If you love rides and are looking for something a little more intense then Disney, then you’ll love the 9 rollercoasters and 2 water rides that Busch Gardens Tampa Bay has to offer.
We’ve stayed in a couple of Air BnB’s when visiting Busch Gardens, but the most convenient option was the Holiday Inn Express. Situated right near the park, the Holiday Inn Express includes complimentary breakfast and a shuttle that get’s you to and from the park (also saving on parking fees). This allows you to get into the park as it opens.
If you love rides then you’ll want to get into the park nice and early. Beating the crowds can mean the difference between taking a whole day to do all the rides vs getting through them all within 2 hours. That then leaves you the rest of the day to relax and see the animals. If the park is open late, it’s always fun to catch the rides at night but wait times can be really long depending on the season.
Parking At Busch Gardens
If you’re driving you’ll typically pull into the large parking lot across the road from Busch Gardens. Normal parking is $20 per day unless you have a Season’s Pass in which case it’s free. Once your car is parked, there’s a free train that takes you to the park entrance. If you already have your ticket or Season’s Pass, you can head straight towards the gate where they will scan you in. Otherwise, you will need to line up at the ticket window to purchase your tickets.
Busch Gardens often has deals, so it pays to look around online to get a good price. Remember to let them know if you live in Florida as most theme parks have special pricing for local residents.
There are also a number of activities and excursions you can add to your day while at the ticketing booth including animal feedings and quick queue to jump ahead of the lines.
While getting your ticket, you may want to consider adding a dining plan. The All Day Dining Deal at Busch Gardens is the best value out of any of the theme park dining plans I have seen. For $39.99 it allows you to have up to a meal every hour, buy one get one snacks and free bottled water throughout the day. Some annual passes will give you a discount – we usually paid less than $30 for all our food for the day.
Once inside the park, you’ll find a range shops and food vendors. We usually bypass these and head right, towards the Cheetah Hunt rollercoaster as wait times for this ride can increase quickly. If you get to the park as it opens, you can usually ride 2-3 times before the line builds.
Cheetah Hunt is all about the speed – the ride launches you to 30 miles per hour in no time and will take you to top speeds of 60 miles per hour as you clime, twist and turn. To allow for the speed, this rollercoaster is also well over 1km long, so you will see it’s tracks run up one side of the park.
If you aren’t much of a rider, you’ll be able to enjoy the Cheetah exhibit while you wait for your friends to get off the ride. The Serengheti Lookout Pub is also adjacent the ride, so you can use your first entree if you’re on the meal plan. If you eat outside, you may find a table with a view of the giraffes on the plains.
From Cheetah Hunt on the Edge of Africa, we usually move into Egypt to ride Cobra’s Curse. This ride is a slower one, but may make you slightly dizzy as the cars turn moving around the track. I can only usually do this ride once.
The wait times can be a bit higher for this ride as it is more kid friendly. To give you a quick lesson on wait times – it comes back to basic economics – supply and demand. Rides that are family friendly are more suitable for a larger audience, equalling higher demand and longer wait times. That’s why it’s good to jump on this ride straight after Cheetah Hunt.
The line for this ride is pretty cool. It feels like you are walking through an archaeological dig site of ruins from Ancient Egypt. You may not enjoy it so much if you don’t like snakes though. If the wait time is long for this ride, I’d honestly skip it as it isn’t my favorite ride at Busch Gardens – but definitely worth going on once. A little unnerving the first time round when you realize the track ends at the very start ;).
Sticking in Egypt, just a little further on from Cobra’s Curse is Montu, an inverted rollercoaster. Inverted meaning that you hang below the track rather than sit above it.
You’ll twist and turn on this ride like other rollercoasters, the only difference being that you have nothing beneath your feet (remember to wear enclosed shoes). Try and get the front row for this one as it will give you the best view. I’ve found Montu typically had lower wait times as it is tucked away in the corner of the park, so you can ride it several times without waiting too long.
From Egypt I typically head back to Cheetah Hunt, where you’ll find the Skyride (yes, you could head to the Serengheti to look at the animals, but let’s keep focussed on getting our cost per ride down first!). After three rollercoasters, you may welcome the change in pace. Skyride is a gondola ride that will take you from Edge of Africa across to Stanleyville.
You’ll glide across a number of animal exhibits (including elephants!) and get a bird’s eye view of some of the rides in Pantopia. Arriving in Stanleyville, you’ll disembark the Skyride near the Stanley Falls Log Flume.
From the Skyride, we usually head up to Kumba for another fast paced rollercoaster ride. This one is not for those who have a weak stomach (nor those who have just eaten lunch). Kumba will take you on more loops than any other ride in the park and take riders to 3.8 times the force of gravity.
