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JOE INSIDER - Busch Gardens Tampa

A trip report and suggestions on how to visit and what to do at the African-themed Tampa park.

Written by Joe Lane
Published: August 3, 2004 at 4:49 PM

JOE INSIDER – Busch Gardens Tampa
Trip Report And Game Plan By Popular Demand

Robert couldn't make it to either of the Busch parks on his whirlwind tour (bless his heart), but fear not, TPI fanatics, for I have heard the call for news on Busch Gardens and SeaWorld here in Florida and hope to answer all your questions with my own trip reports and game plans. For now, we'll handle Busch Gardens Tampa, since it's the closest of the two for me.

I arrived at the park around 9 in the morning and fell into line behind the dozens of other vehicles waiting to get into the parking lot (the lot usually opens at park opening, in this case, 9:00AM). Fortieth Street is closed due to construction, both in part by the city and Busch Gardens itself. This makes it slightly difficult for guests to reach Adventure Island from Busch Boulevard or get to Busch Gardens from Fowler Avenue. Once finished, there will be a new entrance to the parking area, as well as bridges and tunnels for guests and trams to gain entry to the park without crossing the street. Until then, we'll just have to make do with the temporary setup. If you drive to the park from the Busch Boulevard side, you should be just fine.

The early morning arrival made it easy to get a nice parking spot close to one of BGTs tram stops. There are a total of three tram stops at maximum capacity: once for preferred parking and twice across the street in the standard parking area. There's a lot of ground to cover, so the earlier you arrive, the better chance at a good spot you can have, meaning the less you'll have to walk from the tram to your car at the end of the day when you're exhausted.

The park now also has two entrances: the original entrance, into Morocco, and a new gate set up near Nairobi. The Nairobi Gate operation varies throughout the day currently. If you have your ticket in hand, you may be able to enter the Nairobi Gate right away, but otherwise, you'll have to purchase and enter through Morocco. What people will do first once you enter the park depends on your predilection. If you're an animal lover, the first thing you might run into would be the Myombe Reserve, or the kiddies might prefer heading over to the Land of the Dragons. If you're a coaster fanatic, you might notice that Gwazi is closer than any of the other BGT coasters in the park, but the dueling woodie rarely sees long lines, so I decided to hang a sharp right and head back to the Egypt area for a ride on Montu.

With its only inverted competition being Dueling Dragons at Islands of Adventure, Montu provides what is a decisively smoother ride compared to the jarring forces of Fire and Ice, and it's a little longer, a little taller and drops farther than the twin dragons. It also has two more inversions. Of course, Montu lacks the dueling aspect--the three near misses, but don't underestimate the sensation of flying through the deep trenches on this coaster.

Afterwards I headed over to the next closest major attraction at BGT: Rhino Rally. It's a once in a lifetime attraction--which means you'll probably only want to ride it once in your life and then never again. Harsh words, but allow me to explain: Busch spent a lot of money and used a lot of acreage of the old Serengeti Plain to build this prototype attraction and it's of the opinion of some theme park aficionados that the money and space could've been used to build a thrill ride with more consistent operation. Problems have plagued the attraction since a sharp turn by a driver in 2001 caused one of the rovers to tip over. Fortunately, no one was injured, but wheels and motor parts wearing down along with constant problems with the river portion of the attraction has brought its credibility into question. Some folks may really enjoy it. Others might want to stay away altogether. If you're looking to get some good views of animals, this isn't necessarily the ride to go on.

This early in the day, the wait for Rhino Rally was no more than a scant ten minutes, but the line only grows from there. At approximately 10:30, the park starts handing out what they call Quick Queue tickets (a take on Fastpass and Universal Express). No machines here, folks, an attendant will hand you a ticket with a return time on it to expedite the wait time.

After a ride on the Rally, I figured it was time to head back into the Congo for a ride on Kumba, but I had to pass through Timbuktu to get there. This area has a carnival-type atmosphere and a lot of thrill rides aimed towards younger audiences. It also has the new Cheetah Chase wild mouse coaster and the questionably executed R.L. Stine's Haunted Lighthouse 4-D show. I passed on both attractions, because the interest they held was nothing compared to that of the Kumba. This early in the morning, Kumba was practically a walk-on--I was overjoyed.

