Thinking about making a trip out to Busch Gardens Tampa Bay anytime soon?
This wild and adventurous theme park is known to have some of the best roller coasters and thrill rides in Florida.
Formerly known as the Dark Continent, Busch Gardens Tampa Bay invites you to seek adventures in the lush and mysterious lands of Africa.
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Busch Gardens Tampa Tips and Guide for Beginners
I have so many fond memories of this magnificent theme park. It was the first time I had rode a roller coaster, Python, and it was the first park I was able to explore on my own.
Busch Gardens was also a place where I created great memories with my large family, being that it was a much more affordable theme park for families to attend together.
What to Expect at Busch Gardens Tampa Bay
Busch Gardens was opened in Tampa, Florida on March 31, 1959 by the Anheuser-Busch company as a free animal attraction alongside a brewery.
It has since become a 335-acre theme park divided into African-themed regions:
- Birds Garden
- Cheetah Hunt Area
- Sesame Street Safari of Fun
All areas of Busch Gardens can be done in one day if you have a plan. I’ll be sure to give you the perfect Busch Gardens itinerary later in this guide.
How to Navigate to Busch Gardens
Busch Gardens Tampa Bay is about 70 miles from the Walt Disney World Resort (an hour and 25 minute drive). There is a Busch Gardens shuttle service that offers round-trip transportation to the park.
The round-trip fare is free with park ticket purchase and departs Orlando daily with a maximum of three stops to Busch Gardens.
Reservations are highly recommended and can be reserved by calling 1-800-221-1339 or visit Mears Destination Services online.
How to Get to Busch Gardens Tampa from Disney World
- Travel WEST on I-4 to I-75 (About 58 Miles)
- Merge onto I-75 NORTH via EXIT 9 toward Ocala (stay on I-75 for about 3.74 miles)
- Take EXIT 265 toward Temple Terrace (this exit is also the exit for the University of South Florida)
- You will merge onto E Fowler Ave/FL-582 W via EXIT 265 and stay on here for about 4.65 miles
- Turn left onto N McKinley Dr/County Hwy-585A (stay on here for about 1 mile)
- Make a U-turn onto N McKinley Dr/County Hwy-585A
- Arrive and park at Busch Gardens
Busch Gardens Tampa Address
The address for Busch Gardens is 10165 N McKinley Drive Tampa, FL 33612.
Busch Gardens Tampa Hours
Busch Gardens usually opens at 10:00 a.m. and closes at 6:00 p.m.
However, during the peak summer days the park may be open until midnight.
Remember when planning your trip, always check the park’s website or mobile app for the current hours and wait times.
Please Note: Reservations are required for all guests visiting Busch Gardens Tampa.
What to Know Before You Go
Busch Gardens Tampa Bay is known for housing some of USA’s most extreme and fearsome (and awesome) thrill rides.
It’s because of this that you’ll want to make sure you come prepared with what you’ll need to make the most of your visit.
Knowing what to wear and how to be comfortable during your day is also vital for visiting this park.
If you are wearing loose-fitting shoes, you should leave them at the loading platform on rides such as Montu.
Any other loose articles can be placed inside any locker located throughout the park.
What should I pack for Busch Gardens?
- Comfy Shoes
- Small Bag
- Breathable Clothing
- Sun Protection
- Small Umbrella
- Hand Sanitizer
- Park Ticket
Busch Gardens Roller Coasters
- Cobra’s Curse
- Cheetah Hunt
- Iron Gwazi (coming soon)
What is the tallest roller coaster at Busch Gardens.
Sheikra is currently the tallest roller coaster at Busch Gardens Tampa Bay peaking at 200-feet.
Iron Gwazi will soon beat out Sheikra as the tallest roller coaster at Busch Gardens topping off at 206-feet.
It will also be North America’s tallest and the world’s fastest and steepest hybrid roller coaster when it opens later this year.
Busch Gardens Tickets and Prices
When planning out your solo trip, you’ll want to know how much does it cost to go to Busch Gardens in Tampa?
Let’s breakdown the different ticket options you will have at the park.
