The last time I’d wandered the wild of Busch Gardens, Tampa, I was living with my parents and my biggest worry was the end of summer vacation and heading back to school. Yea, its been a while. So when I got my recent invite to attend a Mash-Up Tweet-Up event, I checked the calendar and was thrilled we could make it.
On that visit so long ago, my brother, Cary had been wearing a white & red jacket with Woodstock on it. I was decked out in a similar blue and white, hosting Snoopy on mine, and we partook of the thrill of our young lives, getting to pet a baby tiger after the show we’d just enjoyed. It was the 70’s and such things were only starting on the entertainment from. Dude, it was cool.
Especially when the little stripped guy took a snarling swing at my younger brother. Hey, I get it – he’s my kid brother & they all gotta be kept in check – but that’s a sister’s purgative. The slightly stunned trainer pointed out Cary’s red jacket & figured it might be the reasoning behind the less than cool move. Cary took it off, reintroduction, all’s well that ends well.
And so it was thirty or so years ago, when we enjoyed getting our wild on.
Fast forward: I’m not wearing red, I’m with my trusty Assistant – Laura – and we’re here to share this greatly expanded Florida treasure with you not merely in print, but on the blog, on Facebook, and on Twitter. My how times have changed.
And yet there was something so warmly familiar, while totally new and exciting on this late-summer night. Being invited means getting to do some cool things that “regular’ guests must pay for, or might not fully get to experience.
Yet it also means doing things quicker, working the whole time and then telling you about it all. Hey, its a trade off that I’m loving doing for you – & that I take very seriously – so I tweeted away that night, I’ve got some great photos up on Facebook, and we’re adding to the mix here. And while not everything is fully open to the general public (you’ll see below) or requires an additional fee, I get to do it so you get to see if it’s worth it…
Kangaroos & Wallabies too
Seriously, I wasn’t sure if this would be a totally cool experience or merely lame. I’ve had the great pleasure of feeding a range of mammals over the years, but this would be my first marsupial. (That would be those creatures with the pouch in which to raise their young) We were given this treat free of charge – normal fees is at $5 per cup – for ages 5 & up. I’m thinking it’s to protect tiny fingers.
Having grown up with goats, I can say this is a very similar feeding experience – but unlike the pushy ‘tude of the goat, these gentle beings of the hopping-two-footed class were gentle and kind. A sweetness and almost appreciation was the mood we experienced.
This is Walkabout Way, featuring animals indigenous to Australia, the Kangaloom is the center of the action around this down-under.
Featuring red & grey kangaroos and Bennett’s wallabies, you can sit back & watch ‘em hop, or go in for a feed. We cracked up at the trainer who almost went 3 rounds with an uncooperative roo who wasn’t in an eating sort of mood, but then fell in love with the kindness of these gentle beings.
At $5 per, I’d recommend sharing the cup among your party and see if its worth another round. But a hand “full” or two per person, say giving maybe 3 – 4 a shot would give you the experience, a photo chance, and keep the budget it tow.
Feedings are at set times each day, so check when you arrive at the park or at the entry to the exhibit.
Play & Eat All Day, Pasta anyone
Part of our evening was the chance to taste the offerings at Crown Colony Pizza, one of the options for Busch Garden’s Play All Day & Eat Free promotion. Check this out online, as you can only buy it online prior to your day, but frankly, we found it to be well worth your consideration.
Ok, we didn’t pay, but considering what one can pay at a theme park for enjoying the day and eating, this is well worth the price.
At $64.95 for children ages 3 – 9 and $74.95 for adults, you’ll get your single day admission, plus eat for free throughout the day. Um, did I say worth it?
You’ll get a wristband and the choose your entree platter, a side item or dessert and a non-alcoholic beverage or bottled water each time through the line.
The flexible, all-day plan allows for unlimited trips through the lines at six of Busch Garden’s casual dining restaurants. (list below) Tickets will be available for purchase through Labor Day, September 6th, and must be redeemed by September 30th.
We enjoyed the pizza and pasta very much. The choices we found were interesting – Laura had a BBQ chicken that was like eating BBQ chicken on a pizza crust; interesting and tasty. I tried the Alfredo and spinach and found it very enjoyable. This isn’t like a pizza parlor – I mean these aren’t Chicago style or that other New York stuff (Dude, I’m from Chi-town), but its still a good, flavorful pizza.
The pasta blew us both away. We’ve eaten at “Italian restaurants” that were not as tasty, enjoyable or flavor-filled. Yea, blew us away too – one such place is a well-known chain. But man, this pasta sauce was good.
Add in the salad or in this case, the really interesting and tasty pizza-like-pie dessert and you’re talking some very good food for the “price”. Remember, this is free with the special offering.
