Family Vacations to Busch Gardens, Florida

picture of rides at Busch Gardens fl
A jeep tour through the Rhino Rally exhibit at Busch Gardens Africa outside of Tampa, Florida (SeaWorld Parks & Entertainment)

It's not often that you find a theme park that's a zoo, amusement park, shopping center, gaming complex, and entertainment venue all rolled into one. African-themed Busch Gardens in Tampa Bay has it all, making it a long-standing family favorite due to the high-quality blend of experiences it offers young and old alike.

More than 50 years ago, Anheuser-Busch created a beer garden in front of its Tampa Bay brewery, complete with free beer and a bird show. As the brewery grew in popularity, August Busch added a 70-acre park modeled after the Serengeti Plain, featuring African animals such as elephants and giraffes. The brewery has been closed since the 1990s, and, much to the chagrin of many a visiting dad, the park recently stopped offering free beer. But this once-glorified animal farm has blossomed into one of the best zoos in the country, an eclectic modern amusement park combining cutting-edge rollercoaster technology with the more genteel thrill of seeing wildlife in action.

Nature lovers can take in the ponds, gardens, bird aviary, and, of course, animal habitats from various vantage points (walking past on foot, through a restaurant window, from the backseat of a Jeep, or an aerial view from the Skyride). Or take a wild ride on the Serengeti Night Safari, where you'll witness hippos, lions, and hyenas feeding and roaming the grounds through night-vision technology (additional admission costs apply).

Thrill seekers can choose from world-class roller coasters. SheiKra is North America's first "dive" coaster, whose see-through floors give riders the feeling of flying at 70 miles per hour. Kumba gives a gut-punching 135-foot drop and a few moments of uneasy weightlessness. Montu, one of the world's tallest and longest inverted coasters, ratchets up g-forces to 3.85 (slightly more than experienced during a Space Shuttle launch). The younger set can get their coaster initiation on the Cheetah Chase, a five-story ride that's just fast enough to thrill young ones without overwhelming them. Also good for younger children are new attractions like Jungala, a four-acre adventure area featuring a three-story playland for kids, a zip-line ride, and an opportunity to get up close to orangutans and a Bengal tiger, all set in a replica African village.

There are a variety of hotels in the immediate vicinity and a water park right across the street. Located in a suburban area just an hour from Orlando and 30 minutes from Tampa International Airport, Busch Gardens makes a nice addition to a Disney trip, or can be a slightly cheaper alternative for families on beach vacations in Tampa/St. Petersburg.

Published: 10 May 2010 | Last Updated: 11 May 2010
Details mentioned in this article were accurate at the time of publication


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