Busch Gardens in Tampa has an amazing line up of roller coasters and thrill rides, but they also have an incredible array of different species from around the world in uniquely themed habitats, including a 65-acre African plain.
On a recent visit, our group spent the day enjoying the various animal exhibits and shows as opposed to the thrill rides. Guests who enjoy these aspects can easily spend an entire day catching the different shows and seeing all of the different habitats and species within them.
The largest area dedicated to animals is the Serengeti Plain, which features a variety of species roaming throughout the habitat, including giraffes, zebras, and ostriches. Perhaps the best way to see the plain up close is the Serengeti Safari, but that comes with a price tag. At $33.95 plus tax per person on top of what you already paid to get into the park, it’s more than a bit steep for a family on a budget. The experience does allow you to get up close to a number of the animals, including the giraffes, which you can feed right from your hand.
You can get a bit of the safari experience by riding Rhino Rally, which is included with regular admission. The storyline of this safari vehicle ride is hokey, and it’s over before you know it, but it does give you some up close views of the rhinoceros and elephant areas. Inevitably, those who have ridden Kilimanjaro Safaris at Animal Kingdom will compare the two attractions, but Rhino Rally just isn’t in the same league as Disney’s version.
Great views of the savannah can also be had by riding the Skyride and Serengeti Railway, both of which spend a portion of their path going over or through the area. The only species we didn’t get to see up close, either by walking along the paths or on the Skyride or Serengeti Railway were the giraffes, which stay closer to the center of the plain where the Safari vehicles pull up to feed them.
Near the Serengeti Plain is the Myombe Reserve, home to the park’s gorillas and chimpanzees. We spent some time here both in the morning and afternoon exploring the pathways and viewing these majestic creatures. Some slept, some foraged for food, and a few sat and posed for the passers-by.
In this area of the park is Cheetah Run, where trainers put the animals through their paces at least once a day, showing off their incredible speed. Unfortunately, on the day of our visit PBS was shooting at Cheetah Run for an upcoming documentary, and we didn’t get to see the cheetahs perform their runs in the morning. Later in the day, the trainers fed the cheetahs “blood pops,” which were frozen animal blood cubes that got them moving in the hot sun for spectators.
Elsewhere in the park are a number of other habitats featuring a wide variety of species from different continents. In Jungala, guests can see tigers and orangutans. On our visit, the afternoon sun had lulled the orangutans to sleep, but the tigers were up and about in their enclosures. The paths here wind in between, under, and over the tigers, giving a number of great spots to view and photograph the endangered species.
Bird Gardens, with a huge aviary featuring tropical birds, and Walkabout Way, with Australian animals including the wallaby and kangaroo are just two of the other exhibits that are positioned throughout the park.
Animals even get into the act at two different stage shows. At Critter Castaways, see a number of rescued animals perform trips in a fast paced, fun filled show. In Iceploration, Busch Gardens has combined ice-skating, animals, and live theatre into an amazing show performed several times a day. Everyone in our group felt Iceploration was a great show, and getting off our feet and out of the hot Florida sun into a well cooled theater was even better.
Between the animal exhibits and shows we saw on our visit, we filled our entire day without going on any of the thrill rides. It’s a whole different side to the park which is also known for its line-up of roller coasters, and one well worth exploring.
Animal encounters at Busch Gardens Tampa Bay – photo gallery
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