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Unlimited access to Busch Gardens Tampa Bay to cost a little more

It's going to cost a little more to get unlimited access to Busch Gardens Tampa Bay.

The Tampa theme park is dropping the Florida Fun Card, its popular and most liberal pass, which entitles Florida and Georgia residents who paid full price for a one-day ticket to return as many times as they want the rest of the year.

Now, they will have to pay an additional $5 for that privilege.

With attendance up this year about 7 percent and the new $40 million Cheetah Hunt attraction set to open today, Busch Gardens officials are trying to tighten up discounts as the economy improves.

"We think with Cheetah Hunt — clearly the top new attraction in Florida this summer — we provide plenty of value," said Jim Dean, general manager of Busch Gardens Tampa Bay. "But we still are offering lots of discount promotions this summer."

Busch emerged from a winter that was stronger than expected with even higher expectations for the summer. The theme park rule of thumb is a new thrill ride can lift attendance 10 percent. Dean also cited later summer hours and the heaviest advance bookings of Brazilian, Chilean and Argentinian student groups in years.

"We are poised for a great summer," Dean said.

Ending a 10-year run, the Fun Card will be sold through Tuesday. More than 200,000 people in the Tampa Bay area have them. Those cards remain good until Dec. 31.

Starting on Wednesday, however, people who pay the $77.99 entry fee at the gate must pay $5 for an unadvertised upgrade that will be good for the rest of 2011.

Another option is a $109.99 plus tax annual pass that is good for 365 days following purchase. Park officials hope to steer more locals to that option by building parking into the price, which otherwise costs Fun Card holders $13 every time they visit.

Fun Cards for SeaWorld, Busch's corporate sibling in Orlando, also will not be sold after Tuesday.

With 4,429 feet of track, Cheetah Hunt is the longest roller coaster at Busch Gardens, but it's ride time is a minute shorter than the park's other coasters. It accelerates uphill in seconds from a dead start to 60 miles per hour, while the others take time to creep up the initial lift hill. The centerpiece of the attraction is 14 cheetahs in a half-acre habitat.

Busch last dropped the Fun Card after its SheiKra coaster opened in 2005. Park officials say they have no plans to revive it again.

"But I would never say never," Dean said.

Mark Albright can be reached at albright@sptimes.com or (727) 893-8252.

.Fast facts

New options start June 1

• $77.99 entry fee at the gate plus $5
for unadvertised upgrade good for rest of 2011.

• $109.99 plus tax annual pass good for 365 days following purchase. Includes parking, which otherwise costs Fun Card holders $13 each visit.

Unlimited access to Busch Gardens Tampa Bay to cost a little more 05/26/11 [Last modified: Friday, May 27, 2011 12:51pm]

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