Vacation Guide to Southwest Florida

A Side Trip to Busch Gardens - Africa


A trip from the Southwest Florida area to Busch Gardens in Tampa Bay, Florida will take you approximately 2 to 2-1/2 hours by car. It is about 150 miles from the Southwest Florida International Airport.

Busch Gardens is a theme park similar to those you find at Disney World. It’s a combination zoo, entertainment center and amusement park. You’ll see live entertainment, enjoy thrill rides and learn about many types of animals. You can even see the Budweiser Clydesdales.

Busch Gardens is made up of several distinct areas, including Egypt, Morocco, the Bird Gardens, Nairobi, Stanleyville, the Congo, Timbuktu and the Serengeti Plain. Within each area, you’ll find animals, entertainment, attractions, dining and shopping. As you enter the park, be sure to grab a map and a schedule for the various shows. You’ll want to plan your priorities early on.


Each section features different animal life. For example, the alligators live in the Morocco section, the flamingos live in the Bird Gardens section, and the elephants call Nairobi their home. However, most of the animals are found within the Serengeti Plain. To see these animals, you can take an overhead Skyride or ride the train, which travels in a circle within Busch Gardens.

Additionally, throughout the day the park holds “Meet the Keepers” sessions. At designated times (listed on the show schedule) an animal keeper will arrive at the specified area to educate you about the animals and to answer any questions you may have. These talks are very interesting and highly recommended.

[Note: We find the train to be slow and noisy, and we don’t recommend that you stay on the train for the full loop of the park. To get the best view of the animals by train, board at the Nairobi Train Station and get off at the Congo Train Station. Or if you would like a bit longer ride and more animal viewing, board at Stanleyville, stay on at Nairobi and get off at Congo. There isn’t much to see on the train route between Congo and Stanleyville, so the only reason to take the train here is if your feet can’t handle any more walking (which may very well be the case!)]


At the Busch Gardens entrance gate, pick up a copy of the show schedule. It will list the shows, locations and times for each act. The major productions are shown at the Moroccan Palace Theater, the Marrakesh Theater and the Timbuktu Theater. You can also enjoy live entertainment while dining at the Desert Grill Restaurant. This is a cafeteria-style restaurant and it’s not necessary to arrive precisely at showtime; patrons come and go as they please. There are several other entertainment venues within the park, so plan early, as it’s unlikely you’ll be able to see every show in one day.


Dining at Busch Gardens ranges from snack stands to fine dining. If you’re on-the-go, grab a quick hot dog, soft pretzel or chicken strips. For a fast, yet more satisfying lunch, stop in at the Desert Grill Restaurant (the carved turkey is delicious), the Zagora Cafe or Zambia Smokehouse. For full-service, sit-down dining, visit the Crown Colony House Restaurant. Here you’ll choose from the fine entrees, salads and sandwiches while enjoying a view of the Serengeti Plain.


Thrill rides are a popular attraction at Busch Gardens. SheiKra is a roller coaster with a 90-degree drop, an Immelmann loop, a vertical dive into an underground tunnel and, most significantly, “floorless” cars. Gwazi is a double wooden roller coaster with a seemingly endless number of spirals on almost 7,000 feet of track. Other exciting roller coasters include Kumba, Montu and Scorpion. Busch Garden visitors also enjoy water ride attractions, including the Stanley Falls Log Flume, the Congo River Rapids rafts and the Tanganyika Tidal Wave boat plunge. And of course there are a variety of kiddie rides for the little ones. There is also a carnival-type game area, which we do not recommend for the youngsters due to the poor odds of winning.


Gift shops are located at the park entrance, as well as within each of the individual sections of Busch Gardens. You’ll see lots of stuffed animals, as well as home decor and other gift items.

This information gives you a good overview of Busch Gardens and all you can encounter in your day trip. Be sure to check out Busch Gardens’ official website at At this website, you will likely find admission discounts. And if you would like to extend your side trip to two days, across the street from Busch Gardens you’ll find its sister park — Adventure Island, a 30-acre water park.