When you’re planning a family holiday to Florida, it’s tempting to think that you need to spend all of your time in Orlando. And there is so much to do in Florida’s most visited city that you could be forgiven for refusing to budge far from the small strip of land bordering International Drive. But here are 10 good reasons why I think you should venture a little further afield, and build a trip to Busch Gardens into your itinerary.
Our trip to Florida was paid for by SeaWorld Parks & Entertainment, and I have been paid for creating my own content about our holiday.
10 Can’t-Miss experiences at Busch Gardens
1. Feeding giraffes on the Serengeti Safari
When we boarded the tractor-trailer to visit the Serengeti Plain I wasn’t expecting too much. I’ve been to Woburn, and Longleat, and I thought I knew about looking at native African animals from the comfort of a vehicle. I could not have been more wrong! Each trailer has a guide, and ours explained everything we were seeing, from the names of each rhinoceros, to the quirks and stories about every zebra. I was having fun already, but I wasn’t prepared for what happened next.
This is Cupid. She wandered over as soon as we stopped. If you’ve never seen a giraffe up close outside of a zoo, let me tell you, nothing prepares you for it. They are the most beautiful, but surreal creatures you’ll find. Apart from a unicorn, obviously, if you believe my daughter…
It soon became apparent that Cupid knew the drill – she wanted feeding, and her snack of choice? Lettuce. Head, after head of it. As she munched, she allowed us to stroke her, pausing to check who had the next leaf to hand over, as our guide explained more about her. Did you know that giraffes have black tongues? They spend so long with their tongues out in the sunshine, picking leaves, that they need protection from sunburn – and black is the new sunscreen!
Feeding the giraffes is an additional cost but it’s well worth it for this very special experience – go as early as you can, before the park gets busy. My kids put this in their top 5 activities of their day at Busch Gardens, which tells you something, when you see what they put next…
2. Sheer drops on SheiKra
That’s us, right in the middle, on my first ride on SheiKra, Busch Gardens’ tallest drop coaster. The three faces of our family (Evan arrived on the third run, I braved it on the second, Maddie did all three!) tell you a fair bit of what you need to know. I am terrified of the unknown, especially if it looks, well, terrifying. Maddie, in the orange trousers, throws herself headlong into all hedonism – I have no doubt she made this face on her first go round too. Jason, on my right, is determined never to be left out of a thing.
SheiKra is a floorless coaster, with a 200 foot, 90° drop. It’s as terrifying to contemplate from the top of that drop, as it is from the ground. But oh my goodness once you’ve done it, you’ll do it again, and again. The thrill! Luckily, once you’ve braved the first drop, and begun to recover, you get to do another one almost as scary, into a dark tunnel. Evan has only just found his coaster nerve, and really struggled to work up the courage, but once he’d heard us all raving, we couldn’t stop him. There’s a video of us riding SheiKra on YouTube if you want to see exactly what to expect!
3. Twists and turns on Cobra’s Curse
If SheiKra sounds too hard-core for your family, but you still love a good coaster, Cobra’s Curse might be your best bet – the height restriction is lower here too, so more of the younger members of your family can ride it. The park’s only spinning rollercoaster, think of Cobra’s Curse as a cross between a coaster, and the Waltzers. First you’re tower-lifted 70 feet in your carriage of four, before beginning the speed of the drops. But just as we thought we were getting the measure of it, each carriage started to spin, twisting us alternately forwards, then backwards as we travelled the rails. It’s a completely different coaster experience to anything we’ve ever done before, and huge amounts of fun. Try riding in separate carriages and see if you come face to face with your family as you spin.
4. Finding out about conservation at the Animal Care Center
If your kids are animal lovers, they will have a blast at Busch Gardens. Honestly, there is so much conservation and rescue work going on there that you never hear about, and it’s fascinating to find out from the staff what happens to the creatures that call the park home, and how they’re cared for. The Animal Care Center was one of Evan’s top picks, and the opportunity to get hands on and learn more about this cuscus was really special.
The kids got to help prepare fruit and veg, then watch as he chose his favourite bites to eat; bananas, as it turns out – always choose pudding first is my motto too!
