On Thursday, June 11, Busch Gardens Tampa Bay opened its gates to guests for the first time in nearly three months following its extended closure due to COVID-19 concerns. With the reopening comes a variety of new guidelines for guests to follow, including needing reservations, having temperatures checked, and wearing face coverings in most areas of the park.
Before you head out to the park, be sure to get a free reservation from the park’s website or app. All guests, including annual pass members, need to have a reservation to be able to enter the park. Once you have your reservation for the day you wish to visit, you can arrive at any time to enter during park hours.
The park is strongly discouraging guests from arriving without a reservation, as walk-up availability for reservations may be unavailable due to capacity. Some guests and pass members have reported difficulty in making reservations. Try emptying your cart, using a different device or browser, or contact customer service for more assistance if you need help.
Once you arrive at the park, you’ll stop at the toll booths as normal to settle up for parking. If you are a guest without parking including in annual pass, the park is asking that you prepay for your parking online before you arrive to help minimize contact at the toll booth.
If you’re parked in the main lot, you can still use the trams to get to the main entrance. A queue is set up with green dots on the ground to denote six-foot intervals for proper social distancing. Trams are being seated with every other row left empty, and they are sanitized at regular intervals throughout the day.
Once you get to the entrance plaza, the first stop for all guests is a temperature check. There are tents set up on either side of the plaza for guests arriving by tram or those walking in from the disabled or preferred lots.
After your temperature check, you can stop by the self-service kiosks or ticket windows if you need anything there. Then, head down the middle between the two ticket buildings to head through security; an ambassador will direct you to one of the six lines. Just as before, guests pass through a metal detector and have bags inspected. This step is likely to be the longest of your entry, and it’s important to be patient and follow the markers on the ground to maintain social distancing.
Next, have your reservation and ticket or pass ready to scan as you go through the turnstiles. They can be scanned either from paper or on a mobile device. If you have them on your mobile device, try to have them ready to go on your screen and turn the brightness up to help them get scanned in quickly.
Once inside the gates, all around the park there are new signs reminding guests about the safety guidelines, hand sanitizing and hand washing stations, and lots of markers on the ground in key places to remind guests to keep at least six feet apart.
There are no paper maps or times guides currently available. Guests are encouraged to snap a photo of this map board next to guest relations and check the park’s website or mobile app for showtimes and other information.
There are some areas better signed and marked than others. In many spots, only green ground markings show where to stand to be socially distant or mark one-way traffic at habitats or in stores. Since people aren’t always looking at the ground, some of these are easily missed and more signage may be needed, especially for marking entrances & exits for one way traffic.
Some animal habitats have specially themed social distance signage, including for alligators, lions, and orangutans.
UPDATED 6/16 – A few more “Relaxation Zones” have been added on the west side of the park since opening day.
If you need a break from wearing your face covering,
four seven “Relaxation Zones” are set up around the park allowing guests to remove masks as long as they remain socially distant from other groups. Just remember to be courteous to other guests and wear your mask in and out of the area, only taking it off when you’re actually at least six feet apart. Guests are also permitted to remove masks while dining around the park.
Three of the Relaxations Zones are located in the Bird Gardens section of the park. The first is tucked behind a hand washing station outside of Gwazi Pavilion, which is just to the left of the restrooms outside of Xcursions gift shop in the Bird Gardens section of the park, near Garden Gate Cafe. There is even a giraffe photo op in the little courtyard.
The second is located nearby under the new Coke Canopy, located across the lake from Garden Gate. Along with the shade from the structure, there are also several fans and a portable air conditioner unit blowing some cooler air.
Around the corner, the small deck overlooking the flamingos has also been designated a Relaxation Zone. This is the smallest of the areas, really only able to hold a couple of guests/groups while still maintaining at least six feet of distance. Still, this is a rather quiet stretch of the park so it’s an option if you want to get out of the way.
Heading clockwise around the park, the next zones are located in Stanleyville. The first is the former smoking section above the restrooms between the ramp and stairs outside of Zambia Smokehouse (the smoking area signs have been removed or turned around).
The second is on the deck overlooking the log flume. There are a few tables and benches here, but not much shade.
Not too far away in Jungala is the next zone, located between Tree Top Trails and Bengal Bistro. There are several picnic tables here and it’s mostly in the shade.
The final Relaxation Zone is back near the front of the park, in the courtyard between Cheetah Hunt and the Egypt section of the park, across from Serengeti Overlook. Howl-O-Scream fans will recognize this area as the entrance to Insomnia, one of the haunted houses from last season.
This does mean besides the zone here, most of the rest are located along the western side of the park, leaving a pretty long stretch of the park between Jungala and the Cheetah Hunt area without any Relaxation Zones. The park has been adding more since reopening day, so hopefully they will be able to find a few more areas in Pantopia and/or Nairobi to add.
All around the park, expect to see additional cleaning being done by ambassadors. A specially designated team can be seen in bright yellow shirts and hats cleaning all sorts of high touch areas, like railings, tables, and counters. At attractions, crews there are also sanitizing ride vehicles at regular intervals.
It’s worth noting that not everything is open at the park. Many interactive attractions, including some of the play areas in the Sesame Street section, and some of the walk-through animal exhibits like the aviaries and Kangaloom all remain closed at this time. Other attractions closed include the Skyride and log flume. You can see a full list on the park’s site.
Most shows are also dark, with only the entertainment offering in Sesame Street being presented at this time. The shows at Moroccan Palace, Pantopia Theater, and Dragon Fire Grill are not being performed yet. Many concessions are also closed, including most self-service stations. Of the main restaurants, only Zagora Cafe, Zambia Smokehouse, Dragon Fire Grill, and Serengeti Overlook Cafe were open. Bengal Bistro, Garden Gate Cafe, and the top floor table service dining at Serengeti Overlook were all closed on the first day.
And what about Iron Gwazi, the park’s newest roller coaster that was still under construction as the park entered the nearly three-month shutdown? It’s not quite ready yet. It had begun initial testing on the last weekend the park was open in March, but it has been rumored the construction company had not yet wrapped up its fine-tuning of the roller coaster. I ran into park president Stewart Clark on Thursday, and while he is eager like may of us to see it open, there’s no update on a timetable of when that might happen yet.
Overall, the first day of Busch Gardens Tampa’s reopening had its ups and downs. Reviews from guests online have been mixed, with some noting things seemed to go well, and others observing a lack of proper mask wearing and social distancing by a number of fellow guests. The fact that many things are still closed and getting used to some of the new changes will be a challenge for guests and ambassadors in the coming days. Hopefully, park leadership takes the feedback they are received seriously and adjustments can be made to improve the experience for everyone.
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