Having been to most of the Disney Parks in Florida as a youngster I wasn’t too bothered about going to the Magic Kingdom or Epcot again. I’ll save those until I can go with my nieces and see the excitement on their little faces! I am, however still partial to the odd ride on a rollercoaster and I’d heard that Busch Gardens was the place to go if you wanted to scare yourself stupid on massive rides!
Busch Gardens is about an hour’s drive from Kissimmee in Tampa Bay. It is a combination of a zoo, safari park and a theme park, so there’s a lot going on! The drive is pretty straight forward and it gives you a chance to see a different side of Florida. We drove past farming communities, millions of Evangelical churches and fields full of strawberries and other fruits being picked by the locals that we assumed lived in the strange chalet-style houses that lined the road.
Anyway, we eventually reached Busch Gardens. A huge rollercoaster appeared out of nowhere and the screams of excitement (or terror) could be heard before we even got to the car park. Let’s get one thing straight at this point; Busch Gardens is not a cheap day out. Car parking alone is $10 and the entry fee for an adult is $85 (or $77 for kids) but you don’t expect these parks to be a cheap day out, you just have to make sure you get your money’s worth!
The fun started as soon as we boarded the ‘tram’ from the car park. Our guide from the car park to the park entrance was called Eugene and he was pretty much like a character from the ‘Nutty Professor’ all ‘hey y’all’ ‘keep your arms and legs in the vehicle y’all’ punctuated with hysterical laughter and wise cracks. He was hilarious and it made the 5 minute journey far more amusing!
After purchasing our tickets from a self-service machine we made our way in to the park. It is split into 10 different areas including Morocco, Egypt, the Serengeti Plain, and Nairobi. We caught the train from the Nairobi train station that takes you around the park and over the Serengeti Plain where you can see giraffes, antelopes, rhinos and zebras walking just feet away from you. If you want to get even closer to the action you can opt to go on the ‘Serengeti Outpost’ tour and view the animals close up from inside a safari vehicle. This costs an extra $19 per person; or if you are feeling particularly flush you can spend another $39 to take part in the special walking tour. My personal opinion is that the train ride lets you see almost as much and it’s thrown in with your $85 so I wouldn’t waste your money!
Animal lovers and kids will love the range of wildlife in the park. There is everything from otters to white tigers on view. If you want to find out more about any of your favourite creatures you can listen to the ‘keeper talks’ at various times of the day. There are also opportunities to pet some of the animals like the kangaroos.
The animals may be interesting but what I was really interested in were the rollercoasters. The newest ride ‘Cheetah Hunt’ travels at speeds of 60 miles an hour and has a 130 foot drop as went several twists and turns. This is probably the most popular ride in the park due to it being the new kid on the block but the waiting time was still only around 20 minutes, compared with Alton Towers horrendous 2 hour waits this was nothing. As usual the Americans really know how to make things run smoothly and make sure there are very few delays in the operation. After queuing on my own for 20 minutes (I couldn’t convince the parents to give it a go) I was soon launched at 35 miles an hour from the starting blocks. Wow! This was definitely the best rollercoaster I have EVER been on. The rides here last for longer and have more thrills and spills than any I had been on in the UK. I was soon racing off to board Montu, a ride similar to ‘Nemesis’ but higher, faster and longer! There was no queue for this at all so I jumped straight on it and came off feeling like I was a teenager again!
The only negatives about the park were that one of the main rides, Sheikra was closed for maintenance (quite a paint job I can tell you!) but this was probably due to it being January and quiet season. The food was also very average but this is typical for the theme parks. There is no shortage of choice but the quality and cost of food is not great so if you want to save some money maybe take a packed lunch with you.
Overall, I would thoroughly recommend Busch Gardens. It’s a little further away than the Disney parks but it has lots to offer all the family. There is a ‘Sesame Street Safari of Fun’ for younger kids and even if rides are not your thing you can enjoy the animals. As with all the parks shop around for ticket deals. Busch Gardens is a ‘Seaworld Park’ so you can get a double ticket for both parks for better value or the package deals that include more of the parks can offer you great discounts. I think I’ll just stick to lazing on my sun lounger for a while now though; I’ve had quite enough fun for a few days…