Busch Gardens Parking Price
- $25: General parking for cars, motorcycles, trucks, recreation vehicles and campers (50% off for Bronze Annual Pass Members; FREE for Silver, Gold and Platinum Annual Pass Members)
- $28: Preferred parking (50% off for Silver Annual Pass Members; FREE for Gold and Platinum Members)
Busch Gardens Discount Tickets
- One day admission starting at $84.99 (when purchased in advance)
- Play & Dine: Busch Gardens Tampa Bay + Eat Free All Day starting at $109.99
- Fun Card Pay: For a Day, Get All of 2020 at Busch Gardens plus Adventure Island FREE starting at $109.99
- Tampa Bay CityPASS: Attractions include: Busch Gardens® Tampa, The Florida Aquarium, Tampa’s Lowry Park Zoo, Clearwater Marine Aquarium and Chihuly Collection presented by the Morean Arts Center OR Museum of Science & Industry (MOSI). $109.00 (this is the best deal when visiting Tampa)
*All prices subject to change without notice.
Busch Gardens Annual Pass Options
- Busch Gardens only starting at $6.99/month
- SeaWorld or Adventure Island + Busch Gardens starting at $9.99/month
- SeaWorld + Busch Gardens + Adventure Island or Aquatica starting at $11.99/month
*All prices will vary based on the plan you choose.
Busch Gardens All-Day Dining Plan
All you can eat and drink at Busch Gardens.
- Adult: $39.99
- Child: $19.99
Busch Gardens Quick Queue
You can skip the line on major Busch Gardens rides and attractions. Prices start at $19.99 and varies based on how busy the park may be that day.
Below are the current attractions included in the Quick Queue system:
- Falcon’s Fury
- Cheetah Hunt
- Stanley Falls Flume
- Congo River Ride
- Cobra’s Curse
- Tigris (one-time use only)
*Prices subject to change.
Busch Gardens Tours
On your trip to this fantastic park, you should think about upgrading your day with one of their fun tours.
These tours will give you an up-close experience and education on what it takes to care for the animals in this Tampa theme park.
Elephant Insider Tour
45-minute walking tour with specialized trainers.$29.99
Elite Adventure Tour
The ultimate VIP experience of Busch Gardens where you can customize your own 7-hour tour. Includes Serengeti Safari Tour, breakfast, lunch and priority ride access. $399.00
Keeper for a Day Tour
You will work with zoological staff caring for giraffes, antelope, birds and more! This hands-on experience last 6.5 hours. $249.00
Penguin Insider Tour
Guided tour with specialized trainers. $29.99
Open-air touring vehicle that takes you through the Serengeti plain. $39.99
Tiger Insider Tour
30-minute walking tour with specialized trainers. $29.99
Aldabra Tortoise Insider Tour
You’ll be able to get an up-close encounter with one of the largest tortoises in the world on this 30-minute walking tour. $19.99
Cheetah Encounter Tour
30-minute walking tour that gives you a behind-the-scenes look at what it takes to care for cheetahs. $89.99
Gorilla Insider Tour
You’ll get to come close to these endangered species on a 30-minute walking tour. $29.99
Lion and Hippo Insider Tour
Here you’ll get to embark on a 30-minute walking tour which will you an up-close tour of these majestic African animals. $29.99
Sloth Encounter Tour
This is another 30-minute animal walking tour that takes you on an in depth experience of what it’s like to care for these unique animals. $89.99
Discounts are available for Pass Members, but like always prices are subject to change. You can learn more about booking these tours here.
11 Easy Busch Busch Gardens Tips for First Timers
Now that we have all the information on what you can expect there, let’s go through a few tips to make your day easy at Busch Gardens.
1 – Get there early
Arrive 45 minutes prior to park opening is the best way to maximize your day, especially if you’re trying to do it in one day.
Hipster Power Tip: Book a hotel near Busch Gardens such as Home2 Suites by Hilton here and explore Tampa Bay before heading back to Walt Disney World.
2 – Dress appropriately
Florida weather is mostly hot and humid except for the beautiful months of December, January, February, and March.
3 – Find quiet, shaded spots
The Edge of Africa and Myombe Reserve are two, usually serene, sitting areas.
