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How to Spend a Day at Busch Gardens Tampa without Kids

How to Spend 1 Day at Busch Gardens Tampa without Kids | CosmosMariners.com

(Alt. title: How We Realized We Were Officially Old)

I'm the most cautious adventure seeker out there. I'll jump off that cliff, climb into that parasailing equipment, and strap on my scuba gear, but you better believe that I'll think about every possible negative scenario there is before I do it.

So, it's no stretch of the imagination that I gave the rollercoasters at Busch Gardens Tampa the old hairy eyeball...before clambering to get in line.


For our first full day in the St. Petersburg, Landon and I headed across the Tampa Bay for some thrills over at Busch Gardens Tampa. (By the way, Tampa Bay is giant. Definitely wasn't expecting that.)

Travel tip for those of you heading to Tampa: there's a lot of road construction going on as the main interstate through Tampa is being widened. Add in plenty of travel time to compensate. Luckily, I'm the queen of leaving an hour early to go somewhere, so Landon and I made it through the traffic with plenty of time to spare.

How to Spend 1 Day at Busch Gardens Tampa without Kids | CosmosMariners.com

Busch Gardens opened at 10 a.m., and we barely missed the rope drop. After pulling into a nearly empty parking lot, we hopped on the waiting tram and headed in for some adventure.

How to Spend 1 Day at Busch Gardens Tampa without Kids | CosmosMariners.com

How to Spend 1 Day at Busch Gardens Tampa without Kids | CosmosMariners.com
The first coaster sighting from the parking lot. Spoiler alert: we never did ride this one.

How to Spend 1 Day at Busch Gardens Tampa without Kids | CosmosMariners.com
Let's go!

It had been about fifteen years since I'd visited Busch Gardens Tampa, but what I remembered about it from all those years ago was the rollercoasters. Landon and I decided to go counterclockwise (and thus, heading against people's natural desire to turn right) and hit up Gwazi, the wooden rollercoaster, first.
How to Spend 1 Day at Busch Gardens Tampa without Kids | CosmosMariners.com
In line for Gwazi. First ride o' the day!
I have a special place in my heart for wooden rollercoasters. They are so quirky and bumpy and filled with character. You also feel as if they are about to fall apart at any moment, which really adds to the fear factor. Gwazi was a great ride, and it helped ease us into the theme park riding, which is good because we were about to realize just how old we were (hint: we weren't 14 like the last time I was here).

Landon and I had a great eye-rolling moment when we heard this two teenage boys (who couldn't have been more than 16) say after the ride of Gwazi, "Wooden rollercoasters are such a ridiculous way to build thrill rides in a post-1970s world." Ugh. Wooden rollercoasters are awesome, you little crazies. But in the best follow-up to a story ever, we saw them after we'd all ridden one of those "post-1970s" coasters (i.e. the super high steel ones) and they looked completely green. Ha!

After being happily tossed around on Gwazi, we headed to the next of the coasters on our counterclockwise route: Sheikra. Of all of the things that I remember about my last jaunt through this park back in the late '90s, Sheikra made the biggest impression. The rollercoaster hadn't been open too long when my family visited, and my sister and I had to ride it. My dad refused to ride it. My cousin, who's usually up for anything, refused to ride it. So, my 12-year-old sister and I showed them up. The ride was terrifying and unlike anything I'd ever ridden--and I'd ridden a lot of coasters.

Unlike most coasters, Sheikra has a completely vertical drop. And worst/ best of all, the drop happens AFTER you've been hanging over the edge of the drop for six seconds.

Six seconds. It feels like forever as you stare down the height of a twenty story building.

How to Spend 1 Day at Busch Gardens Tampa without Kids | CosmosMariners.com
Watching from the unloading deck as Sheikra riders contemplate their lives during the six second hang.

In the interim since I first rode Sheikra, the designers have taken away the floor boards, so you can really appreciate every inch of that giant vertical drop.

Landon, despite shaking and exclaiming that riding was a terrible idea on the way up, loved it and we rode it twice, back to back before the crowds got any thicker.

