Busch Gardens-Tampa Bay is Highlight of Tampa Visit
By Karen Rubin

Busch Gardens-Tampa Bay is a highlight of a visit to Tampa, Florida. A thoroughly enchanting attraction, it excels equally as a theme park with marvelous rides and shows, and as a zoological park, providing guests with memorable, up-close animal experiences. This is "edutainment" at its best.

Busch Gardens' newest combination ride-attraction, Rhino Rally, opening in Spring 2001, takes this concept to an even higher level. Rhino Rally combines up-close encounters with animals - elephants, white rhinos, antelope, alligators, cape buffalo, warthogs and other exotic African species - with an unpredictable off-road safari competition that ends up as a raging river thrill ride. Guests are transformed from mere spectators into a 17-member team "ralliers" to challenge Africa's Serengeti region and compete for the world's ultimate off-road trophy.

A completely different and unique experience is available to just 80 to 100 guests a day at Busch Gardens: the Serengeti Safari, which is part of the enhanced Serengeti Plain, which is home to giraffes, zebra, gazelle, bongo, eland, impala, addax, ostriches and other African species. For an additional fee ($20 per person) over the park admission, 20 people at a time are guided around by zookeepers on a 30-minute special tour that provides for close-up encounters with the animals (giraffes eat out of your hands). There are only four or five safaris a day; one departure a day (11 a.m.) can be reserved in advance; the rest are on a first-come, first-served basis (Guests need to be at least five years of age; guests in wheelchairs can be accommodated). In addition to the Serengeti Safari truck tour, the animals of the Plain can be viewed from the Serengeti Express Railway, Skyride, and a number of adjacent walkways. In all, there are 2,700 animals representing 283 species, throughout the park. It is delightful to come upon them, rather serendipitously.

We were completely enchanted with the Egypt section which opened a few years ago. Here, you walk through Tut's Tomb as if you were an archeologist, the realism of the exhibit completely extraordinary. There are places where the kids can dig up their own archeological finds, and an amazing and thrilling roller coaster, Montu, is as marvelous to behold as it is to ride. Traveling at more than 60 mph over nearly 4,000 feet of track, Montu is the largest and fastest inverted roller coaster in the Southeast.

Last year, Busch Gardens opened up Gwazi, Florida's first dueling wooden roller coaster, with one million feet of twisting lumber and over two million bolted connections. It takes riders through almost 7,000 ft. of track at speeds exceeding 50 mph and six flyby maneuvers with combined speeds of 100 mph. It is the fifth coaster at the park.

Busch does an extremely good job of dispersing rides and attractions geared for younger children around the park. The smallest kids will especially adore Land of the Dragons (there is a real dragon, a Komodo Dragon, nearby), a play area with waterplay and climbing apparatus and carousel, plus a show.

The shows are superb and are very engaging for all generations- the newest is an ice extravaganza. Even the shopping is excellent, with really interesting items (a step up from "souvenirs") themed for the particular area of the park (so if you see something, buy it because it likely will not be at another shop), and are reasonably priced (even the expensive carved art objects that were selling for $1,000 and $500 were reasonable).

The park seems both big and compact all at once; it is actually easy to get around in a relaxed, manageable manner. Busch Gardens-Tampa Bay is open 365 days a year, 9:30 a.m. to 6 p.m., but later during select summer and holiday periods. To make it easier to enjoy the park's shows, rides and exhibits in a relaxed manner, you can take advantage of a return-visit policy, where you can purchase a special return ticket before you leave the park, for $10.95.

There are several ticket combinations: a single-day ticket is $47.95/adult, $38.95 (child 3-9). A multi-day ticket combining Busch Gardens Tampa Bay with Adventure Island (a 30-acre waterpark located adjacent to Busch Gardens-Tampa Bay) is $59.95/adult, $49.95/child. A ticket for one-day each at Busch Gardens Tampa Bay and Sea World Orlando is $83.98/adult, $68.03 child, and a five-park Orlando Flex Ticket, providing unlimited admission for up to 10 consecutive days at SeaWorld Orlando, Busch Gardens Tampa Bay, Universal Studios Florida, Universal Studios Islands of Adventure and Wet/n/Wild waterpark, is $209/adult; $167/child.

"It is easier than ever to take advantage of the Orlando Flexticket: a Shuttle Express coach, featuring in-transit video entertainment, that links SeaWorld Orlando, Mercado Shopping Village, Orlando Premium Outlet Mall in Lake Buena Vista, Universal Orlando, AmeriHost Maingate Resort, Four Points by Sheraton Lakeside, and Kissimmee's Old Town Shopping Village, is $5.00 per person round-trip and free with the Five-Park Orlando Flex Ticket. Call 800-221-1339 or www.atlasmc.com.

For further information about visiting Tampa, contact Tampa Bay Convention & Visitors Bureau, 400 N. Tampa Street, Suite 1010, Tampa, Fl. 33602, phone 813-223-1111, www.visittampabay.com.

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