Theme Park of the Week: Busch Gardens Tampa Bay

February 20, 2022, 12:52 PM · Fresh off its triumphant preview debut of its Iron Gwazi hybrid coaster, Busch Gardens Tampa Bay is our Theme Park of the Week.

Busch Gardens is the oldest of Central Florida's major theme parks, having first opened officially June 1, 1959. It takes its name from the original "Busch Gardens" that the Busch family operated around its Pasadena, California winter home from 1906 to 1938: A visit to the original Busch Gardens.

Busch Gardens is no longer affiliated with the Anheuser-Busch company, which sold the Busch Gardens and SeaWorld theme parks after InBev bought the brewer in 2008. Now part of an independent SeaWorld Entertainment, Busch Gardens uses its name under license.

And that name has changed over the years. Not the "Busch Gardens" part, but the rest of the park's name. From 1976 through sometime in the 1990s (does anyone remember the exact date? I can't find it), the park went by the unfortunate name "Busch Gardens - The Dark Continent" in reference to its lands' African themes. (The European-themed Busch Gardens Williamsburg in Virginia went by "Busch Gardens - The Old Country" during the same period. Because all theme park fans are of European ancestry, right? Sigh.) The Florida park reverted to Busch Gardens Tampa Bay for a decade, before adopting the Busch Gardens Africa name in 2006. That lasted for two years before the park again went back to Busch Gardens Tampa Bay.

While we might argue whether Central Florida has become the world's roller coaster capital, for years Busch Gardens Tampa Bay has served as the coaster capital of Central Florida. Now featuring 10 roller coasters, Busch Gardens has grown from its humble beginning as a tropical garden next to a brewery tour.

For its first decade, Busch Gardens operated with free admission, but the park started charging for entry in 1970, just before the opening of the Walt Disney World Resort up the road near Orlando in 1971. With Disney bringing more theme park fans to Florida, Busch Gardens responded with its first thrill ride, Stanley Falls Flume, in 1973 and roller coaster, Python, in 1976. Python closed in 2006, leaving 1980's Schwarzkopf silver arrow, Scorpion, as the oldest operating coaster in the park.

Iron Gwazi opens officially to the public on March 11. Beyond that Rocky Mountain Construction coaster, the Intamin blitz Cheetah Hunt topped our Theme Park Insider reader survey last year as their favorite coaster in the park.

Next up was the Bolliger & Mabillard inverted coaster Montu, followed by the Bolliger & Mabillard dive coaster Sheikra and the Mack Rides spinning coaster Cobra's Curse.

You can find our complete list of coaster rankings on our Busch Gardens Tampa Bay page.

And for discounted tickets to the park, including "Choose Your Adventure" combo tickets with SeaWorld Orlando, please visit our travel partner's Busch Gardens Tampa Bay tickets page.

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Replies (7)

February 20, 2022 at 3:43 PM

It's slightly misleading to say Busch Gardens opened as a "theme park" in 1959 because, when it opened, it wasn't really themed and there wasn't much to see or do. It was basically a promotion for Busch's various brands of beer. I visited the park in the 1960's and remember it well and fondly.

Admission was free but parking was a whopping 50 cents. The park was comprised entirely of a self-guided tour of the brewery, a pavilion offering free samples of beer, a lush tropical garden and a parrot show. Later in the decade, Busch added African animals to the property that grazed on the land around the brewery. You could view the animals from a slow-moving monorail for an extra charge.

There's more info about Busch Gardens in the 1960's as well as pictures of the brewery tour, the animals and monorail here: . (The photos are at the bottom of the page.)

February 20, 2022 at 6:44 PM

And it's still a great park. Just needs to add a dark ride or simulator for when lightning rolls in and everything shuts down.

February 20, 2022 at 9:32 PM

Ah, lightning. One of the reasons why Florida doesn’t have that Giga yet.

February 21, 2022 at 9:01 AM

Lightning must be the reason why we don’t have the 450ft Starflyer, and the 430ft drop tower then? :)

I can’t see it being at SeaWorld, so Busch is really the only place. It’s never going to be a Cedar Point, but with a giga in its portfolio, Busch could become a stand alone coaster destination, instead of a park that tourists visit for a day, while staying in Orlando.

February 21, 2022 at 10:31 AM

Pay per ride attractions can run much lower capacities than “regular” theme park attractions. Parks want bigger hourly usage than that.

The higher you go, the longer you have to be down when there is lightning in the area, due to an expanded danger radius. So that becomes a trade off in the design process, along with cost. Eventually, someone might decide a Giga is worth the downtime trade off. But until now, Florida parks have not needed a Giga to drive attendance.

The roadside attractions, however, need the height to literally stand out from the competition in the area, and just to covert a few riders per hour to make money.

February 21, 2022 at 12:41 PM

Only been there once, a school trip in 1994 but a fun spot, always wanted to go back.

Interesting debate on the lightning given videos of places like, say, Six Flags Great America with so many towers, etc when a nasty storm rolls in. That can be damn scary.

February 21, 2022 at 1:33 PM

I agree with the attendance for BGT, but again, it's almost all tourist driven. The vast majority going there, have no clue what an RMC or B&M are, and they don't care .... rightly so, in their world they just to want ride the coaster, and have fun.

But what will it take to turn BGT into a CP, or, dare I say, a Six Flags?? A park that coaster enthusiasts, like us, will go out of their way for to visit. Sure BGT has a good lineup of coasters, but does adding Gwazi make it a great lineup?? Will a giga, do that anyway?? It also needs more than coasters, a Pandemonium wouldn't go amiss either.

Seems like project penguin is a definite go for SWO in 2023, so that raises the question .... what has BGT got in mind for next year?

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