The Veldt Monorail provided guests a chance to see much of the Serengeti Plain and the various species that roam freely across it.
Official Open Date: September 13, 1966
Location: Serengeti Plain
Also Known As: Skyway Safari, Skyrail, Monorail, Monorail Safari
Part of a long-range 4 million dollar expansion program, Anheuser-Busch announced the plans to construct a monorail at Busch Gardens Tampa on January 25, 1963. At the time of the announcement, the monorail was touted to be a mile long at an estimated cost of over $1 million. Construction was expected to begin in 1964.
The contractor for the monorail was Arrow Development Co. of Mountain View, California. The entire system was manufactured by Arrow and then transported for assembly at the park.
Completion of the monorail was delayed, with the blame on the rationing of some materials like steel due to the war in Vietnam. Construction continued into the spring of 1966, and by mid-April, the monorail was projected to open on June 1. That opening date would be pushed back, and by Independence Day, the park was projecting it would open to guests by the end of the summer. As the project neared the opening, testing was done and park manager Thomas J. Pinta said the animals were used to the monorail cars passing by in just two days.
The monorail officially opened to guests on Tuesday, September 13, 1966. Due to some last-minute issues including improving the air conditioning units for the cars, there wasn’t much advance notice for the grand opening. At 11:30 a.m. on that day, a simple opening ceremony was held with August A. Busch Jr., president of Anheuser-Busch, in attendance.
At 7,000 feet in length, it was reported to be the second largest when it opened, with only the one at Disneyland in California being longer. The 1.3 million dollar addition featured 12-person air-conditioned cars with onboard audio and a suspended car design that hovered low to the ground in most areas to provide excellent views of the wildlife. At its highest point the monorail reached 30 feet, and in other spots the cars passed at just above ground level. According to a newspaper report, the cost for the 15-20 minute ride at opening was $1 for adults and 40¢ for children and it was to be called the Skyway Safari.
The monorail departed the station (which is now the station for Cheetah Hunt) and transported guests across the Serengeti Plain (originally called Wild Animal Kingdom). Guests traveled past destinations like Gorilla Island, the “Congo River,” and lion moat, Goat Mountain, “Lake Victoria,” and the rhino and elephant displays.
A late 1960s brochure refers to the attraction as Skyrail, where guests can see a variety of species up close including lion, elephant, zebra, giraffe, rhino, cheetah, hippo, and many others.
Celebrating her 95th birthday in mid-April 1967, Mary A. Bryer visited the park along with her daughter. While there, they enjoyed a ride on the monorail, with park officials saying Bryer was the oldest guest to do so at that point.
In early September 1967, a sinkhole opened up on the veldt near the monorail. Drilling rigs were brought in and tests were done to see if there was any danger to the monorail supports.
The monorail proved to be a popular addition. In April 1968, the park took delivery of two additional trains, helping reduce wait times on busier days from over an hour down to an average of seven to 30 minutes.
By early 1970, the attraction was listed simply as Monorail. While the park itself didn’t charge an admission fee to this point, the monorail was a separate charge of $1.50 for adults and 75¢ for children under 12. It was described in a brochure from that year as a 1 1/3 mile tour with eye-level views of various species across Wild Animal Kingdom.
Starting in July 1970, the charge to ride the monorail was reduced as a general admission charge was instituted for guests to access the park.
A newspaper ad in June 1972 referred to the ride as Monorail Safari. Maps in 1974 listed the Monorail Safari as an Inner Veldt Tour bringing guests up close to lions, zebras, giraffes, and hundreds of other animals.
In 1988, the monorail trains were upgraded to a new, air-conditioned model.
The attraction closed in 1999.
The Veldt Monorail was a popular subject of postcards, both as the feature of the image and in the background of many Serengeti Plain views.
This undated photo shared by the park shows a view from inside one of the cars:
Additional details on the Veldt Monorail will be added in the future.
Saw Pan | Sep 14 2009 – accessed 1/15/2017
Sun Sentinel | May 14 1989 – accessed 1/21/2017
Boca Raton News | Jun 18 1967 – accessed 2/4/2017
Park Map | 1974 – Author’s Collection
Park Brochures | Late 1960s, 1970 – Author’s Collection
St. Petersburg Times | Sep 9 1967 – accessed 1/21/2018
Twitter – @BuschGardens | Mar 21 2019 – accessed 12/11/2019
Orlando Sentinel | Jun 6 1970 – accessed 11/6/2022
Twitter – @BuschGardens | Mar 31 2022 – accessed 3/31/2022
Orlando Sentinel | Jan 26 1963 – accessed 7/5/2023
Orlando Evening Star | Apr 19 1967 – accessed 7/5/2023
Orlando Sentinel | Feb 11 1970 – accessed 7/5/2023
Orlando Sentinel | Mar 1 1970 – accessed 7/5/2023
Orlando Sentinel | Apr 8 1966 – accessed 7/6/2023
Orlando Sentinel | Apr 15 1966 – accessed 7/6/2023
Orlando Evening Star | Jul 5 1966 – accessed 7/6/2023
Orlando Sentinel | Jul 22 1966 – accessed 7/7/2023
Orlando Sentinel | Sep 11 1966 & 2 – accessed 7/9/2023
Orlando Sentinel | Jun 19 1972 – accessed 7/9/2023
Last update: July 9, 2023