April 3, 2008
Busch Gardens Africa Trip Report and Jungala PreviewWe had a bit of unlucky timing with this trip, just missing out on the debut of lots of new attractions in Orlando. In fact, Jungala at Busch Gardens Africa is set to make its media debut later this week. We spent Saturday at the Tampa park hoping to catch a glimpse of the new attractions. Unfortunately, because of the tight construction schedule, I was not able to get any more than some photos from the perimeter and the skyride. Despite visiting on a busy Saturday, we were able to get to all of the things we wanted to do.
Our day started with SheiKra, which for me is still a toss-up with Griffon for world's best dive coaster. There are elements of both coasters that I like, and if I could combine them both into one coaster, it would crack a lot of top 10 coaster lists. Don't get me wrong, SheiKra is still a great coaster, and converting to floorless trains adds some great visual elements to guests in the front row. We also rode Kumba, which is an excellent and intense looping coaster.
We made our way over to the Brewmaster’s Club at the Hospitality House where our presenter had noted that August Busch III would be in the park today for a tour. Sure enough, while we were enjoying our beverages, in walked Mr. Busch along with Donnie Mills, former Busch Gardens Europe General Manager, now General Manager of Florida Theme Park Operations. Mr. Busch actually had arrived to the park via helicopter, which we noticed parked near Gwazi. It was obvious Mr. Busch was in the park to check out Jungala before its official debut, and for those who aren't aware, Mr. Busch is actually very involved in the theme parks, and helped to develop the Brewmaster’s Club concept for the parks.
We continued our tour through the park, where I grabbed some pictures of Jungala.
The area will feature a number of animal habitats including Bengal tigers, orangutans, gibbons, and flying foxes. Jungala will also have two rides, one called Jungle Flyers, a zip-line attraction for kids between 6 and 13, and Wild Surge, a family-style launch tower ride.
The area will also feature Tree Tops Trail, a 3-story climbing area with cargo nets, tubes, and bridges for families to explore. Jungala will bring guests two new dining options with The Bengal Bistro, an updated version of the old Vivi restaurant, and Orang Cafe, which will feature seasonal entrees, salads, sandwiches, and an expanded kids menu.
From outside the temporary barriers and from the skyride, I was able to catch a glimpse of some of the animals acclimating to their new habitats.
It looks like Jungala will be a vast improvement over the previous animal habitats that used to be in this area, and the additional attractions and exhibits will more than make up for the loss of Python, which was declining in popularity.
As we continued around the park, we noticed that Irish Thunder, a favorite of ours from Busch Gardens Europe, was playing at the Desert Grill, so we made sure to catch the classic show. It was a little different from the version we were used to, but the Desert Grill was certainly not the best place to stage such a popular show. We managed to also catch a training session with the park's Asian elephants.
Being the music nerds we are, we also took some time out of our day to catch Orleans at the Stanleyville Theater. Orleans is not what I would call a headliner, but their three hits, “Dance with Me,” “Love Takes Time,” and “Still the One” are still decent songs, and their set was worth a mid-day break.
We wanted to do something new on this visit since we had visited the park so recently, so we made reservations for the Sundowner Safari before our arrival. The experience is billed as an up-close and personal tour of the Serengeti for adults 21+, in contrast with the Serengeti Safari, which is for anyone over the age of 5. The $40 price tag may seem a bit high, but after finishing our tour, I thought it was worth every penny. Guests go through an abbreviated version of the Brewmaster’s Club before hopping on a truck. Once on the truck, guests are treated to more beer (2 bottles per person) and an amazing experience with the park's giraffes, bongos, and zebras. The heart of the experience is the giraffe feeding where the animals come into the truck- well, their heads and necks at least- to snack on some lettuce provided to guests by the tour guide. These majestic and gentle animals are simply awe-inspiring. It was surely an experience I will never forget.
We finished our day with a walk through the animal exhibits, some rides on Montu, and a final ride on SheiKra. Despite the park being pretty busy, we were able to see and do a lot. All of the rides were operating at or near peak capacity, and we never waited in a line longer than 30 minutes. I was a little bummed that we had just missed out on the opening of Jungala, but it's not going anywhere, and we will most certainly be back to this park in a few years.
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