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Sunday, February 14, 2016

Busch Gardens: Fly Like An Eagle, Or A SheiKra, Or A Griffon

Long ago, a dream became a reality in Florida.  A thrilling world opened up filled with intoxicating enchantment, wild animals and flowing booze.  And it was all started by a bird.  A Friendly Eagle who makes beer.

Anheuser-Busch created Busch Gardens as a marketing tool for its products.  Busch Gardens in Tampa, Florida opened in 1959.  Busch Gardens in Los Angeles, California opened in 1964.  The park in Williamsburg, Virginia opened in 1975.

The stoic Eagle from The Anheuser-Busch logo was transformed into a friendly cartoon mascot.

Let's go to Busch Gardens in California!

Gardens, birds and brew were the main focus for Busch Gardens in the earliest years of the parks.

Let's plan out our day of frothy, feathered fun.

Visitors to Busch Gardens could meet their favorite bird of prey.

You could even meet the Big Eagle's three trouble-making Nephews, the Little Eaglettes!  Their names are Lager, Hops and Barley.  They'll sing you a song about how beer is made.

Busch Gardens previously had a whole flock of bird mascots.

I think the Flamingo and the Pelican are my favorites.

It seems the park in Los Angeles literally had a Garden theme.

Busch Gardens in California closed in 1979.

In Florida, Busch Gardens focused on African animals.  And birds, trains, trams, log flumes and beer.

Busch Gardens in Tampa was primed to become an exotic destination in Florida.

The Friendly Eagle appeared on all sorts of souvenirs.

Kids, don't use magic markers to color in this plate we bought for Grama as a souvenir.  This cost some serious cash!

40 years ago, I guess people recognized the Friendly Eagle character.

Are you ready for a day of fun at Busch Gardens Tampa?

Let's go get tanked and look at parrots!

Dwarf Village was an area for Kids at Busch Gardens in Florida.

Dwarf Village closed to make way for the 1995 opening of Land of the Dragons.

Busch Gardens in Virginia has a European theme.

Here, you can get drunk and look at cuckoo clocks.

Let's go buy some souvenirs!

How about a Wind-Up Friendly Eagle?

Wind up Sobriety Test Friendly Eagle and he will briefly move forward in a straight line and then spin around wildly.

These Salt and Pepper Shakers have Tampa written on them, but I think it is safe to say they were also available in Virginia.

The Salt and Pepper Shakers will look great next to this Hamburger Plate.

There's a place for Ketchup and Mustard.  What goes in the unmarked section?  Your cigarette, of course!

Dishware is a fancy souvenir, right?

Proudly serve your guests a hot dog on a Busch Gardens Hot Dog Plate.

You can also get your own plush toy of the Friendly Eagle.

"Kids, I thought this was cute when I bought it for you.  But clearly I was wearing beer goggles."

If you prefer more realistic birds on your dinnerware, Busch Gardens has you covered.

Enjoy a tall glass of ale and get on the monorail to see the lions!

Please refrain from sharing your drink with the animals.

Do you want to remember your visit to Busch Gardens?  Get an Elephant charm!

Eventually, Busch Gardens Tampa got the name The Dark Continent.

The Dark Continent became the prominent name on all forms of media and merchandise.

At the same time, Busch Gardens in Williamsburg, Virginia became known as "The Old Country".

Busch Gardens is just like going to Africa.  Africa with roller coasters and dolphin shows!

This artwork has me all nostalgic for childhood car trips to Florida.

The Africa-shaped Busch Gardens image was featured in marketing materials and merchandise.

Let's go on Safari!

Busch Gardens has sold some great merchandise over the years.

When I see this shirt, I think of the Toto song "Africa".

You could totally wear this to a Paul Simon concert, too.

What sound does a giraffe make?

Giraffes are pretty, and also really dangerous.  Have you seen them in nature films?  Don't tick them off.

Busch Gardens is associated with Africa, but it also features lots of tigers.

Tigers are Asian.  We'll forgive Busch Gardens, because Tigers are beautiful.

The Python Arrow Corkscrew roller coaster opened at Busch Gardens Tampa in 1976.

This iconic coaster was prominently featured in commercials for the park.

You could get some groovy looking Python gear in the stores.

By today's standards, The Python was a very short ride.

In 2006, The Python slithered away from Busch Gardens Tampa.

In 1978, Busch Gardens in Virginia opened The Loch Ness Monster.

Busch Gardens created an amazing animated commercial for the launch of The Loch Ness Monster.

The impressive ad was narrated by Paul Frees and featured the creature attacking a ship.

The Loch Ness Monster is an Arrow Dynamics roller coaster with two interlocking loops.

I like how the interlocking loops are incorporated into the creature's design.