The great thing about Busch Gardens is the availability of hidden spots tucked away throughout the park that also offer great views and shade.
4 – Go during the weekdays
To avoid the frustration that a crowed day at a theme park can bring, I suggest avoiding holidays, the weekends, and the summer.
This is the time that both locals and tourists flood the park bringing unbelievable attraction wait times and difficult navigation throughout the park.
The best days to visit Busch Gardens are Tuesdays and Wednesdays.
5 – Use the All Day Self-Service Lockers
This tips is especially important if you’re traveling solo and you want to ride roller coasters.
Busch Gardens does not allow for you to bring any loose articles on its roller coasters. So, renting a locker for the day will be your best bet.
All you have to do is find the location of one locker, select the all day rental, then you can you can use the rest of the locker locations throughout the park on your solo trip.
A Standard Locker currently costs $15 to rent for the whole day.
6 – Download Busch Gardens Map
Map out your day prior to your visit.
This is a great way to make a note of your must do’s and also a way to help you see and experience as much as you can if you’re only there for a short visit.
7 – Pass on Preferred Parking
Try to get to Busch Gardens early and park near the tram station in the regular parking section.
If you pay for an upgrade to preferred parking, then there is a possibility that you may get placed in the back of that lot and will have to walk quite a distance to the front gates.
8 – Find Busch Gardens discounted tickets and special deals
9 – Grab a Birthday Pin
If it’s your special day, be sure to stop by guest relations for a special birthday pin to wear at the park.
10 – Purchase the Busch Gardens Quick Queue Pass
This is a most important tip if you’re going on a busy day.
The Busch Gardens Quick Queue will allow you to bypass the long wait times on the peak days at the park.
11 – Purchase the All-Day Dining Deal
For one low price, you will get a band that allows you to eat at participating restaurants all day.
Each time you eat, your meal will include: 1 entrée, 1 side or dessert, and 1 fountain drink, tea or water for each visit.
Basically, an all you can eat day at the park!
Busch Gardens All-Day Dining Restaurants:
- Zagora Café
- Serengeti Overlook™ Cafe
- Bengal Bistro
- Dragon Fire™ Grill
- Zambia Smokehouse
According to Busch Gardens, sharing is prohibited and may lead to revocation of your dining pass if found in violation of the rule.
Solo Theme Park Traveler Tip: If you see a family struggling to get a group photo, offer to take their picture. In return, someone from their circle might reciprocate the offer to you.
Busch Gardens Itinerary for Just One Day
Now it’s time to go through how to do Busch Gardens in a day. Do keep in mind that you can add or take away any item that’s not really interesting to you!
- Download and go over the park map.
- Plan to arrive prior to the gates opening.
- Check out the famous Florida gators in Morocco.
- Join the Cheetah Hunt.
- Ride Cobra’s Curse.
- Experience Montu.
- Enjoy a stroll on the Edge of Africa or in the Myombe Reserve to relax.
- Take the Skyride over to the middle area of the park.
- Ride Sheikra.
- Conquer Tigris!
- Have lunch at Zambia Smokehouse.
- Ride Stanley Falls.
- Conquer the Congo River Rapids
- Ride Kumba.
- Dive into the Scorpion Roller Coaster
- Ride the Phoenix.
- Experience the Sand Serpent Roller Coaster.
- Conquer Falcon’s Fury.
- Grab a delicious pretzel and beer at Twisted Tails Pretzels.
- Catch up on any park shows that you want to watch.
Busch Gardens Tampa Annual Events
Believe it or not, this Tampa park is truly coming into its own with events that rival some of the ones in the major Orlando parks.
Let’s go over what annual festivities you can expect at Busch Gardens. Hopefully, you’ll be able to visit one of these events.
Food and Wine Festival (March and April)
Coasters, music, food, drinks, fun and more can all be experienced in this standout Busch Gardens annual event.
This event is included with park admission and is similar to the Epcot Food and Wine Festival.
Summer Nights (June, July, and August)
Experience the terrifying roller coasters at night and party with other Hipsters as DJs play your favorite tunes throughout the night.
