Autumn may have begun on Sept. 22, but no one told Tampa Bay or its LGBTQ community. On Oct. 7, they’ll rally together to celebrate the fifth annual Big Gay Busch Gardens Day, presented by local drag favorite Kori Stevens.
The event, which last year drew 250 participants, calls upon the LGBTQ community to come together for familial fun in the sun at Busch Gardens, the popular theme park and zoo in the Tampa Bay area.
The park describes itself as “the ultimate family adventure, offering 300 acres of fascinating attractions based on exotic explorations around the world.” It further cites that it offers “a unique blend of thrilling rides, one of the country’s premier zoos with more than 12,000 animals, live shows, restaurants, shops and games,” noting that they offer “unrivaled excitement for guests of every age.”
“Most of you have probably seen the ad already,” the Big Gay Busch Gardens Day Facebook page reads, “but we would love for you to join us for the 4th Annual Big GAY Gardens Day event at Busch Gardens Tampa Bay.”
“This is just a day where members of the LGBTQ community meet up at the park to just enjoy a day together,” it advises. “This is not a sponsored event – nor is it tied to any other event – so there are no host hotels, planned parties, outrageous ticket prices or anything like that.”
“It’s simply a day to gather and enjoy each other,” it concludes. Kori Stevens, who founded the event and will enjoy it with the community again this year, echoed the page.
“It really is just a day for all of our LGBTQ brothers and sisters, and supporters, to get together and HAVE A BLAST!!!” she told Watermark. “There is no agenda. Show up with or without friends, make new ones, and enjoy all that the park has to offer. “
Busch Gardens Tampa Bay is owned and operated by SeaWorld Parks & Entertainment and is their second largest park in terms of attendance, falling behind SeaWorld Orlando. It features eight roller coasters and two water rides, as well as animal attractions—something for every walk of life in the LGBTQ community. Its newest roller coaster, Cobra’s Curse, opened last year.
It’s a coaster that, as the park describes, “puts a spin on family thrills,” a “one-of-a-kind spin coaster feature a 70-foot vertical lift and taking riders on a whirlwind adventure of exciting explorations.” It’s one that, the park advises, causes “explorers [to] come face-to-face with an 80-foot snake icon, and discover the mysteries of an Egyptian archaeological excavation.”
Falcon’s Fury, another popular ride, is North America’s tallest freestanding drop tower. The one-of-a-kind ride stands at 335 feet tall, and sends its riders soaring straight down. “Like its bird of prey namesake, at the ride’s highest point, riders pivot 90 degrees in midair to a face-down dive position,” their website reads. “An instant later they plunge 60 mph straight down.”
Cheetah Hunt, described as “a new breed of speed,” was Florida’s first triple launch coaster. “This mega-attraction begins at Cheetah Run where guests are just inches away from the world’s fastest land animals. It’s a new point-of-view guaranteed to get anyone’s heart racing,” Busch Gardens advertises. “Next, take a seat on Cheetah Hunt and join nature’s fastest and most agile predator as it races across the Serengeti. This one-of-a-kind themed launch coaster climbs high above the African landscape and then races down along the ground and through a rocky gorge.”
Following another “burst of acceleration,” they advise, “guests leap over awestruck bystanders and head for home. It’s a 4,400 foot sprint that will take your breath away.”
Another popular attraction is SheiKra, North America’s “first dive coaster sends riders through a breathtaking three-minute journey 200 feet up to the edge of a 90 degree drop,” which Busch Gardens calls “just the beginning.”
They cite their “floorless” cars, which “give riders an unobstructed view of the 70 mph rush” through a simultaneous loop and roll, a second, vertical drop into an underground tunnel and “a water feature finale, all packed into a half-mile of steel track.”
After an initial 135 foot drop, riders on Kumba plunge into a diving loop, “feel a full three seconds of absolute weightlessness while spiraling 360 degrees, and tear through one of the world’s largest vertical loops.”
Ride enthusiasts can also “feel the ultimate rush on one of the tallest and longest inverted roller coasters in the world” with Montu, experiencing an “inverse diving loop and a 60-foot vertical loop while they endure speeds of more than 60 mph.”
Attractions for younger explorers in the LGBTQ community include SandSerpent, full of curves, drops and corkscrews, maxing out at 22 mph and described as “a child’s first coaster experience.” Air Grover, a “junior coaster full of fun turns [and] mini-dives” is another alternative, with Scorpion allowing riders to experience a “terrifying 60-foot drop and 360-degree loop at incredible speeds.”
Congo River Rapids will allow LGBTQ guests to cool off, though offers no guarantee on hair product preservation as guests “encounter the swift-flowing white water of the Congo River Rapids.” They’ll “spin through a geyser and face an ominous waterfall and other thrilling obstacles in a 12-person raft.”
Another reason to wear your hat? Stanley Falls Flume, a log flume that whisks riders “through a splashing trip ending in a 40-foot drop that’s sure to get everyone soaked.”
For those in the community who’d rather see an animal than ride something named after one, Busch Gardens offers a wide array of attractions. The Animal Care Center welcomes guests “to closely observe and even take part in the animal care experience in the Animal Care Center.” That includes nutrition, treatments, X-rays and even surgeries.
Animal Connections is the “hub for up-close animal interactions and real-world conservation opportunities,” allowing guests of all ages to “connect with animal ambassadors, hand feed flamingos and observe the natural behaviors of exotic species.”
Serengeti Plain includes reticulated giraffes, rhinos, wildebeests, antelope and ostriches, “which can be seen from the Serengeti Express Train, Skyride, Serengeti Safari and various walkways.” It’s a 65-acre environment including open landscapes, naturalistic creek beds and mud banks.
Jungala offers up-close animal interactions, a three story maze of rope bridges and nets for younger members of the LGBTQ community, “an unforgettable adventure and an extraordinary mix of discovery and fun in the only jungle in the world that plays with you.”
If you prefer birds, you can get your fix at Bird Gardens, an area of almost 500 tropical birds hailing from around the world, and Lory Landing—a domed habitat “showcasing a variety of brilliantly colored birds including several species of parrots.”
As an added bonus, Busch Gardens advises, the area allows for “unforgettable photo opportunities.” So, selfies galore. Various live shows and performances can help close out the day or evening as well.
“This year, we are selling souvenir t shirts, and all proceeds will be donated to Empath Partners in Care,” Kori Stevens told us. “Macy’s came on as a sponsor this year, and they are hosting a ‘Pre- Gardens Get-Together’ at their WestShore with beer, wine, and light bites. If you donate $10, they will give you a $10 gift card to their store. It’s always a great experience. Everyone should just come on out. We’re at the park from 10a – 6p on Saturday, and then there are some who stick around for Howl-O-Scream afterward.”
Stevens, reflecting on the event’s five year anniversary, said that she thought it was important to continue it because it has no agenda. “I am all for fundraising and such, but I think there should also be events where people don’t have to feel obligated to give money, time or services,” Stevens said.
“This type of event brings people together just to have a good time and enjoy each other… to build community.”
You can join the LGBTQ community and its allies at Macy’s on Friday, Oct. 6 from 6-8pm at its Westshore location, located at 298 Westshore Plaza, Tampa. Big GAY Busch Gardens Day will be held on Saturday, Oct. 7 from 10am-6pm at Busch Gardens, located at 10165 N. McKinley Dr, Tampa, FL 33612. Tickets are available for the park at BuschGardensTampaBay.com, and you can visit Facebook.com/BigGayBuschGarden.