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We decided to head over to Busch Gardens Tampa Bay as a break from the Orlando theme parks. The two-year-old son and one-year-old niece found something new and different to do! Here is my guide to visiting Busch Gardens with toddlers!
Sesame Street Safari of Fun
The Sesame Street Safari of Fun is a section at Busch Gardens designed specifically for families, especially those with young children. In fact, there’s even a sign at the entrance that no alcoholic beverages are allowed past a certain point! Busch Gardens really wants to make sure this area is a family-friendly environment!
I think we spent 99% of our time here. There’s just so much to do for the kids, and we did not even do all the attractions! Read on for some of the day’s highlights.
Character Meet and Greets
Truthfully, we visited Busch Gardens on this specific day because there was a special character meet-and-greet happening featuring Super Why and Princess Presto! My son absolutely loves Super Why (especially Whyatt, which he pronounces more like “white”) and I give credit to the show for helping to provide an educational experience for him!
The meet-and-greet was located at 1, 2, 3 Smile With Me, and surprisingly the line was not long at all! My son got terrified (as he usually does with every character we’ve ever met), and Super Why and Princess Presto were so sweet and patient with him. In fact, we were able to do the meet-and-greet twice because there was hardly anyone in line!
As we finished our meet-and-greet, my son mustered up enough courage to say “Bye” to Super Why! I was so excited that he got to meet Whyatt/Super Why, and it was definitely my favorite part of the day. I think I enjoyed meeting the Super Why characters more than my son did!
On top of the Super Why meet-and-greet, there were also plenty of opportunities to take pictures with the Sesame Street characters. Located at Sunny Day Theater, an emcee would announce which characters were available for photo ops and for how long. We lined up to the left side of the stage and had the chance to meet Cookie Monster, Rosita, Elmo, and Big Bird.
Of the Sesame Street characters, my son enjoyed meeting Elmo the most. I think it’s probably because Elmo is one of the characters who sings the “If You’re Happy and You Know It” song, one of my son’s faves.
Lots of Play Areas!
Going to Busch Gardens with toddlers is worth your while because there’s so many places to play here! If your kids need to burn off some energy (like my kid always does), there are multiple play areas in the Sesame Street Safari of Fun for children to explore.
There’s Cookie Monster’s Canopy Crawl and Elmo’s Treehouse Trek, which are multi-story climbing play areas. Also, there’s Telly’s Jungle Jam, which has interactive features to help children learn about shapes and sounds.
Let’s Play Together Show
This one my 15-month-old niece loved! She’s a music lover and likes dancing, so this was the show for her. There’s not a lot of seats in the Sunny Day Theater, so come early to get a nice spot. We ended up in the last row, in the very back, so next time I’m coming early so my niece can sit up front!
There are two shows daily, one at 11 a.m. and one at 4 p.m. We caught the later one. I thought the show was pretty cute, and it was fun to see all the characters singing and dancing together on stage!
Serengeti Express Train
As it was getting blazing hot in the middle of the day, we decided to take a relaxing train ride. We left the Sesame Street area and hopped on the train at the Stanleyville Train Station to take a tour of the Serengeti Plain.
On the way, we saw a few animals and roller coasters, but today it was mostly a view of the roller coasters and the Skyride. The animals, except for the rhinos and gazelles, were much too far away in the plains or hiding under trees trying to shade themselves away from the sun.
The train stops at two other stations (Congo and Nairobi) to pick up and drop off passengers. If you don’t feel like walking, it is also another way to get to different areas of the park.
It takes about 50 minutes to make a whole loop, which can get pretty long for toddlers. The train moves very, very slowly. Luckily, my niece took a nap (as did her gandpa), but my son was getting pretty squirmy for the last 20 minutes or so. Other than that, I found the train ride to be quite relaxing.
Bert and Ernie’s Watering Hole
After the train ride, we headed back to the Sesame Street Safari of Fun. We stayed in the Sesame Street area almost the entire day and plan to do the same if you’re with toddlers!
Make sure to pack swim diapers and bathing suits for your little ones because of Bert and Ernie’s Watering Hole, a really awesome splash pad! No visit to Busch Gardens with toddlers is complete without a stop at the Watering Hole. My son loves splash pads, and this is a good one! It’s also a great way to cool off on a hot summer day. Next time, I’m bringing my bathing suit so I can fully partake in the fun too!
We did this as our last activity of the day. After that, we changed the kids into dry clothes and headed back to Orlando. They slept the whole ride home!
FYI for Adults/Parents: Parking was a Nightmare!
Parking is a nightmare, especially disabled parking! My father has a disabled parking permit, and the signage was close to nonexistent. For the few (very small) signs that were posted on McKinley, they were misleading. I don’t go to Busch Gardens very often. From Orlando, we came from Fowler Avenue/University of South Florida area and took a left on McKinley.
We saw a line of cars on the left lane and assumed it was the line for parking. After waiting there for a while, I noticed a super-small sign that looked like it had the disabled parking symbol on it. After squinting as best I could, it was, indeed, the sign for disabled parking straight ahead, so we got out of line and followed the sign. We kept following the sign until we hit the end of the Busch Gardens area and the next main street, where the signs for handicapped parking disappeared.
By the way, we figured out that the line of cars I mentioned earlier was the line for Adventure Island, not Busch Gardens.
Long story short, after a couple of U-turns, and then finding our way into the dropoff area and having to drive back out again, EVERYONE needs to go through the main parking entrance, whether you want preferred parking, general parking, or disabled parking.
If you need disabled parking, DO NOT FOLLOW THE SIGNS on McKinley. Just go through the main parking entrance across the street from Busch Gardens, pay, and they will direct you from there.
Alright, so we paid 20 bucks to park, followed the blue line on the ground as instructed, and as we approached the road leading to disabled/preferred parking, an employee came up to our car and said that there were no handicap spaces left! Oh, brother! He said we could go ahead and try, but there may not be any left. By sheer luck, we found a spot tucked away in the corner. Had we not found that spot, we would have had drive back and park in the general parking area.
I could see that many cars with handicap placards were weaving in and out of the disabled lot looking for a spot. That would have been so irritating. If you need preferred parking or have a disabled permit, your best bet is to arrive early. They had run out of spaces by 1 p.m. on a Sunday afternoon.
However, You Get Free Beer!
Busch Gardens makes up for its stressful parking situation by offering those over the age of 21 two free beers every time you visit! Make sure to take advantage of this promotion as it only runs through August 5, 2018.
I wrote a post on the free beer promo here.
Busch Gardens is owned by SeaWorld Parks and Entertainment, the same company that owns SeaWorld Orlando. If you ask me, Busch Gardens is much, much better than SeaWorld. The employees are nicer, it’s more toddler-friendly, and the park is superior overall. The only part where SeaWorld Orlando wins is the parking, which is a lot more organized. Nonetheless, I will choose to make the drive to Tampa for Busch Gardens over going to SeaWorld any day. Even in 95-degree weather, we really enjoyed ourselves at Busch Gardens!
We especially liked the Sesame Street Safari of fun, and I’m always on the lookout for family-friendly activities to take my son to. Busch Gardens exceeded my expectations! I hope you enjoyed my guide to visiting Busch Gardens with toddlers in tow!