Don't misjudge the strength of this coaster. It's strong and fierce and a great adrenaline rush--it might not be marked the BEST coaster in the country or even the state, but it's easily among the highest rated. The ride proved to be absolutely fantastic.

It was nearing eleven o'clock and the sun was getting higher and hotter. Ideally, if I hadn't had plans for the late afternoon prior to my trip, I would've likely had taken advantage of my location and gone for a ride on the Congo River Rapids. Now is the time of day and year, my friends, to take in a few water rides, and this is always a promising soak. You are well advised to immediately follow up with a trip to Stanleyville for a ride on Stanley Falls Flume and the Tanganyika Tidal Wave.

Whether you choose to face the rapids, ride the falls or brave the wave, your next stop would most likely be Gwazi for a ride on the dueling wooden coasters. The wait shouldn't be that long at all--even by mid-afternoon. By now, you'll notice you've done the park in a complete counter-clockwise fashion, so from here on out, what you do is up to you, but here are some suggestions:

Positively, absolutely DO NOT MISS KaTonga. The Broadway caliber stage show has many redeeming qualities, fantastic acting and acrobatics, and very talented singers. On average, shows start roughly around 11-11:30AM and go on throughout the day until about 6-7PM. Find the time and show up thirty minutes prior to showtime to assure yourself a nice seat. The air conditioned Moroccan Palace Theater is also a nice retreat from the heat.

If you find yourself in the Nairobi/Crown Colony/Egypt area and went to get over to the Stanleyville/Congo area with little effort, or vise versa, you might want to consider taking the Skyride. It offers a nice view of the Edge of Africa and Rhino Rally animal areas. The Skyride does close, however, during high winds or thunderstorms, which do happen from time to time here in Florida.

In case you're looking for a fantastic animal exhibit, Edge of Africa is not to be missed. There are other special ways to get up close and personal with the animals. For an additional fee, you can partake of some of BGT's special guided tours. Visit their website for more details.

If you should decide to take the train, you should note that the construction in Stanleyville has rerouted the train to pass through the Serengeti Plain only. It's a round trip starting at Nairobi Train Station, and a nice way to view the animals, but it won't get you anywhere--not even to the Congo. The Stanleyville construction, in question, is in regards to the upcoming 2005 coaster. Extensive construction has called for the creation of narrow diverting paths, and you may encounter some bottleneck during busy times of the day in this area of the park.

Until next week, folks, keep on ridin'!

Readers' Opinions

From Christian Nicely on August 3, 2004 at 5:17 PM
I love roller coasters. I want to head back to Montu and Kumba for my first ride on them. Which is your favorite?
From Tiffany David on August 3, 2004 at 5:23 PM
I agree with the comment on Rhino Rally. Once is enough- you can see the animals more up close on the train and it's a nicer ride. I really am going to miss the dolphin show at the park. I guess Busch Garden's Hallowscream was the reason for changing the pavillion into a haunted lighthouse, but I just don't think it fits with the rest of the park.
From Jeffery Beal on August 3, 2004 at 7:10 PM
Joe,

I pretty much agree with your comments about Busch Gardens Tampa. Definately it is a park my family and I enjoyed visiting. Montu is certainly the best ride in the park and one of my all time favorite roller coasters. I do have to part company with you on your comparison with the Dueling Dragons. It is my opinion that Dueling Dragons is the best inverted coaster running. But, make no mistake about it, Montu is right on its heels.

Kumba is still a great ride after all these years. It is the coaster that along with the original inverted coaster Batman-The Ride that made Bollinger and Mabillard such a hot commodity in the theme park and roller coaster community. Gwazi, a GCI creation, is a very good wood coaster, although not up to the standards they set with Wildcat and Lightening Racer at Hersheypark or Roar at Six Flags America. My biggest issue with Gwazi is that Busch Gardens Tampa many times does not run both coasters, Tiger and Lion, at the same time and therefore loses the dueling effect it was created for.

