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July 26, 2013

Busch Gardens - From the Perspective of a Disney Snob


I've been to various theme/amusement parks over the years - many that were not part of the Disney family. By coincidence, I was on a Disney spree when I hit the stage where I began to actually appreciate the parks. Let's face it... it can't be denied that Disney has set the standard. I find myself ending many descriptions of other parks with "... but it's not Disney". If we're being truly honest here however, even Disney hasn't been up to the Disney standard in a while. I've recently found myself starting to appreciate the benefits of other parks as well, and viewing their total packages with a much more open mind. Case in point - Busch Gardens. Frankly, this park has a few specific advantages over Disney. Coming from me, that's one heck of a statement!


As one simple example... flamingos! They don't often thrill me, as they (along with gators) can be found ALL OVER Florida. Every zoo and theme park has a flamingo exhibit to some extent. I guess you could say that I'm a flamingo connoisseur, but I'm bored of watching them stand around uni-pedally. All that changed when I found the flamingos of Busch Gardens and Sea World. Which would you say are the most spunky bunch of pinkies?







I am absolutely a sucker for cats! When it comes to furballs of the feline persuasion, hands down Busch Gardens is the KING! Not only are the exhibits aesthetically impressive, but the experiences are personal and unique. The cheetah and tiger were two of my favorites. You can't beat these encounters!

On the subject of cheetahs...



Yeah, and that's only one small portion of the infamous Cheetah Hunt roller coaster. I am still working on my coaster-phobic issues in life, so it is a colossal mental drama for me to coax myself into getting on one. Most of my family is just the opposite, so I've always relied on them to give me reports on new coasters before I'll even consider taking the plunge. My husband and son "guinea pigged" the Cheetah for me. It just LOOKS intimidating, doesn't it? I was sure that I couldn't handle this one, but dear ol' hubby insisted that I ride it. Smart man... he put me on it with the kid. Cheetah, much like Universal's Hulk, has a rocket-launch style take-off. You go from 0-35 mph instantly. Unlike Hulk, it does this THREE times, with the second launch increasing to 60 mph. Did I mention that this steel behemoth covers 4,400 feet and features a 130-ft drop?? All I can say is... MASSIVE! So, picture this - the car launches, and here's me, screaming like a dying pelican. Every now and then, you hear me screech "I'm going to kill your father" to which my son and all riders around us laugh outrageously. Nice, guys! Way to console the psychotic damsel in distress!  ;)  I'm pleased to say that I lived through the experience... as did my husband... (between you and me, I ended up liking the ride once I had my feet back on solid ground) but if he ever tries to get me on Sheikra....


Yep, I think it's safe to say that Busch Gardens does rides right! Although it may take me some time to muster the courage to report on more of the coasters first-hand, the family reports an enthusiastic thumbs-up to every one. In fact, the Montu is apparently SO good that my husband has flat-out told me not to ride it. I also noticed a very unhappy young woman literally beating her male companion with a purse after they rode Montu. Apparently, she felt like I did on Cheetah... but actually acted on it! LOL The Scorpion is a more "tight" coaster. Think of the creature it's names after... similar movement style. With a 60-ft drop and one full loop, I was able to conquer this one twice in one day... once with my eyes open even! Congo River Rapids is by far my favorite ride in the park. The raft rapids-styled rides have always been my favorites, and Busch Gardens has the best one I've experienced yet. We were absolutely soaked after riding it three times in a row. You know, the kids always scream "again" on this one as you near the exit ramp. When no one else is in line and mom is a big kid herself, you just do it! YOLO, right?


For those who can appreciate a ride even when you don't lose your lunch or get a free shower, I highly recommend the sky ride. Now, Disney has done away with this one, and for some reason it seems to be rather unpopular at today's parks in general, but this cliche little gem is one I greatly appreciate at this particular park. The view as you travel over the rides, grasslands, animals... it is just a sight I can't find adequate words for. Maybe one sample pic will help me with that...


A word of warning from experience... You think to take off sunglasses and hats on coasters, but do the same on the sky ride! Trust me, it's none too fun running from one end of the sky ride back near the halfway point to help locate your daughter's expensive hat that flew off somewhere over the rhinos!

And speaking of... One of the areas you can enjoy your bird's eye view of is the Rhino Rally attraction. Rhino Rally is like a safari with some muscle. Your safari vehicle, terrain and animal encounters are much more exciting than comparable attractions elsewhere. During our tour, a rhino seemed to be following us around, almost looking ready to charge at one point! For animal lovers like me... the closer the encounter, the better! I also found our guide on this adventure to be exceptionally lively and witty - another plus!!



But the animals extend well beyond Rhino Rally, and even the aforementioned cats! In fact, Busch Gardens does a great job of making sure you're right in the middle of wild encounters at all points of the park! Even after five visits in the couple of months we've had passes, we have yet to see them all! Part of the reason we keep missing some of the animal exhibits is because we just can't seem to get past two other favorites: the elephants and the kangaroos! I cannot stress how endearing these critters are! I've watched the elephants playfully interacting, both amongst themselves, and with their human caregivers, for limitless amounts of time, and I just can't NOT smile. For those who question how well the parks treat their animals, I have to say that what I witnessed between the animal and human species here convinced my PETA-backing self that these pachyderms are absolutely in love with their people!


And oh those kangaroos and wallabies!!! There are a number of them housed in a lovely little area called Walkabout Way. While there are barriers of sorts in place here, it's essentially set up petting zoo style. The lovely little Aussies come hopping right up for feedings, pettings and posings, and they just couldn't be sweeter! I recently noticed a sweet little one with what appeared to be an injured leg. When I pointed it out to a nearby staffer, I was impressed that they knew exactly who I was talking about, and they were ready and enthusiastic to tell me all about the little guy and his gimpy leg. This guy almost sounded like a father defending his slightly disabled, but still amazing, child, and I agree with what he said, "The little guy gets along as well as the rest of them. They figure it out without our pity or interference, don't they?"  :) They're sweet and somewhat silly, but I also took note of how socially civilized, and even pleasant they really are. By this, I mean their interactions amongst each other demonstrate the kind of community ideals that we'd arrogantly believe only people tend to display. There were obvious "families", demonstrations of consolation, examples of cooperative play, and even a very blatant look of deep, private, introspective contemplation from a larger, wiser kanga once, as she was sitting tall, propped against a bamboo wall. We love milling about here and hanging with the hoppers. It's worth mentioning that these guys get better music selections than the rest of the critters in the park as well.  ;) Just sayin'!

Overall, I do love Busch Gardens! Is it different than Disney? Well... yes! BUT... that's part of what I appreciate about it. Crowd control has become impossible at WDW as their capacity levels seemed to rise as their walkways shrink. At Busch Gardens, you can still actually move throughout the park without wishing for a mass plague to strike down half of the people you can sense - visually, audibly or nasally! They could use a few more characters, but I was still pretty pleased to meet Big Bird, so I'll cap that complaint for now. In general, I just love the feel of this park. They have food and shops, but unlike Disney parks, there's a variety of options housed within them, so you don't just feel a blatant attempt to bleed your wallet dry on redundant, wasted space. The prices are fair, options are plenty, and the environment is just comfortable all-around. Yep... it's actually true - Busch Gardens has made this Disney snob rethink her snobbery! Bravo, Busch Gardens! Even if you don't quite realize it, you've just worked a miracle with this proud passholder! 

In closing, I do have one great curiosity regarding this park. There's no more Busch or gardens at Busch Gardens, so umm... are we due a name change or a reinstall of the namesakes? Hmmm.....

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