Way more than an amusement park, Busch Gardens offers great food, entertainment & wildlife encounters for the whole family.
Busch Gardens is more than a world-class theme park with a myriad of thrill rides to keep even the most hard-core teenager engaged. It’s one of the largest zoos in North America, home to over 12,000 animals – all of which are expertly-cared for in beautiful habitats. It's the premier setting in the South to see cheetahs, rhinos, gorillas, elephants, giraffes, sloths, and meerkats. Roller coasters, dining options galore, animal viewing, and nearly a 100% chance of impeccable weather make this the perfect day trip for your family.
KidTripster Tip: Plan on staying in town for a while? Consider the Tampa City Pass. You receive admission to Glazer Children’s Museum, Lowry Park Zoo, Busch Gardens, MOSI, and Florida Aquarium. All 5! Cost: Youth (3-9) $89; Adult $99; it’s a phenomenal deal!
What to do?
Busch Gardens features some incredibly intense roller coasters, reaching speeds over 70 mph. Our favorites included Cobra’s Curse, Falcon’s Fury, Cheetah Hunt, SheiKra, Kumba, and Montu. After many sudden drops, twists, and turns, SkeiKra even skims the water creating a wave to drench its fans watching below (perfect on a warm summer day). For the smaller kids, there are rides just their size, located in the Jungala section. My 6-year old loved running through the Treetop Trails, a 3-story area of climbing nets, bridges, and crawl tubes. This area is complete with miniature roller coasters, boat rides, and an air-conditioned baby changing/nursing station for parents. Park cost: All (3-Adult) $102.99.
KidTripster TIp: There’s no child rate here, although discounted tickets are available, if purchased in advance through the park’s website. Still, the Tampa City Pass is a better deal!
A companion park to Busch Gardens, Adventure Island Water Park is a great place to cool off during the summer heat. The park boasts a large variety of adventure slides, pools, and splash areas for little ones. Open March thru October. Cost: All (3-Adult) $42; discounts apply if coupled with purchase of a Busch Gardens ticket.
Where to eat?
One will certainly not go hungry at Busch Gardens. There are a variety of restaurants to please the taste buds of any visitor. The Dragon Fire Grill, Zagora Café, Serengeti Overlook Pub, Bengal Bistro, and Zambia Smokehouse are among our favorites. The beef brisket, ribs, and glazed salmon at the Zambia Smokehouse are definitely worth a stop. Your best bet, though, may be the Dragon Fire Grill. This jewel of a restaurant is located the farthest from the entrance gate, but it’s worth the walk. You’ll be rewarded with a vast selection of delectable Asian cuisine, Southwest fare, American grill items, and Italian pasta and flatbread pizza. This is the place to dine, if you need to satisfy the different desires of many family members. Choose your food, rest your feet, and enjoy the hourly entertainment in this air-conditioned restaurant. The entertainment here is absolutely world-class. We were honestly stunned by the quality of the singers we heard. My 6-year old was selected to join the performers on stage, and my 1-year old sat in utter amazement for the entire 30-minute show. It was the perfect break for mom and dad!
KidTripster Tip: If you plan on eating several meals at the park, consider the All-Day Dining Pass. For $33.99, you can have unlimited entrees, sides, desserts, and drinks at all five of the restaurants.
Where to stay?
Located a short drive from Busch Gardens, Embassy Suites Downtown Tampa Convention Center (513 S. Florida Avenue) has the perfect downtown Tampa location. An extremely courteous staff, a first-rate complimentary breakfast, and amazing downtown views await you here. Rates begin at $169/night.
If you’d like an oceanfront setting, consider driving to St. Pete Beach, only 15 minutes away. Tradewinds Island Resort (5500 Gulf Boulevard) is set right on beach. Tradewinds offers two resorts on the same property – the new aquatic-themed Guy Harvey Outpost with outrageous fish tanks and the Island Grand Resort with its 3-story water slide for your little daredevils. With seven swimming pools, 14 restaurants, a kids camp, paddleboats, and beach fire pit (think s’mores at sunset), the only problem with this resort is that you may not want to leave. Multiple room and suite sizes available. Rates begin at $180/night.
Photo courtesy: Tradewinds Island Resort
Located minutes from the Tampa International Airport, Busch Gardens is an easy 10-minute drive from downtown Tampa.
Greg Bailey lives in the Tampa area with his wife and two sons. Born and raised in Michigan, he happily has traded in his winter parka, snow shovel, and gloves for the beach, sunny skies, and gentle breezes of the Gulf Coast of Florida.
This writer received a complimentary admission for the purpose of this review. However, all opinions expressed are solely his own.