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The History Of Busch Gardens Tampa
By Chris Posted in Featured on August 26, 2009 5 Comments 8 min read
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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.

Stairway to the Stars
Stairway to the Stars

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.
Monorail in Front of the Old Swiss House
Monorail in Front of the Old Swiss House

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.
The Floorless Trains Were On Display During The Conversion
The Floorless Trains Were On Display During The Conversion

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



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  1. Did they ever have black tigers or black lions. I was about 12 when I wemt.onetime.amd I swear I remember the tiger exhibit.havin two white tigers and a black one. And I remember being shocked that black ones even existed. My dad asking if I still liked the white ones best. And me.saying yes I still love Them best. But now it looks like I was very wrong.

  2. I was born in 94, I remember there being a coaster when I was a little kid (I must’ve passed the height restrictions) that was really bumpy, I think had just a lap bar, and may head would rattle against the seat which was just high enough to keep my head rattling against it. Like it rattled my head really bad every time. I remember it shutting down and that I went on it during the last rides. Then (maybe this was a different coaster) seeing that they had one of the cars displayed in a window. And I think they still had the Clydesdales at this point, or at least had them visiting, because I recall a horse pulling a beer cart while I looked at the cart in the window. What ride was that?? I don’t think it is any of the defunct rides listed on the wiki page. I am pretty certain this was at Busch Gardens and not another park around Fl.

    1. I grew up in Tampa and have had passes to Busch Gardens since the mid-80’s. The Clydesdales were there regularly until 2009, when Blackstone bought the theme parks. These are my guesses of which coaster your are referring to IF it was indeed at BG.

      They have what some consider a kiddie coaster that was called Cheetah Chase (until they decided to build a big coaster called Cheetah Hunt, then they changed the name because they were concerned people would get confused by the name). It’s now called the Sand Serpent. It rattles your brain and your bones, plus it has super wild tight turns that (IMHO) give you whiplash. You have to be 46″ tall to ride it (about average height for 6-7 year old). However, it didn’t open until 2004 – so you would have been 10-ish, if that were the one. There are no loops or inversions, it’s a basic square frame, wild mouse style coaster, like those often found at state fairs and carnivals.

      Then there was the original Gwazi dueling wooden coasters (Gwazi Lion & Gwazi Tiger) – that opened in 1999. This was a HORRIBLE wooden coaster. The ride was so rough that it was responsible for over 85% of all complaints about anything in the park. It had so many complaints that they redesigned half of it (Gwazi Lion) — changing the trains and adding the equivalent of shock absorbers in 2011. Then in 2012, they closed Gwazi Tiger for good. That didn’t help much. Complaints continued to pour in about how rough the ride was, and it eventually permanently closed in February of 2015. You had to be 49″ tall to ride either side of Gwazi (about average height for 7-8 year old). It has since been replaced with Iron Gwazi – that is smooth as butter, very unlike it’s predecessor.

      Both the original Gwazi style car and a Cheetah Chase style car were displayed near the Serengeti Plains, in a wood booth, behind plexiglass, for a few months before and after they each opened.

      The only other rough, head rattling coaster was the Python. You had to be 42″ tall to ride that (about average height for 5-6 year old). It opened in 1976 and it closed permanently in 2006. While it was rough enough to rattle your head, I never saw a display with one of those cars. However, I would have only been 8 when it opened and I didn’t go there for the first time until I was 10.