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Theme parks, airports bustling

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Published:   |   Updated: March 21, 2013 at 01:40 PM
TAMPA -

It took longer than usual to navigate the parking lots at Busch Gardens Tampa Bay on Thursday, but patrons could still hit 60 mph on Cheetah Hunt, the attraction's newest coaster ride.

That wasn't the case at Universal Orlando's Islands of Adventure, which closed its gates to Muggles as crowds forced the home of the Wizarding World of Harry Potter to stop admitting new people for the second consecutive day.

Winter Haven's Legoland Florida also reached capacity Wednesday, but on Thursday it accommodated heavy crowds while extending its closing hours from 7 to 8 p.m.

Pent-up leisure and travel demand created congestion at theme parks Thursday, while local airports girded for their heaviest passenger loads of the winter holiday season.

Busch Gardens Tampa Bay relied on auxiliary parking plans, with the use of Adventure Island lots to accommodate crowds, but the theme park remained open Thursday.

"We haven't had to turn anyone away," spokeswoman Jill Revelle said. "We're having an incredible week this week. It's always hopping around here between Christmas and New Year's, and the addition of Cheetah Hunt makes it that much better."

Officials at Legoland Florida, which drew a capacity crowd Wednesday for the first time since the park opened on Oct. 15, said Thursday the park was nearing capacity again and would extend closing time from 7 until 8 p.m.

Tampa International Airport officials projected that Thursday and today would be the busiest winter holiday travel days, with more than 50,000 passengers expected to arrive and depart each day.

Plenty of parking continued to be available, airport spokeswoman Janet Zink said, but people meeting passengers on arriving flights are encouraged to use the free cellphone parking lot, which eliminates the need to cruise the busy arrivals curbside lane.

The Transportation Security Administration has adjusted staffing levels at passenger security checkpoints, so the longest security wait generally is no more than 15 to 20 minutes, Zink said.

Across the Bay, St. Petersburg-Clearwater International Airport hosted its busiest holiday season since the arrival of discount airline Allegiant Air in 2006.


tjackovics@tampatrib.com (813) 259-7817

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