|Busch Gardens Tampa Bay|
Busch Boulevard and 40th Street,
Walt Disney may have put the theme in theme park, but when it comes to re-creating the wild in a safe, if slightly sterile, environment no one does it better than Busch Gardens. Since it opened 42 years ago as a combined bird sanctuary/visitors center for Anheuser-Busch, Busch Gardens Tampa has expanded its repertoire to include more than 2,700 creatures representing 320 species, plus thrill rides and entertainment. The 335-acre park, in fact, constitutes Florida's largest zoo, and houses a host of free-roaming animals, many of which are endangered or threatened in the wild.
A variety of animals roam the grounds of the recently revamped, 70-acre Serengeti Plain attraction while visitors glide by on a monorail, chug along on a train or zip through in a safari truck to get up-close views of giraffes, zebras, wildebeests, antelopes and gazelles. In the Edge of Africa walking safari, visitors stroll through abandoned African villages and into the habitats of lions, hippopotamuses, hyena, meerkats, vultures, a Nile crocodile and other wild beasts. Meanwhile, the Myombe Reserve: the Great Ape Domain gives visitors a glimpse into the mysterious world of gorillas and chimps, with a trek through rugged terrain, thick vegetation and shrouds of mist to complete the illusion.
Elsewhere in the park, visitors can see birds, koalas, kangaroos, elephants and majestic yellow and white Bengal tigers.
The park's newest animal attraction is Rhino Rally, an eight-minute, off-road river safari with a Survivor-esque theme. A blend of animal watching and thrill seeking, Rhino Rally takes visitors on a loosely guided course through 16-acres of faux African wilds and ends with a raging river ride. Unlike other rides, this one attempts to turn spectators into competitors — with 17 guests in each Land Rover, theoretically competing for 'the world's ultimate off-road trophy.'
For more thrills, visitors have their choice of a respectable contingent of roller coasters — four steel and one dual-track wooden monster. The wooden Gwazi features dueling trains that rocket at speeds up to 50 mph through 7,000 feet of track, including six flyby encounters in which the two trains come within feet of each other. Of the park's steel coasters, the Montu, the largest and fastest inverted steel coaster in the Southeast, may be the most popular, especially for the betrothed. Twenty-eight couples have been married aboard this ride.
For those who aren't thrilled by the prospect of hurtling through the air at high speeds or coming face to face with a lion — even separated by a reassuringly 'barely visible, but very safe' wall of glass — there are plenty of food and entertainment options, plus the 30-acre Adventure Island water park to explore.