Busch Gardens

I must note that our visit happened over our spring break, the first week of April, and this fact certainly influenced the number of attractions we were able to visit. Overall, the crowds didn't affect my enjoyment, as they were an expected complication.

The drive from our spring break home of Anna Maria Island ended at the Busch Gardens parking lot about an hour after departure time. As at any amusement park, remember your row (Cheetah C for me) - you don't want to wander acres of concrete looking for your car (especially an unfamiliar rental car) after a tiring day of crowds and lines. After parking with the thousands of other people, we made the long walk underneath McKinley Drive, past rows and rows of preferred (i.e. more expensive - all you cheap SOBs that only paid $20 have to walk) parking, and to the front gate. This is a significant distance. When arriving, you are full of excitement and energy, so the 2.4 mile downhill hike will not seem as much. When leaving, the 6.3 uphill hike (in snow) will seem a lot longer. There is the option of the shuttle, though walking is probably just as fast unless you time it perfectly. And you won't.

Having wisely purchased our passes online, we proceeded to Area C, the security line. This massive, slow-moving line ended with a very thorough bag check. The fewer pockets your bag have, the quicker this will be, BTW. After this, we went through a shorter, fast line to get through the metal detects, and finally a medium-sized, slow moving line at Guest Relations to get our dining pass wristbands.

Let's pause from the descriptions of the various lines to talk about the dining program. When I bought my beautiful tickets, they were about $100, with a free upgrade to the dining program, normally a $30 add-on. So the dining add-on was worth a hundred times what I paid for it. Would $30 be worth it? I would still stay yes. Meals at amusement parks are notoriously overpriced, so if you have two meals, or even one and a snack, you'll be close to breaking even. But the cool thing about the Busch Gardens dining plan is you can use if for food and drinks once per hour. You won't be using it once per hour - you'll be spending lots of time in lines where you can't get food - but just staying hydrated and not paying $3 - $4 dollars for a bottle of water will recoup that money quickly. Do the math, but for us, it worked out.

My daughter is a fan of animals, as most 10-year olds are. That was one of the appeals of BG. Just on our way to our first (and only) roller coaster of the day, we spotted a pond full of relaxing alligators, probably day dreaming of eating all those people standing just a few feet away.

And then we have Cheetah Hunt, a wonderfully fun roller coaster that took us over an hour to board. At this point, let's talk about another Busch Gardens add-on, Quick Queue, which allows you to zip past everyone in line and jump to the front, except for all the other people that bought Quick Queue passes - you'll still have to wait behind them. I considered QQ, but at $60 for a ticket (price varies depending on which date you'll be visiting the park), that seemed steep and unnecessary. And though we didn't get to ride too much, I'm still glad I didn't blow the money.

The first thing to know about Cheetah Hunt is that you cannot take your bag on, so you'll need to pay for a locker to store it. Of course. But those conscientious theme parker designers put one right next to the entrance / exit of the ride, so no worries, you won't have to go far to blow another few bucks. The instructions are fairly clear, but if not, I'm sure there is someone nearby. Just give them another couple dollars and they'll be happy to help.

The ride itself was quite fun, going from 0 - 60 almost instantaneously, and then dipping, diving, weaving, and twisting (but just once upside down) through faux African terrain. Probably not worth an hour of my life to wait for it, but worth a half-hour.

And then it was lunchtime. Yes, by the time we arrived at the parking lot (just after 10:00), waiting in multiple lines, and riding one ride, it was close to noon. Lunchtime had arrived, and we happily sought out the Dragon Fire Grill in the middle of the park. DFG was a wonderful place, a food court with several stations and styles of food. Everyone in my family went for the Asian food, and the orange chicken I selected was solidly OK. I have to admit, it tasted better because I wasn't shelling out another $50 for the three of us to eat, as our dining pass made us invulnerable to all food charges we encountered. The dining area is gargantuan, with long rows of tables to cram in as many guests as possible. And, to sweeten the experience, we actually beat the long lines! We only had to wait in medium-sized lines, a refreshing change from Cheetah Hunt.

You're not supposed to swim after eating, so I made sure to stay in the raft of our next ride, Congo River Rapids. This ride had, by far, the best fun-to-wait time ratio of the day. Raft rides are fun because everyone in the boat is having a good time. Most adults (me included) hope they don't get wet, but everyone else does. But in any case, it's communal funnery. (That's my word, you can't use it.)

The best way to dry off after a trip down the rapids is to ride another water ride. Somehow we found our way to Stanley Falls Flume, and another long wait. This time, the wait wasn't worth the ride, though it was an amusing ride all the same. We didn't get terribly wet, just a touch. I missed White Water Landing from my beloved , so the Busch Gardens flume brought back good memories.

Oh, it was snack time again, and I proudly showed my dining wristband (after a long, slow-moving line, of course) to receive my foot long hot dog and Coke. We sat for a bit next to SheiKra and listened to the fire alarms inside the coaster loading area. I don't know if there was actually a fire, but broken down rides mean more people on other rides, and that's no good for anyone.