In an effort to fully embrace my Florida residency and recent zeal for near-death experiences, I decided to take a walk on the wild side(TM?) and visit/sign up for an annual pass sight unseen to Busch Gardens. Allow me to share with you some information I wish I had had prior to my recent day trip north, as well as some additional facts and observations. You’re welcome, as always.
Q: How much does a pass to Busch Gardens cost?
A: I don’t know. It was confusing. There are apparently 27 different pass options/add-ons, and trying to figure out what the hell is what was not entirely simple. (Do you want to go for one day? Two days? A month? A year? You want to go to Sea World, too? How about Adventure Island, whatever the hell that is? A tour of scenic Tampa? Hey, you want to cut lines? How about a dining package? Premiere parking? You want to line-cut the line-cutters???). Not to mention factoring in any discounts such as FL resident, AAA, Southwest Rapid Rewards (yes, that’s a thing there), military, etc. I wrestled with this decision for about a month.
Ultimately, I opted for the annual pass at $156/year, or $13/month, thanks to their option for FL residents to pay over time. This includes free parking (otherwise $17/day) and a 10% discount on all food, drink, and tacky merchandise. Meanwhile, a one-day pass with no add-ons is around $85? So it’s like, yeah, I’ll buy 365 passes for the price of two. Thanks. My boyfriend, Mark, was considering joining me for the day, and with a Southwest Rapid Rewards discount applied, his one-day pass would’ve been $64.
Q: But don’t you have to pay for parking anyway in order to pick up your AP?
A: No! It was wonderful! I was ready to fight tooth and nail on this issue if necessary, but I simply drove up to the gates, showed the dude my voucher for the AP, and he let me drive on through. This is in stark contrast to Disney, who mandates that you have the actual, physical AP before they’ll let you start parking for free. +1 for the Busch.
Q: Is parking a giant free for all because it’s BG, not Disney, and therefor more like a third world Black Friday experience?
A: Actually, no. Just like Disney, there are sad human beings whose sole responsibility in life it is to wear neon orange, stand all day on asphalt, and point. Not only that, but the parking situation reminds me more of the Magic Kingdom than anything else: unless you plan on walking a mile, you need to take a tram from the parking area to the front gates. I was rope-dropping and figured parking in such a primo spot would mean I’d walk right in. Au contraire. I had to wait for and board a tram, just like all the other plebeians.
Q: So how was the process to pick up the AP?
This is what passes for “ears” at Busch Gardens.
A: Shitty, I tell you. As you approach the main entrance, there are three types of booths: 1) Self-serve electronic kiosks, 2) Guest Relations, and 3) regular human-manned ticket windows. The voucher for my pass instructed me to approach one of the self-serve kiosks where I would scan the voucher. I did so. An error message then appeared on the screen and instructed me to visit Guest Relations. So I headed over there, only to find that not a single window was open. Finally, I headed to the regular ticket window, as clearly that was my only option remaining.
I approached the window and handed the woman my voucher. She began to scan and process it when suddenly the National Anthem came on over the speakers, she stopped what she was doing, stood up, and wordlessly held up a single finger to me indicating that I would have to wait until the song was over and her patriotic duty fulfilled.
Now, I’m all for respecting the troops, our country, the right to shoot whomever we want with our legally owned AK-47s, but isn’t there a more polite way of going about this? A single finger point??? Not allowed by the Mouse! Surely this was my first sign that I was not in Disney anymore.
Q: I bet you were really missing MyMagic+ by now. Didn’t your wrist feel naked without your MagicBand?
A: I did, and it did. Interestingly, when I printed out my AP voucher, I was also offered to print a voucher for a free “wristband” to use for “touch to pay” purposes. A BG MagicBand! A BuschBand, if you will. Yet when I asked Ms. Americana where my BB was (I had handed her the voucher, after all), she replied, “oh, did you want that?” No, I was just handing you all of the recyclable material I had in my purse. “I don’t know,” I replied, “do I?” “Meh, it’s just a wristband thing. Whatever.”
A++ for salesmanship! At this point, I’d had enough of the one-finger-pointer and her “I’ve been on duty for all of 30 minutes and already want to kill myself” attitude, so I said, “whatever,” and left, sans BB.
Q: Sounds like your rope-dropping efforts were foiled by now. How screwed were you when it came to crowds?