The Loch Ness Monster was the first roller coaster with interlocking loops, and it is the only coaster that has them now (the others have been dismantled).

When it opened in 1978, it was the world's tallest and fastest roller coaster.

The coaster trains enter a cave during a section of the ride that used to feature images of the monster.

The design for the Monster's mascot has changed quite a bit over the years.  There really isn't a "definitive" version of it.

In 2013, the Loch Ness Monster was classified as a Coaster Landmark by American Coaster Enthusiasts.

In 1984, Busch Gardens in Virginia got a new roller coaster, The Big Bad Wolf.

The Big Bad Wolf was a suspended steel roller coaster.

Arrow Dynamics designed the ride, which was located in the Oktoberfest section of Busch Gardens.

Over the years, there were many different "looks" used for souvenirs for The Big Bad Wolf.

There was a highly realistic version of the Wolf.

What a menace!

There were also more comical versions of the Wolf.

Who's Bad?

Are you afraid?

My, what big teeth you have.

Looks like he's about to huff and puff.

My, what red eyes you have.

Mr. Wolf, you need some Visene.

The Big Bad Wolf closed in 2009.

The Big Bad Wolf was replaced by Verbolten, a German themed Zierer launching roller coaster ride through The Black Forest.

The Big Bad Wolf is gone, but not forgotten.  Verbolten's dark ride sections include show scenes, and one is wolf themed.  Verbolten also contains a drop over the water similar to The Big Bad Wolf's.

In 1987, Giant Pandas arrived for a limited time at Busch Gardens in Tampa.

They are adorable.  You could eat them up with a spoon.

The Pandas got their own exhibit in the Bird Gardens section of the park.

I imagine the Pandas moved quite a bit of merchandise.

In 1988, Busch Gardens Williamsburg opened Roman Rapids.

A rapids ride among Roman ruins is a pretty unique design choice.

When the Pandas left Busch Gardens in Tampa, they were replaced by Koalas.

Like the Pandas, the Koalas were so adorable, you could eat them with a spoon.

The Panda exhibit featured Asian architecture that remained for the Australian animals.  I guess they could have explained it as "Australasian".

In 1989, Anheuser-Busch bought the SeaWorld Parks (in California, Ohio, Florida and Texas).  Even before its ties to SeaWorld, Busch Gardens had a Dolphin Show.  The Dolphins went away in 2002.

In 2009, Anheuser-Busch  sold the Busch Gardens and SeaWorld Parks.  Currently, the Busch Gardens parks and SeaWorld Parks exist as part of SeaWorld Parks and Entertainment.

Let's go to Duff Gardens and see DuffMan.  Oh Yeah!

Yes, the famous Bud Man mascot that The Simpsons spoofed appeared on Busch Gardens merchandise in the late 1980s and 90s.

I'm not sure if you could meet Bud Man at Busch Gardens.

The Bud Man Stein is a pretty popular collector's item.

In 1992, Tampa opened Myombe Reserve.

This impressive Great Ape Domain exhibit provides close encounters with Gorillas.

The Drachen Fire Arrow Dynamics roller coaster opened at Busch Gardens in Virginia in 1992.

Drachen Fire had a reputation of being a rough ride, and it closed down in 1998.

In 1993, Busch Gardens Tampa opened its famous Bolliger and Mabillard roller coaster, Kumba.

Kumba was a huge hit for Busch Gardens, and became the biggest roller coaster in the park.

The word "Kumba" means "Roar".

Promotional artwork and merchandise for Kumba is particularly interesting to me.

What kind of animal is Kumba supposed to be?

Sometimes, Kumba resembles a panther.

Sometimes Kumba looks like a made-up creature.

Is Kumba a jungle cat, or a wolf or a mongoose?

Whatever it is, Kumba is intense.

I'm thinking Kumba is based on a Genet or a Civet or a Fossa.

Busch Gardens in Virginia has been home to a number of unique characters for years

The Dragon character has been around for a long time.

The name of the Dragon is Gordon.  You can meet him in person.

Don't worry.  Gordon is a Friendly Dragon.

For many years, Gordon was exclusive to The Old Country.

The Friendly Eagle and Gordon led a zany crew of characters, including a lumberjack beaver.

In 1994, the Land of the Dragons kids area opened at Busch Gardens in Virginia.

Land of the Dragons opened at Busch Gardens Tampa in 1995.  Gordon also made the journey to Florida.

Gordon's blue friend is a dragon named Dumphrey.

Dumphrey reminds me a lot of the monsters on The Monster Plantation ride (now called The Monster Mansion) at Six Flags Over Georgia.

In fact, the illustrations on this Busch Gardens pennant share a strikingly similar artistic style to a coloring book and postcard book for The Monster Plantation (illustrated by artist Dennis Jones) that Six Flags Over Georgia sold in 1981.

