Here's how to have the best time.
Founded in 1959 by Anheuser-Busch Busch Gardens began as a collection of tropical gardens and a bird sanctuary. Both were adjacent to the new Anheuser-Busch (as in Budweiser) brewery, which was the main attraction. Visitors could admire the wildlife and the flora while touring the brewery and enjoying free beer samples.
The park quickly expanded, and became the first free-range habitat for herds of animals in the United States. In 1965, an official Serengeti Plain exhibit opened, and hundreds of African animals were roaming more or less uninhibited across the massive park.
More zoological attractions were added, and soon there were also roller coasters and other rides. A decade after the Serengeti Plain exhibit opened in Tampa, Florida, a second Busch Gardens opened up north, in Williamsburg, Virginia.
Despite being founded by a beer company, the adult beverage became less significant to Busch Gardens in the early 2000s. So-called “Hospitality Houses” scattered across Busch Gardens Tampa Bay — where visitors of legal drinking age could claim a free cup of beer during their visit and enjoy a lesson about the brewing process — were converted into restaurants and the complimentary taps stopped flowing in 2009.
Now, the Busch Gardens Tampa Bay theme park is decidedly more family-friendly: The original Busch Gardens hospitality center is now a pizza and pasta buffet.
“Busch Gardens Tampa Bay has something for the entire family,” a representative told Travel + Leisure. In addition to animal encounters and wild thrill rides, there are plenty of diversions for little ones, including a Sesame Street Safari of Fun and a water playground.
Busch Gardens is busy all year long, but prices rise crowds tend to swell during school vacation weeks and the summer months. Be sure to cross-reference your travel dates with any on-site events, like the month-long Howl-O-Scream event around Halloween.
For expert tips and tricks to planning a perfect trip to Busch Gardens Tampa Bay — including park hours, the best rides and restaurants, how to use a Quick Queue pass, and the can’t-miss attractions — check out our definitive guide. We promise, all your Busch Gardens Tampa Bay questions will be answered.