Busch Gardens Africa
Busch Gardens Africa (10001 N. McKinley Dr., 888/800-5447, www.buschgardens.com) has grown considerably in its 50-year existence. What was once just a beer garden that hosted animal acts has grown into a 605-acre African-themed amusement park that balances its animal park past (it’s accredited by the Association of Zoos and Aquariums) with the thrill-ride demands of today’s crowds.
For many visitors to Busch Gardens, the primary draw is the array of marquee roller coasters and rides. And for good reason: Whether it’s the 7,000 feet of skull-rattling wooden track on the Gwazi double coaster, or hurtling at 70 mph straight down a 200-foot drop on SheiKra—which was the nation’s first straight-down “dive” coaster, and now boasts floorless cars for true thrill-seekers—the ride designers at the park are unashamedly catering to adrenaline junkies. SheiKra’s “Splash Zone” is a particularly sadistic touch, meant to soak those gawkers unwilling to brave the ride.
Other high-profile rides include Montu, an inverted looping coaster, and Kumba, which includes drops of 135 and 110 feet as well as a circular spiral that’s truly stomach-churning. For the less adventurous, there’s the neck-snapping Cheetah Chase and the quick-thrill loops of Scorpion as well as drenching water rides like Stanley Falls (a log flume) and Congo River Rapids.
Nonetheless, the animal attractions are the heart and soul of Busch Gardens. A quick circle around the park on the Serengeti Railway makes this clear. As the old-timey train pulls open cars around the park’s Serengeti Plain, riders can gawk at zebras, giraffes, ostriches, antelopes, and many other animals. There’s also a safari-like adventure ride, Rhino Rally; ignore the canned and corny quips from the safari driver at your own risk, since the animal observations quickly turn into a string of navigational errors that result in some unexpected thrills.
For a slower pace, take a walk through the numerous habitats. Myombe Reserve features gorillas and chimpanzees, and Edge of Africa has lions, hippos, and meerkats. Smaller animals can be found at Lory Landing (a bird enclosure) and Curiosity Caverns, home to creepy-crawlies like bats, snakes, and lizards.
The habitats in Jungala are more intimate, though. A Plexiglas tube allows visitors to get very close to the Bengal and white tigers on display in the Tiger Trail, while the residents of Orangutan Outpost are seemingly nonplussed by all the folks watching them go about their daily business. Jungala also features a large kids’ play area and the Jungle Flyers, which let guests “hang-glide” along a zip line above the area.
Like most theme parks, the dining options at Busch Gardens are unremarkable, with one exception: the Crown Colony Restaurant. While the food is of the institutional American sort—fried chicken, steak, seafood, etc.—the wide-open views of the Serengeti Plain area from the dining room definitely improve the meal. There is also a Serengeti Dining Safari ($60 adults, $45 children) available for anyone over the age of 5. This option combines a meal at the Crown Colony with a 30-minute safari ride through the Plain in an open-air truck that seats only 20 people.
Unsurprisingly, Anheuser-Busch products are readily available throughout the park. And no, they’re not free.
Busch Gardens Africa is open daily, but hours vary seasonally and by the day of the week. Summer hours are typically 9 a.m.–9 p.m. Monday–Friday, 9 a.m.–10 p.m. Saturday–Sunday. Winter hours are both more limited and variable; opening times fluctuate between 9, 9:30, and 10 a.m., and the park closes at different times between 5 and 8 p.m. Check the park’s website for up-to-date opening hours.
Admission rates are also flexible, with a variety of discounts available for seniors, children, Florida residents, and frequent visitors. The walk-up rate for an adult ticket is $67.95, and kids get in for $57.95, but adult tickets can be purchased at kids’ rates at the Busch Gardens website. Keep in mind that your first-day ticket can also be used for a second visit within seven days. Tickets to Busch Gardens can also be upgraded to include visits to Adventure Island as well as Orlando theme parks like SeaWorld and Universal.
Some of these combos even include shuttle service between Busch Gardens and Orlando, so there are plenty of ways to maximize your ticket money. Parking is $10; “preferred parking” is available for an additional $5, but don’t bother: Although your vehicle is closer to the entrance, you miss out on the convenience of a tram that drops you right at the front gate and end up actually walking farther.
© Jason Ferguson from Moon Florida, 1st Edition