Did the monsters and dragons share the same artist?  My guess is yes.  The Loch Ness Monster here looks especially like a Six Flags Over Georgia Monster Plantation Monster on this pennant.

In Florida, the Land of the Dragons closed down and was replaced by the Sesame Street Safari of Fun in 2010.

Land of the Dragons still exists at Busch Gardens in Virginia.  The park in Williamsburg also has the Sesame Street Forest of Fun section for kids, which opened in 2009.

By 1996, Busch Gardens Tampa invited visitors to walk like an Egyptian.

King Tut's Tomb allowed visitors to experience what it was like to be Steve Martin.

The big new attraction in Egypt was the B and M Inverted coaster, Montu.

I'm not sure if this ride intentionally pays tribute to Busch Garden's early focus on birds, but I like to think it does.

Montu's Hawk Head guy mascot is pretty intense.

Montu was the tallest inverted coaster until Busch Gardens in Virginia got Alpengeist.

What happens when a ski lift goes wild?  You get Alpengeist!

This Bolliger and Mabillard inverted coaster opened in 1997.  Like Montu in Tampa, it proved to be a huge hit.

Alpengeist means "Ghost of the Alps".

The furry Alpengeist creature looks like a blue version of the Abominable Snowman.

A creature does not appear on the ride, but he shows up on a lot of merchandise.

Let's go to Busch Gardens Europe, located in Virginia.  Then we can go to Busch Gardens Australia in Tennessee.

There's also a kinder, gentler Alpengeist Yeti plush.

This Alpengeist Yeti looks strikingly similar to the Abominable Snowman in the Rankin Bass Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer TV special.

As it turns out, the Rudolph characters will start appearing in SeaWorld Parks in 2016.

In 1999, the Apollo's Chariot Hyper Coaster debuted in Virginia.

Apollo's Chariot is a famous B and M Hyper Coaster.  It is the one that model Fabio rode at the grand opening and a flying goose accidentally hit him in the face.

The legendary Gwazi dueling wooden roller coasters opened at Busch Gardens Tampa in 1999.

Wooden roller coasters can be good and they can be bad.  There's probably a good reason why there aren't more of them in Florida.

Gwazi had a nice concept, based on a creature with a head of a tiger and a body of a lion (or was it the other way around?).

For some time, Gwazi was kept open but no longer dueled.  Only the Lion side was operational.

Rhino Rally opened in Tampa in 2001.  This was a one-of-a-kind Vekoma Safari Adventure ride with live animals.

By 2010, the water portion of Rhino Rally was shut down.  By 2014, the entire attraction was shuttered.

In 2005, Busch Gardens Tampa opened SheiKra, a 200 foot tall Dive Coaster designed by Bolliger and Mabillard.

SheiKra is based on a hawk called a Shikra.  Of course, lots of folks call this ride "Shakira."

When SheiKra first debuted, the coaster trains were a bit different.

Originally, riders sat inside the SheiKra coaster trains, which had a sleek, stylized hawk "hood ornament".

In 2007, SheiKra's trains were redesigned to become a more thrilling Floorless Coaster.

It seems the "hawk hood ornament" remained as part of the new Floorless coaster trains, but it was eventually removed---I'm guessing to make loading and unloading the passengers easier and safer.

SheiKra was a big success among the roster of Busch Gardens Tampa's roller coasters.  We can't forget ol' Scorpion (a rather short Silverarrow looping coaster), which opened in 1980.

Gwazi was ultimately shut down.  I do think Busch Gardens should revive the concept somehow.  Did you ever see the movie Napoleon Dynamite?  That movie had a famous Liger (Lion/Tiger mix) character.  I think there should be a new dueling coaster: Napoleon Dynamite: Liger Vs. Tigon.

Flashing forward, Busch Gardens Tampa got a brand new big cat coaster called Cheetah Hunt in 2011.

Cheetah Hunt is an Intamin launched steel roller coaster.  Being in Busch Gardens, the attraction also features live cheetah encounters.

The Cheetah Hunt coaster weaves through parts of the old Rhino Rally attraction.  Busch Gardens knows how to recycle!

I think Cheetah Hunt has some of the best themed coaster trains I've ever seen.

Cheetah Hunt is the essence of a Cheetah, in coaster form.

Flashing back to 2007, Busch Gardens in Virginia unleashed SheiKra's fraternal twin, Griffon.

Are you Team SheiKra or Team Griffon?  Both rides are virtually the same (both were built by B and M), but it seems they are different enough for people to take sides.

Griffon debuted as a Floorless coaster.  This idea was so good that SheiKra was converted to a Floorless coaster, too.

Griffon is 205 feet tall.  SheiKra is 200 feet tall.  Is that a big deal?  It is to some people.

