Built in 1979/1980, Timbuktu officially opened to guests on Friday, January 25th, 1980, at an estimated cost of $12.5 million. Opening day saw high school marching bands, dancers, and several celebrities as part of the festivities. Dinah Shore, a popular talk show host, served as the master of ceremonies, riding in on an elephant and delivering a proclamation opening the new area. Other celebrities on had included Rip Taylor and Chuck Woolery, who along with Jeff Conway and Carl Weathers were scheduled to appear on Shore’s show which was taping on location that day.
Timbuktu was modeled after the real city by the same name along the fringes of the Sahara Desert in Africa. Tom Wilkins, architect for Busch Entertainment Corporation, spent a week in the actual Timbuktu studying and photographing buildings. The tower at the entrance from the Nairobi area was based on the design of ancient temples of Timbuktu.
Roughly seven acres, when Timbuktu opened the area featured several rides including Sandstorm, Crazy Camel, Carousel Caravan, and Bush Pilots, a dolphin show, various gift shops, craftsmen, an arcade and several midway games. Not ready for opening day, Scorpion would open later.
Dolphins of the Deep was the first show in the outdoor theater on the northern side of Timbuktu. It featured two bottle-nose dolphins, Mich & Bud, who were able to perform about 30 different learned behaviors.
The main dining location when Timbuktu opened was Das Festhaus, modeled after a German beer hall. It even included daily shows with a live band playing German polkas and Barvarian style dressed dancers engaging audience members. How did a German beer hall fit in with the theme in the new area? Thomas Sharbaugh, who was the director of marketing for Busch Entertainment at the time, was quoted in a newspaper article saying “in the 15th and 16th centuries, Timbuktu was the crossroads of Africa. In our research we found that one of the first Europeans to ever reach Timbuktu was a German named Heinrich Barth” who opened a trading outpost in the city.
In 2013, work began to transform Timbuktu into Pantopia. While much of the architecture remained the same, some buildings were removed or modified, and a vibrant color scheme replaced the overall beige and muted tones.
Additional details and images about Timbuktu will be added in the future.
Busch Gardens’ 1970 Rollercoasters and Thrill Rides – accessed 1/17/2017
Timbuktu opening provides light moments at Dark Continent, Jan 26 1980 – accessed 1/17/2017
Temple Terrace Beacon – April 10 1980 – accessed 7/16/2017