Busch Gardens’ Serengeti Flyer opening date, Universal’s Mardi Gras, ZooTampa’s Bugtopia and more Florida theme park news

Plus, details on Disney's new Tiana’s Bayou Adventure attraction.

click to enlarge Busch Gardens’ Serengeti Flyer opening date, Universal’s Mardi Gras, ZooTampa’s Bugtopia and more Florida theme park news
Photo via Universal Orlando
Festival and fair season is in full swing in Florida, including at the theme parks. With Mardi Gras and Valentine’s Day celebrations as well as early spring weather, February is the month for indulging.

Here’s everything happening at the theme parks and attractions in Tampa Bay and beyond this month.

Busch Gardens Tampa Bay

The Tampa theme park’s newest ride, Serengeti Flyer, finally has an opening date: Feb. 27.

Serengeti Flyer is a “Screamin’ Swing” style ride and the tallest and fastest of its kind. The ride’s dueling arms will swing riders higher and higher over the park’s Serengeti Plain, reaching speeds of 68 mph and a maximum height of 135 feet. Each swing features two back-to-back rows of 10 seats, allowing 40 riders at one time.

Busch Gardens Tampa Bay pass members will get a chance to ride Serengeti Flyer early on Feb. 24 through the Passport to Thrills program.

Mardi Gras continues letting the good times roll through March 5. There’s a Mardi Gras Parade through the Bird Gardens, a “Bead Balcony,” a brass band and a whole menu of Cajun-inspired food and cocktails.

Check out the Big Easy rum bundt cake and Mardi Gras themed cupcakes over at Xcursions, po-boys and dirty rice and beans at Esplanade Street Bites and Voodoo chips and muffuletta at the new Springs Taproom. There are plenty of Hurricanes to go around, of course, including the new “Throw Me Some Beads” Punch.

The actual Mardi Gras (Fat Tuesday) is Tuesday, Feb. 21.

The Real Music Series also continues through Feb. 26 at the park. Catch Steve Michaels as Elvis through Feb. 12, Direct from Sweden Feb. 14-19 and The Purple Xperience Feb. 21-26. All concerts are in the Stanleyville Theater.

Busch Gardens also recently welcomed a new tiger to its streak: “Bandar,” a critically endangered Sumatran tiger that joined Rukayah (Malayan tiger) and Zahra (Bengal tiger) in the park’s Jungala habitat.

Bandar came from Point Defiance Zoo and Aquarium in Tacoma, Wash., as part of Busch Gardens’ participation in the Association of Zoos and Aquariums’ Species Survival Plan for Sumatran tigers. Guests can now see Bandar and the other two tigers roaming around their habitat and at the Tiger Lodge.

Ride updates:
  • The new Serengeti Flyer swing ride is still on track to open Feb,  27.
  • The park’s thrilling drop tower, Falcon’s Fury, is set to reopen in the spring. The ride has been closed for almost a year for routine maintenance, but first closed for an inspection following 14-year-old Tyre Sampson’s death after falling from the FreeFall ride at ICON Park in Orlando.
  • Also, mark your calendars for the March 4 reopening of Adventure Island water park across the street from Busch Gardens.
click to enlarge Busch Gardens’ Serengeti Flyer opening date, Universal’s Mardi Gras, ZooTampa’s Bugtopia and more Florida theme park news
Photo via LegoLand/Facebook
Legoland Florida

Legoland Florida in Winter Haven continues to host Pirate Fest Weekends through Feb. 19, which is included with park admission.

The event features Captain Redbeard returning to bury his treasure at Legoland and recruit a new class of pirates. Along with a parkwide scavenger hunt with pirate treasure at the end, Pirate Fest Weekends include meet and greets with Captain Redbeard and his crew and Bridbeard’s Watersports Stunt Show.

And don’t forget the new Pirate River Quest ride, which opened last month. The historic Cypress Gardens got a bit of Lego makeover for this family-friend treasure hunt river ride.


Those with entomophobia (fear of insects), look away - ZooTampa will premiere Bugtopia at the end of the month.

The new family-friendly event will celebrate all things bugs with 13 giant animatronic bugs and chances to get up close and personal with the tiny creatures that are so vital to every ecosystem.

