Inside tips to Busch Gardens, including the best rides and activities for kids of different age ranges.
Busch Gardens Tampa Bay may be named after the suds-producing breweries, but adrenaline is the most potent intoxicant this thrill-heavy theme park produces. Exotic animals abound for young park-hoppers, but Busch's strength lies also in its corkscrews, 360-degree loops and scream-inducing speeds. Most rides in the park have height requirements.
Busch Gardens relies on its animal magnetism - gorillas and chimps, 'gators and giraffes, tropical birds and other beasts - to enthrall the younger set. Kids of all ages will enjoy a ride on the "Serengeti Express Railway." The train moves through Busch Gardens' Serengeti Plain and affords kids the opportunity to spot free-roaming herds of African animals. For up-close encounters, check out Edge of Africa; Myombe Reserve and its Nairobi Animal Nursery; and Lory Landing in the Bird Gardens.
Mythical creatures and whimsy rule at "Sesame Street Safari of Fun," where stage shows, slides, water play areas and elaborate jungle gyms can keep small children busy for hours. With several water play areas, it's a great place to cool off in the afternoon. (Bring towels and a change of clothes with you - lockers are available - or dress the kids with a swimsuit underneath regular clothing.) Be aware that certain attractions in this area are for "dry kids" only - so try to group activities appropriately so you won't need to change them multiple times.
You'll also find hands-on, kid-friendly fun in Jungala, four acres of fun filled with up-close animal interactions, a three-story maze of rope bridges and nets for kids to climb, two signature rides and live entertainment. Pick up a park schedule at the entrance gate for show times and animal feedings, which the small ones adore.
For their feeding, Sultan's Sweets will be their first choice for candy, pastries and ice cream. For more substantial fare, try Zambia Smokehouse or Zagora Café.
Skyride provides an aerial mode of transportation around the park, appropriate for anyone not afraid of heights.
"Rhino Rally" is an off-road safari experience through the wilds of Africa. Guests travel over land and water with their personal guide in a 17-person Land Rover. Chances are you'll come face-to-face with elephants, zebras, gazelles and, of course, rhinos. The jostling may be too rough for sensitive children.
Another crowd pleaser is "Dance to the Music." It will have you and your kids grooving down memory lane to the disco days of the 1970s with an energetic cast of singers and dancers. It's a full-on celebration of the fashion, fads, faces and funk that made the '70s outrageously fun.
Pirates 4-D, a Caribbean caper and comedy for the entire family, combines the latest 4-D special-effects technology with multi-sensory effects. This swashbuckling adventure enthrall and pleases guests of all ages.
"Cheetah Chase" shows considerable restraint compared to the daredevil reputation of the park's other coasters (none of that upside-down stuff). Its four-passenger cars make it a perfect choice for families with beginning thrill riders.
Terrific for 'Tweens, Teens and Upward
Odds are, the second you step foot into the park, the bigger, braver kids are going to head straight for the roller coasters. (Tip: Start at the rides in the back of the park and work your way forward.)
The older coasters such as "Scorpion" still offer their share of excitement, but they can't compete with newer, more scream-inducing rides such as "Kumba" and the floorless "Montu." "Gwazi" is modeled after the old wooden coasters and offers the same type of heart-pounding, rickety fun adults remember from their younger days.
Busch Gardens' coaster, "SheiKra," is the only dive coaster in North America, catapulting riders 200 feet in the air to a 90-degree vertical drop, not to mention an Immelmann loop (a rolling maneuver), a second, 138-foot dive into an underground tunnel and a water-feature finale.
"Congo River Rapids," "Tanganyika Tidal Wave" and "Stanley Falls" all offer lots of wet fun with waterfalls, stomach lurching drops and splashy twists and turns. Let there be no doubt in your mind: Any one of these can leave you soaked to the bone.
Adults without kids have the luxury of enjoying some of the cultural shows, whether performed right on the street or in a cool, dry theater. Later, enjoy a free beer sample and stay for pizza and deli sandwiches, jazz and ragtime open-air music. For a sit-down dinner, head to Crown Colony House, with a view of the Serengeti Plains and its wild creatures.