You can hear this ride from a distance as usually they fill rollercoaster tracks with sand – but not Kumba. They left it empty to give this ride the sound of a lion’s roar which is translated in the African Kongo language as “Kumba.”
Wait times for Kumba are usually pretty fast – it’s the opposite end of Busch Gardens to the gate, and it is an extreme ride that scares most others off!
Congo River Rapids
If you didn’t manage to keep your lunch down on Kumba, you’ll be able to wash it off on Busch Garden’s nearby water rides. Of course, you may want to skip these rides and come back to them just before you leave so you can keep dry. I made the mistake of thinking I could keep dry on Congo River Rapids. From the bridge over to the line for the ride, I saw people going down on their circular rafts and thought they looked pretty dry. I didn’t realize that they hadn’t really reached the “rapid” part of the ride by then.
Similar to other river rides, you board a circular donut like boat and strap yourself in. The ride starts off pretty tame, but after going beneath the bridge you will start to hit the rapids. Here, it all depends what part of the boat you are in, if you are lucky enough to be in the upstream half, you may stay dry for a moment – but the boat is circular and soon enough, it will turn so you are down stream. Eventually you will get soaked by a wave. Even if you don’t, there’s the waterfall at the end of the cave, and if you are lucky enough to miss that, theres a spray at the end which directs the boat into the correct queue. My tip, make sure you wear fast drying clothes!
Stanley Falls Log Flume
If you somehow managed to stay dry on Congo River Rapids, jump in the log flume at Stanley Falls. This ride is more kid friendly, but no dryer than Congo. The Log Flume has a massive drop at the end which will make sure you are completely soaked.
Now that you are in need of drying off and you couldn’t be bothered to pay the money to go in the human dryer, you’re going to want to ride Sheikra a few times! This is our favorite ride out of the entire park. It was the first dive coaster constructed in North America, and it has no floors. This makes it all the more terrifying when you get to the top of the first 90 degree drop as you hang their for 4 seconds. By the time you reach the bottom of the drop you’re going 70 miles per hour.
If you decide not to go on this ride (and you definitely shouldn’t if you are afraid of heights), just be careful where you wait. Sheikra flies through the water after the drop which causes a massive splash. Avoid standing where there is wet ground.
After Sheikra, you might want something slower paced. Nearby you can catch the Serengeti Express, which is a train that takes you around most of the park, including across the Serengeti Plains where you can see some African wildlife.
This is definitely a family friendly ride, suitable for younger children, as well as more mature adults. It is also a way to get back to the other side of the park, in case you want to venture back for a tour of some of the animal exhibits.
Pantopia is the section in the centre of Busch Gardens – it feels a little like a carnival. You’ll find attractions that you’ll see at a local fair and some smaller rides. When I say smaller, I don’t mean less extreme.
Falcon’s Fury is probably the most terrifying ride in all the park. It is America’s tallest free standing sky jump drop tower 335 feet tall. At first you think, I can handle the drop, it won’t be that bad.
The terror comes when as you near the top of the ride, the seats tilt forward so that instead of pleasantly looking out to the horizon, you are staring straight down at the ground – realizing how high you are. The rise pauses for a randomized period. It might be 1 second, it might be 5! In that time, your body weight is pushing against the harness. You’re hoping and praying that the college student did the buckle up properly as you debate whether to keep your eyes opened or closed.
Finally, after what seems like an eternity, the ground begins to rush up towards you as you enter the 5 second free fall. The seats push back up to normal just before the breaks engage and you come back to Earth with a new appreciation of life.
If you haven’t put your body through enough stress already, and you don’t mind feeling trapped and dizzy, Busch Gardens has a pirate ship ride. Known as the Phoenix, this ride will go back and forth until you are completely upside down and runs a complete loop. In all my visits to Busch Gardens, I went on this once, and that was enough for me!
The Sand Serpent is a deceptive ride. Because it is a smaller coaster, it looks like it could be for kids, but it’s tight turns make it incredibly jolty. I prefer some of the bigger coasters, which is why I have left this towards the end of today’s list.
The Scorpion is another smaller looping coaster in Pantopia. It is a much older ride, so we usually skipped it. But if you have time at the end of the day then it is worth having a go on.
Of course, the end of the day is a great time to ride coasters – especially Montu, Kumba or Sheikra as you’ll get a great view of the sunset and the city lights across Tampa.
There is plenty more to do at Busch Gardens, including animal exhibits, shows as well as special themed events around the Food & Wine Festival and Christmas – but they’re all topics for another Busch Gardens blog.
I hope to make it back to Busch Gardens now that the new Tigris Launch Coaster is available. Have you ridden it? What was your experience?