A “Taste” of the Holidays at Carowinds’ Taste of The Season
For fans of Carowinds, it’s been a long 2020. The park was promoting “Four Seasons of Fun” in January, which would have included Monster Jam: Thunder Alley in the spring, the All-New Boogie Board Racer & Grand Carnivale in the summer, and of course, SCarowinds in the Fall, followed by WinterFest in the Winter. If you’ve been following along, you know that none of these events happened, and in August, it was announced that the park would not open at all in 2020.
However, if 2020 has proven anything, it’s that all situations are fluid and subject to change. In early October, North Carolina moved into Phase 3 of COVID-19 restrictions, which meant that amusement parks could open at a limited capacity. Rumors were swirling that Carowinds might actually not be done for the season. On October 28, the park officially announced that Carowinds would indeed open for a limited-time holiday engagement, creatively named as “Taste of the Season.”
While “Taste of the Season” is certainly a clever name for the outdoor, holiday-themed food festival, as an amusement park fan living in North Carolina, who, due to the pandemic, had not been in a park since February, I was truly excited for a “taste” of the (theme park) season. This past weekend, I finally got my chance to experience Carowinds in 2020 at Taste of the Season, and while the experience was unlike anything I had ever experienced at Carowinds, I can safely say that it was a fantastic time. Here’s a little bit of what Taste of the Season has to offer.
As has been the norm at theme parks and other businesses around the world this year, Carowinds has implemented a thorough plan to ensure the safety of both guests and associates during the current global situation. This begins before you even approach the park gates, as you’re required to fill out a health questionnaire on the Carowinds app, and are reminded again of the guidelines before entering the park.
There are distancing markers every six feet throughout the park, and from what we saw, guests were actually abiding by them. This may be a novelty from someone who hasn’t been “well traveled” in 2020, but it was fantastic to see guests paying attention to these details.
Prior to park entry, guests are subject to an infrared temperature scan. Honestly, it may have been my arrival time, but this process took about the same time as a traditional bag check, and wasn’t invasive at all.
Masks are required at Carowinds, save for stationary eating and drinking. Again, might be a novelty at this point, but the mask compliance at Carowinds was some of the best I’ve seen, anywhere, in the past nine months. I’ve seen more noses in a 20 minute trip to the grocery store than I did in nearly seven hours at Carowinds. Markers and signage like this were also throughout the park to promote social distancing.
And if you needed hand sanitizer, there was some nearly everywhere you turned.
Deck The Halls…
If you’re going to Carowinds expecting the full-blown WinterFest experience, it’s not going to be at Taste of the Season. This particular event isn’t WinterFest, and doesn’t feature several mainstays like Ice Skating, Carriage Rides, the WinterFest Wonderland Parade, and the Coca-Cola Polar Bear plaza, but that doesn’t mean that Taste of the Season won’t be able to deliver the same level of Holiday Cheer and excitement.
Everywhere you turned, the park was decorated masterfully for Christmas — even moreso when you consider that Carowinds’ “elves” had such a tight window to work in to get the park decorated.
Frequent visitors to Carowinds WinterFest know that there’s typically a giant light-up tree at both the park entrance an in the main plaza. Inside the park, this has been replaced by simpler decorations and was a location for a dance party later in the evening.
There was still Holiday décor and lights everywhere in the park. The park map is slightly smaller for Taste of the Season than it is for WinterFest, and Carowinds made the absolute most of their available space.
Santa Claus is Coming to Town…
Rather than his traditional red suit and hat, Santa sported a more casual look as he was cavalcaded around the park in a bright red convertible multiple times throughout the day, trading in his reindeer-powered sleigh for something with more “horsepower.”
Santa’s reindeer, typically using Fury’s flyby over the park entrance as a runway, were parked in front of Intimidator plaza. They were there because Santa’s sleigh had been stolen, and it was park guests’ mission to find the culprit, by participating in a QR-code based scavenger hunt. While we didn’t participate, it looked like fun!
Intimidator, with its Track so Bright…
While not operating during Taste of the Season, Intimidator was the beneficiary of a new coat of paint, which happened during the COVID closure. Against a bright, cloudless, some might even say Carolina Blue sky, the bright red paint really pops!
Intimidator’s new paint job was quite literally shining in the sunlight!
Oh What Fun it is to Ride…
On the subject of rides, a handful of attractions at Carowinds were operating at Carowinds, including many (but not all) of the park’s flat rides, as well as three roller coasters: Afterburn, Copperhead Strike, and Ricochet.
While I didn’t choose to do any riding on this particular visit, it was great to see Copperhead Strike again. It’s seriously one of the most photogenic roller coasters at Carowinds.
