Busch Gardens Tampa with Grandchildren Part One: Planning

SafariGrandpa and I took our older two grandchildren, ages ten and seven, to Busch Gardens Tampa over Spring Break 2014.  Busch Gardens is a wonderful combination of an interactive zoo and roller coaster park. We thought it might be crowded during a holiday weekend, and we were pleasantly surprised.  This park is most appropriate for older grandchildren.  The seven year old is tall so made most of the minimum 48 inch height requirements.  If your grandchildren do not reach 48 inches, this is not the park for you.  Yes, there is a Sesame Street area, but it is just like any amusement park with your typical boats, cars and planes that go round and round on a track.  There were many strollers, mostly parked at the average shows, which are geared for the younger set.  With our grandchildren, we skipped all the shows.

Our grandchildren gave Busch Gardens a ten!

This first post is about planning a trip to Busch Gardens Tampa.  See the second post on the perfect Busch Gardens itinerary.

Passes:  Check the website for specials, and Florida resident specials.  As a Florida resident grandparent, you can buy passes for your grandchildren.  We bought Fun Cards which allow a full year of return visits to Busch Gardens and to Adventure Island, the water park next door.  Our grandchildren want to return this year.  The first day, I bought the super duper expensive Quick Queue Unlimited passes, expecting huge holiday crowds and long waits at the fabulous roller coasters.  The morning was empty and there were no waits on anything.  However, the afternoons were crowded.  It seems that most people arrive around 1 pm to stay until 9 pm closing.  Afternoon waits on the roller coasters were upwards of 60 to 90 minutes!  You can plan to do animal events in the afternoons (if it is too hot, the animals might not be out and about in the afternoons) or wait to buy the passes which are sold at each roller coaster.

Exclusive Park Experiences:   Every website and every person who has been to Busch Gardens recommends the animal interaction called the Serengeti Safari, at an add on cost.  This is a must!  An experienced zoo keeper accompanies you in an open air truck as you travel close to the animals in the park’s Serengeti.  The zoo keeper tells you about all the animals, their habitats, their food and life cycle.  This experience is not only educational—it is exciting for the adults as well as the children.  During the safari, you get to feed and pet two wonderfully friendly giraffes who would climb into the truck if they could.  They even pose for photographs with you – with a bit of help from the zoo keeper.  The website says this is a 30 minute adventure.  It is longer and even more wonderful than described on line.  You will feel as though you got real value for the add on cost.  This must be booked in advance.  If the weather is warm, try going on the earliest adventure, as the animals are more likely to be out and about and you will not be as hot as later in the day.  There is no shade on the truck so dress appropriately, wear sunscreen and a hat.

Tip: Everything is expensive in the park.  If you are going to Busch Gardens in Florida’s rainy season, buy cheap ponchos on line for the entire family and bring them along. There are several water rides on which you get soaked.  Either bring ponchos or have the children wear their bathing suits under their clothes and bring a change of clothes, and shoes, or have the children wear water shoes such as Keens on the water rides.   You can get ponchos in packages of twelve at about $1 each. Click here.  Also, stop at a supermarket (Publix is the best in Florida) and pick up bottled water by the case and snacks that you cannot bring in your suitcase.  Always bring cereal in small plastic bags to the park for snacks.  Bring cold packs from home.  Most Orlando hotels will provide a mini frig and maybe even a microwave if you ask.

If you are going on a hot day, pick up misting fans. These cost about $20 in the park! Click here to buy for about $8.50

However, if you are going with multiple grandchildren, I suggest spending a little more and buying them all in the same color (so they do not fight over color), and paying just a little more to guarantee color at $10 for blue click here.

When to Go:   According to Weather website, the hottest month in Tampa is June and the coolest month is January.  August is the rainiest month.   Remember the sun is strong whatever month you choose, so bring lots of sunscreen and a hat.

Month   Average high              Average Low             Precipitation

Jan                       70°F                            52°F                2.23 in.

Feb                      73°F                            55°F                2.90 in.

Mar                    76°F                            58°F                3.03 in.

Apr                     81°F                            63°F                2.03 in.

May                  87°F                            70°F                2.10 in.

Jun                   90°F                            75°F                6.68 in.

Jul                    90°F                            76°F                7.07 in.

Aug                 90°F                            76°F                7.77 in.

Sep                 89°F                            75°F                6.30 in.

Oct                84°F                            68°F                2.26 in.

Nov              78°F                            60°F                1.55 in.

Dec                72°F                            54°F                2.47 in.

Where to stay:  All accommodations for Busch Gardens seem to be about five miles away from the park.  Not to worry.  It only takes about five to ten minutes to drive to the park.  We stayed at the Marriott Residence Inn North in Temple Terrace.  All of the major brands can be found near that motel.  Some of the motels have free transportation to the park which saves you the parking fee.  However, you lose flexibility.  The parking fee is paid once a day and transferable to both parks, Busch Gardens and Adventure Island.

Where to eat:  Busch Gardens offers an unlimited one day meal pass.  We found that we spent less money on meals without it, but we do not necessarily need dessert and share food.  We found that the food was better than the food at Disney and less expensive overall.  There were lots of salad and fruit choices.  Portions were such that meals can be shared.  There are food carts throughout the park with snacks.  The food was good overall, better than we expected.  We brought bottles of water and snacks with us also.  Recommended restaurants on various websites were Crown Colony and Zambia Smokehouse.  We ate at both and would also recommend them.

Tip: The thirty acres of Busch Gardens can be tackled in one long day.  The park is usually open for twelve hours.  The first thirty minutes the park is open, roller coasters open are limited to Cheetah Run and Gwazi.  That is fine for the first day, as I am going to recommend you head to Cheetah Run first anyway.  It is such a great roller coaster that the grandchildren will want to go more than once.  Thirty minutes are then over.  However, it is better, especially if you have a Fun Card, to do a second morning at Busch Gardens.  On the second morning, the older grandchild headed over to Cheetah Run again with grandpa, but the younger wanted to go feed the kangaroos again.  That is open at 9 am for the younger grandchildren.  More about kangaroos in the itinerary post.  Adventure Island Water Park is the subject of another post.

Tip:  Download the park’s interactive map before your visit to get the lay of the land and to follow the suggested itinerary below.  Work through the itinerary so you can see how the park lays out.

There are boards throughout the park which give you the times of animal feedings, animal lectures, and even operations on animals in the zoo hospital.  Pay attention to the boards as the times are throughout the day, and you will be near one of the special animal programs while on the itinerary.  These boards also give you wait times on the most popular rides.

Remember to go to the next post and follow the perfect Busch Gardens itinerary.  We will return and are planning at least one more visit this year on our Fun Cards with





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