Review: A Trip To SCarowinds 2016

Since the announcement of a new maze and scare zone, and getting to experience both first hand, I have been excited to get back to Carowinds and experience the 2016 edition of their SCarowinds Halloween Haunt event.

After my first visit to SCarowinds last year, I had some idea of what to expect for this year’s event, but with the addition of the aforementioned Psycho Circus scare zone and Dark Harvest maze, along with three new “skeleton key” experiences, I knew there would be some surprises as well. Like last year’s post, I’m going to do my absolute best to give details of the event without spoiling it. But beware, if you’re planning on heading to SCarowinds over the next two weeks and want to be completely surprised, this post will probably blur the line between generalizing and giving away some spoilers.

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SCarowinds opens nightly at 7:00pm, but I had a late start due to traffic on I-77 south, as well as traffic entering the park. In all my years visiting Carowinds, I have never seen the parking lot that full, and I found it easier to enter the park through Carowinds’ south gate (a first for me), behind Initimidator’s turn around and Afterburn.

Finally getting into the park around 8:45PM, I took a quick read of the crowd, and knew that if I wanted to accomplish everything that SCarowinds had to offer that night before the park closed at 1:00am, I would need to purchase a Fright Lane pass, which is the SCarowinds’ version of a Fast Lane pass.  For $60, you are given a lanyard that grants you front-of-the-line access at SCarowinds’ six mazes, as well as a “Skeleton Key,” which opens a secret door in each of SCarowinds’ six scare zones. It doesn’t include normal Fast Lane or Fast Lane plus access for any of Carowinds’ rides, a majority of which remain open during SCarowinds.

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I started my SCarowinds trip in the Mass Acres scare zone, located in front of Boo Blasters on Boo Hill.  According to SCarowinds lore, Mass Acres is one of the oldest cemeteries in the Carolinas. It is home to thousands of departed souls that date back to the late 1700’s. Ancient and crumbling tombstones stand side-by-side, marking the lives of yesterday. In reality, these gravestones feature the names of Carowinds’ managers, as well as a giant grim reaper in the center for Cedar Fair CEO Matt Ouimet. While I was waiting in line at the skeleton key inside Mass Acres, one of the “slider” scare actors was using the queuing guests as a barrier to sneak up on unsuspecting guests. I thought it was great camouflage.

Madam Zora and her psychic readings are back again at the Mass Acres skeleton key this year, trying to summon spirits from the dead. Both scare actors inside of the Skeleton Key played very convincing roles, and there was a cool trick with a voice recorder as well as some slight of hand involving some chalkboards. Nothing particularly scary about this Skeleton Key, but it was great to experience it in a big group.

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After Mass Acres, I took in a showing of one of SCarowinds’ shows, Skeleton Crew located in Carowinds’ current County Fair area, in front of the Southern Star swinging ship. Skeleton Crew features several acrobats, trampolines and an energetic soundtrack. Similar to Carowinds’ new Cirque Imagine show this year, it’s one of those shows that you watch, jaw dropped in awe, silently contemplating how inadequate your own athletic abilities are in comparison. One of the most impressive stunts involved a one sided ladder, and an acrobat with may more balance and core strength than I could ever dream to have.

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From Skeleton Crew, I wandered through the new Psycho Circus scare zone, occupying the remainder of the old County Fair area, towards SCarowinds’ new maze Dark Harvest. I had gotten the opportunity to go through Dark Harvest at dusk during a preview of SCarowinds, and it gave off a very creepy vibe. In the dark, it’s terrifying. There’s fog everywhere, and as you go through the maze, the corn seems like it is getting taller, and the paths are getting narrower. There were several scare actors in gilly suits camouflaging themselves in the stalks, ready to jump out at any unsuspecting victim. (Yes, they got me once or twice.). The other scare actors in the maze, along with the scenery inside, definitely gave off a very strong “Deliverance” vibe.

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My favorite scare in Dark Harvest was actually one that happened to the group of teenage girls behind me. I was leading the way through the maze, and got ahead of the group behind me. As I turned around a corner, I saw a scare actor with a Chainsaw, who didn’t make his move toward me. I looked at him, threw him a quick hitchhikers thumb pointing at the group behind me, and kept walking. I couldn’t help but laugh as I heard the whirr of a chainsaw followed by blood curdling screams.

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Exiting Dark Harvest back into Psycho Circus, I joined the line for the Psycho Circus Skeleton Key, Jack’s Revenge. Another attraction I had experienced at dusk during the preview, it was also enhanced by darkness. Like most of the mazes at SCarowinds, this skeleton key is built around suspense, and is in fact a mini-maze itself. I will say that the “scare” in the maze was better during the preview event, but the overall atmosphere was better during an actual SCarowinds run through.