Sesame Street, childhood memories on tap for another generation
I was part of the pre-Elmo generation of America’s most beloved childhood street, yet he’s one of my favorite of those lovable cuddly goofballs. If there’d been a Sesame Street Safari when my brother & I had ventured here all those years ago, I’d have been hard pressed in my pre-pubescent grade school years to not have wanted to hangout here.
Elmo, Snuffy, Big Bird, and all their buddies can be found in and around this playful little neighborhood. Designed for the knee-knocker set, this play-land is a world unto its tiny self.
A mini everything is pretty much on tap (milk bottle tap of course). Check out the ferris wheel, play-land-jungle-gym, roller coaster and more. Secret: Assistant Laura would have jumped on most of these in a heartbeat if she thought she could – I would have joined her.
The rides are adorable, and there’s little to make a wee-one nervous. We watched some hand-holding, but little, and mostly, kids running & playing & having fun. Yes, and plenty of mom’s & dad’s (& aunts) sitting and watching while catching a little breather.
What I loved here was that it wasn’t over the top, wasn’t so crowded you couldn’t see enjoyment, that kids were loving it while parent’s appeared to feel safe and relaxed in all the excitement.
And don’t miss looking around the corner past the coaster – you can get your photo (for a price & no personal photos) with Big Bird or Elmo!
Jambo Junction bring the education & learning to the party
Admit it; you didn’t go on vacation to learn. Dude, grow up – life is always about learning or just be a looser the rest of your life.
Stop by Jambo Junction and take a look through the glass windows at the creatures of the Busch Gardens education department. Ok, so that night you were kicked back & watching Jay or Dave and Julie Scardina or Jungle Jack Hanna stopped by with a group of new & exciting beings… well, they live here.
Among the residents, Harry the Sloth. Harry’s as famous as they come – Jay, the Today Show, Bon Jovi – Harry’s got game – Harry puts Kevin Bacon’s six degrees to shame.
And he’s a sweet old guy who’s a gentle as they come. For our evening, we got to head inside and actually meet Harry & a few of his friends (check out photos on Facebook or right here) and though its not normally the norm, check out Jambo Junction on your next visit; rumor has it they plan to try an experiment – letting guests in for a tour once a day or for about an hour each afternoon. You might not get to touch Harry (he’s totally soft) but you might get a bit closer view.
We topped off our visit with one of the coolest feeding experiences I’ve ever had; flamingos. Not part of the “regular” offerings, we were able to hand feed these pink-beloved-avian-dudes & yes, it really is cool. Heads tilted sideways, they slap up the food just like it looks, & boy can it tickle. That’s one memory I’ll treasure always.
Cap off your Summer Nights with Kinetix & rock it out
Ok, totally admit I was not up for this part of the night. Dude, it’s a show – probably some lame fireworks with some lame band playing to make it different.
Dude, I was totally wrong and loved it.
A twist on those other theme park shows, this is not just fireworks (which get done very well here in Florida) or just another show. This one combined music from a live band, acrobats and lights in a toe tapping, fun, multi-generational good time.
I was raised by a dad who saw no boundary to entertainment; we watched everything from John Wayne to the Beatles to the Beach Boys to the latest in country music and a great action flick with Tom Cruise. You get the point. Often these shows talk to one generation – the latest – and blast the rest of the audience into numb-ville while everyone sort of puts up with it.
Not here (we were already blown away by the general park music that was also multi-generational and great). The band was awesome; playing songs non-stop that rocked, rolled, hipped and hopped and not a single person we could see wasn’t at least tapping something.
The singers did a standup job – though the guy on our night wouldn’t make the mid-rounds of American Idol. But he was fine.
Moms & dad’s who can’t figure out what you’re non-Olympian gymnast or cheerleader will do with those skills beyond college; we’ve figured it out. The show included a Cirque-de-Soleil-meets-Blue-Man-Group-meets-cheerleading-finals-meets-gymnastics-meet that was amazing.
Ok, so the jump ropes part goes on too long, overall, it was fun, smile inducing, even jaw dropping at times. For a show, this was a grand new twist on entertainment, and a fun cap-off to the evening.
Thirty minutes in length, its a great ender to the day, lets you get off your feet -yea, right – for a break before hitting the parking lot/car/ride home, and gets everyone in the family having fun together. The lighting makes it even more fun & don’t worry about they “pyrotechnics” – I’ve got very sensitive ears and what “explodes” at the end is nothing to get your dander up over.
Check it before it goes away – soon – August 15th. Held in Gwazi Park, you can enjoy it as part of your ticket price.
Park hours to enjoy these remaining days of summer are extended until 9 p.m. Sunday through Thursday and 10 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays.
Some of this stuff sticks around as we move into fall, others will drift away with our summer days, but either way, take a trip to Tampa’s wild side and have fun at Busch Gardens Tampa. And watch for our return to enjoy the rest of the park this fall. Dude, that little tiger cub was only the beginning to a fun place for families to get together & have some serious fun. Thirty years later, Busch Garden Tampa still has got game!