And here's where we made our mistake. I was getting hungry, as we hadn't had a huge breakfast, but Landon didn't want to stop and eat until we'd ridden all of the coasters. Due to a terrible barfing incident at the S.C. State Fair years ago, Landon's wary of eating before heading onto thrill rides. So, we marched onto Kumba.

I remember riding Kumba as an eight year old, when I was just tall enough to meet the height requirement. I loved it and rode it multiple times. Landon and I hopped onto Kumba, thinking it was going to be a walk in the park after Sheikra.

Uh, no. With multiple flips and corkscrews, this coaster was anything but tame. By the time we stumbled off, I was feeling queasy and Landon looked positively sick. After sitting on a bench for a little while, Landon decided that he wasn't going to barf, and we made the decision to change tactics for the rest of our time at the park.

Too queasy to ride the thrill rides? That's okay. We'll take a gastronomic tour of the place instead.

We wanted something fresh and not greasy in the hopes that it would help wrangle our stomachs into happiness again. We headed over to Bengal Bistro in Jungala, were we ordered a Chicken Caesar Salad for Landon, a smaller house salad for me, and some grapes and pasta salad to split. I liked that the park had lighter, healthier fare; the fruit and salads were exactly what our ailing tummies needed.

How to Spend 1 Day at Busch Gardens Tampa without Kids | CosmosMariners.com
A great lunch spot!
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For dessert, we headed over to Panatopia (formerly Timbuktu) to Twisted Tails Pretzels, where we eat the most delicious thing I have ever had: a giant soft pretzel wrapped around bacon. Yummmmm. If you're going to Busch Gardens, run--don't walk--to Twisted Tails. You won't be upset.

How to Spend 1 Day at Busch Gardens Tampa without Kids | CosmosMariners.com
Some of the offerings at Twisted Tails.
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We took it easy for the rest of the afternoon, riding the Sky Tram (oh, how I miss the one in Disney World!), going on the railroad through the animal habitats, seeing the gorillas and the tigers up close, and watching the live show, "Iceploration" at the Moroccan Palace Theatre.

How to Spend 1 Day at Busch Gardens Tampa without Kids | CosmosMariners.com
Hey, a macaw!
How to Spend 1 Day at Busch Gardens Tampa without Kids | CosmosMariners.com
I had to get a picture in front of the fantastic tiger topiary since I was wearing my Clemson shirt.
How to Spend 1 Day at Busch Gardens Tampa without Kids | CosmosMariners.com

How to Spend 1 Day at Busch Gardens Tampa without Kids | CosmosMariners.com
That's a giant gorilla (scientific name: gorilla gorilla. Not kidding.) right there!
How to Spend 1 Day at Busch Gardens Tampa without Kids | CosmosMariners.com
The end of "Iceploration." The costumes were so colorful!

Around four, we called it a day and accepted defeat that we just couldn't rally enough to finish out the final coasters. We're officially old, but we had a great time doing the non-coaster stuff, too.

I hadn't been to this Busch Gardens since I was 14 or so--it was right around the same time that Disney's Animal Kingdom opened up. Having seen the two relatively close together at that time, I was less than impressed with the similar African-styled theming at Busch Gardens. However, I was happy to see during this trip that the theming has gotten much more cohesive with additional shows and animal interactions that put it more in line with Animal Kingdom's theming.

I really enjoyed our day there and could see us taking Britton back when she's a little older. The Stanleyville section has plenty of fun things to do with small ones, and kids can also enjoy the train, the sky tram, the animal trainer sessions, and the shows.

Orlando Discounted Theme Parks and Attractions - Florida Ticket Station

I would definitely recommend going when the crowds are lighter--some of the coaster lines are uncovered and would be brutal in the summer sun. Early May was great because everything was open, but the crowds were low. We walked onto most of the rides, and the longest wait time we encountered was about five minutes. I could see early fall having many of the same benefits if you were willing to let your kids miss school.

Even for a diehard Disney fan, Busch Gardens was well worth a day on my vacation, and I'd recommend a trip to couples (or families with older kids) looking for a little more thrill than the Disney parks can offer.

Busch Gardens is located at 10165 N. McKinley Drive in Tampa.

How to Spend 1 Day at Busch Gardens Tampa without Kids | CosmosMariners.com

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