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Busch Gardens, Tampa
By Bill E. Branscum   ©2001

Sanity and Maturity are Terribly Overrated!!!!

Planning weekend vacations usually takes us to theme parks; one of our favorites is Busch Gardens in Tampa Bay, located in Northeast Tampa, Florida at the corner of Busch Boulevard and McKinley Avenue (40th Street). It lies between Interstate 275 and Interstate 75; although I-75 has no exit specifically for Busch Blvd. (they actually run parallel to one another) you can take the Hillsborough or Fowler Avenue exits.

There's plenty of signs and any gas station in the area can give you easy instructions. Because it is just a few hours drive for us, we get the "Fun Passes" they offer which are basically the less expensive version of their annual passes. The Fun Passes are less expensive for a number of reasons.

For one thing, there are days you cannot use them -- they call them blackout days. Who wants to go when the park will be packed to capacity anyway? Another down side is you don't get free parking - a six dollar addition to your day. Finally, you don't get a discount on food at their restaurants. We never had the premier passes so there may be other benefits as well.

One of the things we particularly like about Busch Gardens is you don't feel gouged once you get in there. They seem to have a corporate strategy that makes sense to me - they make their money "up front;" once you get in the door, everything is priced pretty reasonably.

All rides are included with the cost of admission, dinner at their (first rate) restaurant for three adults and three children runs about fifty bucks and the most durable T-shirt I ever bought in my life cost me $15 at one of their kiosks. Having had the experience of scraping together enough to get the whole family into a place, only to find that I couldn't afford to do very much (most carnivals), I much prefer to know I can show the kids a good time.

Akbar Adventure

For those of us who prefer not to spend our money making ourselves sick on coasters, Busch Gardens has Akbar Adventure which is one of those movie theater simulators that moves the seats to create the feeling that you are in the movie - don't knock it 'til you've tried it I don't know how it works, but it does.

Akbar replaced their old Questor attraction - it was a similar concept but different; I don't know why Questor didn't work, but it didn't. Questor Alumni should reserve judgment until they try this one out.

Akbar is a whacked out Egyptian tour guide played by Martin Short. Facing bankruptcy, Akbar is trying to convince the mortgagee not to foreclose on his operation by showing him his new tour. His desperate effort to put together the ultimate tour has its share of bugs - in the zaney trip that follows, nothing works quite right! I don't usually like slapstick but this is funny.

The camel ride is your first clue that this motion theater concept works. It is a crazy experience as you crash into everything along the way but the "bull in a china closet" effect is nothing like the aerial segment where you crash into a pyramid! The attraction also includes a train ride segment where you ramble thru some sort of underground excavation of a burial place via mine car. The dead guys seem to value their privacy and the ride gets wilder and wilder until it's over.

Unlike some of these things that seem to feel obligated to shake and rattle you toward no apparent end, and for no apparent reason, Akbar is more realistic. It is a wonderful experience for all the children and one of the few things adults can enjoy after sampling the free beer - did I fail to mention the free beer? You ever notice how much better beer tastes when it's free?

Congo River Rapids

Another ride I am particularly fond of is the trek down the Congo River Rapids. This is a wet ride - the mechanized voice that says, "Riders may get wet or soaked" isn't kidding. To make matters worse (or better), spectators get to shoot at you with these enormous water gun things they have on the sidelines. Don't think squirt guns - a half a dozen of these things would have put out the "Chicago Fire."

The ride starts tranquilly enough, until you bang into the first rock wall that sets you spinning. Then the current carries you around the curve where wannabe sharp shooters try to soak you with their water guns.
Most badly misjudge but sometimes they manage to get everyone in the raft pretty wet. The kids like to mug and make fun of the shooters who miss. Whether or not they get you wet, you're gonna get soaked and putting that Nikon under your shirt won't help! 
Pictured left to right below: Jeremy (14), Ryan (5) Megan (3) and Jillian (12); Jillian is the daughter of our friend, Jim Parker, another single dad. She is our regular travel companion and one of Megan's closest friends.

For those who like a little more excitement, there is the Scorpion, a big orange steel roller coaster that the little guys can ride. This ride features 1,805 feet of steel track, travels at 50 mph, has a 62-foot drop and features a 360-degree loop in its center.

The Scorpion does not get rave reviews from the hard core coaster types but they want a bit more craziness than is appropriate for the four and five year old age group.

The Scorpion does not use harnesses or anything like that but it's plenty safe enough. It features one big drop and a few spirals but the main attraction for us is that the little guys meet its 42 inch height requirement. No amount of chills and spills means anything to a child that is too small to ride.

The Python

The Python is the bright yellow steel coaster that is a bit more exciting to ride. Located in the Congo area, this double spiral corkscrew travels 50 mph, has a lift height of 70 feet and a track length of 1,250 feet. It is a short ride but it is wild enough to require restraints.

