Long before there was Walt Disney World, there was Busch Gardens Tampa. This park has a fascinating history that spans nearly 60 years and finally, there is a new book to tell the tale.
Images of Modern America: Busch Gardens Tampa Bay gives an excellent photographic journey on how the park has blossomed over the years. As many of you know, the genesis of the entire park revolved around beer.
The Anheuser-Busch brewery tour was indeed the main draw for visitors back in the early days. The escalator seen above was the guest entry into the bottling plant. Known as the Stairway to the Stars, this was known as the largest escalator in the world, at 80-feet-long.
What I love about Images of Modern America: Busch Gardens Tampa Bay is going through the book and realizing just how much of the park today has been there for decades. Like the Hospitality House (former home of free beer for many fans), it’s still there and mostly left untouched! It’s one of my favorite spots in the park to just get away from the noise and the crowds, which was always the original intent.
Now this section of the book brought tears to my eyes. How many of you miss the Busch Gardens Monorail? I absolutely loved this attraction, as it took you through the savannah of the park past the animals and over lakes and ponds. It was scenic, relaxing and, possibly most important, air conditioned. Now the station is still used for the Skyway and Cheetah Hunt. Again, so much history is still preserved in this park if you know where to look!
One thing stands out about this photo of Stanley Falls to me. Can you imagine a theme park in the United States today that would let guests that close to the water? While it’s a totally separate conversation, you’ve got to wonder what we have done to safety-proof everything in the modern attractions business. While it is probably for the best, photo opportunities like the one above are a rare site in today’s age.
If I could hop into a time machine and visit one thing from Busch Gardens’ past, it’s The African Queen Boat Ride. A truly themed outdoor boat adventure, it’s nearly impossible to find photos or video of the attraction, which opened in 1977. Many of the elements of this attraction were reused in the splashdown Tidal Wave boat ride, but I personally would have much rather saved this gem.
Another great section of Images of Modern America: Busch Gardens Tampa Bay focuses on the amount of live entertainment the park has seen over the years. The Moroccan Palace Theater has hosted dozens of live shows, from Broadway-style shows to ice skating. The book features a ton of great images from shows I had never even heard of!
Personally, I miss Questor, which opened in 1991. A cheesy simulator attraction that took guests on a quest to find the Crystal of Zed. That simulator was refitted in 1998 to become…
Akbar’s Adventure Tours, which opened in 1998! This one-of-a-kind simulator starred Martin Short and Eugene Levy. I personally loved this attraction. Anyone else remember the outtakes reel shown at the end of the ride? I would love to have a copy if anyone happens to have it! Also worth mentioning, Scott Swenson is seen in the picture above, who created Vault of Souls, my personal favorite haunt attraction in downtown Tampa!
Friends, I cannot recommend Images of Modern America: Busch Gardens Tampa Bay enough. So few parks have the illustrious history of that Busch Gardens does and its an absolute must-have for any theme park buff. Click the link below to pre-order your copy from Amazon!
Images Reprinted from Images of Modern America – Busch Gardens Tampa Bay by Joshua McMorrow-Hernandez (Arcadia Publishing, 2017)