It’s been three month's since our last visit to Busch Gardens Tampa and the family was buzzing. We loaded the 'burban with wife, son, daughter, two neighbors and one extra tag along from Ft. Lauderdale who'd just happened to call the night before to say hello: "You're going to Busch gardens? I'm there!"
Behind us the parents of the neighbor kids struggled to keep pace with the American made V8 in their foreign made bumble-bee of a car. (Call me juvenile but I love slowing down and hitting the washer fluid!) We checked into the hotel just blocks from BG and made it to the park by three. After talking my way into preferred parking free of charge (Try it sometime; all they can say is no!), we squeueezed into the park and headed for Montu.
Now, I'm a numbers guy when it comes to Busch. Attendance in the twelve to fifteen thousand range puts most rides at a minimum wait time-less than fifteen minutes-but today was easily a 20k plus day. (I guessed it at 22 and found out later that it was 24.) A quick peek at the line for Montu confirmed this so we did an about face, much to the chagrin of my twelve year old daughter. "Come on dad! It's only thirty minutes!"
We visit BGT six to eight times a year, mostly when everything's a walk on the entire day. Reasoning as best I could with my daughter, aware of the others waiting for my response as well, I thought it best to attempt diplomacy: "Hey, you guys want to wait thirty minutes when tomorrow morning it'll be a walk on, go ahead." I turned and headed back to the King Tut exhibit for a quick cool off and the gaggle followed.
We skipped the buckets and Rhino Rally and went straight to the wild mouse hand me down Cheetah Chase, where my son and daughter got their reality check-the line for Cheetah was long! Frustrations were starting to mount as we strolled over to my wife's favorite ride Kumba. I stayed with my son while the others waited the twenty minutes for a spin. Unfortunately the Congo River Rapids was not running-my son and I love using the water cannons to blast people. We did get a laugh at a guy who was leaning over the railing looking for a raft, his hand poised on the blast button. He obviously didn't read the ‘what rides are closed today sign’!
This was our first trip since Jungala opened so we headed there next. To be fair it was probably due to the heat and the crowds, but I was not overly impressed with it. The kids did the Jungle Flyers thingy-wire rope suspended about forty feet up that launches a single rider out about 100 feet and then back-but other than that the animals were all laid out in the shade so we attempted to do our own cooling off by heading towards Sheikra. The kids took a spin on Tidal Wave, stopping at the splash bridge while the adults drank a beer and discussed the future. Since the hotel we were staying at had a poolside bar, we decided to pack it in early so we could get a fresh start first thing in the morning. After a quick stop at the hospitality house, (no, we didn't pound the first free beer and get back in line!) we skipped the long line at Gwazi and were soon poolside.
Sunday morning I woke early, stumbling over air mattresses and body parts to get first crack at the bathroom. The hotel has a free breakfast, so after fueling up we hit the main gate as the park was opening.
Now this is more like it! Montu was running good and we hit it twice before heading over to Rhino Rally. Surprisingly there was a twenty-minute wait. After about ten minutes in line they hadn’t sent out a single car so we bailed and went over to Cheetah Chase (which I no longer ride-that thing scares the %$#@ out of me!). The kids got multiple spins-if we counted credits, I'd swear my two have a hundred plus on it. Two gut slamming spins on Scorpion and we were off to Kumba. At the picture kiosk I asked about the attendance-no surprise there, they were expecting 24k today. Our short wait time in the lines would grow as the hour approached noon, so after two spins on Montu we booked it over to Sheikra and waited from the bottom of the stairs-about fifteen minutes.
Front row, outside seat, the only way to go! I've heard others say it and I couldn't agree more-the lift hill on that ride is a hoot! The scariest part of the entire ride for me is right as the train is cresting the top of the hill. “Come on baby!” The one-drop wonder was firing on all cylinders, but by the time we got off the queue line had doubled in length. The canoe full of iced down Bud Light was calling, so while the kids road Tidal Wave we regrouped in the smoking section over some tasty beers…
We decided to cut out, pick up a bucket of KFC and cool off in the pool for a couple of hours. It turned out to be a great idea as we made it back to the park by 5:30, rested and ready to go. (I love heading into a park that’s emptying out!) The lines and the heat were still up so we hit the 4D ride Pirates. (Leslie Neilson is a hoot and the ride never gets boring for us after all these years.) Back to Kumba for a couple spins then it was off to Tidal Wave. It’s too bad that Busch has let this ride go-there is so much potential there while coasting through the ‘village’. Oh, they did stick a poly pipe up that shoots water over the boat. Yeah…not! But my son loves it and we got soaked-mission accomplished. I did get some cool pics of him on the bridge at splashdown, quickly ducking behind the protective plexiglas wall to save the camera.
After a quick spin on Sheikra we headed to the front of the park, passing the children’s play area, Land of the Dragons. My wife and I smile at each other whenever we pass here-it wasn’t long ago that we would spend hours dodging screaming kids and parked strollers, waiting for our two kids to re-appear from some hidden exit after climbing rope bridges and the two story bounce house.
A quick pause through the hospitality house and it was Gwazi time! My BGT coaster rule number one: always ride Gwazi at the end of your visit. That’s not to say I haven’t had some calm rides, I just aint figured out exactly where to sit. The only takers in the group were me, daughter and two neighbor kids. We lost the over anxious daughter and best friend in the queue and headed to Tiger. They had chose Lion. And what’s that I see? Gwazi is dueling? No flipping way-never have I been while its dueling, and now my daughter is across the track from me, grinning from ear to ear as we hop in the back row!
She’s laughing out of the station as we pass by each other, waving the entire time up the lift hill. I’m watching her on the drop, hands up, and I can hear her screams of joy in my head. (I have a picture of us on Montu when she finally made the height limit-unbridled joy is what I think of when I look at that photo.)
The girls took another spin while the rest of the group headed out, checking on our park entrance photo. (Never let them tell you where to stand; stage your photo how YOU want it!) The Bud shop is a must before leaving, and I never fail to pick up one or two of their reasonably priced sauces/marinades.
Back at the hotel it’s more pool-side/bar-side fun. The hotel has a restaurant and will serve you at the bar, so everyone ate good although we crashed a little late. That night I found a more comfortable spot on the pullout sofa (Or was it the beer?) where the bar wasn’t kidney punching me. I woke the following morning ready as a cat stalking a wounded bird. The neighbors split off and headed home as we made our way back to our favorite park, planning on leaving around three o’clock. After spins on Montu, Cheetah, Scorpion and Kumba we gave Jungala another try and … Ah, still no. We’ll give it a better attempt on another visit, but…
So after a quick train ride-never miss the train!-I surprised the kids with a KaTonga visit, the theatrical show with great costume, dance and song. (The kid are always asking to see it again-it had been several years since-although they never complain too much because once you pass by it on your way in, the next time you see it is on your way out!) After three days at the park the cool air and semi-comfortable seats felt great. The kids found a seat in front of the stage and I joked with them: “This is your first time doing KaTonga front row!” It’s a fun show I recommend once every five years-a great way to cool off and for us it was a great finish to an awesome weekend.
Heading out we were hung down, brung down, hung up and all kinds of mean and nasty things. Yeah, we were beat! But the promise of Wendy’s kept the smiles wide, and after filling our bellies with food and the ‘burban with about ten thousand dollars in gas we made it home by six ‘o clock, in plenty of time for the kids to hit the street and run wild for a few more hours. Where do they find the energy!
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