The 4th Annual Busch Gardens Tampa Bay Food & Wine Festival has begun, bringing great food, drinks, and live entertainment to the park for 9 weekends in March and April, from noon to park close on those days. As always, access to the festival area and general seating for the headline concerts is included with any annual pass, Fun Card or park admission. Below is our complete guide to this year’s event, including links to more detailed sections with menus and pricing for all of the food and drink cabins!
Be sure to check out all of our Food & Wine Festival articles:
Food Guide — Drink Guide — Concert List
Like fine wine, the Busch Gardens Food & Wine Festival improves each year. There are a few new things this season, beginning with a Festival Welcome Center just outside the Gwazi Park gates. At the new center, guests can purchase sampler lanyards and VIP Seating packages, get festival information, and more.
Make sure to pick up a complimentary festival guide at the Welcome Center if you missed it at the front gate. Along with a listing of menu items at each cabin, new this year is a Beer, Wine, and Cocktail index with all of the beverages available and what page in the guide to find them on, plus a $5 off coupon valid at local Sprouts markets, one of this year’s Food & Wine Festival sponsors.
The VIP Seating options return this year, which include reserved seating front and center for the headlining acts and include a 5-item Sampler. Prices start at $34.99 depending on the date and demand. New this year is a private VIP bar right next to the seating area.
Coca-Cola has an expanded presence at the festival, moving from its spot last year to form the new Coca-Cola Plaza on the corner of the lake outside Garden Gate Cafe. Here you’ll find two Coke cabins, with a mix of new and returning menu items. Brand new for this season is the Coca-Cola Stage, where local bands will perform several times daily each weekend.
With the new Welcome Center and Coca-Cola Plaza, a few of the cabins and some of the menu items have moved around this season. If at first you don’t find a favorite item from past seasons, check out the festival guide to see if its available elsewhere. There are 30+ cabins and booths around the festival area, which wraps around much of Bird Gardens and through Gwazi Park.
See more about this year’s new food & beverage items, art & entertainment options, and more in the sections below!
A total of 38 culinary creations across 13 cabins are on this year’s menu, including 16 brand new items. Prices for items range from $3.75 to $7.25, with many of the samples large enough to share between two people for a light snack. You can pay out of pocket (pass members get 10% off) or use your sampler lanyard at the cabins. Returning favorites like lamb chops, bacon mac & cheese and the griddled cheesecake sandwich meet new items like fried frog legs, char siu duck steam bun, and a whoopie pie with orange mello cream.
See more, including a full listing of menus and pricing, in our Busch Gardens Tampa 2018 Food & Wine Festival – Food Guide!
Way more than just wine, the festival also features a number of craft beers and ciders, a few frozen cocktails, and even special wine, bourbon and tequila tasting bars! There are a total of 16 cabins featuring dozens of wines and craft beers, plus each of the 13 food cabins also feature wines and beers that pair perfectly with the dishes they serve. You’ll also find a standard domestic and foreign beer selection, bottled sodas, and water at a number of the food cabins.
Pricing is standardized across the booths – at the beverage cabins you’ll find wine available for $8.50 a glass, and the craft beers at $7.99 a glass. Most of the food cabins also offer bottled beverages: domestic and foreign beers will run you $7.99 to $8.99; Coca-Cola products are $3.49, and Dasani is $2.99. Glaceau Smartwater is also available for $3.99. Like the food cabins, you can pay out of pocket (pass members get 10% off) or use your sampler lanyard.
Guests 21+ can also partake in a wine, bourbon, or new this year tequila tasting, learning about the different beverages while trying something new. Wine tasting is $16.99, and the bourbon and tequila tastings are $24.99 each.
See more, including a full listing of menus, in our Busch Gardens Tampa 2018 Food & Wine Festival – Drink Guide!
Available for purchase at the new Welcome Center or at any of the festival cabins, the Sampler Lanyards can save you money if you’re planning on purchasing multiple items. The best part is the lanyards can be shared among your party, and are good throughout the duration of the festival, so no need to buy one for every person or feel you need to use all the punches in one visit.
There are three price points for the lanyards – $29.99 for a five-item lanyard, $39.99 for an eight-item lanyard, and $54.99 for a 12-item lanyard. Annual pass members can also get a special 15-item lanyard for the price of a 12-item lanyard. The 10% pass member discount also applies to the 5 and 8-item lanyards.
The lanyards are valid at every booth for every food and alcoholic beverage item, and the sizes for the food or beverage items are the same whether using a punch on the lanyard or paying out of pocket. How much you can save will vary depending on which lanyard you purchase and what items you choose, but assuming you get a 12-item lanyard and stick to the most expensive food and beverage items, you can easily save over $30 compared to the full price menu items.
