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neil dandy in front of welcome to florida sign

In this installment of the Dandy Fun House, instead of coming to you from our usual haunts of Murfreesboro, Tennessee, we figured we’d go inster-state-ular to the great state of Florida! We’re taking a family day-trip to Busch Gardens Tampa and you’re invited! Come on and step into the FUN HOUSE!

We begin our day by checking out of our plush accommodations at Motel 6 just a few clicks north of Tampa. M6 is our go-to (always read the online reviews first though because they’re not all the same!) because we always travel with our Dandy Dog, Emma-Lou! Motel 6 is the one budget motel chain we never have to worry about being dog-friendly or being up-charged for bringing her. But keep in mind, some of them do hold a $50 deposit on your credit card until the room is inspected for damage afterwards. On this trip (which was actually a week long), we did spend one night in a M6 in Birmingham, Alabama (coliseum location) which demanded a $50 CASH pet deposit which we weren’t informed of prior! Thankfully I had it on me from a cash tip I received after DJ-ing a wedding the night before we embarked. This is not the typical standard and a letter to corporate ensued and they responded that this is certainly not their policy. So all this to say, read the reviews before booking, especially when traveling with Fido!

busch gardens tampa parking lotemma-lou the dandy dog runningbusch gardens tampa kennel door

Anyway, once we arrived at Busch Gardens and paid our $30 for parking, we set about to find the tram from the parking lot to the park itself and also the onsite kennel. We were pleasantly surprised to discover that the pet boarding is located right next to the tram boarding location which we found very convenient. The kennel is all indoors and air conditioned. It was clean and not only were the people working there extremely polite, but several of the kennel staff came out personally to meet our doggie and introduce themselves. I have NEVER experienced customer service on that level before in my life! And the kennel was only $25 for the day! What a great deal!

dandy family on the tram

We then make our way to the tram and they waved us right on (because we had already stood in line with the pooch before we discovered where the pet boarding was!). A short jaunt to the park entrance and there we were.

busch gardens christmas town signbusch gardens entrance line

We start making our way toward the gates, passing what we thought was the line to buy tickets only to discover that the line we were passing was the line to enter! We go to the back of the line which unfortunately was stretched all the way back to the tram drop-off spot. There was nobody directing the crowd at first, but then the guy who helped us at the tram boarding by the kennel showed up and started corralling people the proper way and all was good. From there, it took about 20 minutes to get into the park.

busch gardens mapiron gwazi roller coaster

Once inside, we discovered the park map which showed it being laid out in a loop which is a great and efficient design. We could go right or left. We chose left and immediately found ourselves in an area where everything started with the word “Gwazi” so I figured we were in Gwazi-land or something like that. We got to see a new roller coaster being built and expected to open in 2022 called the IRON GWAZI and it looked like an absolute beast! Something for coaster enthusiasts to get excited about! Exotic locations of the world are what this park is mainly themed around. Africa, South America and parts of Asia, but mostly Africa from what I could tell.

Christmas Town closed gates

Christmas Town closed gates!

cheetah hunt roller coaster closed sign

Cheetah Hunt closed for renovations

Because this was Thanksgiving week, they had their holiday decorations going full blast and even had a section of the park called CHRISTMAS TOWN. We came upon the gates of Christmas Town Village but unfortunately, they were closed. In fact, a lot of things were closed I’m sad to say. There are always a few things closed for maintenance at most any park and that is to be expected. Upon entrance, it was posted that the sky cars which transport people over the park would be closed along with the iconic Cheetah Hunt roller coaster with the corkscrew looping track that has been a mainstay attraction for decades. Also one other coaster was posted as being closed, but that’s not what I’m talking about. MANY of the more mid-range rides were closed. But thankfully for us, the things that were closed weren’t really anything we were that interested in anyway. It was just hard not to notice.

chick fil a line of people

Along with many rides being closed, many eateries were also closed causing the lines for the ones that were open to have extremely long wait times. I’m not referring to any actual sit-down restaurants, I’m talking about the ones where you just walk up and order a sandwich to eat at a picnic table. The wait for just those were about an hour! Thus we decided to skip lunch in the park and instead plan on a good dinner afterwards while being thankful we stopped for McMuffins on the way to the park!

