Carowinds Trip Report
Back in June, my father and I took a trip to Carowinds in Charlotte, NC to check out their newest coaster, Fury 325, the tallest and fasted giga coaster. Carowinds used to be owned by Paramount, who also owned various other parks, such as Kings Dominion and Kings Island. In 2006, Cedar Fair, the owner of such famous parks as Cedar Point and Knott’s Berry Farms, purchased all of the Paramount parks and began improving them. I can attest that Kings Dominion in Richmond, Virginia has great improved in quality since. This was our first time visiting Carowinds and I knew what to expect, overall. But overall, our day had as many hills as Fury 325.
We arrived right before park opening and were surprised at the lack of cars in the parking lot. Good news for us. We explored the entrance area a bit, checked out the park specific merchandise, which is always fun, and then found the Peanuts characters and got some photos. Working our way over to Fury 325, we saw a line had formed for the ride at a gate. Security was allowing Annual Pass holders in early, which is fair, but we weren’t too worried since there was a lack of guests. Once the National Anthem was played, they allowed the rest of the Guests to enter the rest of the park, much like Cedar Point and SeaWorld Orlando do.
When we got to Fury 325, we waited less than 5 minutes in line. This is due to a few reasons. 1) As noted by a sign, no loose articles are permitted on the ride. This is a common rule among theme park rides, but for Fury, they were super strict about it. There are no bins in the station and they provide lockers by the merchandise shop, creatively named The Hive. Unfortunately, unlike Universal Orlando, the lockers were not free and you had to purchase 2 hours minimum. So we stored our bags and valuables, but then left them in for two hours, since we paid for it. It allowed us to not worry about them for the new few rides. 2) Guests can not request a specific row to sit in. A Team Member is standing at the platform assigning rows for guests about to ride. They are also very strict about this. We rode Fury 325 a total of 10 times that day, and only managed to sit in the front row 2 or 3 times. Usually we kept our eyes on the rows filling up and allowed other people to go ahead of us. 3) The trains are unloaded and loaded super quickly, among the fastest I’ve ever seen, which also helps the line move at a steady pace, which is a very nice change among other rides where guests slowly climb in and out and Team Members take their time checking each restraint.
Fury 325 did not disappoint. It is an intense roller coaster which quickly take you up the very steep lift hill, giving you a beautiful view of the surrounding area. The train propels over the hill instantly giving the rider air time, especially in the back row. Loaded with air time hills throughout the entire ride, the no loose articles is no joke. On multiple rides, we saw items fly from the bodies of rides, including a hat, cell phone, one flip flop, and then the other. The back row provides excellent air time, but the front row really allows you to experience the intensity of the ride. When you exit, you walk through the gift show which is loaded with tons of merchandise: shirts, mugs, and even stuffed wasps. It really had a great collection.
After riding Fury five times, being able to just run in circles with the short line, we decided to continue onto other rides. First was Hurler; a wooder coaster which is replicated at Kings Dominion. It was quite rough, as expected. But it is still a credit, and a ‘classic’ for the Paramount parks. Then we did the drop tower. All of this really has the Paramount feel to it. It’s interesting how you can tell the difference of theme park brands, even with big roller coasters.
Carolina Cyclone and Ricochet were next up. Two more typical coasters. Ricochet especially is the common mouse coaster layout found at multiple parks across the country. We decided to work our way back to the front of the park, so as to ride Intimidator. Vortex was a classic stand-up coaster, which was as rough as expected. These are becoming a rare breed, quickly becoming extinct throughout the world. We got to Intimidator, which was the second coaster we were looking forward to trying out. I have had the chance to ride Intimidator 305 at Kings Dominion a few years ago, which really packs a punch, and I was hoping this was equally as good. Unfortunately, it is more along the lines of Nitro at Six Flags Great Adventure, which isn’t necessarily a bad thing. The ride is smooth and provides lots of air time, but when you compare it to other rides in the park, it’s like a tamer version of Fury 325. It’s much better to have a variety of coasters, and not a good ride and a better version. The ride is well themed and also has much merchandise in its gift shop, especially if you are a fan of Nascar, which we are not.
After riding Intimidator twice, we went to Nighthawk, Carowind’s laying-down coaster. This was a mistake from the very beginning. The ride was only running one train at the time, and due to the load and unload system, the queue moved at a snails pace, even though it wasn’t overly long. It ended up being the longest wait we had all day, over an hour long. Once in the station, the Team Members all seemed to hate their job and not want to be there. No one looked happy, which took away from our experience even more. The layout of the coaster is another common design found in parks across the country, including Six Flags America’s Batwing and Kings Island.
