Friday, October 26, 2007

Bush Gardens

By paying £20 extra on our Discovery Cove tickets, we had free 14 day passes into both Sea World and Bush gardens. It would seem that, by accident, we had hit on the best week to visit Orlando as the parks are not as busy and there are plenty of deals to be had. If we had not already got our tickets, both parks were doing buy one, get another day free passes anyway. So today we were off along to the coast to enjoy our third playground, Bush Gardens.

We didn't really know what to expect. On the Internet all the info gave us was that it was an African experience with a video showing snap shots from colourful African shows, animals and rides.
Bush Gardens, unlike Sea World and Discovery, which are both situated at the end of I-Drive (along with the new soon to be opened Aquatica). Bush Gardens is to be found an hour's drive away in Tampa Bay. This time we knew the way, and once you get used to the strange traffic light system, and the way you suddenly find yourself in an exit only lane, driving in the U S of A is not that difficult. With max and min speed limits, which unlike here are stuck to in the main (probably to do with the amount of sheriff cars littering the highways) and traffic is far more sparse, moving much slower. So really the only dissappointing thing is the steep parking fees the parks charge for those using their hire cars to get to them. The hotels and the parks themselves all run coach shuttle services, so I suppose I can understand why.

Bush Gardens is much like a version of Chessington in England only much bigger, better, with more animals and the opportunity to get much closer to the creatures you had gone to visit. And you really do need more than one day to enjoy all the fun, shows, and things to do/see. Its a shame it was an hour away and that we hadnt known this before we went as we certainly would have liked a second visit.

We started off getting lost! Surprise? Not!

The park is divided up into countries of Africa, Egypt, Kenya, etc. each area having its own white knuckle rides, shows and flavour. So to get an overview we took the overhead ski ride across the 'plains' where the animals were allowed to roam free, just as they would in the wilds. This gave us a spectacular view of what was to come.

At the end of that ride, we had intended going to the 4D pirate show but got side tracked onto the log flume ride, and by the time we got back, the show was one minute in and we couldn't enter. Instead we went to watch the elephants, my favourite animal. I could happily stand and watch these magnificent beasts for hours, especially as these were Asian elephants, a beautiful mottled pink and grey species I had not encountered before. I took heaps of photos of them playing in the water fountain but loved the one of the two taking a share best.

Sad to say at this point I managed to loose my lovely blue straw hat! I was so happy it had gone, now I wouldn't feel guilty about abandoning it at the first opportunity, but Martin insisted in going to look, and then reporting it to the powers that be, and they have promised that should it turn up they will mail it to me. Please not postie!

OK time for the 4D pirate show. Ever done this before? Well strange. Wearing sexy 3d glasses you sit in a giant cinema where the characters flickering on the screen appear in 3d right before your nose when wearing the glasses. Scary enough when facing cutlasses and swarms of bees, but then you are subjected to jets of warm air, or warm water (to simulate presents from the overhead 3d seagulls) dropping on you. A surreal experience.

Next up the white water rapid ride. 12 people sit on a round boat with a huge hover skirt on it. Strapped in with seat belts and sent along the wild fast flowing river ride. Now this was fun, and given time one I would certainly have done again even though I am not a ride person. To start the fun one of our party of 12 was a rather portly - OK fat person who didn't fit the seat belt and embarrassingly had to ask for the extension bit. Off we went.

The first part through a water cannon run where people on dry land have the chance to fire jets of water at you. Martin had spotted this before and knew it was coming. I didn't, and got the first shot full in the face. The portly gent also got the last spray but everyone else still seemed relatively dry. Not for long. Each drop in the river level meant a white rapid surge, and as it spun the boat at the same time, each overflow or splash hit a different person in turn. All but one young lad were rather wet as we hit the last part, under some caves and out through the waterfall. Who would end up under the water fall? A bit like Russian roulette, we tried to guess as the boat spun round and the water got closer. Well it was an easy bet. Yes both Martin and I got totally drenched! But still this young lad was bone dry, and there was only yards to the finish with no visible splashes to go. Except as we approached the off ramp, a final jet of splashy cold water hit us from nowhere, dousing this lad to the skin! The whole boat was in uproar with load guffaws and peels of laughter.

A fantastic way to spend 10 minutes with a bunch of complete strangers. I will say that by 4 o'clock, even though temperatures were in the 90's Martin and I were still damp, and it didn't do my poor blistered feet much good walking round in wet trainers all day, but wow! Did we have fun.

After that the day just got better and better. The ride on the jeep that 'looses' its way through the jungle, and ends up in the water floating downstream (on tracks you are not supposed to notice I hastily add) is recommended, as is the train

which takes you through the plains, and close up to any animals standing by the rails (such as the rhino who were grazing feet from our hands).

Many of the animals are separated from the public by no more than a plate of thick glass so you can safely get really close. That is Martin's foot inches from this sleeping hyena,

and wow! Look! I am close enough to stroke the lioness.

We rounded one corner and unbelievable as it seemed there was only a chicken wire 4 ft high type fence between us and the Mere cats! I was stunned and just stood going 'look, real live mere cats' to Martin. They are little so-and-sos though, they actually do pose for the camera. Every time I moved, this little lad moved around to get his best side shot!

There were plenty of eating establishments dotted around the park, but I didn't really want to waste time sitting and waiting to eat, so we ended up with a snack and then carried on having a great time. We took in one show, which I didn't really understand as I had trouble with the sound system and hearing words clearly'

The shows were obviously not as popular as the ones at Sea world which had been packed to capacity, and maybe we should have noted this but you don't want to miss any of what is going, so we went, even though Martin had promised himself one go on one of the scary rides. By the time the show, which was very colourful and had good music even if I didn't follow the plot, was over, it was park closing time and we had to say goodbye to the animals and make our way home.

That evening we were exhausted but we cant recommend the three parks highly enough. I am so glad we opted for these and didn't do Disney. A few times when out we had heard people talking about the DW parks they had visited and no one we heard was that impressed. Not to put anyone off. We didn't go to them so we don't know. But if anyone wants a good grown-up alternative, these three parks are it. I have looked on the web at the artists impressions of the 4th park being built in this group and it looks like it is going to be just as magical. Will we ever go back? Mmmm, well Martin still wants to see the Keys and I still fancy New Orleans so who knows?

Oh and we ate in Chilli's again. I was quite addicted to those baby ribs and hoped we would get the really nice waitress Billie again, but alas we got Ray who I am sure is one sandwich short of a picnic, bless. The night before I had asked to take my desert home with me in a doggie bag (common practise in America) and the kitchen had put my large flapjack type cookie, my two fudge flavours of sauce and my ice cream in separate boxes so I could carry it home, put in the fridge and eat later. It hadn't been a problem and worked. I asked Ray for the same again. As he handed me the bag he said, 'I was worried about the ice cream so asked them to leave it out' Thinking he meant like it had been packed the night before I just nodded and smiled. Imagine how I was shocked to find, when we got back, that my desert consisted of just the flapjack!


scrapdolly said...

Yizz I have loved readinga ll of this. Busch is one of my fave parks - though we would prefer it just animals and no rides but hey ho. I like the shows there and the animal safaris are cool. (BTW if you come down to Marwell near me you see the meerkats with NO chicken wire fence. They are in an totally open low wall enclosure and you could touch them .... not that you'd want to if you liked your fingers mind) So sorry to hear about your hat!!!! Maybe it will return home

Jen said...

Wow what a holiday eh? I love the way you describe it all. Look at you next the lioness - WOW! I had to LOL at your waiter - hysterical :) By the way, your "it" - unless you've already done the 7 things tag, I can't remember x