Headliner concerts this season span the decades and genres, meaning a wide variety of choices whatever your particular musical interests may be. From Michael Bolton to Flo Rida, Boyz II Men to The All-American Rejects, and Kool & The Gang to TLC, you’re bound to find a few concerts you won’t want to miss.
See the complete concert lineup in our recent article.
As mentioned earlier in the article, the VIP Seating packages return, starting at $34.99 depending on the date and demand. Each VIP Seating option comes with a 5-item sampler lanyard, a $30 value. The VIP seating is limited, and online purchase in advance is recommended. However, if VIP Seating is still available on the day of the concert, it can be purchased at the Festival Welcome Center or at booth #20. A sign just outside the VIP Seating entrance will let you know if it’s available or sold out for that afternoon.
Brand new this year is the Coca-Cola Stage, located on the corner opposite the small lake outside of Garden Gate Cafe. Featuring local bands each weekend, look for performances several times each day. This past weekend, Mighty Mongo performed.
Other area entertainment includes returning guest favorites like the Living Topiary and Living Fountain. Find the Living Topiary at the Gwazi Park entrance around noon, and throughout the grounds in the afternoons. The Living Fountain can be seen several times each afternoon in The Corkyard, in the Walkabout Way area near the kangaroo habitat.
Shopping & Games
Mixed in with the food and drink cabins along the main pathway in Gwazi Park and the new Coca-Cola Plaza, you’ll find a variety of shopping and games. Local artisans include candle and jewelry makers, and you’ll also find Coca-Cola and food & wine inspired merchandise in several booths.
Part of the Food & Wine Festival since it started in 2015, several topiary sculptures return this season. You’ll find a total of six displays in and around the festival area, including four temporary displays and two topiaries that are in place year round.
Coming in from the main entrance, the first topiary you’ll encounter is the Kanburi Pit Viper, located in the plaza outside the former Gwazi roller coaster entrance. Inside Gwazi Park, keep an eye out for the Toparazzi, busy snapping pictures of all the guests wandering by.
Along the path heading towards Sesame Street Safari of Fun, you’ll find Oscar the Grouch, Big Bird, and Elmo. A little further down the path on the corner across from the flamingo habitat is the year-round butterflies topiary display (this one is not noted on the festival map).
Back around in the Walkabout Way area, a Kangaroo & Joey topiary is located year-round just outside of the Kangaloom habitat. Also nearby is the last of the special Food & Wine topiaries, an Orangutan. Keep an eye out around the rest of the park for several more topiary displays that are viewable year round.
Unfortunately, the two large topiary displays – Spirit of Spring and the Octopus – have not returned this season.
Theming & Art
New this year, local artists will be featured creating murals each week around the festival grounds. This past weekend, Alexandria Gogolin was busy creating different murals.
Right from the park’s entrance, Food & Wine theming is abound. Photo ops are available near the two ticket booths, and just inside the gate. Banners lead the way from Morocco towards Gwazi Park.
Look for food & wine themed decor throughout the festival area, including overhead and surrounding the bar next to the stage in Gwazi Park. In Coca-Cola Plaza, recycled bottled, cans, and other items adorn the stands and overhead lighting.
Now in its fourth year, we’ve learned a few things about the Busch Gardens Tampa Bay Food & Wine Festival that are worth sharing:
- Plan to arrive early. With headlining acts and Spring Break season, Food & Wine weekends can be quite busy. Your best bet to beat the crowds is to arrive early (parking lot opens 30 minutes or so before the park does). Arriving between 11 and 3 could mean you’ll have very long waits to park, for the tram, and get through security at the gate.
- Get a sampler lanyard. If you’re planning on eating or drinking more than a handful of items, get a lanyard, especially if you’ll be visiting multiple times during the festival. Stick to the higher price items, and you’ll be saving a good chunk of change versus buying each item separately. Plus, no need to keep digging in your pocket or purse for money or a credit card at each booth.
- Hit your must eats early. If there is an item to two you know you have to try, make sure to visit those cabins earlier in the day – for two reasons. First, when the festival area opens right at noon, crowds generally aren’t as big, so you’ll wait less in line. And secondly, since items are made fresh each day, it’s not uncommon for some things to run out towards the end of the day, especially after the concerts.
- Look for this out of the way area. New this year is an expanded seating area in Gwazi Park, tucked out of the way off the main path with an entrance near the Toparazzi display. You can also enter via a walkway near cabin #18 on the Gwazi Park side. There’s just one wine and beer tent back here (#6 on the map), and this past weekend, the area remained much quieter than the surrounding pathways for much of the day.
If You Go…
4th Annual Food & Wine Festival
at Busch Gardens Tampa Bay
Saturdays & Sundays from March 3 through April 29th
Noon to close
Don’t miss our other Food & Wine Festival guides and articles:
Food Guide — Drink Guide — Concert List
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