The Busch Gardens Park in Tampa, Florida is one of the oldest, and most famous, combination theme-parks and zoos. Originally started as a recreation area for brewery workers, over the course of half a century Busch Gardens has grown into a major amusement park with the continent of Africa as a theme. Approximately half of the park is given over animal exhibits and wildlife ranges. Busch Gardens is the most popular tourist destination in the Tampa Bay area.
In 1959, the Anheuser-Busch brewery opened Busch Gardens as a hospitality facility for workers and visitors. The first animal exhibit was a bird garden. In 1965, a 29-acre savannah-like area was opened. Dubbed the “Serengeti Plains”, this natural landscape was stocked with small herds of animals from Africa. Additional animal exhibits have been added periodically ever since, and now include species from Southeast Asia as well. Busch Gardens is one of the most visited zoos in the United States.
Almost all of the animal areas are still in operation, including the original bird gardens, which is home to a large flock of flamingos. The core of the park remains the Serengeti Plain area with its herd animals and the Edge of Africa with its predators. There are also gorillas in Myombe, Elephants in Nairobi, Komodo Dragons in Asia and Tigers in their own lodge. A locomotive train runs through many of these areas offering cloe-up views of the wildlife.
The SeaWorld park in Orlando is neither the oldest nor the largest in the chain, but it is by far the most visited and arguably the most popular combination marine wildlife park-theme park in the world. Forming an integral part of Orlando’s tourist zone, it sees over five million guests annually, which puts it in contention for the most visited wildlife reserve of any sort on the planet. Like its counterparts in California and Texas, SeaWorld Orlando boasts a magnificent array of sea life, including Shamu, its trademark killer whale.
This was the first expansion park outside of the original SeaWorld in San Diego. It was designed to take advantage of its proximity to the Walt Disney World resort next door, a feat which it has pulled off with great success. In 2007 it was ranked as the ninth most visited theme park in the United States, falling behind most of its Orlando counterparts but ahead of almost everyone else.
While the park does not have themed geographic zones, it does have over a dozen themed exhibits. Extremely popular are the Wild Arctic, with Polar Bear, Walrus and Beluga Whale, and Shark Encounter featuring dangerous fish. Popular shows include those of the sea lions and dolphins, but of course the biggest draw are the killer whales.
Busch Gardens is located on the north side of Tampa, approximately eight miles from downtown. It is open year-round. Hours vary both daily and seasonally. The cost of admission is $82.00. SeaWorld Orlando is located in the International Drive hotel zone, approximately three miles east of Walt Disney World and eight miles south of downtown Orlando. It is open year round, with hours varying daily and seasonally. The cost of admission is $84.00. Web: http://seaworldparks.com (official website).