Thrills, spills & animals: A walk on the wild side at Busch Gardens
Web Team | 15th September 2023
By Richard Jones
My daughters Isla and Evelyn have always loved holidays in Florida. After all, it is home to what are, undeniably, the best theme parks in the world.
However, their tastes have changed – now aged 16 and 12, they are no longer too bothered about seeing people dressed up as giant mice or princesses, and they aren’t fussed about CGI dinosaurs or aliens either – they prefer to meet living and breathing animals.
Creatures like Tequiza the female reticulated giraffe, who craned her neck, pricked up her ears and batted her eyelashes, before wrapping her long purple tongue around the cooling clump of crunchy Romaine lettuce in their hands.
My wife Rachel and our daughters were in Busch Gardens Tampa, taking part in a short safari on its Serengeti Plain which culminated in a chance to meet and feed these incredible gentle giants.The theme park, which is situated about an hour’s drive from Orlando, is an amazing zoo and incredible theme park rolled into one.
It is home to over 200 species, and as well as rhino, antelope, zebra, ostriches and the aforementioned giraffes, we got a glass-free view of a cheetah, saw the kangaroos in Walkabout Way, encountered penguins and flamingos in their enclosures, and birds of paradise in the walk-through aviary.
At every turn, there are cool animals (over 2,000), interesting habitats and lush landscapes to explore. Following the safari, the four of us were shown around Busch Gardens’ Animal Care Center where we learned about some of the zoological initiatives that the vets and scientists have introduced to educate visitors and ensure threatened species can survive and thrive.
Evelyn even got to hold the eye of an elephant (her favourite animal), which was being stored and used for vital research in the clinic. After a morning in the hot Florida sun, we were in need of a cool down and took our seats in the air-conditioned theatre to watch thrilling ice-skating show Turn It Up.
In fact, many shows and parades take place each day at Busch Gardens. Some are seasonal, so check out their park’s website to see what is on. For the little ones, the Sesame Street Safari of Fun is a five-acre kids’ playground with themed rides, shows, and water adventures.
And there are restaurants galore all over the park, with opportunities to purchase drinks and refreshments at every turn.If you’re feeling parched throughout the day, the all-new Giraffe Bar at Serengeti Overlook is a great place to stop off for a frozen cocktail while watching the animals on the Serengeti Plain.
However, we took a seat in the Zambia Smokehouse, using our All Day Dining passes before munching on BBQ ribs, brisket, fries and salads, and washing it down with cooling sodas. After lunch, Isla and Evelyn couldn’t wait to get on the rides.
Quick tip: if you’re at Busch Gardens for the rollercoasters, it’s a good idea to purchase a Quick Queue Unlimited pass to skip those pesky lines.
It’s also worth getting an all-day locker to put your bags and belongings somewhere safe before taking a seat on the rides. The Serengeti Express is a nice way to start to the day, ease yourself in, and see the park, as it makes stops off at Congo, Nairobi and Stanleyville.
But it wasn’t long before Isla and Evelyn began testing out their parents’ resistance to motion sickness on the white-knuckle rollercoasters. After boarding Tigris, Kumba, Cheetah Run, Cobra’s Curse and SheiKra, and cooling off further at the Congo River Rapids and Stanleyville Falls, we tried out the all-new Serengeti Flyer duelling swing, which offers riders incredible views of the theme park as it lifts you back and forth, higher and higher, over and over again.
However, we saved the best until last. With a stomach-churning drop of 206ft and travelling over 1.2km, the colossal and unrelenting wooden and metal coaster Iron Gwazi is not only the tallest hybrid rollercoaster in North America, but was also the most enjoyable ride of our day.
The trip to Busch Gardens had reminded us that there is no substitute for the thrill of meeting animals, like Tequiza the giraffe and her friends, in the flesh – unless you have a thing for white-knuckle rides, that is.
But whichever you prefer – thrills or animals – Busch Gardens gives you the opportunity to enjoy them side by side.
Ocean Florida offers 14 nights at the Doubletree by Hilton at SeaWorld, direct flights from Manchester and the ultimate three-park ticket including unlimited visits to SeaWorld, Aquatica and Busch Gardens, all-day dining and free parking, from £1,349pp.
Price is based on four people sharing for selected dates in May 2024. For more information or to book visit Ocean-florida.co.uk or call 0203 5530 948.