Griffon is based on a Griffon.  Or a Gryphon.  Or a Griffin.  However you spell it, it is a cool mythical animal.

As far as I can tell, Griffon never had the avian "hood ornament" that SheiKra had.

SheiKra and Griffon debuted at the time when the park in Florida was called Busch Gardens Africa and the park in Virginia was called Busch Gardens Europe.

The confusing names were dropped in 2008.  Busch Gardens Europe and Busch Gardens Africa are no more.

So, who is the winner in the feud between SheiKra and Griffon?

I have not yet experienced SheiKra or Griffon, so my opinion on which is better is strictly observational.

I prefer the idea of a Griffon theme, because it is a freakin' Griffin.  I mean, come on!  Nobody "gets" the name SheiKra.  Everyone just calls it Shakira.  And Griffon is a bit taller.

That being said, I think SheiKra (on the surface, at least) LOOKS like a better experience.

Griffon's splashdown sequence is not as impressive to me because a section of coaster track momentarily blocks the water stream effect.  And I don't understand why it was designed that way.

SheiKra vs. Griffon?  I call it a draw.

This past Summer, I drew up some new characters that were inspired in part by the mythology of Busch Gardens.  Majestic Griffith stars a middle-aged, divorced Dad named Griffith (inspired by a Griffin) and his son, Izzy (inspired by a Wizard).  Griffith's ex-wife is Harper (inspired by a Harpie).

The SheiKra vs Griffon battle was in my head when I thought of the sparring mythical bird creature-based characters.

Griffith is a security guard at a treasure vault, and he reports to the controlling and power-hungry Cornelia (inspired by a Unicorn).

Cornelia wants her Conrad Birdie-like boyfriend, Gus (inspired by a Pegasus) to take over Griffith's job.

The Loch Ness Monster was on my mind when I drew up Griffith's friend, boxer Nestor McLoch.

Blaise is a pyromaniac firefighter (inspired by a Phoenix).

Uncontrollable Underbridge is a punk, inspired by a Troll.

Lawnmower Nomad (a play on "Lawn Gnome") is a Graffiti Artist.

Mannox is a rich, eccentric cowboy (inspired by a Minotaur).

Dr. Rojo Ojo, O.D. (inspired by a Cyclops) is Griffith's eye doctor.

Griffith works as a treasure vault security guard for the mighty Firewall (inspired by a dragon).

Can the middle-aged Griffith survive in his ever-changing world?  With the help of his technical wizard son, Izzy, the answer is yes.

Busch Gardens is not the only theme park that has inspired me to create new characters.

In July of 2015 I went to SeaWorld in Orlando, Florida (a sister park to Busch Gardens) and I drew Power Sharkskinsuit and Koi Goldcoin when I returned home from my vacation.


  1. Great comprehensive post on the Busch Gardens parks, Dan! I was able to to to the Los Angeles park twice in my childhood. The first visit was when the only rides were the boat ride through the botanical gardens and the monorail through the brewery. There were some bird shows....and beer, and that was about it. My second visit was after they had added a Barrel Flume ride, Bumper Cars, a Fun House (which I absolutely loved!) and a "Sky Trolley" ride. It's a shame that the park wasn't able to compete with the larger Southern California theme parks. They ended up tearing down the park to expand the brewery.

    I have only been to the Tampa Park once, but I did some research about it and found it fascinating that they originally had a brewery, but tore it down to expand their park. Too bad Los Angeles wasn't able to do the same thing! It's also too bad that the monorail was removed from the Tampa park. And I didn't know that they got rid of Rhino Rally! That was cool attraction. I remember there was a part of the ride where the vehicle got caught in a "flood" and floated down a river. It was a nicely executed effect.

  2. Thanks, TokyoMagic! It is interesting to think about what could have happened if the park in California had managed to stay open and expand. It looked really pretty from the pictures I've seen. I've only been to the Tampa park (one time), and that was back in 1996 when Montu was new. I'm planning on finally going back this Summer. I've never been to the park in Virginia, but it looks like it would be my favorite.

  3. I used to have a Friendly Eagle puzzle. But it wasn't a traditional jigsaw puzzle. Thick plastic pieces with a magnet on the back attached to a metal board with an indented area in the shape of the Friendly Eagle. I also used to have a Busch Gardens coloring book that featured the Friendly Eagle. (But both are long gone.)

    You also might like to know that the performing dolphins at Busch Gardens in Tampa were named "Bud" (Budweiser) and "Mickey" (Michelob).

  4. Hey Bobby Bickert! I'm kind of fascinated by the fact the Friendly Eagle was such a major character and he totally vanished. Poor bird! I love the Busch Gardens dolphin names. Very clever!