Insiders Guide to Busch Gardens Florida

Insider Guide to Busch Gardens Tampa with Kids

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Busch Gardens Tampa with Kids

We are a daredevil family, which makes Busch Gardens right up our alley. Not to mention the fact that Busch Gardens Tampa has something for everyone! From animals to shows to rides of various types and a huge kids area. We even enjoyed some of the food options! Check out more of our trips for Busch Gardens with Kids!

Arrival/Parking:

Busch Gardens is easy to find and parking is easy to locate. You have two options for parking: regular and preferred. Buy your parking online to save a bit of cash. We paid for preferred parking, but a little birdie told me that if you are traveling with kids, you can request stroller parking and it won’t cost you the extra charge for preferred parking and you can avoid the free trolley to the entrance.

We liked being able to walk to the entrance with the preferred parking.

Tip: Arrive before 10 am. The park is open before that and you’ll get parking much closer to the front. We arrived around 9:15 am got our all-day dining passes (no lines) and rode a few rides by 10:30 am.

Tickets:

Busch Gardens offers free tickets to the military service member (up to 4 per year). If you are military, use this link to get your free tickets. 

It is easier to purchase your tickets ahead of time and save a bit of money as well. Check out their tickets options on their website.

Busch Gardens with kids:

Stroller Rentals: Around $20 if you reserve online. Carries up to two children and they have a decent sun shade. A good option if this is the only activity that you’ll require a stroller and you don’t want to bring yours.

Busch Gardens with kids stroller rentals
Stroller Rentals

I do recommend bringing something to carry the kids around the park. The park is expansive and we like to save our little guys legs so that he can enjoy the kid-friendly activities instead of wasting all of his energy on the getting to and from a place.

Busch Gardens has baby rooms for feeding/changing and they have items inside the rooms if you forget something at home.

Kids under 3 years of age are free!

All Day Dining and Quick Queue:

Quick Queue: it’s expensive depending on the day, but completely worth it. Most theme parks have baby switch (one parent waits in line and then gets a free ticket for the other parent to return through the exit and ride immediately). Busch Gardens doesn’t. So we used the quick queue to ride the big coasters without a wait. We traded off doing other activities with our son and took turns riding the rides that he wasn’t tall enough to ride. We saved hours and it was great. No complaints. We never waited more than 10-15 minutes when the regular ride was 60 minutes or more.

How to access the quick queue: You’ll see a separate line right next to the regular line. Just show your print out to the attendant and they will let you in. Save your print out when you approach the ride, they will scan and allow you on. It was strange that they didn’t trade in the print out for a band or anything. Makes it possible to do some trading around with the passes, but we didn’t cheat the system.

Quick Queue Busch Gardens pass
Quick Queue print out. You’ll have your name on each voucher, it is blurred.

All day dining: the park was open from 10 am till 10 pm. Eating just two meals, the package worked in our favor. We didn’t have any issues with long lines (Sunday). The lines were intense when the rides stopped (due to weather in the area) and everyone decided to eat. Otherwise, we were able to get food relatively quickly and the dining meal plan did provide scannable bracelets. You’ll get the bracelets as soon as you turn in your paper printouts at the first location that allows all-day dining.

All day dining Busch Gardens sample meal.
Sample meal: main dish, side/dessert and a drink. All included with one bracelet.

It also allows buy one, get one free for items such as ice cream, snacks, and drinks at stands around the park. You can grab drinks anytime from the restaurants on the list. Food was actually pretty good for a theme park. We checked out Serengeti Overlook (pulled pork, pizza, cider) and Dragon Fire Grill (lots of options: Asian, Southwest, American). The Dragon Fire Grill has a stage with shows so if you time it right, you can have a meal and a show. The show was good but loud. We did enjoy the slushie drinks at this location. We also brought empty cups to refill before we left the restaurant. this works great if you have children.

Stage with dancers in the Dragon Fire Grill
Time your meal correctly and you can enjoy a show while you eat.

Rides:

Lots of great rides. Our son is 42”, so we mapped out what he could and couldn’t ride. I highly recommend looking up which rides your children can and can’t ride. Also, get familiar with the layout of the park. It takes maybe 20 minutes and it will save you a ton of time once you’re inside the park.

Busch Gardens Tampa has an app that you can download. Compared to other park apps I’ve used, it isn’t great, but it does have a map feature and you can also check ride times.

Busch Gardens app showing ride times.
Sample ride time waits on a summer weekend day.

Our list of favorite rides:

Cheetah Hunt is a long coaster and has some fun elements to it like twisty turns, rapid take off and plunges. My husband wasn’t a fan because he is 6’3” and the harness dug into his shoulders. But the ride is super smooth, not rough like others and not jerky.

Montu was ok. It’s a dangling coaster with lots of flips and turns. I thought it was loud with the mechanical mechanisms above for the ride. It is smooth and not overly jerky.

Scorpion was my sons first upside down coaster. It’s an older coaster, but he had a blast. Another favorite for him was Cobras Curse. Lots of smiles on this one, but again, he is a coaster fanatic and daredevil.

Shakeira… intense! Vertical drop! Certainly, one to make your heart jump.

Sheikera, Busch Gardens Tampa
Shakeira, Busch Gardens Tampa

Water rafts: you WILL get wet, if not soaked. My son laughs so hard on these rides, so of course… we went. Dad stayed with the wagon. Loading and unloading can take awhile on this ride.

Mother and son riding the Congo River Rapids
Congo River Rapids

Kumba: another fun coaster. Lots of dips, twists and loop de loops.

Each major coaster had its own unique personality. But if you only had time for a couple, I vote Shakeira and Cheetah Hunt.

Shows:

We watched Push Play at the dragon fire grill. There were music and dancing, all nicely done. Then we saw Opening Night Critters. It was such a cute show with tons of animals, including a pony, dogs, cats, birds of all sorts and all the fun antics of their tricks. Highly recommended if you have kids.

Opening Night Animal Critters Show at Busch Gardens, Tampa
Opening Night Animal Critters Show at Busch Gardens, Tampa

Animals:

Busch gardens does an excellent job combining animal attractions, rides, and shows. You really can’t go wrong. We enjoyed watching the lions play in the early morning and the giraffes. My son wasn’t old enough for the animal encounters (minimum age is 5). But you can feed giraffes, and get up close with elephants among many other options. Check out those options here.

Feeding Kangaroo's at Busch Gardens Tampa
We enjoyed paying for a cup of food and visiting with the Kangaroos.

Summer Nights:

During the summer months, Busch Gardens Tampa stays open late (until 10 pm) and has a firework show. As you walk around the park, you’ll notice a set of gates with signs that say they open for the firework show in the evening. We were off having fun and checking out some entertainment over by Cheetah Hunt, so we didn’t go through the gates and caught the fireworks from farther away in the park.

Summer Nights Fireworks show, as seen from Cheetah Hunt
Summer Nights Fireworks show, as seen from Cheetah Hunt

Other considerations:

Print a map and figure out what you want to ride or not ride. We write down showtimes near the theaters and for this trip, we marked dining options that were included in our all-day dining pass.

Busch Gardens Tampa map with notes
Well worn from being in my pocket, but you get the idea. Rides are circled that my son can ride based on his height.

Inclement weather. Since it was summer, thunderstorms are frequent. Figure out indoor options for these times. We did see the children’s rides operating when the major coasters were closed. Even the climbing zones were closed with lightning and thunder nearby.

If you’re looking for more fun things to do in the Tampa Bay area (especially with kids)….Check out my Top 10 Things to Do in Tampa! Or explore the interactive map on our destinations page.

Must-Have Items for a great day in Busch Gardens:

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