This summertime event is included with your park admission.
Howl-O-Scream (September and October)
The Dark Continent inspired theme park transforms into a terrifying, bone-chilling event where you’ll scream your way through the park.
A separate ticket is needed for this event. You can read how to conquer Howl-O-Scream like a pro here!
Christmas Town at Busch Gardens (November and December)
Christmas treats, Santa’s house, Rudolph and more can be found in this annual Winter Wonderland experience right in the heart of Tampa Bay.
Christmas Town is included with your park admission and is a must do experience at Busch Gardens!
Busch Gardens Rides, Attractions and Entertainment
Before you visit Busch Gardens Tampa Bay, you must know all the rides that are available for you to enjoy!
Busch Gardens Tampa Thrill Rides
Cheetah Hunt, Cheetah Hunt Area
Triple launch coaster with cheetah like speed and the park’s longest ride (4400 feet).
Height Requirement: Minimum of 48”
Cobra’s Curse, Egypt
Spin coaster, featuring a vertical lift that takes you through the dark legend of the King Snake.
Height Requirement: Minimum of 42”
Falcon’s Fury, Pantopia
Pivot 90 degrees in midair to a face-down dive in the tallest (335 feet) freestanding drop tower in America.
Height Requirement: between 54” and 77”
Hear the ferocious roar of the lion in this classic must do roller coaster.
Height Requirement: 54”
The Egyptian god named roller coaster with seven inversions.
Height Requirement: Minimum of 54”
A classic swing boat ride that can go in a complete circle.
Height Requirement: 48”
Floorless 90-degree dive roller coaster straight down at speeds topping 70 mph.
Height Requirement: Minimum of 54”
The second roller coaster built at Busch Gardens with a 360-degree vertical loop.
Height Requirement: Minimum of 42”
This if Florida’s tallest launch roller coaster with a height of 150-feet and a speed maxing out around 60 miles per hours.
Height Requirement: Minimum of 54”
Busch Gardens Animal Encounters
Animal Care Center, Nairobi
This animal nursery features a state-of-the-art facility where guests can view animals receiving treatment, x-rays, and other forms of medical and physical care.
Lory Landing Aviary, Bird Gardens
Features a free-flight aviary for up close encounters and a flamingo lagoon accompanied with a beautiful tropical backdrop.
Cheetah Run, Cheetah Hunt Area
Come face-to-face with the fastest animal on land.
Edge of Africa, Egypt
Walk through the quiet African-inspired village while you watch and learn about the majestic lions, crocodiles, hippos, hyenas, and more.
Elephant Interaction Wall, Nairobi
Meet the powerful creatures face-to-face.
Jungala, Jungala Area
Get up close with Bengal tigers and orangutans.
Penguin Point, Nairobi
Check out the African Penguins who live in warmer weather and water temperatures between 40 and 70 degrees.
Myombe Reserve, Nairobi
Get lost in this quiet reserve filled with gorillas and chimpanzees.
Walkabout Way, Bird Gardens
Go Down Under and have a hands-on experience with kangaroos.
Official Busch Gardens Tip: For Lory Landing, purchase a cup of nectar on your way in to the habitat to hand-feed the lorikeets. Also check the keeper times on the back of your park map to see special animal behaviors, feedings.
Busch Gardens Water Rides
Congo River Rapids, Congo
Prepare to get soaked on this thrilling river adventure through waterfalls and deep caves.
Height Requirement: Minimum of 42”
Stanley Falls, Stanleyville
Get pleasantly refreshed on this classic water log-flume ride.
Height Requirement: Minimum of 46”
Family Friendly Attractions
Grand Caravan Carousel, Pantopia
Arabian stallions-themed carousel.
A family fun “wild-style” coaster filled with drop, sharp curves, and more!
Height Requirement: Minimum of 46” with a possible companion.
Serengeti Express Train, Nairobi
Travel around the park and watch exotic animals roam about. The train has stops in the Congo, Nairobi and Stanleyville stations.
Height Requirement: None
Skyride, Cheetah Hunt Area and Stanleyville
Get a bird’s eye view of the Busch Gardens in the cable car
Height Requirement: Riders must be 56” or accompanied by a supervising companion.