Apparently, it was our time to just have a bad day at the park. After our long wait for Nighthawk, we were very hungry for lunch. Nearby was a quick service location which seemed like a very good option for us since it had multiple options for food. When we walked in, there was a very large seating area, which looked great. The initial sign of poor quality was flies all around the inside, something I’ve never quite seen before. We approached the area to pick out our food and nothing looked appetizing. After contemplating for about ten minutes and asking a Team Member for other recommendations, we decided to eat at Chik-Fil-A. A safe bet. On our way to the restaurant, we walked through the Camp Snoopy children’s area; a staple for Cedar Fair parks. It was super cute and made me wish I was small enough to enjoy it all.
After lunch, we went on to play in the area. We rode their Boo Monsters laser gun attraction, which I enjoyed, and then went to Windseeker. This is a recent ride Cedar Fair purchased for most of their parks. They have had issues with it in the past, but none were present on this day. The Windseeker is an extremely high swing attraction. It offers a great view of the park and is incredibly relaxing, unless you’re afraid of heights that is.
We decided to ride two more coasters before hitting the water park. First was the Thunder Road, a classic racing woodie. Similar to Rebel Yell at Kings Dominion, the ride held the most enthusiastic Team Members of the day. They were clearly having fun with their jobs and in doing so added a nice energy to an otherwise basic wooden coaster. Everyone around us enjoyed it, and the ride itself was very good. Unfortunately, it was the final season for Thunder Road, as it was demolished to expand the water park section of the park.
Next, we went to After Burn, which used to be named Top Gun. This was a very fun inverted coaster and moderately smooth considering its age. By this time, it had gotten very hot and we decided to check out the water park, Boomerang Bay. The water park had some pretty good slides, but nothing exceptional that really stands out. It’s pretty spread out, which is nice, but everything is cement, so unless you have sandals to wear, your feet can get burnt. I didn’t have sandals, so that was not fun. After just over an hour, we got dressed and headed back into the park.
We finished out the rest of the coasters in the park, Carolina Cobra, which is the common boomerang coaster, and Gold Crusher, a fun mine train coaster. I wanted some good photos of the park, so we went over the observation tower. The sun was beginning to set, so some of the photos didn’t turn out to great, but the park is definitely nice to see from above. After our ride, we were pretty much finished with the park, but still had a few more hours.
Before heading back to our favorite rides of the day, we wanted to do something we had seen earlier that day. It was called Vault. I had read about attractions like this. I was hoping it was a laser maze, which is when you go through room after room, trying to avoid the lasers like a cat burglar. This was similar but only one room. One or two people enter the room after choosing a difficulty level. They must work their way across the room and touch a hand sensor at the same time, and then return to the other side to open a vault, all while trying to avoid the light beams. If you hit one, an alarm goes off. The session is timed and you can compare how well you do to everyone else that day. It was very fun and only $5 a person. There are two styles. One is the cat burglar one, trying to avoid the beams, and the other is the smasher, if I remember correctly, For this setting, the person must try to break every beam of light within a set time. We chose the first setting and had a blast.
We tried to ride Intimidator one more time, but unfortunately, it broke down. We waited for almost 30 minutes and the mechanics did arrive, which was good, but they told us it was going to be a while, so we left and headed over to Fury 325 to ride it until we were ready to leave for the day.
Fury 325 is absolutely incredible at night. We were once again surprised with the lack of wait time. The park really wasn’t busy at all today. We rode Fury five more times that night. We rode it twice in the middle, and back row, and then after begging the Team Member, he allowed us to sit in the front row. The ride can be intense in the back row and a little rough, so after a full day of rides, it was starting to take a toll on us. After our final front row ride, we left the park.
Overall, Carowinds is a nice park and we were glad we visited it. Many of the coasters are very old and rough and the park could definitely use an update, which will take time to do. Our food experience wasn’t that great, so we decided to have dinner outside of the park. The Team Members really varied in attitude throughout the day. Some were exactly what you expect at an amusement park, but others looked absolutely miserable and some were down right rude to us, which really hurt our experience there. Fury 325 is incredible and Intimidator is fun, even if it is a less intense version of its brother in Kings Dominion.
A neat detail that not everyone may realize is the park itself is directly on the state line of NC and SC. There are signs at the entrance of the park, and in the water park, but that’s all we found. It would be pretty cool if a big line was placed throughout the park making it clear when you cross into each state. We had a good day and enjoyed ourselves. Fury 325 was worth the trip alone. I’m glad we went, but I don’t think we’ll be returning anytime soon. And with that, we say goodnight to Carowinds!