Carowinds Debuts “Great Carolina Fest”
In recent years, Carowinds has put an emphasis on special events in an effort to bring more and more guests to the park. Whether it’s food-centric events like Taste of The Carolinas (2015-2017, Be sure to check out our reviews from 2016 and 2017!), beer focused events like 2016’s Brewfest, or a more all-encompassing event like 2016 and 2017’s Bands, Brews and BBQs, Carowinds has multiple opportunities to showcase everything that North and South Carolina have to offer with these festivals.
Back in January, Carowinds announced their newest festival, Great Carolina Fest, on their Facebook page. It was advertised as “taking the best from Taste of the Carolinas and growing the event to bring park guests the ultimate celebration of the Carolinas.” Now, I will admit, I was honestly a little skeptical when this announcement was first made — I’m very much of a “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it” mindset, and Taste of the Carolinas was probably one of my favorite park events at any park, anywhere. However, as details started to emerge for the new festival, I knew I had to head over to Carowinds to get the full experience.
Differing from past festivals at Carowinds that were mostly held on weekends, Great Carolina Fest began on June 9, and will go straight through to June 24, including weekdays. There are a variety of special dining and live entertainment options that are included as part of the event.
To keep it simple, I’m going to divide this post into three core sections; “Food,” “Atmosphere,” and “Live Entertainment,” and wrap it all up with my final thoughts at the end.
It may just be because I really like to eat, and I know the work that Chef Kris and his team have done to the Carowinds menus over recent years, but anytime Carowinds has “special” food options, be it the Haunt Finger Sandwich at SCarowinds, The Fried Turkey Sandwich during Winterfest, or any of the “Taste of the Carolinas” options, I try to make the effort to get over to Carowinds and try them, because I know they’re going to be delicious.
Great Carolina Fest proved to be no exception.
There are two main food components to Great Carolina Fest, a food festival-type menu that featured six unique tastes in booths around Harmony Hall and the Celebration Plaza Midway, as well as 10 “Great Carolina Fest”-specific items at various dining locations throughout the park. (Because I’m only one person, I opted for the “tastes” option, but our friends over at CP Food Blog managed to track down 15 of the 16 “Great Carolina Fest” Menu Items during their visit — check out their full review!)
— Coaster101.com (@Coaster101) June 10, 2018
For $25, you’re given a “Tasting Card,” that is valid for six Great Carolina Fest “tastes.” With the card, you had the option to mix-and-match these tastes, or you could try each booth one time. I opted for the latter.
The Six Tastes were as follows (in the order I tried them):
My first taste of the Great Carolina Fest tasting menu was arguably my favorite taste of the day. A freshly roasted ear of corn, which was then dunked in Pimento Cheese, and rolled in feathered cheddar cheese. There was an incredible combination of flavors here, the sweetness of the corn, the creaminess of the pimento cheese, and the sharpness of the cheese was fantastic. Not to mention it was an entire ear of corn that was shucked right in front of me. If I make it back to Great Carolina Fest this year, there’s a serious chance that I’d get another tasting card and order six ears of Roasted Corn.
Crispy Banana Pudding Cheesecake
Alright, that last sentence about the corn was a lie, because if I did that, I wouldn’t have any tastes left for the Crispy Banana Pudding Cheesecake. At first glance, the name of this dish seemed pretty complex, but in reality, it was a combination of two of the best desserts known to mankind, Banana Pudding and Cheesecake, all combined into one amazing dish. The cheesecake bites were lightly fried in front of me, and this was another Great Carolina Fest Favorite.
Pulled Pork Spring Roll
There was a similar dish served last year at Taste of the Carolinas, where I learned to appreciate mustard-based barbecue sauce a little more. This year, the ingredients inside the spring roll were pretty similar as last year’s, but the barbecue sauce on the outside was different. It was more of a mustard seed base than a mustard sauce base. It was pretty good, but I did prefer last year’s a little more.
Bacon Wrapped Quail
Probably the most “adventurous” thing I tried at Great Carolina Fest were these Bacon-Wrapped Quail (that were actually South Carolina quail), because the only birds I typically eat are chicken and turkey. I’ve never had quail before, so I’m not exactly sure what it’s supposed to taste like, but it was pretty good. There were multiple sauce options, including a mustard-based SC barbecue sauce, so at least I got my mustard based barbecue sauce fix in during Great Carolina Fest.
Low Country Shrimp and Grits
Despite being a staple of southern cuisine, I’ve never been the biggest fan of Shrimp and Grits. (Personally, I just can’t get behind the texture of the grits.) This was a carry-over from at least the past two Taste of the Carolinas, but was the first time I tried them. The shrimp had a great flavor, and while the grits appeared to be expertly prepared, I just couldn’t get behind that half of the dish. More of a personal preference than anything.
