Busch Gardens Tampa Bay is our Theme Park of the Week.Fresh off its triumphant preview debut of its Iron Gwazi hybrid coaster,
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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