Florida is the world’s hotspot for theme parks and if you’re looking for the park with the biggest and best thrill rides you should be looking west of Orlando and heading to Busch Gardens Tampa. Making the trip you’ll be greeted by 10 amazing roller coasters, over 200 animal species and a whole lot more including ReviewTyme’s favourite coaster in the entire world.
So today let’s look at the often-forgotten cousin of the Orlando theme park mecca and see if it’s worth the 90-minute free shuttle bus ride to the park
Busch Gardens Tampa is home to the best thrill rides in Florida, featuring an insanely well-rounded selection of coasters including a launch coaster, an inverted coaster, a dive coaster, a floorless coaster, a hybrid roller coaster and more.
You can’t talk about the 10 coasters in this park without starting with Iron Gwazi and spoiler alert this is currently my #1 coaster in the entire world having ridden over 200 of them. The best word to describe this ride is relentless from the moment you plunge down the 206ft drop the ride is in control, whipping you around some insane elements, through two inversions and throwing you out of your seat every step of the way whilst staying perfectly smooth throughout.
Iron Gwazi may be the standout but don’t sleep on the park’s other coasters such as Cheetah Hunt a ride that’s simply fun featuring multiple launches and some tight corners that truly make you feel like a cheetah hunting for its prey as well as my favourite Dive Coaster Sheikra which dangles you 200ft in the air while you sit staring down at your feet. The coaster lineup is rounded out by two classic B&M coasters including the inverted Montu and the floorless Kumba, the incredibly compact Tigris and the park’s oldest operating coaster at 42 years old Scorpion.
Falcon’s Fury, one of the biggest, most imposing rides in the world also calls this park home. The ride takes you up 335ft into the air before facing you right down towards the ground and dropping you. Unfortunately for Dom and thankfully for me, this ride was closed on our recent trip so we didn’t get the chance to ride the world’s only Intamin Sky Jump. Falcon’s Fury is currently the only major thrilling flat ride in the park but with such amazing coasters that’s not necessarily a bad thing, and they are currently constructing an S&S screaming swing that will add to the lineup nicely.
It takes a fair bit to get families out of Orlando and down to Tampa but thankfully Busch Gardens isn’t just for the thrill seekers and offers something unique for the whole family. The park’s dedicated family area of Seasame Street Safari of fun is mostly aimed towards the youngest in your family, featuring a strong selection of flat rides, a giant net fortress, the perfect first coaster of Air Grover as well as one of the world’s cutest log flumes.
Spread throughout the rest of the park is a wide variety of rides everyone in the family can enjoy together. On a hot summer’s day, there are two family-friendly water rides to cool you down the Stanley Falls Flume and the Congo River Rapids. Just be warned though, you might get absolutely soaked. Back towards the front of the park is Cobra’s Curse a great family-friendly roller coaster with some neat thematic elements and a good amount of spinning that increases the fun, without increasing nausea.
One of the best family ride offerings anywhere in the world is the Busch Gardens Skyride not just giving you a birds-eye view of the park, but also of the park’s massive Serengeti Plain home to countless animals that call Africa home. This ride was unfortunately closed on our recent visit which is a big shame, but hopefully, it will reopen soon as it’s one of my favourite experiences in the park.
Of course, the best part about Busch Gardens is if someone in your family isn’t into rides at all there’s still plenty for them to see thanks to the park’s huge number of animal offerings which leads us right into…
To me, Busch Gardens Tampa meshes the animals and the rides together better than a certain Kingdom of Animals down the road. The park is home to over 200 species of Animals and their habitats are spread generously throughout. Some of the animal highlights on our day were getting up close and personal with some Lions, admiring the sheer speed of a cheetah and feeling right at home with some Kangaroos. Every major ride is within close walking distance to an animal enclosure meaning if you don’t wanna ride there’s always something to look at and admire.
I love a good theme park train, it’s often a highlight of my day allowing me to sit back for a while and roll along the tracks as I watch the world go by. Busch Gardens Tampa is home to my favourite theme park train in the world. Not just are you pulled along by a real steam locomotive, but you travel through the park’s Serengeti Plain, allowing you to get incredibly close to the park’s free-roaming animals. I’ve been on the train before where we had to stop to let a friendly heard of Giraffe pass. Be warned that an entire grand circle tour can take upwards of an hour but it’s the perfect way to take a break from the thrills and enjoy some of the things that truly make this park unique.
The strong mix of rides and things for non-riders to do continues with the entertainment offerings in the park. The major show that stays constant throughout the year is the Turn It Up Ice Skating Show, a high-energy offering that blends upbeat music, some neat technical elements and amazing ice skating into a standout show.
Outside of this, the other entertainment offerings will be heavily dependent on when you visit the park. During our recent visit in the high attendance summer season, we got to see a great live band playing in the Dragon Fire Grill theatre which was perfect as we got to pick up a beer, sit back and relax for a little bit, this venue also offers a huge selection of dining choices allowing you to grab dinner and a show.
The other show we got to see was the America’s Got Talent Showcase which was a unique offering for the park, showcasing several acts from the TV show, changing up the lineup every week. While there were some stronger and some weaker performances on our visit the families around us seemed to be enthralled with the gymnastics, magic and juggling the different acts presented.
We went to Busch Gardens in the middle of July, known for not just being insanely busy with schools on summer break and also insanely hot and humid. The staff in the park though were easily able to push through this extra pressure running multiple trains on most rides and loading guests safely and efficiently as possible. I was particularly impressed with rides like Tigris that can only run a single train, with the staff hustling to get it dispatched as quickly as possible (Even with the incredibly awkward restraint system). One big help to the operators seems to be the screens in the stations, which tell them when each restraint is locked and gives them a countdown for how long each train has been in the station which as an enthusiast is just as interesting to me as it is helpful to the staff.