We then went through to the operating theatre where we were lucky enough to see a team of Busch Gardens vets repairing the damaged wing of a bird that had been reported by a member of the public and rescued – hopefully to be rehabilitated one he’d recovered. It really is very cool to watch how the team help animals that have gotten into trouble.
5. Riding the longest coaster in the park
Cheetah Hunt is what I call a real rollercoaster. For someone who loves speed, and the wind in my hair more than twists and turns, this one is perfect! It has three launches (coaster geek speak for the rushy bits that set you off at speed), the fastest getting up to 60 miles per hour, and a 40 metre drop. Just look at it – isn’t it a thing of beauty?
6. Seeing a tiger swim
Jungala is where you can get really close to the magnificent tigers at Busch Gardens. The animals look so healthy and well cared for, and it was amazing to see this wonderful creature dive into the water to play with a chunk of tree! You can see what that looked like in my YouTube video too.
Evan was made up to get this close!
7. Feeling weightless on Kumba!
I didn’t do this one (claiming the need to get a Boomerang video for my Instagram stories), but my kids absolutely loved it. There’s a steep drop at the beginning, after which they spiralled into multiple loops, that give the impression of floating for a few seconds, before landing back in your seat. Don’t worry, there’s a harness – I made the operator check it 3 times before they left!
8. Feeding flamingos
Have you ever had a flamingo peck food from your hand? It’s the weirdest feeling! And strangely compelling. The keepers will give you little pots of specially made food for them, and they’ll come right up close to feed from you. These creatures are fascinating too – did you know they’re not born pink? Their distinctive colour comes from their diet of shrimps, and they’ll lose their pinkness when they’re feeding their young, as they pass it on. There you go – fun facts you’ll pick up as you travel round Busch Gardens.
9. Learning to love hyenas
You know when you watch wildlife programmes, and the hyenas are always the thugs? They’re the schoolyard bully of Africa, always pinching other people’s food, picking on the youngest and laughing at their distress. Well, Busch Gardens has changed our minds. Hyenas get a bad rap. We were lucky enough to watch a feeding session with them, and hear about their relationships. As well as throwing them meat to eat, their keepers tossed in a few extras for them to play with – pumpkins, parsnips, and sweet potatoes. They proceeded to ‘kick’ them around with their noses and mouths, and hide them from each other for later retrieval. No wonder hyenas laugh a lot – they’re actually hilarious!
10. The Skyride
It might sound silly, in a park that boasts the most coasters and big thrill rides of the whole of Florida (yes, that’s another good reason to go there!), but we loved chilling out on the Skyride. Busch Gardens is a BIG park, and the Skyride is a lovely way to get from one side to the other, and save your feet! But more than that, we enjoyed being able to take in an aerial view of the park, and chat about what we’d enjoyed that day as we saw it go by underneath our feet.
Plus, spotting zebras in amongst the coasters is quite possibly the most bizarre, but cool things you’ll do on your family trip to Florida! Also, it’s the perfect place to eat Dippin Dots in between coaster rides (you’ll see what I mean when you get there..)!
I’m so glad we visited Busch Gardens. In fact, if I were to go again, I think we’d plan to spend two days there to really make the most of it. There are so many rides I haven’t even mentioned here, and two more are in the pipeline – Tigris, opening in 2019 will be Florida’s tallest rollercoaster!
As a family trip I’d say it’s not to be missed. Even if your kids aren’t rollercoaster nerds like mine, the animal attractions alone are worth a visit, especially as there’s so much conservation work to learn about – it’s just fascinating for any child who loves animal facts, as Evan does. There really is something at Busch Gardens for all ages.
Have you been to Busch Gardens? What was your favourite part?
Our trip to Florida was paid for by SeaWorld Parks and Entertainment, and I have been paid for my time in writing this review. However, everything I’ve written is my own opinion, and we loved Busch Gardens. You can find out more about Busch Gardens, and book by visiting the website.
If you’re planning a Florida trip:
- Watch our video of the thrills at Aquatica waterpark.
- Read our Aquatica review here.
- See all our photos of the animals and coaster action at Busch Gardens.
- Read about our day at Discovery Cove, and what to expect apart from the dolphins.
- See our family review of SeaWorld Orlando.
- All the POV action from our rollercoaster rides at Busch Gardens and SeaWorld.
- See where we thought the best animal interactions in Florida were, in this video.