The 10 Best Things to Do at Busch Gardens Tampa Bay

Iron Gwazi coaster at Busch Gardens Tampa Bay in front of a purple sky

Courtesy of SeaWorld Parks & Entertainment

Opened in 1959, Busch Gardens Tampa Bay predates Walt Disney World and Florida’s other major theme parks. The venerable park has long been admired for its lovely gardens and lush landscaping but is now also lauded for its wild roller coasters, truly wild animal exhibits, great shows, tempting food, and other things to do. It’s worth the hour-and-change drive from the Mouse House to check out Busch Gardens’ ambiance and enjoy all it has to offer—especially our picks for the ten best things to do there.

01 of 10

Take a Dive on SheiKra

Low angle view of riders on the Sheikra roller coaster about to go down a drop

Arthur Levine

Busch Gardens Tampa Bay has a stellar array of coasters, and one of its best is SheiKra. Known as a diving coaster, passengers are lifted 200 feet in the air in floorless cars, brought just over the edge of a 90-degree (that’s straight down, folks) drop, held there for what feels like forever, and then released into a heart-pumping dive. That’s followed by a 145-foot tall inversion, a second dive, a lights-out tunnel, and a splashdown finale in a lagoon. Despite all of the wacky elements, SheiKra gives a rock-solid, smooth ride.

02 of 10

Steel Yourself for Iron Gwazi

Purple and yellow Iron Gwazi coaster at Busch Gardens

Courtesy of SeaWorld Parks & Entertainment

Soon to open in 2021, this wooden-steel hybrid coaster was designed by a ride manufacturer that has an incredible record of success with its inspired thrill machines, and Iron Gwazi will be its most extreme and thrilling coaster yet. It will climb 206 feet, drop 206 feet at a beyond-vertical 91 degrees, and hit a top speed of 76 mph. It will also feature two inversions, including a “zero-G stall” that will invert riders and leave them hanging upside down as they travel forward along a straight section of track.

03 of 10

Go on the Prowl with Cheetah Hunt

Blurred riders going along the green track of the Cheetah Hunt coaster Busch Gardens Tampa

Courtesy of SeaWorld Parks & Entertainment

Featuring three magnetic launches, one of which revs up its trains to 60 mph, Cheetah Hunt is a giddy experience. Located alongside actual cheetahs, the coaster is designed to make passengers feel as if they are racing against the sleek and speedy animals.

With a minimum height of 48 inches, Cheetah Hunt is fairly accessible to a wide audience, including many children. With one inversion (a heartline roll) and a relatively low ascent of 102 feet, it is not too intimidating. But the coaster’s launches are sure to snap any rider to attention and put a smile (if not a scream) on his or her face.

04 of 10

Drop into Falcon’s Fury

View of riders on the Falcon's Fury drop ride at Busch Gardens Tampa Bay

Courtesy of SeaWorld Parks & Entertainment

Many parks have drop tower rides, which take passengers up a tower and then release them into freefall. At 335 feet, Falcon’s Fury is among the tallest drop tower rides in the world. But the unique ride offers one devilish feature that distinguishes it from its counterparts: Prior to plummeting, its seats pivot 90 degrees so that riders are positioned face-down for the harrowing drop. With such intense psychological thrills, Falcon’s Fury is one of the world’s scariest rides.

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05 of 10

Feed a Giraffe on Serengeti Safari

White woman with sunglasses feeding a giraffe in Busch Gardens Tampa bay

Arthur Levine

To get really up close and personal with some African animals, consider booking a Serengeti Safari. The extra-charge tour takes guests inside the park’s 65-acre Serengeti Plain aboard an open-air truck. The 30-minute guided tour includes encounters with free-roaming animals such as zebras, antelope, and rhinos as well as an opportunity to feed giraffes. The docile, graceful animals are delightful. In addition to feeding giraffes by hand, you can also volunteer to have one eat lettuce out of your mouth!

06 of 10

Dine and Imbibe at Serengeti Overlook

A flight of beer on a table with out-of-focus giraffes in the background

Courtesy of SeaWorld Parks & Entertainment

The food at Busch Gardens is quite good. Some of our favorite spots include the Zambia Smokehouse, which offers BBQ delicacies such as smoked brisket and pulled pork, and the food court-like Dragon Fire Grill & Pub, which features pizza, Asian stir fries, and a variety of other dishes.

But you can’t beat the ambiance of the park’s Serengeti Overlook, which, well, overlooks the Serengeti Plain and its menagerie of animals. You can enjoy beer flights and other beverages at the Giraffe Bar, or indulge in air-conditioned comfort in the waiter-service Treetop Kitchen.

07 of 10

Settle in for a Show (or Two)

Ice skater performing at Busch Gardens Tampa Bay in a face mask and a red dress

Courtesy of SeaWorld Parks & Entertainment

All of the coaster thrills can take their toll. So pace yourself and check out one of the park’s wonderful shows. As odd as it may seem in sunny, hot, and humid Florida, Busch Gardens has been presenting a well-regarded ice skating show in its Moroccan Palace Theater for years. In addition to the show, you’d be able to chill out amid the theater’s air conditioning. The park’s Stanleyville Theater also features ambitious productions.

08 of 10

Consort with the Animals

Group of Chimpanzees sitting at Busch Gardens Tampa Bay

Courtesy of SeaWorld Parks & Entertainment

Busch Gardens is as much a zoo as a ride park, so be sure to leave time to see the animals. There are exhibits throughout the park, including elephants in the park’s Nairobi section, kangaroos and wallabies in Kangaloom, and hippos in the Edge of Africa. One of the most enjoyable ways to experience the creatures is to take the Serengeti Express train through the Serengeti Plain where ostriches, zebras, gazelles, and many other animals freely roam.

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09 of 10

Trek to Sesame Street

Air Grover coaster at Busch Gardens Tampa Bay

Courtesy of SeaWorld Parks & Entertainment

If you’ll be visiting Busch Gardens with younger children, you’ll want to head over to Sesame Street Safari of Fun. There you’ll find a host of kid-friendly rides all themed to the beloved Muppets characters. There is the Air Grover roller coaster, the spinning Big Bird’s Whirly Birdie, and Elmo’s Safari Go-Round carousel to name a few. There is also Bert and Ernie’s Watering Hole, where kids can get totally soaked, and the stage show, “Let’s Play Together.”

10 of 10

Don’t Forget About the Park’s Other Coasters

Kumba coaster Busch Gardens Tampa Bay

 SeaWorld Parks & Entertainment

Busch Gardens has an incredible collection of roller coasters. In addition to the wild thrill machines near the top of our list, visitors will want to ride the rails on the park’s other attractions, including:

  • Montu: One of the best inverted coasters (in which the trains hang suspended from the track above and passengers sit in ski lift-like cars with their legs dangling) anywhere, Montu is noted for its seven inversions and its below-ground trenches.
  • Kumba: This fearsome coaster climbs 143 feet, hits 60 mph, and features seven inversions, including interlocking corkscrews.
  • Cobra’s Curse: The unique coaster uses an elevator to lift its trains up 70 feet where they come “face-to-fang” with an oversized King Cobra. Passengers then race forwards, backwards, and, for the finale, spin before returning to the station.
  • Scorpion: Dating back to 1980, the classic steel coaster features a single 360-degree loop and delivers a whopping 3.5 Gs of force.
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