Welcome to the second installment of “Seth Kubersky’s Best Week Ever,” and let me start by thanking everyone for all your kind comments on my first column. This week, we are detouring outside of the immediate Orlando area and taking a road trip west on I-4 to Tampa. Last week, I was invited to Busch Gardens Tampa for a press announcement about the park’s 2016 roller coaster project, and I decided to stick around after the festivities to stroll around what might be Central Florida’s most underrated theme park.
My morning started with an eighty minute drive from downtown Orlando to Busch Gardens Tampa parking lot; if you are staying on Disney property, the trip is about twenty minutes shorter. Upon arrival, I was escorted to the park’s Egypt section, where MACK Rides is constructing a family-friendly spinning coaster called Cobra’s Curse behind the old Tut’s Tomb walkthrough.
After the media presentation, I took a stroll around the park with some of my colleagues from Orlando Attractions Magazine and Theme Park Review. We started by walking through the Edge of Africa animal enclosure and past the former entrance to the defunct Rhino Rally ride.
Get lost on your way to Pantopia at Busch Gardens? Just follow your nose…the elephant smell is unmistakable!
Time to get the blood racing with a lap on Kumba, which despite its age is still one of my favorite B&M-manufactured roller coasters. It shares some similarities to IOA’s Incredible Hulk coaster, but unlike that ride Kumba manages to maintain its aggressive pacing until the final brake run. It was so much fun, I had to ride it twice — with no wait for the front row, why not?
Pressed penny enthusiasts should be excited to see that Busch Gardens Tampa has several souvenir smashers to select from.
Heading back into Pantopia, the park’s newest land, you can’t help admire some of the folk art-inspired theming in this section.
For tweens ready to brave their first upside-down roller coaster, the vintage Scorpion is a perfect fit…
…but we had our sights set a little higher:
Falcon’s Fury is the tallest drop tower you’ve ever seen, and the face-first plunge from the top is not for the faint hearted. But if you can overcome the anxiety on the way up, the flight down is surprisingly smooth.
There was barely a 10 minute wait to ride Falcon’s Fury, which may be because many guests are intimidated out of attempting it.
For a better idea of what the ride is like, here is a video of my first experience on Falcon’s Fury from last September:
Plunging screaming to the earth is thirsty work, so I retreated to Twisted Tails for a refreshing pear cider.
Craft beer and pretzel enthusiasts should be happy to learn that a similar restarant should be coming soon to SeaWorld.
Exiting Pantopia, I detoured through the park’s animal care center, where veterinary procedures are performed in public view. This is a lot like Rafiki’s Planet Watch, without the Disney characters or inconvenient train ride.
Another great old-school souvenier that you’ll find at Busch Gardens: vending machines making hot wax molded animals.
Did you now that there were penguins in Africa? Busch Gardens has a family of them on display outdoors. Guess they don’t need the a/c like their Antarctic cousins.
I really like Cheeta Hunt, Busch Garden’s most recent launched coaster, but the queue was a little longer than I was willing to wait this day.
I did stick my head into the neighboring Colony Crown restaurant, which once upon a time offered table service, but is now only a bar and buffeteria:
As another example of Busch’s improved efforts at themes, I discovered this bulletin board covered in humorous clipping near the staircase to Crown Colony’s upstairs seating area.
On my way out of the Crown Colony, I stumbled across something that belongs on my “bring to Orlando’s parks” list: solar-powered cell phone charging stations with USB ports built into shade umbrellas!
Finally, I finished off my day at Busch Gardens Tampa with a ride on an old favorite: Montu. This B&M inverted coaster is like both the red and blue sides of IOA’s Dragon Challege blended together and turned up to 11.
But on my way to the ride, I was stopped in my tracks by what may be the most ill-concieved construction wall decoration I’ve ever seen inside a theme park. Behold the literal poster child for encouraging bad guest behavior.
Bush Gardens Tampa is an enormous theme park, and I was exhausted from the heat before I’d walked around half of it. If you want to know more about Busch Gardens Tampa, check out the Unofficial Guide’s Beyond Disney book, which I’m currently updating for an all-new edition.
Have your visited Busch Gardens Tampa, and do you want to hear more about other non-Disney parks on TouringPlans.com? Let us know in the comments below!