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An Insider's guide to animal interactions and tours at Busch Gardens Tampa

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Published: October 27, 2010 at 12:29 PM

We've been taking a look at some of the backstage and VIP tours offered at the nation's top theme parks. This week, we're listing the many offerings at Busch Gardens Tampa.

Giraffes at Busch Gardens Tampa
Photo courtesy Busch Gardens

Safaris

Busch Gardens offers several variations on a 30-to-45-minute Jeep tour of its Serengeti plain. You'll see African animals up close, and hand-feed giraffes. The Sunrise Safari includes a continental breakfast before setting out in the morning, and the Sunset Safari includes "adult" beverages after your evening expedition.

The Endangered Species Safari focuses on white and black rhinos, among the other endangered species on the tour, and the regular Serengti Safari is free on your birthday.

All of these take place during park hours and require theme park admission in addition to the tour charge. But the Serengeti Night Safari (which we wrote about last week, see previous link) takes place after hours, so no theme park ticket is needed.

Serengeti Safari: $33.95 (free on your birthday), age 5 and older.
Sunrise Safari: $39.95, age 5 and older.
Sunset Safari: $39.95, age 21 and older.
Endangered Species Safari: $39.95, age 5 and older.
Serengeti Night Safari: $60, age 21 and older.

Insider tours

Busch Gardens also offers two other 45-minute walking tours where you can meet animal keepers and see behind-the-scenes care facilities. The Jungala Insider($19.95, age 5 and older) takes you to see orangutans and tigers and the Elephant Insider ($19.95, age 10 and older) shows you, well, elephants.

Looking for a different type of up-close thrill? Try the Roller Coaster Insider tour ($19.95, age 14 and older), which takes you trackside for a tour of Montu before allowing you to skip the line for a front-row ride. Then you'll get front-of-the-line access on a second Busch Gardens roller coaster - for comparison. :-)

Keeper experiences

If you're willing (and able to pay) to try a longer, more in-depth experience with some of the park's animals, you can sign up for the Tiger and Orangutan Keeper Experience or Elephant Keeper Experience ($199.95 each, age 10 and older). You'll meet the trainers, tour the animal care facilities and help prepare the animals' food (and, uh, help clean up afterward) during these 90-minute experiences.

Want even more? Sign up to be Keeper for a Day ($249.95 - park admission included, age 13 and older). This 6-and-a-half-hour tour on the Serengenti Plain features mammals in the morning and the birds in the afternoon, allowing you the chance to work with the park's trainers. Lunch is provided in the Crown Colony restaurant, as well.

Adventure tours

The Guided Adventure Tour ($94.95 adults, $94.95 ages 5-9) is a guided tour of the park, including front-of-line access at many attractions as well as lunch and a Serengeti Safari tour.

The Elite Adventure Tour ($199.95, ages 5 and older) allows you to help customize the tour with your private guide, unlike the Guided Adventure Tour, where the agenda's set and you might be with other folks who booked the tour. Here's it's just your group (minimum two people). Lunch at the Crown Colony and a Serengeti Safari experience are included.

For more details and restrictions, and to book any of these tours, visit Busch Gardens' website or call 1-888-800-5447.

We'd love to hear in the comments about your experiences on any of these tours.

Previously:

Readers' Opinions

From Tracy Bates on October 27, 2010 at 3:37 PM
I have done several of these tours in the 8 years I've had passes here.

Most recently, I did the Serengeti Safari ($33.95) tour and had a great time. Basically, they take you out on the truck, let you feed the giraffes, and drive around the Serengeti and tell you about the animals and let you get close up pictures of them all. (Except the rhinos. They like to keep some distance with them.) There were about 10 people on the truck, but it was a slow day. I've seen trucks with far more people on them, so I would imagine if it's crowded it might not be quite as fun. It's very easy to trade cameras with someone to get your picture with the giraffes and in return take pictures of them so you don't have to buy expensive pictures from the park photographer. One tip is to sign up for an early tour and ask if they have any discounts. If not many people have booked, they will sell them for a little less to get people on the tour. I paid $42 for me and my wife to do this tour last month. (We also get a passholder discount.) The other thing about going on the earliest tour is that after all the various tour groups (Who pretty much all feed the giraffes) have been feeding them all day, the animals are less likely to come over later in the day and spend any time by the truck. On this trip, we only had one giraffe come to the truck, but you just waited for him to eat everyone's lettuce and then posed with him for your picture. Also, to get the best picture, hold the lettuce in your hand until the picture is taken. the giraffe will wrap their tongue around your hand trying to get to the lettuce, but they will stay right there with their head by you for the photo.


As for the Elite Adventure Tour ($199.95), I've done this twice. Once in 2003, and once in 2006. It's changed some since then, but the gist of it is you had someone waiting for you at the park entrance, you sat down and talked with them about what you liked and didn't like to do, and they would map out a tour of the park and take you around. It included everything in the Serengeti tour above, but also they took you behind the scenes of the animal nursery and pretty much the back side of the exhibits for all of the animals you feed, which are the ones listed here: you get fish to feed to some of the exotic birds, they let you give the elephant an apple (now they keep you far away from them and make you toss the apples to them.), feed carrots to a rhino (behind a wall), toss a cantalope to a hippo (also behind a wall), tour of the back of the chimpanzee exhibit and tiger exhibit (before jungala was built) I don't recall any other animals that we fed/visited the back stage area for, but it's been a few years, there may have been more.

Other than the animal stuff, you also were taken to reserved seating for a show, then got a free lunch at the crown colony restaurant (not the cheap one, but the nice one.) Oh, and they took you around to every ride you wanted to ride and put you on them without waiting in line. (This was a particularly nice perk on the 2003 visit since the park was absolutely packed with lines up to an hour for each of the big coasters.

All of the tours I had were wonderful. the tour guides were great, and they were a good value for what they were. that being said, the elite tours are an awful lot of money for a family to afford. I only did it because it was just me and my wife, we got a discount for being a passholder, and we were going during their peak time of business and I'm willing to pay a extra to not waste hours standing in lines, plus the behind the scenes stuff is interesting and having an individual tour guide means there is always someone there who will take your camera and take pictures of you on the rides and such, so you end up with lots of good memories of the park in photos that you wouldn't get without that person. If you're going for bang for your buck, it's tough to go wrong with the serengeti tour. the giraffes come over to you like kids running to an ice cream truck. (during the 2003 trip, we had 3 or 4 giraffes come over, and the 2006 trip had 6 of them surrounding the truck wanting lettuce.)

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