Call me an animal freak. It’s OK. I don’t mind at all. In fact, I’m hoping that my animal obsession adoration will be passed along to my children. I’m hoping that they might learn to crawl through the grass following a spotted frog or “oh” and “ah” over animal prints in the mud or bird watch with genuine, honest enthusiasm. Somehow.
So when Busch Gardens contacted me a few weeks back and asked if my three year old and I would like to attend their new series for preschoolers called “Busch Babies”, I enthusiastically agreed. Busch Babies is a described as a 45 minute, three part “educational program” which “combines crafts, story time, and of course up-close and personal visits from special animal friends.”
Yes, please. Sign us up.
We finished our program this past week – and I am so sad it is already over. My son and I had a terrific time. Here’s my take on our experience with a list of pros and cons. And if you don’t feel up to all this reading, scroll to the bottom for a video taken at our third class. It’s pretty darling and certainly speaks for itself.
What We Loved
The staff. Ms. Amber and Ms. Cherish were wonderful and extraordinarily patient. They seem very well trained as educators – especially with this tricky, slightly unfocused age. They were also very well informed about each animal and made every effort to teach the kids at their speed and in their language. And clearly, they were having fun too. (I’ll miss seeing them every week!)
The program. Each class offered a combination of crafts, play, sensory interaction and learning. We sang songs, we touched cool things, we colored and glued and glittered. We even had a small snack during story time. And the best part was – of course – meeting a new animal at each class.
The location. The room we met in was perfect. It was close to the entrance of the park so we didn’t have to trek too far. It was close to the Safari of Fun so that we could head there right afterwards. It was held in a small, comfortable, intimate room with cozy carpets, low lighting and brown papered kiddie tables. Perfect.
One more class. In a perfect world, I would love to see one more class or so added. It took the first one or two classes for the kids to finally get comfortable and used to this new experience. Would it be worth adding more classes even if it cost more? I think so. I should add that they offer a “playgroup” show at the Safari of Fun stage the week following the last class of each session that anyone can attend. We went today and my son loved seeing the staff again.
It’s a time commitment. After driving there, parking, getting to the program, peeling your wee one away from the park, catching the train back to your car, getting back on the highway and home – well, expect a long morning. The good news is that your child will be exhausted. The bad news is you will be too.
Tips for Parents
Be a Busch Gardens pass holder. This program is designed for local parents who are already pass holders and expect to make multiple trips to the park over the course of the year. Be sure to have your parking already included and paid for with your pass or else you will pay an additional $12.00 a day for parking.
Get there early. Trust me, plan for traffic and accidents and who knows what else. (The day I was impossibly late due to an accident, they were very accommodating. Thanks Amber and Cherish for letting me attend the next class!) Also get to the gate early too. Our class was at 10:30am so I tried to be at the gate by 10:00am so that we would have plenty of time to park, take the tram and walk to our class. (Three year olds tend to get distracted while walking through Busch Gardens!
One adult and one child combination costs $50 for each three part series. $30 is charged per each additional child or adult who joins you. Also this program is designed for season pass holders who have parking included in their annual ticket already. These cost (at minimum) $99.95.
The Next Series
Be sure to check here for upcoming program dates. There are three more planned for the months of May, August and September.
See For Yourself!
Here is a video of our last day of class. Enjoy.
Disclaimer: Busch Gardens paid for our Busch Babies attendance. I paid for all other costs (seasonal park passes, parking, food, etc.).
When I was about five years old I distinctly remember asking my mother if she could tell me how to get to Sesame Street. Her response?
“It’s very far away.”
“Far away” translated in my child’s mind as far as anyone could go, maybe even as far as China. And so for years I thought Sesame Street was in China.
My inner five year old was thrilled to learn that Sesame Street has arrived here in Tampa Bay. Elmo, Big Bird, Burt, Ernie, Grover, Cookie Monster… they’re all part of the new Safari of Fun at Busch Gardens Tampa Bay.
This past Thursday, I loaded my youngest into the car and drove down to Busch Gardens for a special media event kicking off the opening of Safari of Fun. After being under construction for some time, I have been dying to see the new updates so we were there and ready to go at 8:30am that morning.
