Fun Places to Visit
Busch Gardens Tampa Bay, Florida
By Richard “Zippy” Grigonis — November 6, 2010
Busch Gardens Tampa Bay—in theory it was renamed Busch Gardens Africa, but everyone still calls it Busch Gardens Tampa Bay—is a 335-acre African-themed park that strikes the right balance of animals (more than 2,000 of them), thrill rides, water rides, eateries, shops, live entertainment and educational experiences.
our intrepid reporter, Richard “Zippy” grigonis, pretends to be a busch gardens employee to get a one-on-one interview with dolly the reticulated giraffe.
(Photo © richard grigonis.)
Situated near Tampa, Florida, 100 miles southwest of Orlando, Busch Gardens Tampa opened on March 31, 1959 as an admission-free “hospitality facility,” a gathering area for visitors touring the adjacent Anheuser-Busch Tampa brewery that had been built over a portion of the former Henderson Airfield. It was essentially a bird (and beer) garden dedicated by August A. Busch, Jr. and his young son Adolphus Busch IV (Auggie Busch once had a winter home in St. Petersburg Beach). Visitors could watch bird shows and other animal acts. The interactive bird gardens were stocked with hundreds of exotic birds, which roamed about the grounds and could be petted by visitors. On the way out of the facility, guests could pause at a beer garden (the Hospitality House) and enjoy a free sample of Anheuser Busch beer.
gone are the days: the original hospitality house, where visitors after a lengthy tour of the Anheuser Busch tampa brewery could partake of some free beer.
In 1965, Auggie Busch, wildlife aficionado that he was, added a 29-acre Serengeti Plains exhibit in 1965 (it eventually was expanded in size to more than 65 acres, or 260,000 square meters), in its day the largest free-roaming habitat outside of Africa. Indeed, the park grew into one of America’s largest zoos and is generally ranked as the 11th most popular theme park (4.1 million visitors during 2009).
During the years the park added sky rides and more animals, and finally discovered thrill rides and mega-coasters in the 1980s. When the Tampa brewery closed in 1995, the tremendous wooden rollercoaster Gwazi eventually replaced it.
There are various themed sections: Morocco (with the 1,200 seat Moroccan Palace theater), the old, educational Bird Gardens (now being revamped into a more entertaining show to include non-birds), the Sesame Street Safari of Fun, Stanleyville, Congo, the 4-acre Jungala (opened on April 5, 2008) featuring animal encounters, Timbuktu, Nairobi (home of the Rhino Rally off-road safari), the Crown Colony Plaza (home of the fine Crown Colony House restaurant and the upcoming Cheetah Hunt coaster and animal exhibit), Egypt (complete with a marketplace, the 150-foot Montu steel inverted coaster and reproduction of King Tut’s tomb), The Serengeti Plain, and exhibits such as the Myome Reserve (gorillas and chimpanzees), Edge of Africa, and Curiosity Caverns (housing bats, snakes lizards, tamarins, and sugar gliders).
the old swiss house restaurant, just prior to its closing in 1982.
My favorite restaurant in the park is the four-storey Crown Colony House. Originally another restaurant, one of the finest in Tampa, stood on the spot: The Old Swiss House. It was built as a reproduction of a restaurant in Switzerland by Anheuser Busch’s then Chairman of the Board, August “Auggie” Busch, Jr. as a gift to his third wife, Trudy (her brother actually owned the real Old Swiss House in Switzerland). The Old Swiss House restaurant opened in December, 1964.
The Old Swiss House was interesting in that you sat there in the midst of red velvet walls and cuckoo clocks, but you could look out the window and see African wildlife on the simulated Serengeti Plain.
The restaurant closed in 1982 and the building was used for auditions and rehearsals by the park’s entertainment division.
The Crown Colony House, successor to the Old Swiss House, at Busch Gardens Tampa Bay.
After an extensive two-year renovation, The Old Swiss House reopened in 1990 as something more in keeping with its African-themed surroundings: a Victorian-styled adventures’ club called The Crown Colony House.
This newer restaurant has two dining levels. The lower level is for quick service; the upper level (the Veldt Room) offers is a full-service restaurant that again overlooks the park’s Serengeti Plain.
Interestingly, the Crown Colony House restaurant is said to be haunted.
Over at the Theme Park Review website, one can read the following:
During the eight years when the restaurant was closed to even recent times, different Busch Gardens employees have had unexplainable experiences in the Crown Colony House. One such person is Kent Roy, a former Crown Colony House employee that has worked in the park for fourteen years, four of them being at The Crown Colony. His “haunting” experiences include on a few different occasions, feeling a chill on the back of his neck after pressing the elevator button on the fourth floor. Closing up late a couple of nights, hearing sounds of children playing and bouncing a ball in different areas of the building. Another experience was when staying late one night alone, Kent watched the T.V.s in what used to be the Brewmaster’s Club. He thought he felt someone come up behind him, he turned to his left and a woman wearing a white nightgown with blue dots appeared, by the time he blinked she was gone.
There have been other reports of ghosts over the years, including an elderly bartender. A few people reported looking at the windows in the Veldt room, seeing in the reflection a piano player at the piano, but once they turn around he was gone. The most common story of haunting of the building involves an 8-year-old girl named Wendy. Named by a former Busch Gardens employee, Wendy has been said to materialize as a fog in the main dining room and even stopping the elevators between floors.