Towards the end of our day lightning struck near the park shutting down every major attraction, one disadvantage of having no indoor attractions. Rides stayed down for a couple of hours which is understandable as safety is paramount but I want to give a specific shoutout and respect to the Iron Gwazi team who worked their butts off to get the ride back up and running after the storm passed with staff literally running to check all the restraints and dispatch the trains.
Busch Gardens Tampa’s overarching theme is that of Africa, letting that not just define the attraction theming but also a lot of the animals on display in the park. While the overall theme is not quite as fully immersive as Busch Gardens Williamsburg, every ride is presented nicely and fits in well with its area featuring a good middle ground between theming and all-out insane coasters. The newer coasters such as Iron Gwazi are more presented nicely rather than featuring an all-enveloping theme but this is expected and newer family-friendly offerings such as Cobra’s Curse show that the park can still flex their thematic muscles where appropriate.
Some of the best-themed areas are Sesame Street Safari of Fun with playfully mixes the Sesame Street style with the park’s African Theme, Pantopia with its bright and vibrant colour scheme as well as the parks entrance area with feels like a bustling marketplace, complete with a build a bear.
In recent years theme parks have been getting better at merchandise and the items on offer at Busch Gardens Tampa reflect this. There was a great selection of park and ride-specific merchandise available throughout the park, as well as some awesome items celebrating the history of the park and some of the attractions that are no longer around. By now you know that I love nanocoasters and here they are available for all of the major coasters.
They were more expensive than the models offered at other parks on our trip but they’re still such a good and unique souvenir for coaster enthusiasts. If you want to go to that next level they even had a full wooden model of the Iron Gwazi train. The park also had a great range of Sesame Street merchandise, animal-celebrating items and a huge range of t-shirts. If you want something to remember your trip here, you will definitely be able to find something!
When compared to the prices at other Floridian parks, Busch Gardens Tampa tickets are a steal. Tickets are seemingly always on sale with there more often than not being a deal where you buy a one-day ticket and get the rest of the year for free. One of the best deals is a two-day ticket if you’re in the Orlando area, where for $120 you can get into Busch Gardens Tampa for one day and Sea World Orlando for another.
The park does offer a skip-the-line pass entitled Quick Queue which starts at just $40, however, if you see that on the day of your visit it’s that cheap don’t be tricked that essentially just means that every ride will be a walk on anyway. Being outside of the major tourist hotspot of Orlando the park visitor numbers are more similar to a regional theme park, where as long as you can visit outside the weekends and holiday breaks wait times will be almost non-existent. Merchandise pricing was in line with the other Florida-based theme parks but this is a shame as everything else is much cheaper, even things such as Nanocoasters were $50 each compared to being only $30 at a lot of other theme parks we visited on our trip.
For a park full of sweaty exhausted tourists the park’s energy and atmosphere are surprisingly decent essentially becoming a mixing pot of guests from all over the world. Even though it was right in what should have been the busy season waits were bearable, with nothing other than Iron Gwazi hitting a wait time of about 40 minutes, with even Gwazi only seeing a peak of 65. The second half of our day turned rainy and stormy but I’ve never quite felt the energy I felt, standing in the Gwazi queue when it came back online from being down, the excitement in the air was insane. The Iron Jungle of coasters also means the park is jam-packed with exciting kinetics and plenty of perfect places to watch rides whizz by. Just be willing to explore as some of the best rides in the park are hidden in various nooks and crannies around the park.
Walking around the park is a bit of a mixed bag with some lush areas living up to the garden’s name with others wide open and baking in the hot sun. Thankfully a good amount of fans and misters are spread throughout the park to help you cool down.
Busch Gardens Tampa has one of the best services a park can provide, free transport to the park, with Busch offering a free shuttle bus to and from the park from several locations in Orlando including Icon Park, Sea World and more. Just be aware that you can’t pick your return time and the bus will usually head back around 7 pm, meaning if there is a night event such as fireworks you will miss out. Also, make sure you book the bus online beforehand as it’s quite a popular offering during the busy seasons.
One thing to note about Busch Gardens Tampa is that the park is MASSIVE, bring your walking shoes and do a ride as you see it, as it’s a long walk back to things like Falcon’s Fury and Kumba in the back of the park. We’re – talking over a kilometre from the entrance to Kumba. Making it easily a 30-minute round trip of nonstop walking alone.
The park’s food offering was rather lacklustre though, something I’ve found to be common amongst parks that offer all-day dining plans. We had Barbecue for our lunch which was okay but rather overpriced with them seemingly upping the prices on underwhelming food options just to make the all-day dining plan look like a better value. Trust us you don’t need unlimited food at a park with this many thrill rides, your tummy will thank you!
I’ve always had a soft spot for Busch Gardens Tampa, travelling to the park in 2015 truly felt like you were stepping out of the insanity that was Orlando parks and into a little haven of thrilling coasters and short wait times.
My love for the park has only grown this year with me being able to ride Iron Gwazi multiple times across my two visits to the park. While the thrill rides might be the standouts, the animal experiences and family offerings truly set this park apart, trust me you need to enjoy the best theme park train for yourself!
If you’re in the area and want to break up your Disney or Universal stay we highly recommend booking the shuttle and seeing Florida’s best coasters just down the road in Tampa.
And a huge thank you to the park for inviting us out for the purpose of our review.