A Theme Park Enthusiast’s First Trip To Carowinds
Here at Coaster101, we talk a lot about Carowinds a lot as part of their “Caroblogger” program. But would you believe that before the last weekend in April, six of the seven members of the Coaster101.com writing team had never been to the park before? After playing tour guide for John, Eric, Larry, and Kyle this weekend, I wanted to get their first impressions of Carowinds, and see their first trips to the park through a Coaster Enthusiast’s eyes.
We’ve talked about Carowinds a lot, but what were you most looking forward to before arriving at the park?
John: Fury 325. I may or may not have had dreams about riding it in the days leading up to my visit.
Larry: Fury 325 for me as well. It’s not every day you get to ride a B&M coaster that beat the Intamins for the first time in 15 years for the Golden Ticket Award for best steel coaster!
Eric: Yeah, I mean, we all have the same answer, Fury325. That’s probably partly because Andrew won’t stop talking about it.
Kyle: Ditto. I couldn’t wait to compare Fury 325 to Millennium Force.
What were your first impressions when entering the park for the first time?
Larry: A big fan of the remodeled entrances Cedar Fair has been rolling out at the parks, Carowinds is just as great as it is in the pictures I’ve seen of it. I mean, what other park in the US can you pick which state you’d like to enter the park from!
John: I was blown away by the entrance area. I had seen enough photos of it to have an idea of what to expect, but seeing it in person exceeded my already high expectations. Aside from the beautiful interaction with Fury 325, the entrance area is a modern marvel
Eric: I loved having Fury cross both over and under the path from the parking lot to the entrance, great way to get excited about riding a roller coaster. It’s certainly looks nice, and you can tell it was recently redone. It could use a little more greenery, but I think once the newly planted trees around the main sign and along the edge grow out, it’ll be really inviting (and cooler).
Kyle: I really enjoyed the new entrance to Carowinds, it was aesthetically similar to Cedar Point’s but was different enough to stand on its own. I agree with Eric that it will be even better in a few years when more greenery grows in.
What were your thoughts on Fury 325?
Kyle: Coming into Carowinds, Millennium Force was my favorite roller coaster but upon leaving I was not sure which will claim that spot. Fury’s first drop feels like it never ends – you are out of your seat the whole way down. The sheer power of this ride is simply amazing. You can feel the train barreling through the course with a momentum not found on many other rides. My favorite part of Fury was the turn and dive down into the entrance tunnel. You get an unbelievable sideways airtime moment that is completely unexpected.
John: Fury 325 was amazing, and I loved it more with each ride. It’s the tallest roller coaster I’ve ever ridden (beating the 305-foot-tall I305 at Kings Dominion), and that extra 20 feet seemed to make a surprising amount of difference. Its blistering speed was unlike anything I’ve ever experienced. And the relatively low-to-the-ground elements helped amplify that speed. It is an incredible ride.
Larry: Fury was something that I went into with a slight hesitation as I know a few people who though it was rather ove-rhyped, but it certainly hit the mark on me and is now my #1 spot for B&M coasters. The speed, drop, unique elements, and of course the great airtime it provides, really does deserve its recognition as the #1 steel roller coaster in the world.
Eric: I was also a little worried about overhype-ness (remember, Andrew talks about it all the time), but it’s pretty amazing. Compared to the one other gigacoaster I’ve been on (Millennium Force) and other B&M hypers, it has a much more interesting layout. While Millennium Force I think of as having big sweeping turns, and most B&M hypers are very out and back with some hills, Fury feels like has much tighter turns and more changes in direction. I was not expecting the number of twists and overbanking it had going on. Plus, the airtime is amazing. The turn right before it goes under the path was fantastic (especially in the back left), and the amount of air on the three hills to end the ride was unbelievable. I don’t know how they did that, and why every coaster with those kinds of camelbacks isn’t like this.
Outside of Fury 325, what did you think was the best coaster at Carowinds?
John: I’m a sucker for B&M hypers, so Intimidator was my second favorite. It seemed tame compared to its taller sister coaster, but the sustained floater air was a refreshing change of pace from Fury’s more prevalent ejector air. I wasn’t sure how a B&M hyper and giga would coexist in the same park, but they’re more different than I expected. They complement one another well.