As part of media day, all of those attending were assigned a personal escort for the day. We were lucky enough to meet Rick, a wonderful guide and patient host as my son ran here and there around the grounds of the newly updated Safari of Fun.
So what’s it like?
Safari of Fun is an upgraded make over of the old “Land of the Dragons” area – but with more to offer. The entire area has been adapted to a “Sesame Street” theme for which I give a thunderous round of applause. The age of children visiting this area adore Sesame Street – pairing the two makes a lot of sense. All of the old rides are there still, plus a few more. They have added a new kiddie sized swing ride, an echoing exploration area, a spacious new splash park and the brand new Air Grover – a junior coaster perfect for brave preschoolers and young elementary school aged kids.
There is also a new theater show starring the Sesame Street characters which is presented several times a day, there is a new space for daily Sesame Street character breakfasts, and across the park in Timbuktu there is a new 4D Sesame Street movie now being shown.
But what did my kid really think of it all?
Well, I took video so that you can see his reaction for yourself. He even gave me a little wrap up interview the following day. But in a nutshell, he adored it. Sure he was a little nervous around the characters but he could not get enough of the rides and climbing areas which are perfect for his age. He was too scared to try out Air Grover but my friend Maria was kind enough to share her video experience with her three year old. We can not wait to get back and bring my six year old (who is itching to try out Air Grover). Next time we’ll bring our bathing suits too and try out the new splash park.
I also have to point out how professional the staff there are. Rick was a great help and each staff member assisting children on and off the rides could not have been kinder or more patient. They explained they have a “no cry policy” and will stop the ride in an instant if any child is upset. Thanks to all of the staff for making my child’s experience so much fun.
The only slight disappointment was the 4D movie. While funny and well done, the extra “effects” were a little much for the preschoolers in our group. There are quite a few surprising direct sprays of water which caught the kids off guard. We were fairly soaked by the end of the show and one kid was in tears (mine had his hands over his face asking if it was over yet). Older children might love these surprises, I know my six year old would crack up at them. However, Sesame Street is more appropriate for younger kids so I’m just hoping they tone down the scary water sprays but crank the fun, more gentle effects like bubbles, etc. My three year old doesn’t want to try that again but we’ll be taking my six year old for sure.
Finally, check out the video I made of our day at the Sesame Street Safari of Fun. We truly had a blast and we can’t wait to get back there in a couple weeks.
Here is Maria Melee from Your Mama Reviews riding Air Grover with her three year old son. (By the way, how cool is this set up? Many props to the Busch Gardens folks to bring this video option to all of us on Media Day.)
“Sit down in my thinking chair and think. Think. Thiiink.” – Blues Clues
Do you ever have one of those moments? Those moments that make you stop and think hard, and you keep thinking about that moment long long after it has past? I have had three of those moments this weekend. I thought I would share.
At Target, I ran into a couple moms I know. I know them through my children. We are not particularly close but it’s always good to see these moms, say hello, chat a bit. And so that’s what we were doing. We had not seen each other much over the summer, our kids were in school, starting playgroups, bladdy bladdy blah… there was lots to catch up on.
I am not sure what we were talking about but suddenly, one mother lowered her voice to a whisper and said something like “that’s what a black person would do.” Before I could even think at all, I said “Well, gotta get going, I’ll see you ladies later!” And turned and left. Just like that. It was a gut thing. I just reacted. I didn’t like what I heard, I was offended, and I bolted.
I will admit right here, that has not always been my reaction either. In the past, I have ignored statements like this but carried on the conversation like nothing happened. Or changed the subject. Or tried to find an out for my friend - surely they didn’t mean it the way it sounded - and have allowed them to use the famous disclaimer “not that I am racist or anything”. I have never been proud of myself in retrospect - where I try to smooth over and actually normalize the moment. I may as well have said it myself.