Beer, or no beer, you blast through the loops and double spiral corkscrew before you know it. It is one of those rides that is over before it has an opportunity to make you sick. It doesn't usually have a long line The height requirement is 48 inches
Naturally, a man cannot be expected to miss an opportunity to show the children what sort of havoc he can wreak with a hammer - and they have just the place. In "Egypt," you get a stuffed animal for $5 - you buy three hits and the size of the prize is determined by your best score. Any score gets a prize, and the maximum of 150 wins the big prize. Meggie (3) loves her big bad dog!

We like the Fest Haus in Timbuktu. I thought the beer disappeared a bit quickly - looks like I may have had some help! Ryan (5), Megan (3) and Dook (6)


The Qwazi ride is supposed to be named after some mythical creature - a Tiger with the Head of a Lion. It is a huge wooden roller coaster with two separate coasters; the Gwazi lion and the Gwazi tiger.

They are launched at the same time on two separate tracks, like dueling roller coasters they challenge each other along 7,000 feet of track at speeds of over 100 mph. This is really moving and the experience is heightened by the fact that the cars miss hitting each other by mere inches!
Jeremy (14), me, Dook (6) and Jeremy again - when those coasters fly by each other, you sure do get a lot of screaming! The height requirement on this one is 48 inches.


I guess everyone has an opinion but the Kumba is my favorite ride in the park - although the Gwazi would be too close to call. When it first opened back in 1993, it was supposed to be the biggest and fastest coaster in the Southeast United States - it may still be for all I know. This big blue monster takes you up 110 feet where you pause long enough to get a good look at the city, and then it drops you thru the vertical loop then takes you on through a camel back loop that has you weightless for three seconds followed by another 135 foot loop.

In addition to all the whirling around, the ride plunges you into a trip through a dark misty tunnel. This ride isn't for the kids as it has a height requirement of 54 inches. It is well worth the extra wait time to get to ride in the front seats! Do this one before the free beer!


The Montu is probably the best known coaster at Busch Gardens. They say it is one of the tallest and longest in the world. It is a black, red, yellow and blue hanging coaster where you are suspended from the thing that rides the rail with your legs dangling in the breeze.

It features the Immelman, an inverted diving loop named after the German stunt pilot who did it in an airplane, a Batwing consisting of two 45-degree angled vertical loops and a 60-foot vertical loop thru an "excavation trench."

This ride is supposed to be about 4000 feet long and it is definitely exciting - you can hear riders screaming from the parking lot. Unfortunately, you must be 54" tall to ride this monster.

This ride usually has really long wait times but, since it is in "Egypt," you can let the big guys ride it while you take the smaller kids to the Akbar movie adventure. You can always try your hand at winning a big animal - just step right up, 3 swings for $5 and don't feel bad, the machine says humiliating things to everybody!

The Gang!

Jeremy (14), Dook (6), Ryan (5), Priscilla (10), Megan (3) and "Ms. Paula," one of our all time favorite people. Yessiree, I do believe that you can make an eloquent argument that Colombian women are beautiful!

Ms. Paula and "TT" just had a baby of their own; Congratulations! LOOK

Busch Gardens gives you lots of choices of fun things to do. You can let the kids feed the animals, or if the day isn't going all that well, there's always the other alternative!

Above, Dook (6), Jeremy 14, Megan 3 and Ryan (4) climb on the ropes overlooking one of the animal exhibits. Below, Ryan rides a boat in Land of the Dragons, Ms. Paula poses with Megan and Dook rides the carousel in Timbuktu with Luz and Megan in the background.

Busch Gardens has photo opportunities at every turn. To the left, Dook (6) holds an exotic bird. To the right, Dook (6), Ryan (5) and Megan (3) pose at the dragon near the Land of the Dragons. Below, Luz, Megan, Dook and Ryan pose near the flamingos.

Dolphin Show

Although I do have a couple of photos, they don't begin to capture the dolphin show that they put on every hour or so in Timbuktu. Its is well worth taking the time to see but don't sit in the front rows if you don't intend to get soaked.


A Motley Crew!

Jim Parker (older than dirt and desperate to find a woman), Jeremy (14), Dook (6), Jillian Parker (12), Megan (3) and Ryan (5) and a young lady with her son standing dangerously close to Jim, blisfully unaware of the evil lurking at the theme park!

Jim Parker, a Scotsman, and single father, is the designer and manager of our website but far more importantly, he is the father of Jillian, our favorite companion, an intrepid soul who accompanies us in much of what we do. Note that I like to dress everyone alike as it makes them so much easier to spot in the crowd.

I hope you have enjoyed sharing our experiences at Busch Gardens. While the world of single parenting can be frustrating and overwhelming at times, mostly - like just about everything in life - it is what you make of it. Like you, I cannot afford to do something like this everyday but every day, every single day, I make it a point to do something with my children.

Life is so short, and our little ones grow up so fast - try not to lose track of how truly precious it is to have this time, and this opportunity, to enjoy them.


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