I know many people have had some harsh opinions regarding R.L Stine's Haunted Lighthouse attraction. It certainly is not to the standards of Universal's Shrek, but I do not think it is as awful as many people make it out to be. I think if you took an opinion poll of people who are not theme park junkies like the people who visit this site and others on a regular basis, I believe the Lighthouse attraction would get a fairly positive response. It is my opinion the people who regularly visit TPI and other theme park or roller coaster sites tend to be somewhat more critical in their analysis of rides and attractions than the general public.

Rhino Ralley probably seemed like a great idea on paper, but it never has met the expectations that BGT had for it. Anyway, your point is well taken that you can walk the park and see the animals better than you can on this attraction. Overall, BGT is a great park and one worthy of a visit.

From Robert OGrosky on August 3, 2004 at 8:03 PM
Thanks for the trip report, i havent been to this park in about 20yrs and im looking forward to our visit this Dec.
From Rhys Evans on August 3, 2004 at 8:40 PM
We got lucky with Rhino Rally, one of the first rides in the morning, the whole thing worked, and it was fun, hence recommended. Sure, you can see the animals better, but this is a unique ride experience.
I agree with a previous post, what's the point of Gwazi if they don't "duel" it very often? When we were there, both sides were running, but not synchronized and no attempts by the crew to do so even when we asked (begged!). A great ride, but even greater potential. We loved both Montu and Kumba as well.
From Joe Lane on August 3, 2004 at 10:01 PM
Haunted Lighthouse was doing a pretty decent job, until the ghosts started dancing at the end. When you get right down to it, though, the attraction is aimed towards the same young audience that enjoys the rides in the Timbuktu area, like the Sandstorm, Scorpion and Cheetah Chase.

I have to say I favor Montu a little more than Kumba--I like the feel of an inverted coaster a little more than a standard steel.

From Kevin Baxter on August 4, 2004 at 2:23 AM
Montu rocks! I also prefer inverted coasters to regular ones, but Montu is still my Number Two coaster after Hulk. Why? Those damn trim brakes! They really ruin the momentum the ride has created. Yeah, Hulk has trim brakes too, but as they come right before that awesome mini-drop, they actually work WITH the coaster, instead of AGAINST it.

Kumba is great too. More coasters should be made with trenches. They can't be that expensive. Hell, if SFMM could build some walls around parts of their coasters it would certainly improve their concrete appeal.

Rhino Rally was a great idea poorly executed. My problem with it is the pathetic water portion. Even if you couldn't see the rails, you'd know you were on them. The ride is just too smooth to be remotely believable as rapids.

Nice mentions of the Myombe Reserve and Edge of Africa walkthroughs. Both are definitely Disney quality attractions. Unfortunately there is just too much crap in this park to make it worthy of yearly trips. How about some quality flat rides? There are a lot of wild new rides, even coasters, that take up little land and are actually fun.

From Tiffany David on August 4, 2004 at 8:33 AM
You know what I think is the worst ride in the park - the Skyride- I would ride Montu fifty times in a row before I would ever get on the skyride again. I think those old things are an accident waiting to happen. Didn't WDW have skyrides at one time?
From Joe Lane on August 4, 2004 at 10:09 AM
Both Magic Kingdoms had Skyway rides, but the attractions closed due to financial issues, not accidents involving guest falling from the gondalas. That's not to say accidents DIDN'T happen. The Urban Legends Refernce Page has information on this and a lot of other great Disney-related rumors, verifying some and putting others to sleep.

I'd rather ride Montu for the thrills myself, but if I'm tired and need some time to relax and a mode of transportation, the Skyride will do it for me.

From mark walker on August 4, 2004 at 10:12 AM
Nice report, probably better than mine. If you ask me I think Dueling Dragons is better than montu. Sure Montu is bigger and has a couple more inversions but DD was the first inverted dueling coaster ever (and the best). By the way, which do you think is better, Lion or Tiger?
From Chuck Campbell on August 4, 2004 at 3:18 PM
Nice report. Some in Williamburg look down their noses at BGW's cousin to the south--a strong case of Virginia "home park pride," I suppose. I'm not in that group, happy to say--I'm looking forward to visiting BGT at some point.