This time I couldn’t ignore it. But I didn’t say anything either. I didn’t say ” I found that remark offensive.” I just bolted. I guess the message may have come across that I didn’t like what she said. Or it could have come across that I just had to go. I dunno. I am not sure how I feel about my reaction and I can’t stop thinking back about it.
We went to Busch Gardens this weekend. We have “fun passes” and go fairly often. Theme parks are to Florida what the Smithsonian is to Washington D.C. We take for granted what people travel for miles with families to see and do.
Anyway, my 5 yo son T. and I were in line for the Flume. You know which ride this is - the log ride – with the big drop at the end where we get all wet. T. is dying to be old enough for roller coasters and this was his first time on a ride with a big drop. So we were really excited – giggling and chatting, we were all wound up about it.
As we were only a few people away from jumping onto our own log, I heard a violent thump from behind me. I turned and saw a woman, slumped back in her husbands arms, eyes rolled up in her head, and an enormous gash – maybe 6 inches across – on her forehead. She had fainted and hit her head on the stairs. Blood was everywhere. We yelled for help, the Busch Gardens attendants were unsure - radioing managers, grabbing paper towels, running, whispering, clueless. I saw the hands of the girl with the paper towels, she was shaking.
Since we were ahead of the woman who fainted, they ushered us onto the flume and off we went. My heart in my stomach: for T. who had never done this before and for this woman, and all the blood, and the moment she was in.
After an exhilarating splashdown, squeals of delight and “let’s do it agains” from T., we pulled back around to get off our ride. I then heard the announcement that the Flume would be closed due to “technical difficulties”. I stepped off and carefully helped T. off too.
And thats when I saw the two boys. They were maybe four and seven. They were huddled together on the stairs, quite a few feet away from the woman lying on the ground. Obviously, they were her sons. They were crying quietly, the older boy had his arms around the younger boy; now and then he would pat his cheek or rock him gently. Like Hansel and Gretel, holding onto to one another, in utter shock, their world had just turned upside down.
I looked to see who was helping them. No one. Their father was too consumed with helping his wife and talking to the paramedics arriving on the scene.
And we were being pushed along and asked to exit on the right.
But those boys. There was a large fence separating where T. and I were and those boys. If only I could have stopped and stayed with those boys. If only I could have offered them some comfort. They were alone, they were too young to know it was going to be ok, they were utterly distraught, they had seen their mommy fall, they saw so much blood. All I can think now is how they will remember that horrible moment for the rest of their lives. Their mother was fine, all would be well, children have seen worse, but my heart broke for those boys in that moment.
I was in Wal-Mart this morning. (OK, ok, I know. I hear your booing. I’ve already said my piece on that place before. With our meager, pathetic, shoe-string budget, it is what it is.) I can’t believe it’s September already, and naturally, my mind is starting to gear up for the holidays. So we were wandering the aisles in the toy section. C. was starting to feel impatient for lunch and I knew my time was running out.
Suddenly C. said “Oooooh, Mama. Baby. Toe TOOT!” (Translation: Oh, mommy, that baby is so cute!) He saw a doll haphazardly left behind on the wrong shelf. C. adores babies. He can hardly keep his hands off any of my friend’s babies. They light up his world, I mean it.
Well, a lightbulb went off in my head. How can it be this child does not have a doll when he loves babies this much?
So off I wheeled in search of a cheap, small baby doll for C. Where could they be?
Oh. Right. The “pink” section.
I have two boys. I don’t get to the pink section often. And I gather all dolls are in the pink section, the girl section. So, into the pink I wheeled. And bingo. There, between the hideous Hannah Montana dress up crap and the Bratz dolls (What the HELL are they about! Ah!), there was a small section of dolls. He played with a few. We picked one out. It has a little hat and a pacifier as accessories. And as excited as he was, he shocked me by being so gentle with that doll. Carefully cradling it, jibber jabbering little comments to the doll, giving it the pacifier, hugging it, patting its head. He played with it all the way to the register, had the doll sitting next to him in his car seat home, on the floor next to him during lunch and, currently, the doll is tucked in T.’s bed across the room from C. as he takes his nap.
So I am glad we found that doll. It’s perfect.
