There’s something about playing tug of war with a tiger that brings a smile to a kid’s face. And the tiger seemed to like it, too.
The Tiger Tug is just one of the features of Jungala, the newest section of the famed Busch Gardens theme park in Tampa Bay, Fla. The Bengal tigers, including the female who tugged on the rope in return for a treat from her handlers, are inside a large glass habitat that allows visitors to get up close while remaining safely behind glass.
The centerpiece of the new four-acre exhibit, designed to appeal to 7- to 14-year-olds but clearly a big draw for kids of all ages, is Tree Top Trails, a three-story climbing apparatus that could keep a kid busy for hours.
But Busch Gardens is no longer the only place in Tampa that combines the education of a zoo with the fun of amusement park rides. There’s also Lowry Park Zoo, a great option for families with younger children. It’s small enough to be manageable for little ones and offers rides that tend to be tamer and more youngster-appropriate, including the new Gator Falls flume ride. It isn’t as tall or as scary as most flume rides, but we did, however, get plenty wet.
Like Busch Gardens, Lowry Park also takes its zoo mission seriously. It claims to be the only nonprofit organization in the world that offers care to critically injured manatees, the gentle mammals that are endangered after years of falling victim to the encroachment of humans in their waters.
Unfortunately the rides cost $2-$4 each on top of the admission ($18.95, $14.95, kids ages 3-11). An all-day ride wristband is $18.
Chicago offers a number of direct flights to Tampa from O’Hare and Midway. The city is easy to navigate, but plan on renting a car; it’s tough to get around without one.