Busch Gardens in Tampa was opened in 1959 as a hospitality house designed to bring guests in to taste the beer. There were four employees and four parrots, it soon grew, both in popularity and in the number of birds. The birds that inhabited Busch Gardens were free to roam in the large enclosure they lived in as well as interact with the guest as they still do. Another draw for guests (besides the free beer) was the “Stairway to the Stars”. This escalator took guests to the roof of the brewery, where the tour began.
In 1965 the park was expanded to include a vast, 70 acre, enclosure that animals could freely roam in. This enclosure was named the “Serengeti Plain” and became the largest free-roaming enclosed habitat outside of Africa. To allow the guests to see the animals a monorail was added, leading to Busch Gardens adopting the motto, “where people are caged and animals run free.” People enjoyed this new concept of a zoo and Busch Gardens became the number one tourist attraction in Florida by 1968, attracting three million visitors a year.
Busch Gardens was also home to one of the finest restaurants in Tampa, Old Swiss House. It was shut down for almost a decade then reopened as the Crown Colony House in 1990. You can see the Old Swiss House behind the monorail in the picture above.
A new source of competition, Disney World, opened up in 1971 and caused a flurry of expansion by Busch Gardens in response. In 1975 the Moroccan Village was added to the park. It featured craftsmen and various performers, there were still no rides at the park however.
Busch Gardens added its first roller coaster just one year later. In 1976, Scorpion was opened along with a new section of the park named, “Congo.” The park also began using the name, “The Dark Continent,” to reflect it’s African theming. Scorpion would probably be considered a kid’s coaster by today’s standard but was actually one of the world’s first roller coasters to incorporate an inversion, and it had two back to back. It was a groundbreaking coaster designed by a young company named Arrow Dynamics that would go on to measured success in the Busch Gardens parks.
Python was closed on October 31, 2007, just one day after it’s 30th anniversary. It has been removed for further expansion of the park.
Busch expanded again in 1980, spending $18 million to build Timbuktu which included Scorpion. Scorpion was designed by Anton Schwarzkopf and was much longer than Python. This ride is also one of relative few coasters that are looping but only have lap bars.
In 1982 the park added Congo River Rapids along with two rare white Bengal tigers, who lived on Claw Island.
The 1990 became the decade that was a roller coaster arms race and Busch Gardens was not shying away from the competition.
In the early 90’s Busch wanted to build two sister coasters, one in the Tampa park and one in the Williamsburg park. They went to a company known for their smooth standup coasters and innovative rides, Bolliger & Mabillard. However, the young company could only focus on one coaster. It was decided that the B&M coaster would be located in the Tampa park and the contract for the ride to be built in Williamsburg was given to Arrow Dynamics. The sister of Kumba was named Drachen Fire and would eventually be closed (the history of this ride is discussed in depth in Part Three of this article, which covers the history of the park in Williamsburg).
Kumba featured several groundbreaking and innovative features including a massive vertical loop that wrapped around the lift hill, a cobra roll and interlocking corkscrews. When this coaster opened it set a new standard for future rides to be measured against and held the record for the longest coaster in Florida until Montu opened in three years.
I have a personal interjection regarding Kumba. My parents planned a vacation to Florida and made sure we could spend a day in Tampa at Busch Gardens. Incidentally, this was very soon after Kumba opened up. On the drive down I picked up a brochure for Busch Gardens and was butt-cised to go on this ride. I’m not quite sure why I was so sure that I would want to get on it, seeing as I had never been a fan of coasters prior to that point, but nonetheless, the entire drive down I was talking about how I was going to ride Kumba. My parents kept encouraging me, kept bringing Kumba up and making sure every day that I was still going to ride it. Well, when I walked up to the entrance of the ride and saw that bright green track with that yellow train flying along the track, sounding like a jet, I figuratively dumped in my pants. There was no way I was getting on that death trap. Unfortunately, the only other time I went to the Busch Gardens in Tampa was just after Montu opened and the day I went, Kumba was closed down, so I have never had the pleasure of riding this classic coaster, but, believe me, I will.
Speaking of Montu, in 1996, the park opened the (at the time) tallest and fastest inverted coaster. While this record did not stand long as it was broken just one year later by Montu’s sister coaster Alpengeist in the Williamsburg park, it still created excitement for yet another groundbreaking ride that calls Busch Gardens Tampa home.
I feel bad for the guy in the video that moved from Virginia just to ride Montu as he could have waited a year and had a coaster as good if not better in Alpengeist in Williamsburg.
Busch added the wooden racing coaster, Gwazi, in 1999, officially giving the Tampa park the short end of the stick and making up for the Drachen Fire debacle in Williamsburg. (Apollo’s Chariot was built in 1999 at the Williamsburg park and few would argue that Gwazi outdoes Apollo.) The ride is rough, as pretty much all wooden coasters are, but it remains a popular attraction in the park. There are a number of videos of Gwazi on youtube. All show just how rough the ride can be.
In 2005 Busch Gardens opened the first dive machine in North America. Sheikra features one 90 degree drop, an 81 degree drop as well as an Immelmann and a section at the end of the ride that sends water spraying up behind the train in two tails. This ride was originally opened as a floored coaster but was converted to a floorless one to go along with its sister, Griffon, in Williamsburg.
Other Attractions At Busch Gardens Tampa:
Cheetah Chase (formerly Wild Maus, and even more formerly Wild Izzy)
Cheetah Chase used to be located in the Williamsburg park and was a legitimately intense ride due to the sharp turns with out a reduction in speed. The cars are also small and seemed to lean a little as you go around the turns.
Stanley Falls Flume
Tanganyika Tidal Wave