I've been to Busch Gardens more times than I can count. I have purchased the Florida Fun Card more years than not, ridden roller coasters to the point of sickness, eaten at almost every restaurant on site and even experienced some of the nighttime festivities. The one thing I had never done — and have asked for every year for my birthday — was to go on the Serengeti Safari tour.
This year, my birthday came a few months early when an opportunity arose for me to go on one of these tours. Needless to say, I jumped at the chance. Taking pictures with a zoom lens is one thing, but the idea of being up close to rhinos, giraffes, zebras and other animals excites me like crazy.
On the big day my husband Jeremy and I checked in at the Adventure Outpost for our afternoon tour. We were directed to a tented area with couches and chairs while we waited for our tour guide, Cherish. Once it was time to go, we were escorted to the truck that can fit 18 people comfortably.
We departed onto a 65-acre mockup of a wild African plain, where we saw so many animals and learned so much in a small amount of time. For example, I never knew that when zebras are born, they are brown and white. Only as they age does the hue turn black and white as the hairs get compacted. I also didn't know that the horn shape is different for each rhino, and it changes as they rub it on surfaces around them. In my 30-minute crash course, I think I learned more about these creatures than I ever soaked up in school.
My only regret was that I didn't take a sunset Serengeti tour. It wasn't until I was on the tour truck that I even knew that was a possibility. It's a seasonal offering, but seems like it might have been even more fun. Guests begin by enjoying an adult beverage and then hiking out onto the plain and then stopping at a fire circle before hand-feeding giraffes to finish off the night.
The good news is I still got to hand-feed some giraffes on the daytime tour. Cherish pulled out big heads of romaine lettuce, and all of the folks on our truck got to take turns watching their long black tongues stretch out as they reached for the green goodness. Before ending the tour, Cherish helped us all take pictures with the giraffes, and then we were whisked away back toward the tent.
We relived the tour the rest of the day from the tram ride back to our car and all the way home. The memories of that short tour will last us a lifetime.
I hope that since the Serengeti Safari daytime tour can now be crossed off my bucket list, my husband comes up with something just as awesome for my birthday. Perhaps the Serengeti sunset tour, cough cough, wink wink.
— My First Time is a column about trying new things in Tampa Bay. Email Ashley at firstname.lastname@example.org.