Friday, November 14, 2008

40 Things I Love About St. Pete - 2. Out of Africa

Though this is not about St. Pete exactly it is about the surrounding area, Tampa to be exact. I know it stretches the title and supposed meaning of this list, but it's my list and I will run it the way I want to. Enjoy!

I live in the land of the amusement park. Florida is considered the happiest place on earth for not only senior citizens and retirees, but those under the age of 12 who adore anything with mouse ears. I am not against the Disney conglomerate, I too like the spinning teacups, the princess paraphernalia and the “Hi Ho Hi Ho” of those seven vertically challenged gentlemen that all live in the same cabin in the woods. For many years I stayed away from the whoopla of not only Disney, but the more available Busch Gardens which is only about 40 minutes from my house (though I can’t see it from my home.)
Friends had talked about meeting up there randomly to drink beer and ride rollercoasters, but I figured there wasn’t much in it for me but aching feet, a lighter wallet and heat stroke. That all changed about a month ago. The McGoverns had planned a day trip to Africa and I tagged along figuring it was for my friends, not for myself that I was going. After being encouraged to get the year pass for just $30 bucks more, though not taking the bait for a ride on Kumba, I went on my fantastical journey.
It had been years since I went to Busch Gardens. It was back in the 80s when the Python rollercoaster was the end-all-be-all. I used to go with my father, who being a single dad through no fault of his own, had limited creativity on how to entertain a preteen child. He was a trooper drinking his free Busch beer and riding with me as a daredevil. It was odd back then for both him and me since we had nothing in common and only seemed to play at this daddy/daughter thing. Back then I wasn’t so interested in the animals or the slow “old-people” rides like the train and the Skyride, but it was a trade off with the old man.

Now that I am one of those “old people” I get more of a kick out of watching the monkeys groom one another, the giraffes prance and the sloths move at less than lightning speed to look back at my inquisitive face. Going with the McGoverns meant that the day would be filled with beer drinking, making snide remarks about each other, catching up on tales about our jobs and significant others, and them telling tales about growing up together.
For those of you who don’t know Busch Gardens and the though of rollercoasters, beer and animals seems a bit random for a theme park, let me give you some less than private history. Busch Gardens Tampa opened in 1959 and was themed as 19th-century Africa, including the wonders of colonialism (not very Joseph Conrad). Eventually they added rides, which surrounded the centerpiece, the Brewery, after all it is Busch as in Busch beer. Divided into quaint renditions of Nairobi, Congo, Stanleyville, Morocco, Egypt and the Serengeti Plain, the park now features four world-class rollercoasters, including the Scorpion which was designed by renown engineer and rollercoaster expert Anton Schwarzkopf.
Though I followed the girls and patiently waited, with my free cup of Shock Top, as they rode the rides, my main focus was to check out the animals. We took the Skyride over the Serengeti Plain which has “free-roaming”
Grevy’s zebra, reticulated giraffe, bongo, addax, addra gazelle, eland, impala, ostrich, marabou stork, East African crowned crane and sacred ibis. Housed in Nairobi is the nursery with all the cute and cuddly newborns, as well as the nocturnal caves which have my favorites; the bats.
This is when I knew I had made a wise investment for the year. I would be coming back just to hang-out with the swimming hippos and the Bengal tigers. Pictures to be taken popped into my head and I just couldn’t believe how much I loved the day.

There is even a play land for children and from what I heard, some great food as well. The beer house had been changed into a huge sultan’s chamber and the oompa band had been replaced with Middle Eastern tunes when the Brewery was closed and the park went more to being for child amusement.
Though still not a big fan of the Magic Kingdom (how can a place that has a thousand screaming kids and no alcohol be magical?) I can appreciate the draw that tourists and die-hards have found in these wonderlands. But Busch Gardens has more than the norm and you can do as much or as little as you want to do. In fact just a couple weeks later, Patty and I went back, an unplanned trip, and found a great afternoon in just watching the animals all day. And don’t fret, Busch Gardens is known for how it treats its animals. It is a lot better than most zoos and prides itself on its reputation as a conservation organization. I figured my $100 was well spent if it can keep these animals safe, healthy and happy. Or I may just be living in my own Fantasy Land.

1 comment:

humanobserver said...

A very interesting article....You did a nice job by posting those excellent images on the story.....