My favorite theme park when my children were young was Busch Gardens. We’d get up early and make the drive to Tampa (about an hour), unload the car just as the park was opening. The first few years, we could get in an educational type experience walking through the Myombe Reserve viewing the apes and gorillas, then onto the rhinos and elephants and tropical birds. Then when us parents needed a break, we could hit the children area and let the little ones wear themselves out a little more. A few more tours and another break was in order, so we’d take the skyride or train around the park and view even more beautiful creatures of the Serengeti Plain.

As the kids grew older, we’d pile out of the car (mini-van) and quickly, THEY’D plan their route of rides to experience and off we’d go to Sheikra, Kumba, Scorpion, Gwazi and more. Even when my kids were teens, I loved Busch Gardens. I could find a nice quiet area of the park and read a book while they and their friends took to the roller coasters and water-soaking rides; and I’d sneak off for a free sample of suds!

Busch Gardens is doing a lot of good things. Last week 100 U.S. Navy recruits were sworn in at the park as part  of Navy Week. In February, a mother and daughter pair of western lowland gorillas, native to Africa and critically endangered were brought to the park for breeding. The new arrivals can be viewed at the Myombe Reserve habitat a 3-acre rain forest environment that opened in 1991. The theme park is also involved in sending a gift of about 1,000 tilapia to a nonprofit organization in Dade City dedicated to alleviating world hunger through sustainable fish farming. The fish will help the organization by replacing many they lost during the January freeze. It also helps Busch Gardens as they must clean up a lake used by their koi and have more tilapia than needed to eat the algae off the pond walls.

Reading about all of these “warm fuzzy” happenings at the attraction brought back such great memories. Going to Busch Gardens at least once a year was a tradition for my kids. If you have small children, NOW is a great time to begin this tradition for yourselves. Busch Gardens is offering a free pass for Florida preschoolers for the remainder of 2010! You must register online to get an e-ticket and at the gate prove the child’s date of birth (download the FAQs/rules). While they usually charge children starting at age 3, this special is available to kids who are 5 years old and younger. This promotion is in conjunction with the park’s Sesame Street Safari of Fun area, set to open March 27.

Busch Gardens is worth the drive. It’s a great theme park with activities for all ages. Educational and entertaining, you’ll be happy to open your family up to a possible new tradition. Um, wish my kids were little again…