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!

Verbolten at BGW


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.

Scorpion at BGT

 

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!

England at BGW

Winner: Busch Gardens Williamsburg


2. Food

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.

Lunch at the Zambia Smokehouse near Tigris at BGT

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.

Winner: Tie


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.

SheiKra at BGT

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.

The Loch Ness Monster at BGW

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.

Winner: Tie


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.

Falcon’s Fury at BGT

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.

Finnegan’s Flyer and Griffon at BGW

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.

Le Scoot and Alpengeist at BGW

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.

The Cheetah Hunt train flying over the impala exhibit at BGT

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


6. Location

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.

Kumba at BGT

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!

Read our other Park Battles:

Holiday World vs Michigan’s Adventure

Kings Island vs Kings Dominion

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5 Responses

  1. Joe from MD says:

    Having been a Platinum Member during the Coronavirus years and slightly before, I absolutely disagree with this assessment. First off as a Platinum Member I’m treated less importantly at the non home parks than I am at my home park – WTF??

    But Tampa is consistently understaffed with much ruder employees. The park is clean but not as noticeable as Williamsburg. We’ve left our vacation early due to the lack of social distancing and overcrowding that is Tampa.

    Williamsburg has never had that issue. It’s definitely the best park for greenery and adjacent to it is the much better Water Country USA.

    In my overall park rankings amongst all the major ones for value Six Flags is the highest. But overall experience Universal Studios and Island of Adventure out preform the Busch Gardens and Seaworld passes.

    Bottom line, if I renew passes for Busch Gardens or Seaworld, I’ll avoid the Platinum pass and probably just get the one park option. And avoid Tampa like the plague.

  2. Shannon says:

    I’ve never been to the Williamsburg park, that being said, I thoroughly enjoyed Tampa’s offerings. We went in June before Delta took Florida off at the knees, and the park was not crowded at all. With that in mind, the writer was wrong about one thing: Tampa does offer one non-coaster ride. It’s a train that takes you through the animal enclosures with the operator being your typical humorous safari guide. Also, in response to the other comment there was one rude-ish employee at one of the food sites but every other employee I interacted with was a joy. This includes the keeper who was with me for a special sloth experience.

  3. Jim Johnson says:

    One thing that articles regarding amusement parks never comment on are the entertainment shows. The ice skating show “Turn it Up” is one of the most recognized and highest rated shows in the world, and my personal favorite of all the shows I’ve been to. “Celtic Fire” is another amazing show at the Williamsburg BG and the Christmas ice Skating show with Elvis Stojko and the married pairs team from WV is also a personal favorite. My wife and I are current Platinum pass holders and have chosen Busch Gardens after experiencing almost every amusement park in the US, and various parks in Europe. We like Busch for their shows, Rollercoaters(which we believe Tampa’s coasters are much better than Williamsburg for us avid coaster riders), and the overall experience we get at BG. We also love Halloween and both the Florida and Virginia parks do a great job at scaring us stiff! I don’t normally write reviews, but I feel like I needed to give a shout out to the shows my wife and I love to go see!

  4. Will says:

    On paper, it seems like BGW and BGT are tied especially for roller coasters however, tampa is far and away the better location not just because they’re close to orlando, but their own roller coasters are better than williamsburgs versions of the same ride. They both have sky rocket II’s, dive coasters, inverts, launch coasters, and family coasters. However even the cloned rides are better at tampa. Also the drop towers are at the far end of the spectrum from each other. Tampa’s is the best in the world and williamsburgs drop tower is the worst one with the worst seats on any ride ever. Also the narrow pathways at williamsburg do not make you feel at all like you’re in Europe, it makes you feel like you’re in an overly crowded zoo as you struggle to get around the masses of people walking and standing in the walkways. Tampa is flat and has wide walkways which makes navigating the park a breeze. Also williamsburg has the most confusing layout of any park I’ve visited. Its very easy to get lost multiple times unless you know the park inside and out. And the shows are definitely better in Tampa. The busch gardens parks are their own thing. They are not on the same level as Disney and universal but both are a huge step up from most cedar fair and six flags parks. Also for most people I think whichever park you first visit is going to be the one that you prefer as it was your first experience with a busch gardens park. Both parks are more scenic than cedar fair and six flags’ top parks but both parks struggle with their rides operations being on par with cedar fairs. Also both parks have covered queue lines for their rides and both have equally shaded and exposed areas throughout.

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