Which Is Better: Busch Gardens Tampa or SeaWorld Orlando?

April 23, 2020, 6:31 PM · Time to imagine a Central Florida theme park vacation. You know — some time at Walt Disney World and some time at the Universal Orlando Resort. But would you add a third destination to that mix? If you had the time, the money, and the inclination, which top-20 American theme park would you add to your Florida itinerary: Busch Gardens Tampa or SeaWorld Orlando?

Our "which is better" vote for the day also functions as a proxy battle over the better brand in the SeaWorld Entertainment portfolio, so let's throw that question into the mix, as well. The two parks stand next to each other on the most recent TEA/AECOM attendance list, at numbers 10 and 11 among North American parks. As corporate siblings, you can buy a variety of multi-day tickets and passes that will get you into both. So for many visitors, this isn't an "either/or" question but rather one of "which one first?"

But I am going to ask you to pick one.

Will it be SeaWorld Orlando with collection of marine mammal exhibits... or Busch Gardens Tampa and its African-themed collection of land animals? The convenience of SeaWorld's location between the Universal and Disney resorts... or the chance to get away to Tampa and maybe the nearby Gulf coast beaches across the bay? Or, should we just acknowledge what's the real draw for most visitors these days and ask whether you prefer SeaWorld's or Busch Gardens' roller coaster line-up?

Both parks offer music, food, and beer festivals throughout the year. Both offer Sesame Street-themed lands for the kids. Both have worked hard since getting abandoned by former owner Anheuser-Busch to appeal to locals as well as tourists by holding the line on admission and pass prices. And both had highly anticipated coasters ready to open before the world shut down, with Premier Rides' Icebreaker at SeaWorld and the record-setting Iron Gwazi from Rocky Mountain Construction at Busch Gardens.

But each park has its own, unique atmosphere, helping them to win loyal fans who, I hope, will be eager to argue on behalf of their favorite in the comments.

Replies (16)

April 23, 2020 at 6:59 PM

I never do one without the other, and I also don’t see them as just an add-on, both are worthy of being the highlight of a trip.

My kids (6 and 9) have always loved the SeaWorld Parks even better than the Disney or Universal Parks. This Summer is supposed to be the 2nd time in the last 3 years, where we do a Central Florida trip only hitting up SeaWorld Parks (SW, Aquatica, BGT, and Adventure Island). We want to hit the Kennedy Space Center as well this year. The trip two years ago was great, and I’m sure this one will be as well, if we’re lucky enough for it to happen. There definitely is more to Central Florida than just Disney & Universal, and you can have a great trip without either of them on the itinerary.

If I had to chose only one though, I would personally go with BGT, because of the rides. But if Electric Ocean was going on at Sea World at the time, then it’s not as easy of a choice.

April 23, 2020 at 7:04 PM

Robert you need a way to view results without voting. I’ve never been to either but I’m keen to know what others think. Without the ability to just view the results you’ll get people voting just to see the result, skewing the stats.

April 23, 2020 at 7:16 PM

Stevenz, I'll look into that. The results come up without voting once the voting closes (usually in a week), but I could see if there's a way to give that option sooner.

Hmm, maybe I should run a vote on offering that... (Kidding!)

April 23, 2020 at 9:37 PM

I was heavily torn on this, but I ended up going with SeaWorld. Busch Gardens has a far greater collection of rides, but the whole park shuts down when lightning strikes. SeaWorld at least has a more diverse line-up of attractions. That, and they do the best Christmas event in Florida (sorry Disney/Universal).

April 23, 2020 at 10:37 PM

Wow, an ironic bit as back in 1994, I ended up visiting each park on different school trips on back-to-back weekends. Obviously, much has changed so harder to guess but I'll give it to Busch Gardens for more rides and the animal life is still fun to check out. The entire "zoo meets Six Flags' vibe appeals.

April 23, 2020 at 11:44 PM

I like Busch Gardens Tampa better because they've got a better (and more varied) coaster lineup, but I will concede that for those less into coasters and looking for a more well-rounded experience SeaWorld Orlando is probably the better park. I'm also going to disagree with the notion that the parks are simply add-ons to a Disney or Universal vacation, and I personally couldn't ever see myself doing a Florida trip that doesn't include at least one of the two. As a matter of fact, my tentative plan for the next Orlando trip is 3 days at Disney, 1 at Universal, 1 at SeaWorld, 1 at Busch Gardens, and 1 non-park day, so I'm spending a third of the park time at the SeaWorld chain (and more time there than Universal).

As for brands as a whole, I'd say either Busch Gardens Park can hold it's own against any other park in the US, and actually compare favorably to any single park at WDW. The SeaWorld parks aren't quite as strong as they are more animal parks with rides than full-fledged theme parks (though that has certainly changed in recent years), but still provide a great day out for animal lovers and thrill seekers alike.

April 24, 2020 at 2:10 AM

Everything about Orlando is better than everything about Tampa

...except when it comes to this debate, especially now with Iron Gwazi. I agree with the person above that Sea World has a wonderful Christmas event but so does BGT. SWO is a great park but BGT has become one of the most complete parks out there.