A: Crowds? What crowds?? I had parked by 8:45, arrived to the entrance via tram by 8:52, and finally passed through the gates after AP retrieval hell around 9:07. Opening time: 9:00. Saturday after Thanksgiving. The only crowd calendar I could find that even acknowledged Busch Gardens’ existence said not to go on this holiday weekend. And yet…
… nuthin’. It was like a ghost town. Though, my friends that I was meeting up with, who had been before a few times in January, reported that this was pretty packed comparatively.
Q: So, initial impressions?
A: I was actually pleasantly surprised. Maybe it’s because I had such low expectations, but I found their valiant efforts at theming to be rather charming! They have a variety of themed areas, from Egypt to some generic African area to Morocco. If I had actually grabbed a park map or done any research prior to writing this post, I could probably tell you more, but oh well. You get what you pay for here.
My only real complaint, aesthetically speaking, would be their insistence upon using classic crappy carnival games throughout the entire park. It’s rather distracting when you’re wandering through [insert name of sub-Saharan African country here] and there’s a bang-a-mallet-on-a-thingy-to-see-how-strong-you-are game complete with giant neon stuffed animal prizes. Theming fail.
Q: How about the rides? What did you end up doing?
A: First up, we went to Cheetah Hunt. I find the name of this attraction to be slightly misleading. Why are we hunting cheetahs in a park focused on animal conservation? Poor kitties. Oh, wait, we are the kitties. And we’re hunting. Or something. I don’t know…
We stood outside waiting for Cheetah Hunt to open for at least 20 minutes. Busch Gardens: not overly concerned with punctuality. Once we were let in, we walked right on.
Q: At any point, were you once again reminded that you’re not at a Disney park?
A: Oh my god yes: their loading process is nonexistent. It was insane. A veritable free-for-all. It was like the dark ages of the Southwest airlines boarding process before they started assigning numbers. You’d reach the head of the line, and then… whatever! Stand wherever! Pick a lane, any lane! Only a party of two and approaching a row that could fit five? Who cares about filling three extra seats!!! Let it fly! Single rider line?? What’s that?!??
I was aghast.
I mean, just the pure inefficiency of it all! Nearly 1/3 of every ride vehicle left the station empty. And try aligning yourself with your party if you’re an odd number and it’s two people per row — you end up standing in adjacent rows, constantly letting people ahead of you because the line length for each row was that varied. Sheer madness, I tell you.
Q: Okay, other than that, how was it? Give us a breakdown of each of the coasters.
Cheetah Hunt: Good. Long, classic coaster style with two people per row in a train of cars, has upside-down points, has a few bigger drops, but generally considered the least intense of the big guns at BG. What sets it apart from the rest are its “bursts.” Think: the first 2.6 seconds of Hollywood Studios’ Rock ‘n’ Rollercoaster. AKA, the thing I hate most about RnR. And Cheetah Hunt has three of these throughout the ride, allegedly meant to simulate the cheetah’s acceleration as it runs and hunts. #Theming. Luckily, they’re not as intense as RnR’s, and by my second ride on Cheetah, I was less daunted by them.
Montu: Pretty frickin’ incredible. You sit in a row of about five people, give or take, and your legs dangle freely beneath you, as the vehicle hangs from the track above your head. Montu is fairly intense with many upside-down loops and giant drops, though I found that the floating-beneath-the-track aspect makes for less of a jarring impression in my gut (thankfully). My only negative comment would be that I wish the harness were slightly more adjustable. It’s like finding a pair of shoes you love, but they don’t come in half sizes; the 9 is too small, and the 10 is too big. Well, I had the harness clicked down as tight as I could, but there was still enough wiggle room left that every time the full weight of my body was thrust against it, facing down over a dozen stories in mid-air, I was pretty sure I was going to slip out and die. Not the kind of thrill you want from a thrill ride. Whatver, I’ll just diet some more until I can click that bitch down one more notch. #Motivation!
SheiKra: According to my coaster-loving friends, this is the biggest and baddest at the park. Its claim to fame is that it gingerly guides you 20 stories into the sky, tips the entire ride vehicle (three rows of about seven people across? Close to that?) 90 degrees to allow you to face the ground and contemplate your life for about five seconds before dropping your ass. No gradual slope — nay, a 90 degree free fall on a track. And after a few loops and swoops, it does it again (albeit at a lesser height the second time). I admit: I had my doubts about this one, but I managed to be talked into it. Pros: The views were astounding! Cons: Well, the impact only lasts a few seconds. You can handle anything for a few seconds, right? Sure, you can! Ultimately, I’d most definitely do it again. I would’ve gotten right back on again that day if it hadn’t taken me so long to stop shaking.
