You’re visiting Carowinds for the first time and your mind is reeling with the endless possibilities for fun. With more than 60 attractions, including 14 roller coasters, an animatronic dinosaur exhibit, and a giant water park, it’s tough to decide where to start.
And then there are all the shows, games and dining options.
You can wing it and simply wander through the 400-acre park, hopping on rides and enjoying the festive fair atmosphere as you go, or you can come prepared with a plan of attack to make the most of your visit.
Either way, it helps to know ahead of time all the park has to offer to be sure you hit the attractions that interest you most.
A Quick Overview
Straddling the border between North and South Carolina, the park features nine themed areas representing different regions and traditions of the two states.
Camp Snoopy, reminiscent of the Carolina wilderness, is designed for the youngest park visitors. It features a dozen rides, including the popular Peanuts Pirates, along with an 8,000-square-foot shaded play area with interactive elements and a theater for shows starring Snoopy and the Peanuts gang.
County Fair is a throwback to the old county fair with updated versions of classic rides.
At Celebration Plaza you’ll find three of the park’s 14 roller coasters, including The Intimidator—one of the tallest, fastest and longest coasters of its kind in the Southeast. Inspired by North Carolina NASCAR legend Dale Earnhardt, this three-minute ride reaches speeds of up to 80 miles per hour with seven extreme drops.
If you’re looking for the biggest, baddest coaster in the park, head to the Thrill Zone where you’ll find the heart-stopping Fury 325. Billed as the world’s tallest and fastest giga coaster, it towers 325 feet above the park and has an 81-degree drop that sends passengers screaming down the track at speeds up to 95 miles per hour. It is undisputedly the most popular ride at Carowinds.
Carousel Park offers tamer rides like the Grand Carousel and Scrambler, along with Vortex, another coaster fan favorite. Several other popular coasters can be found in Crossroads and Carolina Boardwalk.
The newest themed area is Blue Ridge Junction, a seven-acre section of the park paying tribute to the Carolina mountains. The centerpiece of this fun zone is Copperhead Strike, a double launch coaster that propels you from 0 to 42 miles per hour in 2.5 seconds, then blasts you off a second time midway through the ride.
Carolina Harbor, included with park admission, is Carowinds’ 26-acre water park. It offers a welcome reprieve in the hot summer months with lots of wet, family-friendly entertainment, from a 1,000-foot lazy river to a wave pool churning up six-foot waves to a multi-level play structure with dozens of interactive spray jets, water guns, and water wheels. And, of course, every manner of waterslide.
Dinosaurs Alive! is a paid attraction within the park. For a nominal fee, you can roam among more than 50 scientifically accurate animatronic dinosaurs, some featuring interactive consoles that allow you to control the movement of the prehistoric animals.
Carowinds offers three entrances, but it’s best to come in through the North Gate if you’re visiting with children. Here you will find:
Height Check Station. Your kids will be measured and provided with a wristband indicating the height requirement they meet for rides. Height requirements are posted at every ride and on the park map, so you’ll know in advance if your child is tall enough to ride before you get in line.
KidTrack. Get each of your kids a wrist band that includes a cell phone number where you can be contacted should you and your little ones become separated.
Parent Swap. This program gives parents of young children the opportunity to enjoy the more adventurous rides without having to wait in line twice. While one parent rides, the other waits with the non-riding child; then they swap spots. To enroll, visit Guest Services.
Stroller Rentals. Both single and double strollers are available to rent. They can also be rented at the South Gate.
Lockers. Rather than haul around all of your personal belongings, including bathing suits and towels, stash them in one of the rental lockers available here, at the South Gate or at Carolina Harbor water park.
Ride Upgrades. If you want to pack as many rides as possible into your visit, consider purchasing Fast Lane or Fast Lane Plus wristbands. They let you bypass the regular lines on some of the most popular rides.
All-Day Dining Plan. Like to stay fueled up throughout the day? With this deal, you can eat an entree and side as often as every 90 minutes at any of the participating restaurants.
Shows and Dining
Even if you’re not a thrill seeker, you’ll find plenty to keep you entertained at Carowinds. A variety of live shows are presented throughout the day at venues all over the park. The lineup changes each year with new musical productions, shows featuring Peanuts characters, concerts, and performances by Cirque Imagine, Carowinds’ own acrobatic troupe.
In 2014, Carowinds brought on board an executive chef, elevating its dining options with foodie favorites like hand-breaded chicken fingers, locally sourced sausage, rotisserie chicken, house-smoked brisket, pulled pork, ribs and wings, and its own Carowinds Sweet Tea Barbecue Sauce and Copperhead Strike Hot Sauce.
Other Stuff to Know
Carolina Harbour. You could spend the whole day just soaking in the fun at Carowinds’ water park. If that’s your plan, come in through the Carolina Harbor gate and avoid the long walk from the main entrance. Cabanas can be reserved online before your visit, ensuring you’ll have a shady spot to lounge all day. The water park also features three restaurants and three locker rental locations. Life jackets, required for children less than 48 inches tall, are available free of charge for all guests.
Accommodations. Rather than try to do everything in one day, buy a two-day ticket (the second ticket is offered at a greatly reduced rate) and stay the night just outside the park in Camp Wilderness, featuring campsites and two-bedroom cabins. Amenities include a swimming pool, shuffleboard and free shuttle service to the park. In late 2019, Carowinds will open its first hotel — the 130-room SpringHill Suites by Marriott at Carowinds.
Special Events. Just a couple of weeks after the park closes for the summer, it reopens for SCarowinds, offering plenty of haunted attractions, spooky Halloween shows and wandering monsters. For younger goblins, there’s The Great Pumpkin Fest. The daytime event includes a costume parade led by Snoopy, a hay bale maze and foam zone.
During the holidays, the park is transformed into a snowy wonderland for WinterFest. This popular event features as many as 50 shows a day guaranteed to get you into the spirit of the season. It closes with a family-friendly New Year’s Eve Celebration.
For more information on Carowinds’ attractions, ticket prices and events schedule, visit Carowinds.com
Article Courtesy of South Carolina Tourism
Photos Courtesy of Carowinds