Amazingly, the Busch Gardens Africa’s PR department asked a group of paranormal researchers called Haunted South to investigate and confirm or debunk the existence of ghosts in the Crown Colony. The group claims that this is the first time “a major corporation and/or a theme park has ever let paranormal researches onto their property to investigate a haunting.” The PR department also invited various members of the media to witness the investigation—such as Theme Park Review, which promises to publish the results of the investigation.
My friends and I had a terrific time at Busch Gardens Tampa, having a close encounter in an open truck with Dolly the reticulated giraffe. Busch Gardens takes at least a day to experience. If you’ve got your children with you, you should make use of the park’s meal deal. Arrive when the park opens and buy a meal card for each member of your family, eat breakfast and get a bottle of water for everyone—they’ll need it later sometime before lunch (you can’t bring your own food and drinks into the park).
One can see a brave turtle in the distance taking a ride across the pond on top of an alligator.
A Busch Gardens, antelope, ostriches, and various other animals appear to get along with each other quite nicely, much to the enjoyment of visitors.
Deer watches vehicle loaded with tourists at Busch Gardens at Tampa Bay.
Yours Truly paid the extra dollars to meet in person Dolly the giraffe, an affable creature if there ever was one. You can feed her lettuce. (In this photo she mistakenly thinks my green shirt could be edible.)
Our guide to the faux African plains of Busch Gardens decided to hold up some lettuce and get two giraffe to try and make a grab for it, with their tongues, of course.
Dolly the giraffe has quite a reach with that big black tongue of hers.
For some reason this photo appears to be a dramatic moment, but it isn't. Dolly the giraffe simply wanted more lettuce while our guide/trainer made a point.
Even Busch Gardens at Tampa has the obligatory elephant exhibit.
Part of the up-close encounter for which I paid includes watching a rhinoceros being fed. Note the rhino's practically prehensile lip.
Long before John Waters ever made a movie, there were pink flamingoes in Florida.
While visiting Busch Gardens, I appeared to travel alongside a Greater Adjutant Stork. Not exactly an adorable bird.
A preposterous though quite well-colored crownedcrane at Busch Gardens.
Souvenir photo taken toward end of ride on the large wooden rollercoaster, Gwazi.
The swift Impala at Busch Gardens.
Although most of Florida is only semi-tropical, it's obviously hot enough so that rhinos must take their daily snooze.
Busch Gardens Tampa originated the idea of having wild African animals roam about in a large natural setting.
Zippy by life-sized model of Safari vehicle.
The Wildebeast of Busch Gardens do not have to be worried about being eaten by lions.
Passing by a zebra at Busch Gardens (one of the more nasty relatives of the horse).
One of the unfortunate events after the takeover of the Busch Gardens by The Blackstone Group is that the team of Glydesdales had to be moved out or the existing Busch exhibits. These gentle giants will be missed.
As in the wild, the animals are more active and make more noise in the early hours and then again in the early evening, so that’s the time to cover as much ground as possible. Close encounters with animals are available for an extra (somewhat hefty) fee, but I think they are worth it, as you can see by the photos accompanying this article.
On November 18, 2008, a $52 billion dollar merger of InBev and Anheuser-Busch closed, creating Anheuser-Busch InBev, a mammoth global brewer and one of the world’s top five consumer products corporations. The new Belgian owners made no secret that they did not want to be in the theme park business and, in an effort to make the parks more profitable (and hence more attractive to buyers), they discontinued the free beer. It must have worked, for on October 7, 2009 Inbev announced that it had sold all Busch Entertainment Properties (10 parks) to The Blackstone Group for $2.3 billion in cash and $400 million of initial returns.
And what visit to a florida tourist attraction would be complete without a souvenir coffee mug? a particularly fine specimen from busch gardens, tampa florida. (Photo © richard grigonis)
The Busch Entertainment Company division that owned all of the Worlds of Discovery parks (including Busch Gardens) was renamed SeaWorld Parks and Entertainment, a division of The Blackstone Group.
One unfortunate aspect of the deal was that the Budweiser Clydesdale horses had to be removed from Busch Gardens parks and SeaWorld.
Blackstone already had a 50 percent stake in Universal Orlando and it also owns a good portion of the UK-based park operator Merlin Entertainments Group, known for their Legoland parks and the London Eye Ferris wheel.
SeaWorld Parks and Entertainment (the former Busch Entertainment Corp.) owns the following properties:
• Adventure Island water park in Tampa, Florida
• Aquatica water park in Orlando, Florida
• Busch Gardens in Tampa, Florida
• Busch Gardens in Williamsburg, Virginia
• Discovery Cove (expensive; swim with the dolphins) in Orlando, Florida
• SeaWorld Orlando, Florida
• Sesame Place in Langhorne, Pennsylvania
• SeaWorld in San Diego, California
• SeaWorld in San Antonio, Texas
• Water Country USA water park in Williamsburg, Virginia
Busch Gardens is an interesting alternative to the kinds of mammoth entertainments you'll find in Orlando.