straight down in a 70 mph vertical dive. It is a smooth but intense ride that has quickly become a favorite of my family.
The next two coasters are Montu and Kumba. They are similar in that they were both built in the 1990s, both have 7 inversions, and they hit top speeds of between 60-65. However, Montu has an overhead track system and is a “smoother” experience than Kumba.
The oldest coaster in the park is the Scorpion, which was built back in 1980. This coaster is unique in that it is the only one that I have ridden that goes upside down without overhead guest restraints. As you approach this ride, you can plainly see the loop that you will be doing. So, when I first rode it, you can imagine my surprise when I realized that the seat has a simple lap-bar restraint. Of course gravity keeps you from falling out, but it was still funny to see this simple lap-bar.
Right next to Scorpion is the park’s newest thrill ride in Falcon’s Fury. This is an attraction like no other. Not only is it the tallest free-standing drop tower in North America at 335 feet, but it also tilts guests 90 degrees before dropping them face-down towards the earth. This is the most unique thrill ride I have ever experienced.
The last big thrill I want to mention is Cheetah Hunt. This relatively new coaster is fun in every sense of the word. It contains three separate launches, and takes guests on a smooth ride that mimics the movement of a cheetah at times. It is definitely the most popular attraction at the park from a wait-time standpoint.
In addition to the big rides, Busch Gardens has some of the best animal experiences anywhere. You can get amazingly close to lions, tigers, cheetahs, orangutans, and others. There is also a large safari area, which can be experienced by train, the overhead skyway, or by semi-private safari trucks.
Now, let me give you some tips that can help make the most of your day at Busch Gardens. First off, like all theme parks, you should arrive before park opening. Without question, you will be best off heading directly to Cheetah Hunt, as this line will grow quickly. Except for very busy seasons, you will find that the other coasters typically have very short waits in the morning. You could hit most of them before lunch. This can be important in that almost every ride at Busch Gardens closes when thunder storms are nearby. These storms are very common in the afternoon during 6-7 months of the year, so you don’t want to leave any “must do” rides until after lunch.
Busch Gardens requires you to store your bags in lockers before riding the bigger attractions. These lockers are $.50 and there are no time limits. Although there are change machines, you can save time by bringing quarters with you. Also, you can leave your stuff in the same locker while you enjoy several close-by attractions, saving money and time.
Finally, I wanted to mention that unlike most other parks, Busch Gardens often has great discounted “deals” throughout the year. There are annual pass offers, AAA discounts, etc. You can often get a park ticket along with “Quick Queue” (their line avoidance system) for about the same price as a regular park ticket at the big Orlando destinations. However, you don’t really need Quick Queue unless you are going at a very busy time.
I hope you enjoy “Tour Guide Tuesday.” If you want additional tips while you’re in the parks, WDW Guided Tours is happy to help!