Battle of the Busch Gardens
Outside of the Disney and Universal parks, there are few parks that measure up to that high standard of quality and level of detail. The Busch Gardens parks have consistently been some that do strive to deliver that same experience. After spending some time with a season pass at the Williamsburg park and finally getting to visit the Tampa location this year, I have nothing bad to say about the chain. If you are on the fence about which Busch park to visit first, hopefully this comparison will help you decide which is best for you!
1. Park Feel
Looking at the Williamsburg and Tampa parks simply from their feel and landscaping may be the biggest difference they have. It’s almost like comparing the backwoods to the desert—it all comes down to personal preference. The Williamsburg park is very lush in foliage and has hills while the Tampa park is flat and has the occasional grove of Palm Trees. Both parks do a immaculate job of groundskeeping; the flowers and garden beds are well-kept. All of the buildings at both parks are also well-themed and tie into whatever area of the park they are in.
The lands in the parks are also very different. Williamsburg features the countries of Europe while Tampa is all about Africa. I always loved the intimate feel that the midways gave in Williamsburg; the paths are more narrow and it feels like you are actually in the streets of the country you’re in. I felt that the Tampa park lacked a little bit of that feel and had more of your typical park midways. I think there is a little bit more shade to be found in Virginia as well, but Florida can’t help being sunny and hot!
Winner: Busch Gardens Williamsburg
Going in another direction, when we look at the food offered at both parks, it is nearly identical! There are very good barbecue restaurants at each park (both with solid smoked meat options), great little homemade pretzel shops, and very similar food courts with burgers, chicken, and asian bowls.
There are also more speciality eateries at each park. In the France section in Williamsburg, you can get a variety of loaded fries at Les Frites and in Tampa you can get fresh from the oven slice at Oasis Pizza.
3. The Coasters
The work that goes into keeping all of the Busch roller coasters in tip top shape doesn’t go unnoticed. From the newest rides in the parks to the old classics, all are kept up to be as smooth as possible. With most parks you can easily draw a line where the good coasters are and where the rest fall under, but with Busch Gardens all of them are almost equal in the fun and enjoyable category.
Both parks have dive coasters, launch coasters, 40 year-old coasters, inverted coasters, Skyrocket II coasters, and kiddie coasters. The coaster lineups, while similar, do vary quite a bit. The Williamsburg park has their classic B&M hyper Apollo’s Chariot and wooden coaster InvadR, while Tampa has it’s B&M sit down Kumba and spinning coaster Cobra’s Curse.
If I had to choose which lineup is better, my preferences would have me lean towards the Williamsburg park. I think that they have a slightly more well-rounded list with their hyper and wooden coaster. That being said, I absolutely would ride some coasters at Tampa before some at Williamsburg. It is a very close call.
When the two park’s new-for-2021 (2022?) coasters open, it will even further put the coaster lineups in a neck and neck race. Pantheon (Williamsburg) and Iron Gwazi (Tampa) both look like incredible rides. If Iron Gwazi rides anything like Steel Vengeance, then my lean my switch and go towards Tampa.
4. Non-Coaster Rides
Busch Gardens in general is more known for their coasters and scenery before anything else, especially flat rides. Neither park really has a ton of non-coaster options. But what they do have we will look at. Both parks have drop towers; Mach Tower in Williamburg at 240 feet and Falcon’s Fury in Tampa towering in at 335 feet. The experiences on these two couldn’t be more different—I hands down prefer the tilting seats of Falcon’s Fury to the traditional seating on Mach Tower. The feeling of looking straight down as you plummet is unreal.
Now if we look at the other flat rides, Tampa doesn’t have any, while Williamsburg has a slew of classic rides such as the teacups, scrambler, music express, pirate ship, and more. The Williamsburg park also recently added a Finnegan’s Flyer, an S&S Screamin’ Swing.
The parks also have water attraction, each with a log flume and river rapids ride. Williamsburg also adds Escape from Pompeii, a dark boat ride with a large drop at the end, and the Rhine River Cruise. Each park also has a train, but the one in Tampa goes through the Serengeti next to wild animals, so it easily beats out the one in Williamsburg.
Winner: Busch Gardens Williamsburg
5. Animal Encounters
Like mentioned above, the Florida park has an entire African plain full of a variety of animals you can see. On the train ride you’ll get close to giraffes, zebras, rhinos, ostriches, antelope, and more. There are also other spots in the park to see animals, such as elephants, tigers, hippos, and gorillas. The park actually has over 200 species of animals living on the premises.
If we hop over to Virginia, the number of animals is much less. Here you can see horses, sheep, cattle, wolves, and birds of prey. While still cool to see as you are walking around, it is not nearly at the level of the Tampa park’s collection.
Winner: Busch Gardens Tampa
Depending on where you live could have a large influence on which park you will visit first or more often. It did for me—Williamsburg is almost half the distance as Tampa, so it isn’t surprising I made it their first (and multiple times). But when it comes to what else the parks are close to, that also may help your decision.
The Virginia park is near Kings Dominion (45 minutes) and a short drive from Six Flags America (3 hours). There is also all of the historical aspects of being in Williamsburg to take advantage of. The Tampa park is by far in a better location for coaster enthusiasts. Located only 90 minutes from Orlando, you can easily plan a trip to hit up a number of other central Florida theme parks (or beaches).
Winner: Busch Gardens Tampa
If you’re keeping track, we are at 2 points for Williamsburg, 2 points for Tampa, and 2 points at a draw. I think this sums up the Busch parks almost perfectly—both are incredible parks with killer coaster lineups. Depending on what you are into, you can decide which is best for you! If you like animals and more park options go to Tampa. If you like walking around Europe’s streets and riding some really fun flat rides, go to Williamsburg. Or better yet take the time to visit both and see why we love Busch Gardens so much!