Busch Gardens parks are known for their clean environment, craft beer, and stellar ride lineups. Now owned by Sea World Parks and Entertainment, these parks—found in Tampa, Florida and Williamsburg, Virginia—can truly say they offer well-rounded experiences for all ages, thrill levels, and visitors.
Busch Gardens Williamsburg and Tampa reflect each other in more ways than one; their offering of world-class coasters tend to mirror one another and their environments are focused less on intellectual property, more on immersive scenery and landscaping designed to transport you to another world.
But even though these parks have their fair share of similarities, their differences are what make both locations must-visits for any tourist or thrill-seeker. The locations offer alternate themes, events, and ride experiences that create unique experiences at these sister parks.
So when stacked against each other, which park comes out on top? Today we’ll be using five categories—rides, animals, events, theming, and overall atmosphere—to decide which Busch Gardens location is number one.
To me, the greatest factor in determining the superior park is the ride lineup. Busch Gardens Williamsburg and Tampa both have stellar offerings here, with a spread of Intamin, Premier Rides, and some of America's best Bolliger and Mabillards. Busch Gardens keeps their rides well-maintained, with little downtime and killer throughputs to accommodate large crowds. Even the ride theming, while minimal, is incredibly effective at both Busch Gardens parks.
Certain coasters are nearly identical at both parks, offering twin experiences that set the standard for a Busch Gardens park. These coasters include dive coasters SheiKra and Griffon, inverted coasters Montu and Alpengeist, and launched shuttle coasters Tigris and Tempesto. While these rides may offer minor differences—a five foot advantage here, a different restraint system there—they will feel and appear indistinguishable from each other in the eyes of the average parkgoer.
Other coasters differ from each other more, but have similar counterparts between parks. Take Kumba and Loch Ness Monster, for example. These coasters are from different manufacturers—the former from Bolliger and Mabillard and the latter from defunct Arrow Dynamics—but offer comparable sit-down, positive G-force experiences. Though the history of the Loch Ness Monster and its iconography as the only coaster to feature interlocking vertical loops is remarkable, Kumba has a slight edge, widely acclaimed as the greatest classic sit-down coaster to come from the manufacturer. Plus—those interlocking vertical loops are nice, but you can't beat Kumba's double corkscrew.
By way of full-circuit launch coasters, Busch Gardens Williamsburg will soon have two, tying with the Tampa park. Cobra's Curse at Busch Gardens Tampa is more of a family coaster, with spinning cars and a smooth, comfortable launch. Cheetah Hunt is a crowd favorite in Florida, offering three launches and one inversion, but pales in comparison to Intamin's other iterations of the model, such as Maverick at Cedar Point, Universal's new VelociCoaster, and by the looks of it, the new-for-2022 Pantheon at Busch Gardens Williamsburg. This attraction, coming in March, will open as the world's fastest multi-launch coaster, with four launches, a 95 degree drop, and speeds up to 73 miles per hour. Add that to Williamsburg's Verbolten, a themed coaster matching Cobra's Curse by way of intensity, and this park's got the edge on launch coasters. Williamsburg also offers a wooden coaster where Tampa has none.
Tampa does have a coaster up its sleeve for the 2022 season, however. After months upon months of delays, Iron Gwazi opens to the public this March. This coaster, a Rocky Mountain Construction recreation of dueling wooden coaster just Gwazi, will open as North America's tallest, steepest, and fastest hybrid coaster, and just might have what it takes to top Steel Vengeance at Cedar Point, the number one coaster on many enthusiasts' lists (mine included). This new coaster just barely gives Busch Gardens Tampa an edge when it comes to ride lineup.
Broadly speaking, Busch Gardens Williamsburg is European-themed while Busch Gardens Tampa is African-themed. This difference in theming, as well as the year-round warm location, gives Tampa a bit of an unfair advantage, allowing for a greater variety of animals, as well as their Serengeti Express train experience. Tampa boasts over 200 species at their park, while Busch Gardens Williamsburg has a smaller, if not adorable lineup of animals to interact with, like their Black Face Sheep and Scottish Highland Cattle. But because of Tampa's larger variety of animals and more vast roaming ground, Tampa takes the cake here as well.