Walking in a WinterFest Wonderland at Carowinds

I wasn’t alive for the 1983 introduction of WinterFest at Carowinds, and as a 14-year old in 2005, wasn’t aware that the event was returning to the park for one year after a hiatus. So when Carowinds announced that WinterFest would be returning again to the park in 2017 during their County Fair announcement in 2016, I wasn’t exactly sure what to expect.

Even after getting a look at WinterFest’s “Decorating in Progress,” the park in the daylight offered few hints to just how much Carowinds would be transformed for WinterFest. I visited WinterFest at Carowinds for the first time this past weekend, and I can safely say that I was blown away by the event. Here’s some of what I saw.

I got to the park around 4:30 before WinterFest opened at 5:00pm. At the main gate of Carowinds, straddling the state line, there is a large Christmas tree. Once it got dark, the lights on this tree were a mini light show of their own. (More on that later!)

Inside the park’s main entrance, there’s a ton of garland, tinsel, and other holiday decorations.

Carowinds holds a brief “tree lighting ceremony” that occurs every night of WinterFest at 5:30pm There was a brief performance before the 70′ tall tree was lit, which I’ve included below.


This was the first of several live performances I saw at WinterFest. It had a bit of everything. Singing, dancing, and there was even a little bit of “snow!”

After the tree was lit, I walked around the park to take in the scenery. There were lights everywhere! Carowinds has said they used more than 5,000,000 lights in the park!

One of the more mesmerizing light displays at Carowinds was on the covered walkway between the park entrance plaza and Vortex.

(I apologize in advance for the vertical videos in this post. I shot them live on Periscope, and then downloaded them. I know you’re supposed to shoot video horizontally!)

WinterFest features an “Artisan’s Alley” with local merchants “setting up shop” on the midways of Carowinds.

Even the dinosaurs of Dinosaurs Alive and the construction fences for Carowinds’ new Carousel location were getting into the holiday spirit!

I didn’t get the opportunity to see Charlie Brown’s Christmas Spectacular, which was taking place in the Carowinds theater. (I’m hoping to get back to WinterFest later this year and see it, though!)

In Carolina Boardwalk, the area was lit with lights that were all synced to music.

(Including a set to one of my favorite holiday songs, “Wizards of Winter” by the Trans Siberian Orchestra!)

Carowinds’ County Fair was transformed into the Coca-Cola Polar Bear Plaza for WinterFest. Red and White lights and classic Coca-Cola Santas were everywhere! Though I didn’t get to take a spin on any of them, the four new flat rides in county fair — Do-Si-Do, Electro-Spin, Rock N Roller, and Zephyr — were all open during WinterFest!

Another live entertainment option I happened upon while walking the midways of Winterfest were the singers and dancers on the Holly Jolly Trolley. I stopped and watched them for a little bit, and really enjoyed their set! There was even a little audience interaction for the song “Sleigh Ride.”

I thought this giant inflatable snow globe was a really interesting photo op!

The Gazebo in front of Boo Blasters was the home to two live shows, Jingle Jazz and the Mistletones. As I was walking through this area, I was able to catch the 7:00pm Jingle Jazz performance.

The four singers and one beatboxer performed a few Christmas tunes while wearing “18th Century Garb.” If I had to pick a favorite live performance at WinterFest (no easy task!), I’d say that Jingle Jazz was my favorite — and it may be because “Merry Christmas, Happy Holidays” by NSYNC is one of my favorite Christmas Songs.

The Dinosaurs Alive Gift Shop was transformed into an area to take photos with Santa Claus.

Over in Planet Snoopy (soon to be Camp Snoopy!), giant colorful Christmas bulbs were the decoration of choice. Along with several photo opportunities in front of classic Peanuts Winter Scenes.

A close up of the giant lights.

A Santa’s Workshop Display in front of Harmony Hall

Located in the patch of grass between Intimidator’s Gift Shop and Harmony Hall was Carowinds’ own Snowflake Lake, which offered ice skating for park guests.

Ebeneezer Scrooge, fresh off the pages of Dickens’ “A Christmas Carol,” seemed to not have time for anyone who was in the Holiday Spirit. In his words, “Time is money!”

(A quick aside, the scenery in this area is a hold over from the Fleet Street Scare Zone at SCarowinds. I thought this was a great re-use of the set pieces!)

Another live entertainment option, Holiday Bluegrass, took place on the Harmony Hall outdoor stage. Normally, you think they’d want to send Grandma’s Gifts back after getting run over by a reindeer, but apparently Grandma’s getting a boat this year! You can’t send that back!

The lone ride that I rode at WinterFest was the Carolina Skytower, so I could get a look at the lights from above.

Following the Skyride, I headed through Candy Cane Lane to the back half of the park, because it was time for dinner.

At Dasher’s Diner (Wings, located in County Fair), there were several Holiday Themed menu items from Carowinds’ Executive Chef Krzysztof Suita. I opted for the Chef Kris Kingle Fried Turkey Sandwich, which was a turkey burger with cheddar and apple stuffing, all deep fried in a cranberry tempura batter, with a side of Cranberry Sauce.

I’m not exaggerating when I say this is my favorite thing I’ve ever eaten at Carowinds, and maybe any other park. I would eat this year round at Carowinds if they put it on a menu.

I headed back to the main entrance of the park, and caught a bit of Cool Yule, which takes place on the Carowinds’ entrance stage. I didn’t see very much of the show, but it was on par with a lot of the excellent entertainment that WinterFest had to offer.

After Cool Yule, I headed home.

Some Quick Thoughts:

  • Carowinds feels like an entirely different park with all of the Holiday Decor. The photos won’t do the park any justice.
  • I was at the park for just shy of five hours, rode exactly one ride, and still thoroughly enjoyed my experience. It definitely helped me get into the Christmas spirit.
  • This may be my new favorite event out of any at Carowinds. I need to experience it again to make sure!
  • If you go to WinterFest at Carowinds, make sure to try some of the holiday dining offerings. There are special funnel cakes, holiday-themed meals, and some great Hot Chocolate!

WinterFest Takes Place at Carowinds on select nights through December 30. (December 8-10, December 15-23, December 26-30). For more information be sure to visit the official WinterFest Website, and follow Carowinds on Facebook and Twitter!