Featured Bugtopia insects include:
  • Black ant Blue-eyed darner B
  • Bombardier beetle
  • Devil’s flower mantis
  • Emperor scorpion
  • Grasshopper
  • Madagascar sunset moth
  • Mexican redknee tarantula
  • Orb web spider - cross orb weaver
  • Red-tailed bumblebee
  • Say’s firefly
  • Seven spotted ladybug
  • Stag beetle
Bugtopia runs Feb. 25-April 30. Member previews are select times on Feb. 25-26.
click to enlarge Bugtopia runs Feb. 25-April 30 at ZooTampa in Tampa, Florida. - ZooTampa at Lowry Park/Facebook
ZooTampa at Lowry Park/Facebook
Bugtopia runs Feb. 25-April 30 at ZooTampa in Tampa, Florida.
Universal Orlando Resort

Universal’s Mardi Gras this year is taking guest beyond the bayou to showcase Carnaval celebrations from around the world.

Mardi Gras: International Flavors of Carnaval runs daily through April 16 and features a stacked concert lineup, a menu of dozens of Carnaval-inspired dishes from around the world and the popular Mythical Realms of Mardi Gras parade. This year’s parade includes six new floats inspired by mythical creatures like unicorns, dragons and phoenixes alongside the park’s iconic New Orleans floats.

Guests can also be a part of the parade by signing up to ride one of the floats in the Universal Orlando app. There’s also a Mardi Gras ticket upgrade that includes a float ride and dinner.

Since the celebration is all about indulging, the Mardi Gras menu is packed with offerings from Big Easy eats to dishes from Belgium, Italy, Denmark, Japan and more. Yes, there are plenty of king cakes, beignets, po’boys, jambalaya and Hurricane cocktails to go around.

Much of the Mardi Gras event is in and around the Hollywood section of Universal Studios Florida. That includes the Tribute Store, which has been revamped to immerse shoppers in a jazz celebration through the alleyways and streets of New Orleans and finally into a Mardi Gras-themed speakeasy.

As for concerts, the event will feature performances by the Goo Goo Dolls (Feb. 11), Maren Morris (Feb. 18), 3 Doors Down (Feb. 25), Lauren Daigle (March 5) and more to be announced. All concerts are at the Music Plaze Stage in Universal Studios Florida.

Check out full menus and concert lineups and get more information about Universal’s Mardi Gras at UniversalOrlando.com.

Walt Disney World

Over at Disney World in Orlando, the Epcot International Festival of the Arts continues through Feb. 20. The colorful celebration features Disney on Broadway performances, live art shows and demonstrations, DIY workshops and crafting, pop-up art galleries and dozens of dishes and drinks that are almost too pretty to eat.

Then, mark your calendars for the Epcot International Flower & Garden Festival kicking off March 1 and running through July 5. This year will feature new topiaries of Encanto characters at the park’s main entrance as well as a new Princess Tiana topiary at The American Adventure.

However, arguably the most exciting news out of Disney World has to do with ride closings and openings.

Last month, the park finally announced an opening date for TRON Lightcycle/Run – April 4. Then, Disney World finally closed Splash Mountain, the popular water ride themed after the racist stereotype-filled 1946 movie "Song of the South."

Splash Mountain officially closed on Jan. 23 to make way for Tiana’s Bayou Adventure, which will feature characters and a storyline from the 2009 animated film The Princess and the Frog—in which Disney’s first Black princess debuted.

Disney announced the ride change back in 2020, teasing a story that picks up after the events of The Princess and the Frog and set in 1920s New Orleans.

Last week, Disney elaborated on the story for the new attraction, saying the queue will show how Tiana built upon the success of her restaurant by creating Tiana’s Foods, an employee-owned cooperative operating in a transformed salt mine.

From Disney Parks Blog:
“Tiana wants to give a big thanks to her family and friends and the entire community for all the support they’ve given her by throwing an amazing party during Mardi Gras season. When it turns out there’s been a bit of a mix-up with the party preparations, Tiana invites us to meet her at Tiana’s Foods to help with the missing ingredient for the party.”
Tiana’s Bayou Adventure is expected to open in 2024 at Disney World and Disneyland Resort in California.