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Sunday, January 1, 2017

Busch Gardens Tampa On Christmas Day

On Christmas Day, 2016, I woke up bright and early and took my Mom on a trip to Busch Gardens in Tampa, Florida.

Montu welcomed us as we entered the parking lot and boarded the tram to the entrance.  This was unlike any Christmas Morning I've ever experienced.

On my first visit to Busch Gardens in 1996, Montu was new, and I was too afraid to ride the coaster.  Times have changed, and I was thrilled to finally ride it.

 A Lion Topiary greets visitors, eager to be a background for Portraits and Selfies.  It was too crowded for me to get a picture of his face.

Cheetah Hunt looms high in in the sky.  Time for adventure!

Busch Gardens was fully decked out in Tropical Christmas wonder.

This Peanutcracker attracts a hungry elephant.

Cheetah Hunt is my first ride of the day!

There are real, live cheetahs on display in this area (plus a topiary one).

On Christmas Eve last year, I found this Cheetah Hunt cup for sale at the Goodwill store in Venice, Florida.

I never would have guessed that a year later, I'd be at Busch Gardens on Christmas Day!

Cheetah Hunt is an Intamin roller coaster with three launches.  This ride opened in 2011, and had the good fortune to be in an amazing location.  The ride has the Serengeti Plain as a backdrop, and uses part of the old Rhino Rally attraction's water features.  Cheetah Hunt also uses the park's old Monorail Station, which it shares with the Skyride Station.

Cheetah Hunt has some well-designed, unique "Essence of Cheetah" roller coaster trains.  I really wish Busch Gardens would sell die-cast models of the cars.

Busch Gardens has an amazing Skyride that offers some fantastic views of Cheetah Hunt (and the rest of the park, too).

The roller coaster trains are launched up into the "Figure Eight" Tower and then plunge down, then under and over the Skyride.

As the Cheetah Hunt coasters roar over the Skyride, we can also see the Falcon's Fury drop tower and the Kumba roller coaster on the horizon.

Falcon's Fury is 335 feet tall (and yes, I rode it!) and opened in 2014.  Kumba (which I also rode) opened in 1993.

Pantopia is the home of Falcon's Fury and a bunch of other rides, including the Scorpion roller coaster shown here (in the background).

At night, Pantopia is hopping with activity.  Many of the tall palm trees were decorated for Christmas.  On this trip, I skipped Scorpion (which I did ride in 1996).

Here we see Scorpion (far left), the closed Gwazi coaster (in the background), SheiKra (far right), and the Stanley Falls log flume.

You may be wondering what the crowds were like here on Christmas Day.  Well, it was pretty busy, but not too bad.  It did get busier as the day progressed.  But taking the Skyride to the back of the park, I did notice that quite a bit of areas were nearly empty---probably because the crowds were still at the front of the park.

One of my favorite ride experiences at Busch Gardens is SheiKra.  I rode this and Cheetah Hunt twice.

SheiKra is a 200 foot tall , floorless B&M Dive Coaster that opened in 2005.  The view at the top is breathtaking, as is that drop.  We ate lunch at the nearby Zambia Smokehouse (Pulled Pork sandwich---Yum!).  This is the restaurant where I picked up a cardboard Cheetah hat.

Nearby, we enjoyed visiting the birds at Lory Landing and the Kangaroos at Walkabout Way.

The Kangaroos know how to enjoy a beautiful, sunny December day in Tampa.

Busch Gardens knows a thing or two about synergy.  They have a SeaWorld topiary!

My Mom and I went to SeaWorld on November 22, 2016.  It was all decorated for Christmas, too.  I finally got to ride Mako!

Sesame Street Safari of Fun opened in 2010.  This area replaced the Land of the Dragons, which was still fairly new on my visit in 1996.

You can see that the Land of the Dragons did not really go away completely.  The area added Sesame Street themes.  You can even see a dragon tail here in this picture.

Sesame Street Safari of Fun has rides and shows for little visitors.  And a shop, too.

Abby Cadabby's Treasure Hut sells a variety of Sesame Street Busch Gardens merchandise that seems to be exclusive to this one location.

Sesame Street Zebras, Lions, and Cape Buffalo make a very cute carousel.

Safari of Fun is like a Muppet version of Busch Gardens.

Some of the merchandise sold at Safari of Fun is also sold at the Sesame Place theme park in Pennsylvania.

A number of stores in Busch Gardens have special promotional items available to purchase after spending a certain amount of money.  Abby Cadabby's Treasure Hut offered a Sesame Place blanket for sale (I tried to buy it without making a purchase, and they wouldn't let me).

C is for Calories, Cholesterol and Clogged Arteries.

Cookie has a sense of humor.

As part of Busch Gardens Christmas Town, the whole park got a Christmas makeover and each section got a new name.

Most of the Holiday fun could be found in Holiday Hills, Ice Wonderway, Three Kings Oasis, Christmas Time Terrace, Celestial Crossings, Mistletoe Memories, the North Pole, Jungle Jubilee and Christmas Town Village.

The newest ride at Busch Gardens is Cobra's Curse, a Mack spinning roller coaster that debuted in 2016.

The highly detailed ride model is on display inside Celebration Village.

The highly detailed ride is found in Egypt.  It is a fun coaster to ride and a fun coaster to watch.  It starts off with the cars facing forward---then it changes to facing backward---and then it starts spinning.

The line for the ride is in an air-conditioned building (with show elements and live snake displays) that used to house the old Tut's Tomb.

Busch Gardens closed down the infamous Gwazi wooden coasters (which had a reputation for being very rough), but the name (and logos) continue to be used elsewhere.

In addition to this Gwazi themed game, the park has a flat ride (Gwazi Gliders) and Gwazi Park (which hosts special events).

One such special event is Christmas Town Village, which opened at 4PM.

We avoided this area due to growing crowds as the sun started setting.

Earlier in the day, we were among about five people to board the train in the Congo section of the park.  After dark, the train got a Christmas Sing Along theme, and was mobbed.

The Tiger Topiary proved to be a popular photo spot all day.  I could never get a picture of him from the front.

Our last rides of the day would be in Pantopia.  We rode the Grand Caravan Carousel.  Then I finally rode Falcon's Fury.  It is fun and terrifying at the same time.

I actually bought this Falcon's Fury cup at the Venice, Florida Goodwill---the same place I got the Cheetah Hunt cup last year!

We had planned on stopping to get dinner on the drive back to Venice.  Then I thought---would many places be open on Christmas Day?  We decided to eat at Zagora Cafe at the front of the park.  Lots of other people had the same idea.

At the end of the day, we explored the shops.  I loved the Busch Gardens Nutcrackers (SeaWorld had some great ones, too).

I hope to return to Busch Gardens next Christmas.  There is quite a bit that we did not experience.  The park is huge.  I'm kind of in shock that we missed the Edge of Africa exhibit and the Myombe Reserve.

Maybe next year I'll find a Cobra's Curse Nutcracker.


  1. Wow, so they took out Rhino Rally too? I really liked that attraction! It looks like there have been a lot of new additions since I was last there. Thanks for the great trip report, Dan. And Happy New Year to you!

  2. Thanks, TokyoMagic! Yes, the park has changed quite a bit since I was there last. I missed the Rhino Rally years altogether. Happy New Year to you, too!