But I couldn’t help but mutter how crazy it is that the only dolls to be found were in the PINK section.
WHAT. BOYS can’t EVER have a doll?
WHAT. BOYS aren’t ever NURTURING?
WHAT shouldn’t I be encouraging my boy to nurture small babies, to be a good parent some day, for crying out loud!?
Cleary, dolls are for girls. Found only in the PINK section. UGH. GAG.
I should probably mention one thing, however. You know, that the baby we got? He’s dressed in blue. I assume he is a boy doll. And who picked that color out? I did. What was my point? Did I think that having him play with a boy doll, assuming he is a boy because he is in blue, makes boys playing with dolls THAT much more ok? Like “It’s ok, its a DUDE doll.” The blue doll assures that C.’s masculinity is still intact?
So whats that say about me?
Clearly, this Monday, I am lost in my own thoughts. And once again, obviously thinking way too hard about stuff going on around me. But I am guessing these kinds of moments will happen again. And what better home for them but here.
I hope you have a wonderful and less “over thought” start to your week.
To distract myself from the fact that T. turned 5 yesterday - and ultimately to remain in complete denial that my baby is actually growing up (insert “shuddering sob” here) – we took the family to Busch Gardens for Memorial day. We left our home at 8am, made a quick stop at IHOP for breakfast (T. had always wanted to go) and then arrived at the park, ready to rumble. We returned back home, zombie-like, at 7pm. What a day.
And you know what? I am still exhausted. Of course, my children awoke bright eyed at 6:15am as if yesterday never happened. However, I am sitting here, sore, tired, sunburned and overwhelmed by the entire experience.
In an effort to debrief all that we did, I thought I would share our day with you.
Excited, singing, anticipating, strapped into the Saturn, almost there. Sunny, beautiful day, but – oh crap – its gonna be hot, lined up with cars, cars, cars, pay at the gate, more cars, guys waving flags, park in a row, efficient, lets get out, lets just finally GET there already. Unloading our circus: kids, sit n stand stroller, backpack fat with goldfish, pretzels, clothes, diapers, wipes, medicine, water bottles full, sippy cups sloshing. We skip the bus and speed walk to the gates. People everywhere, every shape, every color, every variety of hat, flip flop, sunglasses, stroller, tank top, tattoo, t-shirt, bathing suit. Smells like sunscreen, popcorn, animals, fun. Shuffling through the gates – moo; shiny, smiling, colorful characters dressed in gold walking on stilts meet guests, pose for pictures. T. hides. C. waves frantically. We’re in! Maps out. T. reads it carefully in stroller, C. gapes at the buildings, the fountains, the flowers, the people people people, roller coasters roaring everywhere, the birds, the loud music, the sun, the trees, the color, the movement. We take off to the new section. Shaded areas, plexiglass, OH TIGERS! Cool. T. runs to the rope playground, C. wants OUT of stroller. Climbing, splashing, wondering, yelling, screaming, LOOK AT ME MOMMY!!!, laughing, climbing and climbing and climbing. He’s so high. Diaper change time. Where is T.??? WHERE IS T.!!!! Hi mommy! Oh. Wrangling. I’m hungry. I’m firsty. Pretzels. Water. More sunscreen. Off we go. Next, the congo river rapids, I take T. He jumps and fidgets while we wait. For. a. half. hour. People. Too close. Staring at odd back tattoos. Annoying wet people. Eavesdropping. We’re almost there T. So close now. Almost there. Do you think we’ll get wet? Our turn, we jump on. 5 minutes later, we step out. We’re really really reeeeeally wet. Meet Daddy. Walking, dripping, why didn’t I wear my bathing suit? I’m hungry. I’m firsty. Lunch time. I want to go on the Merry go round!!! Where is a table. WHERE IS YOUR BROTHER?? How much for chicken fingers??? We’ll split one. Is that “God Bless America” in Carousel music? Lets go see the pirate while we wait! I WANT TO GO ON THE MERRY GO