Sanity and Maturity are Terribly Overrated!!!!
Planning weekend vacations usually takes
us to theme parks; one of our favorites is Busch Gardens
in Tampa Bay, located in Northeast Tampa, Florida at the
corner of Busch Boulevard and McKinley Avenue (40th Street).
It lies between Interstate 275 and Interstate 75; although
I-75 has no exit specifically for Busch Blvd. (they actually
run parallel to one another) you can take the Hillsborough
or Fowler Avenue exits.
There's plenty of signs and any gas station
in the area can give you easy instructions. Because it
is just a few hours drive for us, we get the "Fun
Passes" they offer which are basically the less expensive
version of their annual passes. The Fun Passes are less
expensive for a number of reasons.
For one thing, there are days you cannot
use them -- they call them blackout days. Who wants to
go when the park will be packed to capacity anyway? Another
down side is you don't get free parking - a six dollar
addition to your day. Finally, you don't get a discount
on food at their restaurants. We never had the premier
passes so there may be other benefits as well.
One of the things we particularly like
about Busch Gardens is you don't feel gouged once you
get in there. They seem to have a corporate strategy that
makes sense to me - they make their money "up front;"
once you get in the door, everything is priced pretty
All rides are included with the cost of
admission, dinner at their (first rate) restaurant for
three adults and three children runs about fifty bucks
and the most durable T-shirt I ever bought in my life
cost me $15 at one of their kiosks. Having had the experience
of scraping together enough to get the whole family into
a place, only to find that I couldn't afford to do very
much (most carnivals), I much prefer to know I can show
the kids a good time.
For those of us who prefer not to spend
our money making ourselves sick on coasters, Busch Gardens
has Akbar Adventure which is one of those movie theater
simulators that moves the seats to create the feeling that
you are in the movie - don't knock it 'til you've tried
it I don't know how it works, but it does.
Akbar replaced their old Questor attraction
- it was a similar concept but different; I don't know why
Questor didn't work, but it didn't. Questor Alumni should
reserve judgment until they try this one out.
Akbar is a whacked out Egyptian tour guide
played by Martin Short. Facing bankruptcy, Akbar is trying
to convince the mortgagee not to foreclose on his operation
by showing him his new tour. His desperate effort to put
together the ultimate tour has its share of bugs - in the
zaney trip that follows, nothing works quite right! I don't
usually like slapstick but this is funny.
The camel ride is your first clue that this
motion theater concept works. It is a crazy experience as
you crash into everything along the way but the "bull
in a china closet" effect is nothing like the aerial
segment where you crash into a pyramid! The attraction also
includes a train ride segment where you ramble thru some
sort of underground excavation of a burial place via mine
car. The dead guys seem to value their privacy and the ride
gets wilder and wilder until it's over.
Unlike some of these things that seem to
feel obligated to shake and rattle you toward no apparent
end, and for no apparent reason, Akbar is more realistic.
It is a wonderful experience for all the children and one
of the few things adults can enjoy after sampling the free
beer - did I fail to mention the free beer? You ever notice
how much better beer tastes when it's free?
Another ride I am particularly fond of is
the trek down the Congo River Rapids. This is a wet ride
- the mechanized voice that says, "Riders may get wet
or soaked" isn't kidding. To make matters worse (or
better), spectators get to shoot at you with these enormous
water gun things they have on the sidelines. Don't think
squirt guns - a half a dozen of these things would have
put out the "Chicago Fire."
||The ride starts tranquilly
enough, until you bang into the first rock wall that sets
you spinning. Then the current carries you around the curve
where wannabe sharp shooters try to soak you with their water
|Most badly misjudge but sometimes
they manage to get everyone in the raft pretty wet. The kids
like to mug and make fun of the shooters who miss. Whether
or not they get you wet, you're gonna get soaked and putting
that Nikon under your shirt won't help!
|Pictured left to right below:
Jeremy (14), Ryan (5) Megan (3) and Jillian (12); Jillian
is the daughter of our friend, Jim Parker, another single
dad. She is our regular travel companion and one of Megan's
For those who like a little
more excitement, there is the Scorpion, a big orange steel
roller coaster that the little guys can ride. This ride
features 1,805 feet of steel track, travels at 50 mph, has
a 62-foot drop and features a 360-degree loop in its center.
The Scorpion does not get rave
reviews from the hard core coaster types but they want a
bit more craziness than is appropriate for the four and
five year old age group.
|The Scorpion does not use harnesses
or anything like that but it's plenty safe enough. It features
one big drop and a few spirals but the main attraction for
us is that the little guys meet its 42 inch height requirement.
No amount of chills and spills means anything to a child that
is too small to ride.
The Python is the bright yellow steel coaster
that is a bit more exciting to ride. Located in the Congo
area, this double spiral corkscrew travels 50 mph, has a
lift height of 70 feet and a track length of 1,250 feet.
It is a short ride but it is wild enough to require restraints.
|Beer, or no beer, you blast through
the loops and double spiral corkscrew before you know it.