Kyle: This is a tough one. Afterburn was an incredible B&M invert. I really enjoyed the tunnels/trenches during the course of the ride. But I think I have to side with Intimidator on this one. It has great re-ridability and a ton of airtime hills. I was rather impressed with its layout as well.
Larry: Afterburn was a great surprise to me, having rode a lot of B&M inverts over the years, it certainly hit all of the marks for me. Even though it’s in a rather secluded part of the park and not so easy to get to thanks to it being on a hill with no defined way to get to it, it did interact very well with everything around it, especially the tunnels and trenches.
Eric: I’m going Afterburn as well. I had figured it would be a similar ride to Flight Deck at my home park (California’s Great America), what with them both being built during the parks’ Paramount eras, and similar heights. But, it turns out you can tell Afterburn is a newer coaster, it’s got a lot more going on. As Larry said, it interacts well with the terrain, with the highlight of the ride for me being the trench and the tunnel. I don’t think I’ve ever been on an inverted coaster that goes through a tunnel before. I think it was the best B&M invert I’ve been on.
What’d you think of the food?
Eric: We did most of our eating at Taste of the Carolinas, so it’s probably not always exactly like this, but certainly everything I had at the even was good, and the brisket from Harmony Hall was solid. It’s great to see the variety of things offered throughout the park. Although, I think I’d go to Harmony Hall for every meal if I find myself back at Carowinds. Plus we could smell the brisket smoking while on Intimidator at night, so you know it’s good.
John: Where do I begin? Taste of the Carolinas was spectacular. Don’t miss our review. My steakburger and fries from Harmony Hall was excellent as well.
Kyle: First off, the Taste of the Carolinas food was amazing. My favorite dish was the Catfish with Calabash Hushpuppies. Aside from that, I had the pulled pork and baked beans in Harmony Hall. I have had amusement park pulled pork before so I wasn’t expecting much. But Carowinds blew me away with this meat. Behind the counter is the smoker that they use to cook the pork (they don’t just warm it up from a package). It was some of the best pulled pork I’ve ever had and I’ve had quite a bit. I also had the Fury Freeze Italian Ice from the Rita’s inside the park and it was delicious and refreshing on a hot day.
Larry: I’m very happy Cedar Fair has been hiring all of these executive chefs as its shown that park food isn’t just frozen burgers, fries, and hot dogs anymore. Carowinds is no different, as they’re using a lot of local cuisine, such as the smoked brisket sandwich I had, something not even 5 years ago even existed on the menu. It’s all great!
What was something you really enjoyed at Carowinds that wasn’t even on your radar going in?
Larry: Plants vs Zombies wasn’t something I was planning on doing, but a hot day and air conditioning go so well together, it was worth it. Being a video game player myself, I was actually surprised on how well the whole system worked. The 3D effect worked well, the actuated saddle seats were a great touch and gave the game a great dynamic. Hope the partnership with EA will continue into the future!
John: I really enjoyed Woodstock Express. I’m a sucker for junior wooden coasters, but I actually forgot that Carowinds had one. And its tucked away location in the park makes it easy to miss, so make sure you don’t overlook it!
Kyle: Plants vs. Zombies for me as well. I had totally forgotten that this was new at the park just a couple of years ago. It is an extremely well done attraction. The detail in the queue was Disney-esque and the ride itself was fun and challenging. I found myself wanting to go back again later in the day.
Eric: I was pretty excited for Plants vs Zombies ahead of time, so that wasn’t a surprise for me (but I did love it). I might actually go with Afterburn again here (am I allowed to do that?). Basically the only coasters I actually knew about were Fury and Intimidator. I guess I knew Afterburn was there, but was just sort of figuring it was a typical B&M invert like most I’d been on. If I’m not allowed to use Afterburn again, I’ll probably join John in saying Woodstock Express. I’ve never been on a junior wooden coaster before, and didn’t expect it to be so fun!
What was the most surprising thing about Carowinds to you?
Kyle: I was surprised by the upkeep of the park and landscaping. The paths were very clean and there were a good number of trees. My favorite part was the ivy tunnel, especially during the hot afternoon when it was a good 10 degrees cooler inside.
Eric: This might be weird, but it didn’t feel as big as I thought it would. Not that there wasn’t lots to do, but it was easy to get around. For a park with 12 roller coasters, nothing ever felt like it was a ridiculously long distance away. Maybe it’s good layout design or something, but compared to other large parks like Six Flags Great Adventure or Magic Mountain, it felt much easier to say, go straight to Fury after Plants vs Zombies, even with them being clear across the park. Maybe it’s just more pleasant to walk through than most big parks?