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Next up was the Bloodyard Scare Zone, located on the future site of the County Fair at Carowinds. Themed as a junkyard inhabited by Vampires, there are dozens of shipping crates that create the boundary of the Scare Zone. There didn’t seem to be as many scare actors as there had been last year, but that also may have been affected by the proportion of crowd size to scare actors. The skeleton key was the same as last year, and involved me helping a gentleman try to electrocute a vampire in a building where the power was faulty. The vampire chased me out of the building, and as I walked out, she popped her head out and sneered “you got lucky” at me. I shrugged and told her with a smile, “it happens.”

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Zombie High was my second favorite maze last year, and next on my list. Lines were starting to get long by this point, so I was glad I had my Fright Lane pass to get to the front of the line. The year is 1987, and the students of Pat Hall High School are on cloud nine after the football team’s victory over their arch rival, the B&M Furies. (Think about it…) However, zombies have taken over the entire school, and are wreaking havoc everywhere. Zombie High remained largely unchanged from last year, and still features some of the best sets and minor details of any maze at SCarowinds. The maze wanders through classrooms, locker rooms, the cafeteria, and even the gym throughout the journey. Pay special attention to the chalkboards in each room.

In my opinion, the best scare in Zombie High this year is near the end of the maze in the homecoming dance scene, and involves a scare actor and some bungee cords. You have been warned!

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After Zombie High, it was time for Slaughterhouse: The Final Cut, which was my favorite maze at last year’s SCarowinds.  The story of Slaughterhouse involves the Red Ribbon Meat Company, which was originally founded in Charlotte in 1903 by Samuel Osteler under the name “S. Osteler Butchers.” Priding themselves on delivering premium cuts of meat to the Carolinas and beyond, the company thrived for many years and gained notoriety as the Southeast’s premier supplier of beef and pork. After Osteler’s death, his son took over the operation, taking whatever unethical means necessary. to make the business successful This started by getting very cheap, malnourished livestock – the “red ribbons” of the county fairs and local farms. To further reduce his costs, he turned to the city’s growing population of homeless and poverty-stricken citizens by grinding them up and mixing their remains with his beef and pork.

The maze, by far SCarowinds’ goriest, continued to impress this year. Though my favorite scare/scare actor from last year, a double leg amputee that was disguised as a prop being cut up by a butcher who walked around on his hands, was not a part of the maze this year, there were still several very scary moments in the maze. One in particular involves a scare actor being “cut up” by a giant spiral saw. I hope Slaughterhouse continues for years to come.

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Located inside of Hurler’s back stretch, my next maze, Silver Scream Studiosare the studios of director Heinrich Von Hellsburg. Facing constant mockery for some of his early horror films, Von Hellsburg was driven mad and was institutionalized – closing his infamous Sliver Scream Studios for decades. Refusing to go down in history with dishonor and humiliation, Von Hellsburg escaped from the sanitarium and is once again holding auditions at his studios. Determined to make the scariest movie of all time, Von Hellsburg is sending out a casting call for some new blood to make their “Silver Scream” debut.

There are several classic horror/thriller movie references inside of Silver Scream Studios, from the Mummy, to Hitchcock’s “The Birds,” to even a giant space alien and scare actor in an astronaut costume. It might have been an off night for the maze, but there were no huge scares for me during my trip through. The scenery was still top-notch.

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From Silver Scream Studios, I continued to Scary Tales, a scare zone set in an un-enchanted forest filled with horror versions of classic fairy tales. Scary Tales was definitely one of the darkest scare zones I walked through, and the added fog definitely didn’t help matters. Scary Tales had one of the three new Skeleton Key experiences this year. Last year, we were tasked with playing a game of “hot and cold” to find a key to get out of the skeleton key, while this year, there was a fairy tale creature who had the group answer two riddles before we could leave. I was able to guess the first riddle (What goes up and down, but doesn’t move?), but couldn’t guess the second. (What’s heavy when it’s forward, but when backward, it’s not? — Answer? A ton.).

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Next up was another Scare Zone, London Terror, located between Harmony Hall and Intimidator’s entrance. Per SCarowinds’ lore, if you can look past the thick fog and classical architecture, you’ll see a city that illuminates with darkness. From those who were tortured inside the Tower of London to the tragic victims of the world’s most infamous serial killer, Jack the Ripper, many of the phantoms that roam this city are an essential part of British history. There’s an old English folklore that says ghosts only appear in places that have known either great happiness or great misery, and the haunted streets of London have certainly experienced both.