ROUND! French fries, mommy wants french fries, everyone is eating french fries, must have must have… OK, Daddy, will you take them on the merry go round? I sneak french fries. Kids back, a few bites of $6 chicken, off they run. Pack it up, throw it out. Off we go. Yelling, roller coasters, people, kids, babies, stroller traffic, teenaged couples, more tattoos, lets go on the train. Where do we park the stroller? Do you have T.? Look at the big turtles. Wow, honey, yeah, cool…. where is my camera? Mommy, here comes the train! Please keep your hands and feet inside the train at all times. C. doesn’t like that idea. Wrestle wrestle wrestle – look there’s a Giraffe! Wrestle wrestle wrestle – look there’s a rhino! Wrestle, HUG, don’t be scared of the tunnel, its ok C.! Train stops. Off we go, C. on shoulders, backpack on, T. holding hands with Daddy, on to the skyride. Another line. Waiting. More people. Weird T-shirts. Teenagers rolling their eyes. C. trying to climb over the wall. Singing ”do your ears hang low” to keep kids happy. More teenagers roll their eyes. I fight urge to trip them. Onto skyride. C. clings to me but peeks out, T. in heaven. Peaceful. Quiet. I smell elephant poop. Off we go, back onto stroller, the show starts in 10 minutes! Race through more people, more tattoos, more families of 5 stretched across the walkways just not getTING OUT OF THE WAY!!!!! Excuse me! Thanks! Daddy takes C. off to the quiet monkey section with shade, waterfalls, where napping potential is high. I grab T. and run for the theater. Inside, dark, FREEZING! Clothes still wet. Sit down. MUSIC!!! LIGHTS!!! COLOR!!! Fun, beautiful, singing, puppets, animals, stories, escape. T. is enthralled. Out we walk with the crowds, moo, back into the heat, bright light, wheres Daddy? Text him. “W. R. U?” Text back. “C. slpng. w/ mnkees.” Off we go. There they are. Daddy giving loud kids playing near sleeping C. dirty looks. C. wakes up, groggy, grumpy. Off we go. More animals. More smells. More discoveries. More children elbowing their way in to see. Giraffe, meerkats, lions, hyenas, hippos, fish, turtles, alligators, elephants, snakes. Daddy takes T. onto another ride. I keep C. occupied by walking walking walking. Stopping to watch a lemur. Walking walking walking. Stop to look at an alligator. Walking. Walking. Out runs T. Happy!! The water almost got us! I’m hungry. I’m firsty. Off to find pizza. Stroller is so very heavy now. Must. Push. It. Uphill. Where IS pizza? Are you kidding me? More tattoos. More people in the way. Stroller traffic. Roller coasters zooming by. C. and T. stunned, fascinated. Over-stimmed out of their minds. Still trying to push through. More strollers. People stopped reading maps in FRONT of us. Groan. EXCUSE ME! Thank you. Find pizza. Oh. And beer! Mmmmm. Sense of humor returns. Off to kid section. Oh, you’ve got to be kidding me with this really bad princess and dragon show. Kids laughing. Keep sipping that beer. C. runs for the stage, hold by shirt until show over, then C. charges Dragon. Hugs. Hi! Hugs. Patting dragons belly. C. in love. Off to play in kid section. Ferris wheels, carousels, flying dragons, boats, more rope playgrounds, yelling, laughing, climbing, jumping, rolling, discovering, wandering, for crying out loud – where is T.?? Look at watch. Late. Tired. Lets get out of here. All accounted for. I don’t wanna go! I want more fun! Uh-huh. Push through the crowds. Push through the gates. Push past crowds for bus and walk back to parking lot. Push the stroller up hill and give bus going by dirty looks. Can’t find car. Can’t find the energy. Oh. There it is. Pop trunk, stroller in. Kids buckled in, glassy-eyed. Daddy drives. I look through pics on camera. Get home. Done. T. is 5 and I am too tired to think about it anymore.
And this morning at 6:30am, as I lay on the couch watching CNN, feeling sorry for myself since I am sore and still absolutely WIPED OUT from yesterday, T. says to me “I want to do something fun today”. Great googlie mooglie.