My daughter and I headed over to the Dark Continent at Busch Gardens in Florida for her school field trip the other day. She was excited to hit the rollercoasters with her friends. I hadn’t set foot in this Tampa attraction since the kids were toddlers, too little for the thrill rides, so I had not been on any of the rides (Skyride aside) since I was a teenager myself.
Wow, Busch Gardens has come a long way from the Clydesdale horses and the Anheuser-Busch Brewery gardens that I remembered from my youth (though the log flume is the same!) I remember touring the brewery with my parents, my dad trying the beer sample in a little paper cup and a bird show with colorful parrots. Then there was the Stanleyville train ride (my dad was train-obsessed, so we always did the train or trolley ride whenever we could.) There was no sign of the brewery now (but the train was still running) and the moment they let us through the gates, we (the chaperones) were swept up with the youthful eagerness of the kids and led over the bridge and through the woods (literally), past a cool looking three-story climbing playground of nets, to the manic SheiKra rollercoaster. I confess, my heart was pounding by time we reached to top of the steps, though I suspect that was from the almost-run to reach this attraction. I watched as the guests before us rose high, dangling in the air before the mega-drop…and then I promptly chickened out, just like I had done last summer when facing the high dive at Wakulla Springs.
However, my most fearless daughter sat in the front with her friend, screaming, or should I say, shrieking in delight for the entire ride.
Busch Gardens is a massive theme park, (297 acres) with ten different designated theme areas, from the Congo to Morocco, Egypt, Nairobi and more. They have successfully combined animal encounters (think modern zoo) with rides and shows. All of which would take more than one day to fully explore.
I was informed by a fellow chaperone & friend that this theme park has the best rollercoaster selection in the state of Florida. For the faint-hearted, Busch Gardens also offers more sedate rides like bumper cars, the Jungle Flyers (a seated zip line aerial ride over the animals in Jungala) and the Skyride aerial tram over the animals of the Serengeti Plain(also a great way to go from one end of the park to the other).
But truth be known, we were there for the thrills. After the Sheikra, I rejoined the thrill seekers for the more sedate log flume (yup, I remember the log flume) and then onto get thoroughly drenched on the Congo River Rapids. Seriously, I was dry until the end and then wham- soaking wet, all of us. We all drip-dried our way through the rest of the day.
Here’s a low down on the thrill rides:
- Scariest rollercoaster: hands down- SheiKra (due to that massive drop)
- Smoothest ride: Cheetah Hunt (also the girl’s favorite)
- Quickest line: Montu
- Guaranteed to Get Soaked: Congo River Rapids
- For Beginners: Sand Serpent
- The ride no one dared: Falcon’s Fury (straight drop, face first, not even the bravest would touch!)
Things to Know Before You Go:
- Gone are the days you carry your belongings with you: there are lockers available to stash your belongings before you hit the thrill rides- bring quarters!
- There were giant dryers by the Congo River Rapids ( they look like giant beam-me-up-Scotty transporters) but costs $5 to use! Save your money and bring a change of clothes if you don’t like being wet.
- Lines are shorter early in day and late in the afternoon.
- Consider a FunCard- (good for multiple visits til Dec 31st), if you plan to go back again before the end of the year. It is cheaper than buying a ticket another day. (You can up-grade your ticket at guest services before you leave.)
- Stay hydrated! Florida temperatures soar into the 90’s daily. Drink plenty of water and consider escaping into one of their air-conditioned shows (like Iceploration) for a while.
- Parking fee is $15 (waived if you have a park pass).