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Busch Gardens Tampa – Nairobi: Rhino Rally

Rating: * * *
Type: Drive-through animal tour and water ride
Time: 5 minutes
Short Take: Nifty idea that’s more clever than thrilling

Rhino Rally artfully blends safari-style animal encounters with a tame jeep ride through a 16-acre patch of the Serengeti Plain offering glimpses of water buffalo, zebras, antelope, elephants, and rhinos. This attraction was shortened in 2010, removing an often-malfunctioning "white water" river finale to make room for the new Cheetah Hunt coaster. The resulting ride isn't as thrilling, but at least it operates more reliably with a somewhat shorter wait.

The adventure begins as you board a 17-passenger converted Land Rover with your guide and driver to take part in the 34th annual running of Rhino Rally, an off-road race along the Zambezi River across the rugged and dangerous terrain of the African veldt. One adult in the group is chosen to ride next to the driver (a great seat, by the way) and serve as the navigator who, in off-road rally tradition, will be blamed if anything goes wrong. Along the way, your sturdy vehicle splashes through crocodile-infested waters and comes almost face to face with elephants, rhinos, and other wild critters. The course has been cleverly designed to allow the Land Rovers to nosedive into streams and water holes and cross narrow bridges over deep ravines.

The trip provides close-up, although brief, encounters with elephants, Grant's zebras, cape buffalo, and scimitar-horned oryx. The ancient Egyptians, we learn, domesticated these beasts and forced their long curving horns to grow together into a single horn, creating the myth of the unicorn. After driving past two rare white rhinos (they are actually gray), the vehicle fords a stream filled with real crocodiles cruising just a few feet away. Fortunately, your intrepid guide is able to navigate the stream and drive up the riverbank, bringing everyone safely to the finish line.

A great deal of the fun of this ride is supplied by the driver/guide. The best ones really get into the spirit of things, teaching you a few handy Swahili phrases and getting everyone involved in the action. So you may want to ride more than once. The problem with that is the line can grow to daunting lengths on busy days. Figure on up to an hour's wait during peak season unless you arrive at opening time.

Tip: If you are alone or if there are just two of you, you may be able to get in a vehicle a bit sooner by following the sign for the single riders line. If you are waiting in the main line, you can accomplish much the same thing by holding one or two fingers aloft during the boarding process. Ride attendants sometimes look for singles or couples to fill in empty spots on the Land Rover that’s about to depart.

The best seats in the house. The seats on the left hand side of the vehicle offer not only the best views of the wildlife.

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