Busch Gardens Africa 9/5 & 9/7 + Kennedy Space Center

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Monday, September 8, 2008 11:56 AM

My wife purchased tickets and a hotel for her and I to go down to Tampa for an extended weekend as part of my fortieth birthday gift. I got to pick and choose what we did during the entire trip.

I love the Tampa area and plan to move down there some day when my kids are all grown up and able to be out on their own on a permanent basis. (just a few more years!)

The hotel we stayed at was the Super Eight near the St. Petersburg Airport on state road 688, just after the bridge on 275. The place was a dump and we will not be staying there again. The hallways and common areas were not air conditioned and were very humid. Much of the food in the breakfast bar was questionable. The free wi-fi was on 802.11b, not g, and I barely could get any reception from my room. I am normally a big fan of Super Eight as I have never had a bad experience at one and I love the free wi-fi they have, but this one was horrible.

Anyways, off to the park. Of course the first activity I chose was Busch Gardens. It was a Friday and school was back so I was expecting light crowds. We didn't get to the park until a few hours after opening and the first parking lot was still only a quarter full, so I knew it was going to be completely dead.

First disappointment of the day was that Sheikra was down the entire day. Not much we could do about it, though, so we went into the park with smiles on our faces and decided to take it easy the entire day.

Instead of my normal turn right and head for Montu, I decided to turn left and hit Gwazi first. That is when the horrible Busch ride operations reared it's ugly head. There was a line for this coaster, on a day when the park was dead, spilling out into the midway. I noticed they were running only one side and only one train. Combine that with their asinine policies in operations, checking the train twice before dispatching, I decided to pass until later.

We hit the hospitality house for a beer, knowing it might be the last time we get free beer at the park. Then again, I am not a Budweiser fan to say the least. It always tastes different from other beers and not a good different. I tried the Budweiser Select and found that the Select did not make it taste any better.

After that we took our time walking around and looking at the birds in the area and snapping a lot of pictures. Our first real activity of the day is one of my favorite non-ride activities in the park: Lory Landing. Lory Landing is a large area covered with netting that has several Lorikeets inside. For 3.25 (2.25 if you are a passholder) you get a cup of nectar to feed the Lorikeets. If you are holding one of these cups of nectar you are instantly every bird's best friend.

I was literally swarmed with birds when I walked in. I had several on my shoulders, even more on my arms and even one on my head! The wife stayed outside and took pictures as she is terrified of birds. Just a warning, the birds will bite you a few times, but it really doesn't hurt.

It was already lunch time and when I saw the Zambia Smokehouse (or rather smelled the fresh wood smoke), I knew we had a place to eat. This is where Busch Gardens really shined, in my opinion. They had several dining options that were low in fat and calories. My wife, a vegan(not by choice), had several options. I had a smoked turkey wrap and fruit while my wife had a grilled veggie sandwich with fruit. The option to substitute fresh fruit for fries was really awesome, in my opinion.

Next up was the newest area in the park, Jungala. While many of the activities in the new area are geared towards the kids, the Tiger exhibit certainly was not. In fact, we did not see the rest of the area because the Tigers sucked us right in. (Well, we did see the Orangutan exhibit that looked almost identical to the one at Animal Kingdom in Orlando) The tiger exhibit had several opportunities to get up close to these marvelous animals. There are several glass viewing areas where the tigers hang out nearby. There is also a place where you can crawl up into a viewing cupola and snap pics of the tigers as they get right up to you.

Very well done area, overall. I had wondered what they were building last year when we took my daughter there. Now I know.

Next up was Kumba. The Mrs. opted out of going as she thought it was too head-bangy last time. My first opinion of the ride was that it needed a paint job. The rails are all rusted and that rust is running down onto the paint on the spine. It looks horrible. The wait was pretty long because they were running one train and they were taking their time with dispatches.

I also had to wait because someone lost something on the ride so they had to shut the ride down to go get the item. Knee jerk reaction to the SFMM and SFoG incidents? Hmmm....

The ride itself was not as good as I remembered it to be. It was always one of the better coasters in Florida but it just did not deliver for me this time. The first half was great as always, but the second half was very jerky and was not as forceful as I remembered it to be.

Anyways, next up was Scorpion!!! One of the best rides in the park. This ride was a walk-on, so I drank from the well of awesomeness that is Scorpion several times. I just love the insane g-forces this ride generates. Herr Achterbahn was a sheer genius and his rides should be revered for that. All praise Herr Achterbahn!

Next up was Cheetah Chase, my 175th coaster. I did not get to ride it on my last visit as the weather was pretty bad and we did not get to do much of anything. For a mouse coaster it was amazingly smooth. It could be overbraking but my wife liked it like that so I give it high marks just because of that.

We hit some animal exhibits and took our time just enjoying the animals and hit Rhino Rally. Our last trip we did this and did not enjoy it. For some reason it was a hit this time. Maybe it was the driver. It reminded me a lot of the Jungle Cruise, though, in that a lot of the jokes are canned and rely on puns.

Then it was off to do the skyride. This is the first time in a long time that I have been on it as the slightest winds will shut it down. Got some awesome pics of the coasters while up there (got even more on Sunday, including great shots of Sheikra, I will share when I get a chance to look through them and upload).