Kumba: My favourite! Kumba is the twistiest of the lot, just running you through loop after loop after another upside down loop. It reminded me of the real-life version of every coaster I build on Sum of All Thrills. Highly recommended!
Gwazi: AVOID AT ALL COSTS. My legal team is currently writing up our lawsuit against Busch Gardens; I’m citing trauma, emotional distress, and a dislocated neck (we’re pretty sure that’s a thing). Gwazi is BG’s old timey wooden roller coaster. I was warned that it was going to be a rough and bumpy ride, but I simply scoffed, “please — I consider Space Mountain to be a full body massage.” Well, if Space is a Swedish massage, Gwazi is a chimpanzee on bath salts repeated hitting you on either side of the head with lead cymbals as you try and maneuver a jackhammer through 30 feet of solid rock only to discover the secret lair of a troll who punches you in the throat. I’m going to go with “not recommended.”
Q: Regardless of your near-death experiences and legal woes, it sounds like you accomplished quite a bit! Was this thanks to FastPass+?
A: Surprisingly, no. I was worried that I’d regret not purchasing BG’s version of FP, but it turned out to be completely unnecessary — even on this “crowded” holiday weekend. (After waiting 15 minutes for it to fucking open) we walked straight on Cheetah Hunt. Then we were about to walk straight on Montu when it shut down due to technical difficulties, so as an apology, we were given FPs to any attraction in the park. Gwazi was initially shut down due to technical difficulties. We walked on SheiKra, walked on Kumba, got off, and walked right back on it, could’ve walked right on Falcon’s Fury had we desired (we did not; this is BG’s straight up, straight down free fall ride of 335′). When Montu was finally back up, we walked right on that.
The only lines we saw were for Cheetah Hunt later in the day (posted wait time: 65 minutes); we simply used our FP from Montu. And then Gwazi, when it finally opened, was 25 minutes (of time that would’ve been better spent convincing me not to go on Gwazi). Incidentally, these are the only two coasters whose ride vehicles are two people to a row, train car style. Coincidence? I think not. Perhaps if BG actually organized their load process and filled all seats in an orderly fashion, there’d be little to no wait at these attractions. Just my opinion.
Q: Wait, I thought there were animals and shit there? Why are we only talking about roller coasters and carnival games?
A: I was getting to that! Jeez. Yes, there are lots of animals — lots! And actually, I was quite pleased with their displays. You know how you can never see the fucking cheetahs on Kilimanjaro Safaris? Those assholes are always hiding way up in the farthest corner of their hill like they’re too cool for Animal Kingdom? Well, at Busch Gardens, the cheetahs are in an enclosure right off the walkway on your way to Cheetah Hunt! Just right there, next to you. Nothing but open air and some plate glass between you and some big kitties. Hell, you know how on the Maharajah Jungle Trek, yeah, the tigers are closer to you than the damn cheetahs, but still… too far away? Like, ten feet below you and hiding in corners? Not so at BG! Those cheetahs are right on your level, and they come up to the glass like they’re happy to
attack you be there.
Now, whether or not this close approximation is in the best interest of the animals that we’re allegedly working to protect and help, who knows. Perhaps those cheetahs would rather have a hill to hide on. Whatever. All I know is, if you’re at Busch Gardens and hoping to see some animals up close, you won’t be disappointed! We got so close to a lion, we almost felt the mist of his urine as he was marking territory in earnest. Good times!
And look how close we got to this sad little homeless man:
Can I adopt him? Or at least get him a warmer blanket?
Q: Coasters: check, Animals: check. What about other attractions for people who fear death and large cats?
A: I guess? I don’t know. We were focused on the thrill rides and trying to catch the animals doing it.
Allegedly they have their own version of the safari ride, but we did not do that. And they have something called the Skyway (I think?) that takes you on a leisurely tour of the park from a happy little gondola in the sky, but that was shut down when we passed it as well. What is up with everything having technical difficulties there?? Is that normal? Are they the Pirates of the Caribbean of Florida theme parks?
Regardless, there seemed to be other things to do there. There was even a sing-along train ride! Though no one seemed to be singing, and there wasn’t anything Frozen-related about it, so is it even real?
Q: We’re over 2500 words into this un-authoritative view of BG, and you’ve yet to mention food or alcohol; it’s like I don’t even know you.
A: Don’t get your panties in a wad. I write what inspires me. The food there did not inspire me.
We paused around 11:00 for a beverage, and I was admittedly pleased that of the mere six or seven beer-by-the-bottle options this one quick service stand had, one of those was Kona Longboard. Well played, BG.
