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