For some reason in the almost twenty years we have lived in South Florida, we never visited Busch Gardens. We have been in Orlando at Sea World and Disney World too many times to count, but we just never made it to the park in Tampa. We will correct that in the future.
Busch Gardens originally opened in 1959 as a free hospitality feature for Anheuser-Busch. Fifty years ago it expanded and became one of the earliest theme parks. It is currently operated by SeaWorld Parks and Entertainment but still features Anheuser-Busch products at its beverage concessions.
We visited on a spur of the moment decision on a Friday in December. Kids today might have called our visit awesome, or perhaps that word is outdated. We call it the even older word “cool” because it was fun and not just because the local temperature started at 53 degrees and reached a high of 63 degrees. Had we gone the next day, Saturday, it would have been sunny and in the mid-70s. That might have been an ideal temperature, but as it was, prices were lower, we had no trouble finding parking and crowds were minimal. That’s the way we like it.
Not knowing how old the park was when we arrived, we were pleased to see mature landscaping that included large trees and shrubs. It has a much more intimate and pleasant feeling than many other parks.
It was open from 11:00 a.m. to 8 p.m. that day, and knowing our stamina was unlikely to last nine hours, we just started walking to the right (no political commentary intended). We were content to see what we could. As it was, we covered the entire area although we arrived at the Bird Gardens after it closed to let the birds roost. The Bird Gardens is the original 1959 section.
The park still has a 1800s Africa theme. One enters through “Morocco.” Passing through an animal reserve, we moved on to “Cheetah Hunt, Egypt, Nairobi (including the 29 acre Serengeti Plain), Pantopia, Congo, Jungala, Stanleyville, Sesame Street Safari of Fun, and the Bird Gardens.”
With the exception of grandparents with grandchildren, we were among the older visitors. We love roller coasters, but my vestiges of vertigo and Alie’s arthritis now make them problematic. The small children loved it all, and there were many young people who looked like they might attend one of the local colleges or universities. We probably enjoyed the animals most. But we also enjoyed watching those younger people having so much fun.
The “Serengeti Plain,” opened in 1965, was the first of its kind to offer animals space to roam. But even the smaller “cages” are far superior to those of our youth. We did feel sorry for the cheetahs which were next to loud music and for the lions which could look at but not chase the prey on the plain.
Many areas have glass walls separating visitors from the animals. I was a little irritated that smears on the glass often prevented really good photography until a tiger walked up and rubbed its face on the other side. I wouldn’t want to wash the windows on their side of the glass either.
It was Christmas season with special shows and exhibits. Our one day visit did not allow time for rides and shows. We enjoyed the lights on those old trees however. We shall just have to go back again to enjoy the features we missed.
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