It is one of those rides that is over before it has an opportunity
to make you sick. It doesn't usually have a long line The
height requirement is 48 inches
|Naturally, a man cannot be expected
to miss an opportunity to show the children what sort of havoc
he can wreak with a hammer - and they have just the place.
In "Egypt," you get a stuffed animal for $5 - you
buy three hits and the size of the prize is determined by
your best score. Any score gets a prize, and the maximum of
150 wins the big prize. Meggie (3) loves her big bad dog!
We like the Fest Haus in Timbuktu. I thought
the beer disappeared a bit quickly - looks like I may have
had some help! Ryan (5), Megan (3) and Dook (6)
The Qwazi ride is supposed to be named after
some mythical creature - a Tiger with the Head of a Lion.
It is a huge wooden roller coaster with two separate coasters;
the Gwazi lion and the Gwazi tiger.
|They are launched at the same
time on two separate tracks, like dueling roller coasters
they challenge each other along 7,000 feet of track at speeds
of over 100 mph. This is really moving and the experience
is heightened by the fact that the cars miss hitting each
other by mere inches!
|Jeremy (14), me, Dook (6) and
Jeremy again - when those coasters fly by each other, you
sure do get a lot of screaming! The height requirement on
this one is 48 inches.
I guess everyone has an opinion but the
Kumba is my favorite ride in the park
- although the Gwazi would be too close to call. When it
first opened back in 1993, it was supposed to be the biggest
and fastest coaster in the Southeast United States - it
may still be for all I know. This big blue monster takes
you up 110 feet where you pause long enough to get a good
look at the city, and then it drops you thru the vertical
loop then takes you on through a camel back loop that has
you weightless for three seconds followed by another 135
In addition to all the whirling around,
the ride plunges you into a trip through a dark misty tunnel.
This ride isn't for the kids as it has a height requirement
of 54 inches. It is well worth the extra wait time to get
to ride in the front seats! Do this one before the free
The Montu is probably the
best known coaster at Busch Gardens. They say it is one
of the tallest and longest in the world. It is a black,
red, yellow and blue hanging coaster where you are suspended
from the thing that rides the rail with your legs dangling
in the breeze.
It features the Immelman, an inverted diving
loop named after the German stunt pilot who did it in
an airplane, a Batwing consisting of two 45-degree angled
vertical loops and a 60-foot vertical loop thru an "excavation
This ride is supposed to be about 4000 feet
long and it is definitely exciting - you can hear riders
screaming from the parking lot. Unfortunately, you must
be 54" tall to ride this monster.
This ride usually has really long wait times
but, since it is in "Egypt," you can let the big
guys ride it while you take the smaller kids to the Akbar
movie adventure. You can always try your hand at winning
a big animal - just step right up, 3 swings for $5 and don't
feel bad, the machine says humiliating things to everybody!
Jeremy (14), Dook (6),
Ryan (5), Priscilla (10), Megan (3) and "Ms. Paula,"
one of our all time favorite people. Yessiree, I do believe
that you can make an eloquent argument that Colombian women
Ms. Paula and "TT"
just had a baby of their own; Congratulations! LOOK
Busch Gardens gives you lots of choices of fun things to do.
You can let the kids feed the animals, or if the day isn't
going all that well, there's always the other alternative!
Above, Dook (6), Jeremy 14, Megan 3 and Ryan
(4) climb on the ropes overlooking one of the animal exhibits.
Below, Ryan rides a boat in Land of the Dragons, Ms. Paula
poses with Megan and Dook rides the carousel in Timbuktu with
Luz and Megan in the background.
Busch Gardens has photo opportunities at
every turn. To the left, Dook (6) holds an exotic bird.
To the right, Dook (6), Ryan (5) and Megan (3) pose at the
dragon near the Land of the Dragons. Below, Luz, Megan,
Dook and Ryan pose near the flamingos.
Although I do have a couple of photos, they
don't begin to capture the dolphin show that they put on
every hour or so in Timbuktu. Its is well worth taking the
time to see but don't sit in the front rows if you don't
intend to get soaked.
Jim Parker (older than dirt and desperate
to find a woman), Jeremy (14), Dook (6), Jillian Parker
(12), Megan (3) and Ryan (5) and a young lady with her son
standing dangerously close to Jim, blisfully unaware of
the evil lurking at the theme park!
Jim Parker, a Scotsman, and single father,
is the designer and manager of our website but far more
importantly, he is the father of Jillian, our favorite companion,
an intrepid soul who accompanies us in much of what we do.
Note that I like to dress everyone alike as it makes them
so much easier to spot in the crowd.
I hope you have enjoyed sharing our experiences
at Busch Gardens. While the world of single parenting can
be frustrating and overwhelming at times, mostly - like
just about everything in life - it is what you make of it.
Like you, I cannot afford to do something like this everyday
but every day, every single day, I make it a point to do
something with my children.
Life is so short, and our little ones
grow up so fast - try not to lose track of how truly precious
it is to have this time, and this opportunity, to enjoy