Bourbon Peach Pie
My final taste at Great Carolina Fest was the Bourbon Peach Pie, which was topped with Peach Gelato. The pie was delicious and the gelato was incredibly refreshing. I think I bookend-ed my tasting card pretty well, and would definitely go back for more Peach Pie, but I was also stuffed by the time I finished this.
Had I had the stomach capacity, I would have set my sights on the Barbecue Bird Dog (a twist on Carowinds’ new bird dog sandwich, that adds pulled pork and barbecue sauce), located at Fry Shack, or the Pimento Cheese Burger at Juke Box Diner.
For all the unique menu offerings and to see where they’re located, be sure to check out the Great Carolina Fest online guide!
I think the atmosphere for Great Carolina Fest, especially around the Celebration Plaza Midway was pretty outstanding. There were a lot of blue, white, and navy decorations everywhere, not to mention the giant Adirondack chairs that featured the event logo. Everything felt compact but spread out at the same time, including the multiple entertainment stages, food stands, and decorations.
I was a big fan of the area set up on the celebration plaza midway, formerly occupied by Panda Express, that served as the “Craft Brew Corner,” and hosted a beer garden of sorts, along with ample picnic style seating. I know that the space is typically utilized for SCarowinds and Winterfest, but I think there’s some serious merit to keeping that area as a beer garden year-round. It was a perfect place to kick back and relax during a day at the park.
One beverage I did not partake in, but enjoyed the set up of, was the Sweet Tea Terrace at Harmony Hall. For $5, you had your choice of Flavored Sweet Tea.
There were multiple games set-up, including Cornhole, Giant Jenga, and over-sized Checkers and Tic-Tac-Toe.
Another unique area was the artisan alley, that featured local merchants and their various items.
One of the more unique areas at The Great Carolina Fest was the Stateline Stage, which was set up on the grass between Harmony Hall and the Intimidator Gift Shop. There were dozens of comfortable Adirondack chairs (I’m sensing a theme here) set up for park guests to enjoy some live entertainment from local bands. Be sure to check out the online guide for more information!
Another area where Great Carolina Fest succeeds is with its live entertainment options. There were several temporary entertainment stages set up throughout the area, including a stage (the Johnson County stage) built on top of the fountain by the Carolina Sky Tower. (The fountain wasn’t operational, just in case you were worried!)
I managed to catch two of Great Carolina Fest Live Entertainment options during my trip, The Peach Pair and Brew Beatz.
The Peach Pair were a pair of dueling pianists that played several favorites on the aforementioned Johnson County stage. I didn’t get the chance to catch their full show — they were having technical difficulties before their first show, but I caught some of the second show. As someone who can maybe play “Yankee Doodle” on piano (by memory only), these guys were incredible.
— Coaster101.com (@Coaster101) June 10, 2018
The Peach Pair tickles the ivories on the Johnson County Stage at 1:15pm, 2:15pm, 3:15pm and 4:15pm during Great Carolina Fest.
Brew Beatz played more non-traditional instruments in the Craft Brew Corner. Utilizing mugs, barrels, spatulas and kegs, these four talented percussionists created some fantastic entertainment, and probably my favorite part overall of Great Carolina Fest. Trust me, you’re not going to want to miss this show. It was the perfect mix of music and humor, and I really appreciated it.
Check out a few excerpts from Brew Beatz below!
Brew Beatz takes the Craft Beer Corner Stage at 5:45pm, 7:00pm, 8:00pm, and 9:00pm during Great Carolina Fest.
There were also several other live entertainment options, including KinFolk and The Great Carolina Game Crew on the Piedmont Stage by Harmony Hall, and Carolina Bands on the Stateline Stage.
For the full entertainment schedule, be sure to check out the online Great Carolina Fest guide!
Final Thoughts On Great Carolina Fest
Like I mentioned earlier, I was slightly apprehensive when Carowinds announced they were replacing one of my favorite park events with a new event. That said, I think the park has another great festival on their hands with The Great Carolina Fest. I only hope that it will continue to grow and establish an identity of its own as one of the premier regional theme park events on the east coast! I think it has the potential, and was fantastic for a first year event! If you’re on the fence about going to Carowinds in the next few weeks, do it! You’ll have a blast!
Hopefully I can get back to Carowinds once more during the festival to enjoy some more of Chef Kris (and team)’s culinary creations, sip on a local craft beer, and sit in an Adirondack chair to enjoy some live entertainment. (Oh, and watch Brew Beatz peform again.)
Great Carolina Fest takes place every day now through June 24. For more information, visit Carowinds’ website, follow the park on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram, and check out the online Great Carolina Fest Guide!
Are you headed to Great Carolina Fest this year? What are you looking forward to the most, and why is it Roasted Corn and Brew Beatz? Let us know in the comments below!