Jack The Ripper was the focus of the Skeleton Key inside London Terror, as our group was “private investigator recruits” examining a murder. The scare actor in this skeleton key was probably the best of any scare zone I went through, and you could tell that he was really into his role. This skeleton key also had the best scare of the night. Without spoiling the ending, you have to read a murder note that’s printed in reverse. There’s only one way to do that, and that’s in a mirror.

One scare zone and skeleton key remained, and that was in The Playground. This isn’t your average playground, however. SCarowinds legend says that “thanks to lazy city planners, it was built on top of a toxic dump. The poisons have started to seep through the ground and it has had a horrible effect on the children who’ve played here. They started mutating into creatures a mother couldn’t even love.”

In my opinion, The Playground is the creepiest of all of the Scarezones. The Skeleton Key inside the Playground involved a girl who had lost her cat. We had to pet the dead cat, help her give a eulogy, and then she ate something out of the cat’s litterbox. This one wasn’t my favorite. This skeleton key was formerly the home of “Poo Boy,” who did not return to SCarowinds this year.

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With time running out, I had two mazes left to accomplish, and I started with Defexwhich I learned this year is pronounced “defects” rather than “deaf-ex,” and it makes SO MUCH MORE SENSE THIS WAY. Defex is billed as a low-budget toy factory where they sometimes use human parts as a replacement for toy parts. You definitely get the toy factory vibe while walking through the maze, but there didn’t seem to be as many scare actors in this maze as there were in other mazes. There was a really good pop-out scare with a scare actor behind a wall, but other than that, nothing super scary about this maze.

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My final maze of the night was Urgent Scare, SCarowinds’ hospital themed maze. It’s a retooled version of last year’s hospital maze, 7th Ward. The SCarowinds Story of Urgent Scare is that its the home to Doctor Shango’s most twisted experiments. Many check-in, but never checkout. As you walk these halls, be sure to stay with your group or you might just get a taste of his evil medicine.

The classic hospital themes were all represented well, but there were definitely things from 7th Ward that were missing, including a cool LED “window” with a hospital patient as well as my favorite maze element, the air curtains that you have to “swim” your way through. I will say the scare actors in Urgent Scare were all great in character, but like Defex, there didn’t seem to be very many in the maze.

After Urgent Scare, it was well past midnight, and time for me to make my two hour drive home.

Some quick overall thoughts:

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  • It’s amazing the transformation that Carowinds undergoes once it gets dark for SCarowinds. Fog machines everywhere create a lingering cloud that you’re almost afraid to walk through because you know something could be hiding behind it.
  • Different from last year, and it may have been a designed crowd throughput mechanism due to the crowd size, all of the Skeleton Keys (except for Bloodyard) were experienced with several small groups of people rather than individually like I did last year.
  • The crowd was huge, and many of the lines for the mazes and rides were really long. Luckily, I had gotten my coaster fix earlier in the day. If you value your time, or don’t have a ton of time at SCarowinds like I did, I can’t recommend a Fright Lane pass enough if mazes are your goal for the night, or a Fast Lane pass if you’re just looking for some night rides on Carowinds’ lineup of great roller coasters. I wish there was a combo Fright Lane/Fast Lane pass. Even if it was over $100, I feel that it would have been worth it that night.
  • With large crowds came the “conga line” effect that you catch up with the group in front of you pretty quickly inside the maze, making it harder for scare actors to sneak up on you. There’s no way really to fix this without killing hourly capacity for each maze.

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  • If you have time, check out the shows at SCarowinds. Skeleton Crew was great, and I hate I missed Blood Drums, but the set-up during the day looked impressive.

My Overall Rankings

Mazes

T5. Defex (Last year: 6/6)

T5. Urgent Scare (Last year as 7th Ward: 3/6)

T3. Zombie High (Last year: 2/6)

T3. Silver Scream Studios (Last year: 4/6)

2. Slaughter House (Last year: 1/6)

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1. Dark Harvest (New for 2016)

Scare Zones

6. The Playground (Last year: 4/5)

5. Mass Acres (Last year: 5/5)

4. Bloodyard (Last year: 1/5)

3. Scary Tales (Last year: 2/5)

2. London Terror (Last year: 3/5)

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1.  Psycho Circus (New For 2016)

Skeleton Keys (*Indicates same scare zone, but new Skeleton Key)

6. The Playground* (Last year: 3/5)

5. Mass Acres (Last year: 5/5)

4. Bloodyard (Last year: 2/5)

3. Pyscho Circus (New for 2016)

2. Scary Tales* (Last year: 4/5)

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1.  London Terror* (Last year: 1/5)

SCarowinds takes place every Friday, Saturday and Sunday between now and October 30. For more information, visit SCarowinds’ website, and follow Carowinds on Facebook and Twitter.

 

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