Thankfully, just about all of the animal attractions were indeed open and that’s what we were mainly interested in (that and any available family rides) because we’re not real big on roller coasters (me and Mrs. Dandy can’t physically handle them very well and our 12 year old son just isn’t into them).

kangaloom entrancekangaroosflamingos

We started getting our animals on at the Kangaloom – an interactive kangaroo experience. This is a walk-through kangaroo exhibit which is pretty much identical to the one at our local Nashville Zoo with the exception that there is indeed a barrier between guests and the roos, whereas at our local zoo there is no barrier. But it was still a nice exhibit. From there we passed a sea of flamingos.

butterfly landscape sculpturetiger landscape sculptureneil dandy with bulldog landscape sculpture

The park also boasts a large variety of botanical sculptures. Butterflies, tigers, bulldogs, etc. They make for great photo ops and we did indulge!

lory landing entrance signneil dandy with lorikeet on shoulder

We spent some time in Lory Landing which is an aviary for lorikeets (little colorful parakeet-looking birds). Even though I was a cheapskate and didn’t buy any nectar for them, one beautiful red and blue birdie still landed on my shoulder and hung out with me for a few minutes whispering all the secrets of the Lory Kingdom into my ear.

serengetti express train signneil and evan dandy on the safari traingiraffe herdrhinos

Not having much luck in finding whole-family rides, we did come across the Serengeti Express Safari Train which IS something we could ride as a family through an open-plains habitat for zebra, giraffe, rhinos and much more. It was a great thing we could all do together while simultaneously taking a load off!

tiger lodge signmichele dandy with tiger size charttiger napping by pond

After the Sernegeti Express came the Tiger Lodge tiger habitat. This is easily one of the best tiger exhibits I’ve ever seen (and I’ve been to Tiger World in Thailand). These stripeys are living their best life and appear to be well taken care of in a plush environment of waterfalls, caves, ponds, shade trees and catered meals galore! Where do I apply!?

flume log ride flume log ride lift to the top flume log ride top of the drop Neil and Evan Dandy on the flume log ride

My son Evan and I decided to go for one ride that was semi-thrill and that was the Stanley Falls Flume log (barrel?) ride. The line was only about 20 minutes long and the ride itself lasted probably a solid 5 minutes and was a lot of fun with nice views of the park from above and a couple of minor drops just to get your attention before the BIG ONE!

hyenas lion elephantalligatormetal dog and cat sculpturessesame street very furry schristmas signsesame street christmas villagemichele dandy holding japanese baby cookie monster shirtdandy family in front of busch gardens christmas tree dandy family exiting park

After a mid-day doggie walk for Emma-Lou the Dandy Dog, we spent the rest of our day enjoying more animal exhibits like hippos, apes, lions and more before calling it a day. We didn’t do any more rides because honestly, there weren’t hardly any other rides we could do as a family. It’s all pretty much big thrill rides or little kid rides and not much in-between. Ride-wise, this is pretty much a roller coaster park and the family attractions are pretty much the animal exhibits which round things out nicely.


PROS: Customer service and courtesy of the staff is absolutely top notch. The pet boarding is excellent as are the animal exhibits and habitats. This makes Busch Gardens a truly unique park and one especially for coaster enthusiasts (tip: If you’re coming for the coasters, spend a little extra and get the fast pass or your entire day will be spent in line which is true for almost any amusement park). And while we’re on the subject of cost, at around $90 per ticket at the time of our visit, the Busch Gardens / Sea World family of theme parks really can’t be beat in comparison to Disney and Universal.

CONS: The lack of rides that families can enjoy together sticks out like a sore thumb to me which is where parks like Disney and Universal have a big advantage as they have ride-through experiences (many interactive) that all can enjoy. Also the amount of closed attractions and food vendors was a big problem and as a result, it was very difficult to get any sort of a bite to eat without investing a very large amount of our day waiting. I am a bit sympathetic to this aspect of things however because I have to surmise that they, like almost everyone else are having enormous staffing challenges right now.

All things considered, on a scale from 1-10 (and as much as I’d like to give a better rating) I’m giving Busch Gardens, Tampa a 6.5. It’s a really good theme park with some (hopefully temporary) challenges going on right now they are going to have to address. But still, we DID enjoy our day and the friendliness and courtesy of the staff that was there serving was absolutely excellent!

And if you would like to be excellent to us and help support future installments of the Dandy Fun House, please consider supporting us via our patronage page at our website

Supporters gain access to exclusive bonus features and Super Supporters also gain access to those features and I’ll also mail you some cool stuff from right here at the Dandy Fun House that Mrs. Dandy wants me to get rid of (if you give me your mailing address!).

neil dandy at home with christmas mug

Ok, that about does it for now. Come back real soon because I picked up a Stuckey’s Pecan Log Roll in the brand new packaging from a roadside rest stop on our way home somewhere in Alabama. I’m going to un-package this little slice of American history and taste test it for you. I’m also going to get into the history of Stuckey’s as well as bringing you up to date on their current revitalization efforts and comeback thanks to new CEO, Stephanie Stuckey. Stephanie has purchased the languishing, nearly deceased brand of roadside stands and tasty treats and is heading a massive campaign to bring this iconic company back to its former glory!

I’ll be telling you all about it in the next installment right here at the Dandy Fun House where everything is always FUN AND DANDY!

Neil Dandy is the creator of The Dandy Fun House and the alter-ego of Neil Smith, the Big Cheese at Neil Smith Entertainment and Productions, musician, DJ, Emcee and author. Aren’t you impressed?