How does the food stack up to offerings at BGW? Any opinions out there?

From Dave Bradley on August 4, 2004 at 4:33 PM
I still miss going through the tour of the Budweiser plant when it was a major attraction at BGT. Anyone remember those days? (Now I am showing my age).
From Jeffery Beal on August 4, 2004 at 5:03 PM
Chuck,

Both BGT and BGW have pretty good food choices. I personally, however, would rate BGW ahead of BGT. When you go to BGT I would recommend the Crown Colony Restaurant. It's a decent family style restaurant with good views of the animals.

From Joe Lane on August 4, 2004 at 5:55 PM
I don't really have a preference on Gwazi--course, the ride ops aren't always running both coasters, so the best ride is usually the one side that's open.

Regarding food choices at Busch, I can't say I've taken the time to sample some of the finer dining options. In fact, given the option, I would usually exit the park and hit Busch Blvd. for lunch or dinner--the opportunites range from fast food joints like Wendy's and Pizza Hut to sit down restaurants like Olive Garden and Red Lobster.

From Chuck Campbell on August 4, 2004 at 6:33 PM
It was strange what happened to the brewery tour in Williamsburg. Busch closed down the hospitality center and spent a lot of money renovating the center and the tour. They reopened it, only to shut it down permanently a few months later.
From Joe Lane on August 4, 2004 at 10:06 PM
BGT now offers what's called a Beer School where guests can learn how beer is brewed, what makes a good beer, and get some free samples in while they do it.
From Kevin Baxter on August 5, 2004 at 12:47 AM
The Crown Colony is a very good restaurant. It's even better if you snag a table overlooking the Plain.
From Chuck Campbell on August 5, 2004 at 4:47 AM
BGW has a beer school, too, in the Ireland section. But if they're teaching you how to brew Budweiser, I think I'll pass. BGW also offers a somewhat watered down version of stout, called Bare Knuckle, in Grogan's. You know it's supposed to be strong because there's a 1890s bare-knuckle brawler on the tap handle. Still, it beats the other Busch products (and the pub is nice).
From Pete Brecht on August 5, 2004 at 8:31 AM
The important question is: does the BGW beer school give you free beer? You can't say no to free beer, even if it Budweiser!
From Ben Mills on August 5, 2004 at 11:04 AM
Ooh Joe, I've gotta question. Is Busch Gardens worth hitting if you're not big into roller coasters, etc? We never went there when we went to Orlando coz we were doing so much already and couldn't bear the thought of an hour drive. I kinda regret doing that now, but would it have been worth it?
From Joe Lane on August 5, 2004 at 9:19 PM
That's iffy to say. Compared to other Florida offerings (DAK, in specific), Busch offers the up-close-and-personal animal safari tours or behind-the-scenes tours for an additional price. Even with the extensive animal exhibts, Busch doesn't match up to the Disney's in terms of size. I think BGT has some redeeming values, however, coasters aside. It's not the end of the world if you missed it, though.
From John Franklin on August 8, 2004 at 11:43 PM
Anyone remember Bush Gardens Los Angeles? My father would take my family there yearly just to take the monorail tour through the plant and the free beer in the gardens afterwards. I understand the reason for BGLA to close was the lack of space to expand it.
From Robert Niles on August 9, 2004 at 9:25 AM
Busch Gardens LA was the closest theme park to me when I was a kid. I remember several visits to the park with family and classmates over the years. BGLA never offered as many attractions as Disneyland, Knott's or the then-family-friendly, pre-Six Flags Magic Mountain. It was the place you went when you wanted to see real animals, as opposed to the audio-animatronics of Disney's Jungle Cruise.

I'd heard that since the park was built in a developed area of the San Fernando Valley, Busch decided that it must choose between the brewery and the park, knocking down one so the other could expand. It chose the brewery.


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