April 24, 2020 at 4:55 AM

I wish I could vote, I'be been to SW, along with many many trips to Uni and DW.
This summer was going to be 2 days at BGT, 2 at Adventure Island along with a couple beach day, while hitting Uni for 1 or 2 on the way home. Unfortunately that does not look possible now. Even if open I'd rather wait a year and experience when they are Hopefully back to "Normal"!

April 24, 2020 at 8:09 AM

This is a tough one. Sea World has three coasters that are arguably as good of better than anything BGT has. Kraken is better than the comparable Kumba, while Manta might be the best coaster in all of Florida. Mako is also solid, though I'd put it in the same tier as Montu and Sheikra. Without knowing how good Iron Gwazi will be, but considering RMC's track record, BGT most likely will be adding one of the 10 best coasters in the world when the hybrid opens later this year. Sea World has a slight edge on shows and dark rides, which are non-existent now in BGT (didn't used to be that way with a 4-D theater and motion simulator in Tampa), but BGT has a amazing Serengeti Plain and other animal habitats and attractions that top pretty much everything SW has.

So, with the main attractions pretty much being a wash, it comes down to those smaller attractions and flat rides, which is where BGT clinches it for me. Sea World just doesn't have a lot of flat rides aside for kiddie ones. BGT just has more smaller attractions across the entire park that makes the park more of a multi-day park than SW.

April 24, 2020 at 9:54 AM

You are a rotter Mr Niles! I love them both for different reasons and experiences and really struggled to come down on one particular side. However, after cogitating for a long time I decided on Busch Gardens. Mrs Plum loves the animal exhibits and interaction more and I love Howl-O-Scream. But the decision couldn't be separated even by a petite mint wafer.

April 24, 2020 at 10:27 AM

Although I adore both parks, I'm going with BGT without a moment of hesitation. It's the 2nd most beautiful park I've ever visited (Alton Towers is the 1st and Dollywood is the 3rd) and that counts for a lot. Just wandering around the park is a wonderful experience. As for the coaster lineup, I find it vastly superior to what Sea World offers. Montu is 3rd on my list of inverts, surpassed only by Nemesis at Alton Towers and Banshee at Kings Island, and Cheetah Hunt is IMHO underrated. That coaster is just so much fun. The only coaster at Sea World that blows me away is Manta; Kraken I found to be meh - one and done - while Mako loses momentum after the mid course brake run. BGT has a couple of coasters I could do without, notably Sand Serpent, but on the whole the lineup is solid. When Iron Gwazi opens it will be a coaster junkie's dream. I've heard people describe Kumba as a headbanger but that wasn't my experience; I really enjoy that coaster. And let us not forget the formidable drop ride, Falcon's Fury.

My idea of a great ending to a day in the park is sitting in the Serengeti Overlook eating pizza (I'm very fussy about pizza and BGT offers the best pizza I've ever gotten at a theme park) and savoring a glass of dark ale. Couldn't be better.

April 24, 2020 at 11:05 AM

I often wish that Orlando has Busch Garden, and Tampa Sea World. Makes sense to me that a park dealing with the ocean, should be on the coast.

Despite the awful I4 drive home, I still visit BGT 4-6 times a year. I love the park, especially the train ride round the Serengeti, and of course the great selection of coasters. Before the shutdown there were strong rumours of a Maxair type ride in the old Rhino Rally area, so that would be an awesome addition to the park.

With Gwazi being added, I have to vote against my home park (sorry SWO .. :( ... ) and go for BGT.

For the beauty factor, I'd have to go with BGW by a long way, with AT as my second. Maybe BGT would edge into 3rd.

April 24, 2020 at 11:19 AM

Bobbie, thanks for the pizza tip. I will definitely try it in October.

April 24, 2020 at 4:24 PM

While I voted for BGT,and it'coasters, James was correct about Sea World at Christmas.

April 25, 2020 at 3:53 AM

Whilst Busch Gardens has great coasters and some great animal/scenic offerings (and Cheetah Hunt remains one of my wife and I's favourite coasters anywhere for it's sheer Fun factor) my vote goes to Seaworld. Manta is my favourite coaster anywhere, period, and there's something about the whole Seaworld 'vibe' that we just don't find anywhere else. It's neither the best for attractions nor the best for food nor the best for scenery but something about what it offers just ticks all the right boxes for us. I sincerely hope it weathers these troubling times as we look forward to revisiting, (although the big 'final hurrah' visit planned for this autumn is now in tatters so maybe next year?...)

April 26, 2020 at 2:15 PM

Hard to choose, as many say. However, I will go with Sea World, because although the coasters aren't as many, the ones they have are generally pretty excellent. Plus, I just adore the landscaping and breezy feel of walking around. Finally...it's in Orlando, mid-way between WDW and UOR.

The times I've gone to BGT, I lived in Orlando, and just took the bus RT, so it was really painless. But it's still kind of a hassle to go all the way out there, which takes away from the enjoyment for me.

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