A big draw for visitors to Busch Gardens Tampa Bay is the impressive collection of wildlife from around the world, and the state of the art habitats where guests can get up close. That includes the over 60 acre Serengeti Plain, where a number of species freely roam each day for guests to view from the Edge of Africa, Skyride, or the Serengeti Express train ride. Another option to see the plain even closer is the Serengeti Safari tour, which is offered several times daily for an additional charge.
The Serengeti Safari tour lasts approximately 30 minutes, and is on an open-air safari truck that takes guests through much of the plain. It also includes the opportunity to hand-feed a giraffe, which is the highlight for many who take the tour. The cost ranges between $29 and $39 depending on the time of year, and is available to guests ages 5 and above. Pass member discounts apply, and in November 2018, the Serengeti Safari tour is being offered at half price for annual pass holders.
Tours can be reserved online in advance, which is recommended as spots are limited each day. It can also be booked in person through the Adventure Outpost (guest relations just inside the gate) or at the Serengeti Outpost in Nairobi if spaces are available. If you’re certain you want to take the tour, we suggest booking in advance to make sure you get a spot.
We also recommend booking one of the tours earlier in the day – especially in the hot summer months – for two reasons. First, because the truck is open-air without any cover, you’re standing in direct sun for nearly the entire tour. Secondly, since the tours are weather dependent, you’re less likely to have to contend with passing storms earlier in the day. Throughout the warmer months from April to October, thunderstorms can occur nearly every afternoon in the Tampa Bay area.
If you purchase your tickets online, you’ll receive an order number and instructions to stop by the Adventure Outpost just inside the gates at the park. Here you’ll receive your actual tour tickets. Check in for your tour is at the Serengeti Outpost, located in the Nairobi section of the park. Look for the giraffe topiary not too far from the Nairobi train station.
You’re asked to arrive at least 15 minutes before your Serengeti Safari tour time to check-in. There’s a shaded waiting area with seating, and complimentary water. Once everyone is checked in, guests are asked to leave bags and any items not needed while on the tour in the secured lockers behind the building. Cameras and cell phones are allowed on the tour, and picture taking is encouraged.
Then it’s time for the tour! As a group, you’ll walk from the Serengeti Outpost over the railroad tracks and into Edge of Africa, where your tour truck is parked and waiting at the Safari Base Camp. Along with your Serengeti Safari tour guide, you’ll also have a Photo Key photographer riding along with you, who will capture images of you enjoying your safari. As you board the truck, you’ll hand over your tour ticket to the guide.
After you get a few basic safety instructions – most importantly about holding on whenever the truck is in motion – you’re off towards the Serengeti Plain. Since the animals move around freely, each tour is a bit different, and you may not see every species.
One of your first stops will be at the black rhino enclosure, which is between the north and south sections of the plain. The solitary creature is often hiding behind the large rock outcropping, and our tour guide said that’s its favorite spot and isn’t normally visible on the tour.
From there, you’ll do a loop on the northern plain, where you may see a variety of species including wildebeest (also known as gnu), zebra, and southern white rhinos. The park has had great success with the rhinos, and you may see some of the younger members of the family who were born at Busch Gardens in the past few years.
It’s worth pointing out that while on the Serengeti Safari tour, you also get some great views of another of the park’s big draws – its thrill rides. Great views can be had of Falcon’s Fury, Kumba, Cobra’s Curse and Montu among others. You may also see one of the park’s trains pass by on its journey around the plain.
Once you’re done with the loop on the northern portion of the Serengeti Plain, you’ll head back past the black rhino enclosure and head onto the southern section. Several antelope species roam freely here, including eland and addax.
Perhaps saving the best for last, one of the final stops on your Serengeti Safari tour will be for feeding giraffes. Your guide will hand out pieces of romaine lettuce for you to hold up for the giraffes to grab with their long tongues. You don’t have to feed the giraffes if you don’t want to, but it’s a fun experience to be able to get that close to such amazing animals. Petting of the giraffes on the neck is permitted, but be sure to steer clear of their face for their safety and yours.
The Photo Key photographer will also be taking pictures, and normally your guide and the photographer will set up a posed shot as well. There’s no obligation to purchase any photos, so feel free to get your picture taken and decide later if you like any of them.
It’s worth noting that because none of the animals at Busch Gardens are forced to do anything, the giraffe feeding portion of the tour is not guaranteed. But since the park uses positive reinforcement – in this case with lettuce as a treat – one or more giraffes will usually be heading towards the truck before it even stops. On our most recent Serengeti Safari tour we had three giraffes come up to the truck; on a previous tour, we had only one.
While on the Serengeti Safari tour, you are encouraged to ask questions. Our guide for our recent tour, Courtney, was a wealth of information and was able to answer all of the questions our group posed. She shared many interesting facts about the animals we saw and how Busch Gardens ambassadors care for them.
Returning back to where you started on the Serengeti Safari tour, definitely take a moment to sanitize your hands, and don’t forget to wash them thoroughly before the next time you eat. Also, if you left anything in the lockers at the Serengeti Outpost, join your tour guide for the walk back to collect your items.
Be sure to check out your pictures taken on the tour by the photographer at the Serengeti Outpost, or at Adventure Photo near the front of the park before you exit. Just remember your tour time, and the ambassadors at either location can look them up for the rest of the day.
If You Go…
Serengeti Safari Tour
Busch Gardens Tampa Bay
Offered several times daily
Starting at $29 per person
Special thanks to photographer Matt Hopkins for many of the images used in this article.
For the latest on Busch Gardens Tampa and other theme parks, attractions, dining venues and more across the region, be sure to follow Touring Central Florida on twitter @TourCentralFL & @androckb, and give our facebook page a like.