We then headed over to Montu. Montu operations were the worst I have ever seen. Once again, one train, pretty decent line going. The ops are slow as molasses in running the ride. They were getting dispatches at a rate of about one train every seven minutes. We rode only once. My wife loves this ride. We both thought it to be the best in the entire park.

We hit some more animal exhibits and then made our way to Gwazi. I chose to ride alone as my wife doesn't normally like wooden coasters as they can be too rough. Viper at SFGAm is about the only one she really likes. It was a good thing she did not go this time.

The lines were much shorter but the dispatching was horrible as always. My three train wait took well over twenty minutes. The coaster was running on square wheels. I was violently shook during the entire ride and there was this rattling that goes right to your jaws and is very annoying. They really need to re-track this thing...oh, and learn how to not be so freaking anal about running it, too.

So, that was it for day one at Busch Gardens. We finished the day by grabbing dinner and visiting our favorite mall in the area in Brandon.

The next day was a trip out to the Space Coast! I have been wanting to go there for years, but my wife and family have never been interested in all that cool technology and spacey stuff. This was my trip, though, so I got to choose.

Now, I include the space center because of their simulator ride, but we'll come to that in a moment.

Next time I go, I have to make sure to buy tix in advance. All the advanced tours were sold out already when we got there. We learned that they can and should be purchased in advance online. I really would have liked to do the in-depth tour which included the vehicle assembly building and more of a close up of the launch pads.

The basic tour takes you out to an observation platform where you can see the launch platforms a few miles away. The shuttle Atlantis was on one of them for an October flight, so it was cool to at least get to see a shuttle.

The next part of the tour is the Saturn Five building. They have an actual Saturn Five rocket inside, broken apart into stages. It is incredible to see how big these rockets were. They also had the Apollo mission control stuff there too. The next stop, which we did not do was something to do with the International Space Station.

We headed back and hit the simulator first. At first I thought this was going to be something like the Star Tours sim, but I was wrong. The ride simulates a launch on a space shuttle. They cock back the simulator to a sixty degree angle so you are basically on your back. They then use the angle's to simulate the different forces during take off and a very interesting feel of zero-G once you get into space. Very well done. I think it's one of the best simulators I have ridden.

We then toured the rocket garden, hit the gift shop, and wished we had more time to see everything else. We made a quick drive to Cocoa Beach to see the ocean and then headed back to Tampa.

The last day, before catching our flight home, we hit Busch again at the insistence of my wife. We had gotten the free second visit tix and I wanted to hit Sheikra. I only had one ride on it before and it was just after a torrential downpour. My daughter and I were cold and miserable when we rode it.

So, once we got into the park, on a day that was actually less busy that Friday at first glance, we hit the sky ride to get over to Sheikra. I got three walk on laps on it very quickly. Overall, I thought the ride was kind of...meh. The drop was forceless. The second vertical drop actually had a little force to it. The dangling over the edge thing, meh. It really wasn't all it was cracked up to be. The rest of the ride is amazingly smooth. You really do not notice the water splash. I think it is there mostly for the guests watching the ride.

We then went back to the lorikeets. I just can't get enough of interacting with those little birds. Then we hit the Gorilla exhibit that we missed on Friday and then power rode Montu. This time they were running two trains and the crew was hustling. They rarely missed an interval and only stacked a train a couple times. Got a few front seat rides and some other rides in back. Great times. I made sure to compliment the ride crew on the way out.

Last up was the train ride. Unfortunately, we got stuck at the first stop as someone had a medical emergency so we rode the skyride back and ran back to the entrance so we would not be late to the airport.

All in all, a fun trip. Busch really needs to work on it's ride operations and their ops on Montu on Sunday proves to me that they can do it! Otherwise, the park was clean, the employees were extremely friendly, and the food was fantastic.

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Tuesday, September 9, 2008 7:28 AM

I've always wanted to get down & visit the KSC and BGA.

As for the lost item thing, it may well be a kneejerk reaction.

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Tuesday, September 9, 2008 9:06 PM

Cool trip report. It kinda sucks that they recheck everything twice in the stations. If i remember correctly at BGE they never did that. The animals were probably one of my favorite parts of the Busch experience as well.

As for The Kennedy Space Center did they have anything chronicaling the 50 years of NASA, because i know it just happened recently. It would be cool to see all of the space program and its highlights since im fairly young. Sounds like Tampa and the Florida you experienced were pretty good.

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Tuesday, September 9, 2008 11:09 PM

They had an exhibit about the history of space travel but I did not have time to see it, unfortunately. I am kind of a NASA history freak with tons of useless knowledge about the Mercury/Gemini/Apollo missions. Put it this way, the movie, "The Right Stuff" is my favorite movie of all time. The Saturn V building was a great glimpse at the Apollo program and the history behind that. There was nothing in regards to the 50th Anniversary of NASA though. They are really trying to sell the whole Constellation rocket and Orion capsule program that will replace the shuttle.

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Wednesday, September 10, 2008 12:25 AM

Nice TR, I have not been to BG Tampa ( yes I still call it tampa) in nine years now. The Gwazi was under construction then. Oh man, did your Tr bring back old memories and just remind me of how much that park has changed. Anyways does anyone know when Kumba was last painted? I hope its been done atleast once since I was last there.

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