Social distancing markers were in place in all ride queues, and on the roller coasters, every other row was being loaded (or one party per car on Ricochet.)
Rocking Around The Christmas Tree…
A staple of any event at Carowinds is their stellar lineup of live entertainment. At Taste of the Season, this was no exception. There were multiple musical acts performing a list of holiday favorites, either vocally…
With a blue grass twist…
and on drums!
If music isn’t your thing (why?)…there were also several other live entertainment options, including the “Naughty or Nice Bean Challenge.” If you want to see a child’s holiday ruined, tell them they’re on the “Naughty” list because they bit into a Toothpaste flavored Jelly Bean!
These “reindeer” were also driving around the park, participating in socially distant, interactive games with families.
I don’t know why I love this so much, but they had a toy tractor in tow with them.
“Tastes” of the Season
At Carowinds’ Taste of the Season, I’m sure people were thrilled to return to the park for the rides and shows, but a consistently “under the radar” aspect of Carowinds is the park’s culinary offerings, and I personally love to eat. At Taste of the Season, there are 30 sweet and savory “tastes” for you to try – you can purchase them a la carte, or save a little bit of money by buying tasting cards. Come with an appetite, because these tastings were outstanding.
A personal favorite of both me and my girlfriend was the “Holiday Dinner Egg Roll,” which featured Roasted Turkey, Sweet Potatoes and Collard Greens, served in a fried egg roll wrapper with a side of coleslaw. I am a terrible southerner, and don’t typically enjoy collards, but the flavor mash-up here was outstanding.
Another favorite was the YuleTide Crab Sandwich (below left). Fresh crab salad inside a brioche bun. It was incredible.
In all, we sampled 12 different tastes — and other favorites included the Southern Poutine (Sweet Potato Fries, Cheese Curds, Ham, and Sage Brown Butter Gravy), the Merry Berry Turkey Sandwich (Roasted Turkey and Cranberry Aioli on a Pretzel Roll), and the Seafood Stuffed Hushpuppies (which were served with some sort of cranberry ketchup or cocktail sauce.). On the sweet side, you can’t go wrong with the Wonder-Mint Cookie Sandwich, which is Peppermint Ice Cream between two soft sugar cookies. Despite the chilly temperatures, this was the perfect dessert!
From earlier at #TasteOfTheSeason: The Wonder-Mint Cookie Sandwich.
Peppermint Ice Cream between two sugar cookies. As amazing at it sounds! pic.twitter.com/VtRgFqlNBD
— Coaster101.com (@Coaster101) December 5, 2020
On Dasher, On Dancer, On Prancer & Vixen…
For another sweet treat, head to Vortex for the Reindeer Treat Trail. Picture trick or treating at Halloween, with a Christmas twist.
Each reindeer had a “house,” where you children of all ages (yes, 30-something childless adults, as well) could get a few pieces of candy. Instead of “Trick or Treat,” the code word for the candy was “Merry Christmas” or “Happy Holidays!”
Admittedly, I walked through the Reindeer Treat Trail not for the candy, but because the light was hitting Vortex’s loop just right, and this image could make for a great generic coaster Holiday card.
All is Calm, All is Bright…
As the day turned to night, the decorations at taste of the season really were able to show their true colors.
As with many Christmas displays, Taste of the Season’s decorations were best experienced after dark.
I loved these light up Charlie Brown trees in Camp Snoopy!
The dusk also presented a great opportunity to get some photos of Copperhead Strike’s headlights in action!
I believe it was Statler & Waldorf who once said: “Who invited all these penguins?”
If you needed warmth, there were individual fire pits, as well as heaters and a larger wood-burning fire in Intimidator’s courtyard. As you can see in the below photo, seating was plentiful and spaced out.
Carowinds also offered “Create Your Own S’Mores” in Celebration plaza.
Making A List, and Checking It Twice…
As for my final thoughts on Taste of the Season, it should come as no shock that I was thoroughly impressed with the event. The park guests were respectful of the mask and distancing requirements, the park never felt overly crowded, and the food and entertainment were both fantastic. While I didn’t ride anything, it was great to be back inside Carowinds for just a small hint of normalcy in what has been an otherwise ridiculous year.
If you “Need a little Christmas, right this very minute,” Carowinds’ Taste of the Season is the perfect way to get your Holiday Fix.
There are just five operating days left for Taste of the Season – Saturday and Sunday, December 12-13, and Friday, Saturday and Sunday, December 18-20. Reservations are required in advance and can be booked using Carowinds’ app or the park’s website.
Are you going to make it out to Carowinds for Taste of the Season? Let us know in the comments below!