Classic carnival style bumper cars.
Wild Surge, Jungala
Prepare to be launched out of a 35-foot mountain crater in this drop tower attraction.
Height Requirement: Must be at least 42” tall to ride alone or 38” tall and accompanied by a supervising companion to ride.
Busch Gardens Show
- Critters Inn Charge, Pantopia
- Rock A Doo Wop, Pantopia
- Turn it Up, Moroccan Palace
For the Junior Hipsters
- Air Grover, Sesame Street
- Let’s Play Together
- Jungle Flyers, Jungala
- Kareebu Jungala, Jungala
- Sesame Street Safari of Fun, Bird Gardens
- Tree Top Trails, Jungala
Busch Gardens Restaurants
Dining at Busch Gardens is way better than the early days. The addition of the Zambia Smokehouse has made for pretty satisfactory theme park dining experience.
Although the offerings haven’t reached to the levels of its counterparts in Orlando, you will have a variety of places to choose from.
Bengal Bistro, Counter Service, $, Multiple Cuisines
Cheetah Snacks, Counter Service, $, American
Cheetah Hunt Area
Dragon Fire Grill, Cafeteria Style, $, Multiple Cuisines
Garden Gate Café, Counter Service, $, American
Ice Cream Parlor, Counter Service, $, Ice Cream
Kenya Kanteen, Counter Service, $, American
Kettle Corn, Counter Service, $, Popcorn
Find in Pantopia
Pantopia Grill, Cafeteria Style, $$, American
Located in Pantopia
Refresh Market, Beverage Service, $, Beverages
Serengeti Overlook Cafe, Quick Service, $, American
The Serengeti Overlook Restaurant, Buffet/Full Service Restaurant, $$, Variety Cuisine
Serpent Snacks, Counter Service, $, American
Sheikra Sweet Treats, Counter Service, $, American Sweets
Sultans Sweets, Counter Service, $, Bakery
Twisted Tails Pretzels, Counter Service, $, Pretzels
Zagora Cafe, Counter Service, $, American
Zambia Smokehouse, Cafeteria Style, $$, Barbecue
* $ ($14.99 and under), $$ ($15 to $34.99), $$$ ($35 to $59.99), $$$$ (over $60)*
Busch Gardens Shops
If you’re an avid theme park souvenir collector, then you’ll be happy with the wide range of knickknacks, trinkets, and apparel available within the park.
You will also find African crafts and clothing in the Morocco section of Busch Gardens.
Check out the shops below:
- Abby Cadabby’s Treasure Hut
- Caravan Crossing
- Cheetah Gifts
- Cobra’s Crypt Marketplace
- Cookie Monster’s Trading Post
- Cub’s Closet
- Gwazi Gifts
- Kariba Marketplace
- Marrakesh Market: Inspired Threads
- Merchandise Kiosks
- Montu Gifts
- Nature’s Kingdom
- Painted Camel Bazaar
- Sahara Trading Company
- Tiger’s Treasures
- Tropical Wave
Busch Gardens is one of my favorite theme parks to go to, especially on my solo excursions.
It offers such a wide range of attractions and exhibitions that can be enjoyed by anyone.
I personally enjoy the nostalgic factor of the classic theme park days in Florida that Busch Gardens so eloquently includes within its gates.
To end this guide off I want to list a few Pros and Cons of the park.
Pros of Busch Gardens Tampa Bay
- Easy parking
- Free charging stations
- Great emphasis on the preservation of nature
- Lots of thrill rides with great animal habitats in one park
Cons of Busch Gardens Tampa Bay
- Approximately an hour and a half from Orlando
- Park is very dark at night
- Park map on website is sometimes outdated
- Lacks a variety of theme park dining options
I hope you enjoyed this definitive guide for planning your trip to this Tampa theme park.
Don’t forget to get up to 50% off or more on Tampa Bay’s 5 best attractions at CityPASS.com for your next vacation.
Until next time, Happy Park Hopping Hipsters!
(Original Article Date: Summer 2017/Updated February 11, 2020)