But the food? We had passed by some Colony House Something I Forget Its Name that boasted a buffet for a mere $16.99 (that’s like, less than 50% of Disney buffet prices), so we decided to check them out. Turns out it was dinner only, so instead we were stuck with their lunch offerings of pizza, chicken nuggets, turkey sandwich, or turkey club (which, in an utter dick move, substituted ham instead of bacon). So inspiring! Not.
But the real ass-kicker, the easiest way to send me into a table-flipping rampage: they had ketchup packets instead of ketchup pumps. WTF?!?! Who the fuck has time for that bullshit?! I mean, seriously. Ketchup packets are the worst things to happen to humanity since wedge-heeled sneakers (PICK SNEAKERS OR PICK A PAIR OF WEDGE SHOES; YOU CANNOT HAVE BOTH — GOD DID NOT INTEND FOR YOU TO HAVE BOTH). Who uses just one ketchup packet?? I use one ketchup packet per french fry. You end up spending a half hour just opening 39 ketchup packets, and by the time you’re done, your fries are cold, your beer is warm, and your entire table is covered in a layer of trash. That kind of life is not worth living.
Q: At least it was 10% off?
A: Oho! I forgot to tell you!
Q: Forgot to tell me what?
A: Go ahead and ask me what to wear/how to pack for Busch Gardens.
Q: Okaaaaay…. what should I wear/pack for Busch Gardens?
A: Nothing. You should wear something with pockets, sneakers with laces, and then bring nothing else.
Q: Um, this doesn’t sound overly shocking or abnormal.
A: The fuck?? Sure it does! My standard WDW uniform is: sundress (no pockets), flip flops, and a backpack containing my life. I can probably count on one hand the number of outfits I own that have pockets, I only wear sneakers to run, and I sure as hell never go anywhere without a purse of sorts. What kind of monster do you take me for??
Q: Okay, fine, so you’re a prissy bitch. What’s your point here?
A: My point is this: what do you encounter directly in front of you on every coaster at WDW?
Q: A sign saying, “this is not a real roller coaster”?
A: No, jerkface, a pouch in which to store your shit!
Never having been to any theme parks other than Disney in over 20 years, I simply assumed this rule was true across the board. It is not. At BG, there are no pouches, and you must instead secure your belongings in a locker each time you board a coaster to the tune of $0.50 a pop, or you can rent a locker for the day at $8. And even if you do this, you’re still stuck leaving your flip flops in a public cubbie hole next to the ride platform every time you board anything where your feet dangle. Ditto on sunglasses for every coaster.
Q: I’m failing to see what this has to do with you not getting discounted beer.
A: Hello! Because thanks to Ms. I Don’t Give A Fuck About Customer Service back when I picked up my AP, I never got the BuschBand, and thanks to the fact that I finally gave up on life and locked all of my shit in a locker way at the front of the park, I didn’t have my AP on me to prove that I get a discount.
Q: This sounds like a lot of finger-pointing for someone who proclaims to be highly offended by pointed fingers.
A: Bite me. You know an injustice occurred here!
Q: Whatever. You’re the one who wore flip flops to ride roller coasters.
A: COMFORT IS IMPORTANT WHEN TOURING, ASSHAT.
Q: This FAQ has taken a real ugly turn here.
A: I think we all know whom to blame for that.
Q: Uh, you?
A: I was going to go with MyMagic+, just for funsies.
Q: Are we done here, or what? Any other pearls of wisdom you care to share with us, or can we all move on with our lives?
A: Let me review my notes…
Okay, one interesting tidbit: at one point throughout the day, I realized that something was missing… something I’m used to seeing constantly when touring Disney: ECVs. There aren’t any at BG. And when you start to think about it, it makes sense — people in ECVs are usually the elderly, the injured, the handicapped, or “people of size” — none of whom are likely to be interested in 30 story plunges.
Q: That seems like a pretty broad-sweeping stereotype.
A: If your 87 year old grandmother still gets her rocks off to inversion loops, more power to her. But I didn’t notice much in the way of handicapped accessibility to any of these roller coasters, and as for people of size, well… the seats aren’t huge, and for safety’s sake, you really need to be able to be strapped in tight.
Q: Fine, whatever, you’re still marginally offensive. Anything else?
A: Well, in case you’re interested:
Miles walked: 6.66
Number of Pins Traded for: 0
Q: Seriously? Did you just trick us into reading yet another one of your trip reports by disguising it as an FAQ????