John: I loved the idea of a season-long drink pass using disposable cups (even though they were a bit small and you could only refill them every 15 minutes). Carrying souvenir bottles (and remembering to bring them to the park every time you visit) is a hassle.
Larry: Having spent the last 8 summers working at the smallest sister park to Carowinds, I was pleasantly surprised on how well the operations went, even for being this early in the season. Speed certainly still needs to be worked on, but the crews tried their best and I’m certain the Fury team knew what they were doing, pushing those 3 trains around the track like clockwork!
How does Carowinds’ lineup/variety of coasters compare to other parks?
Kyle: The coaster lineup leaves nothing to be complained about. While there is always room for more coasters, I was definitely not disappointed. There is something for everybody at Carowinds.
John: With 13 roller coasters, the Carowinds lineup is no doubt impressive. But I do think the park could use a launched roller coaster and a modern wooden coaster (or a combination of the both? Maybe not.). But by no means did the park’s attraction offering disappoint me.
Larry: There are a few gaps like John said, a good launch coaster and a modern wooden coaster would help tremendously. I’m not sure why Paramount never installed a launch coaster here, considering that all of the other major parks received one, either being Flight of Fear, Backlot Stunt Coaster, or both. I do know Paramount vastly underestimated the marketability of Carowinds, hence why Cedar Fair planned the $50 million expansion and how much it has grown with it, but the park should of been just as big as its sister parks in the north, but always was left out.
Eric: I think it has maybe the best top ends of coasters I’ve seen at a park, but there’s kind of a big gap between the top three and the remaining ones. I feel like Cedar Point or Magic Mountain have more coasters I’d ride on every visit, whereas at Carowinds I’d be pretty happy to just ride the best three over and over (and PvZ). Of course, that’s mostly because those three are really, really good. I will say I was surprised there wasn’t any kind of launch coaster, that seems like the most obvious gap in the lineup.
What advice would you give to someone going to Carowinds for the first time?
Larry: FastLane is definitely needed during Saturdays and is surprisingly affordable compared to the other parks and the Plus version is worth it. Nighthawk should be the very first coaster to ride in the morning as the lines get very long later in the day and even worse if it gets bumped down to 1 train. The back of the park also is fairly deserted in the morning so Afterburn was a walk-on.
Kyle: Ride Fury at night in the back seat. Take time to ride the observation tower. Don’t skip over the new County Fair section.
John: Use Fast Lane if you’re going on a weekend with nice weather, especially if the water park isn’t open. It’s worth the investment. FunPix is great as well if you’re in a group. I don’t like having to carry around printed on-ride photos (and then having to find a place to put them at home), so getting digital copies of all of your on-ride photos is much easier.
Eric: First, go Sunday morning. Despite crowds on Saturday (although those weren’t that bad in the morning either), Sunday morning it was empty (and light most of Sunday). Fury was almost a walk-on, we rode Afterburn over and over, PvZ didn’t have a full theater, etc. Second, eat at Harmony Hall, much nicer than any other big food venue I’ve seen at a park, with good food. Third, like Kyle said, ride Fury in the back, and sit on the left side of the train. It was unlike anything else I’ve been on.
Are you already planning your return trip?
John: Definitely. I’d love to return for the park’s first-ever WinterFest later this year (if not sooner).
Larry: I know it’ll be a while for me as there’s no easy was for me to get back to that area without paying out the wazoo for a flight or driving back down for over 12 hours. The trouble of living in a northern state…
Eric: I’d definitely go by again if I find myself near Charlotte, or if I can schedule an extra long layover next time I fly through CLT. It’s only 15 minutes from the airport, perfect for swinging by for a couple hours to ride Fury three times before heading home (I’ve done it with El Toro before…)! But yeah, I’d love to make it out again someday.
Kyle: Yes. My wife’s favorite coasters are B&M hypers so I can’t wait for her to try Fury.
The Coaster101.com Team’s Ranking of Carowinds’ Coasters
1) Fury 325
5) (Tie) Carolina Goldrusher & Woodstock Express
7) Carolina Cyclone
8) Flying Cobras
11) Flying Ace Aerial Chase
NR) Lucy’s Crabby Cabbie (None of us had kids with us.)