After a year off in 2020 due to COVID-19, SCarowinds has returned to the state line, celebrating 20 years of fear at Carowinds. Boasting a line-up of five haunted houses (including the new Reaping and Tooth Fairy), eight scare zones, and three new live shows, the 20th edition of SCarowinds truly has has a little something for everyone, and truly is the must-experience Halloween event in the Carolinas.
I missed out on SCarowinds in 2019, but had visited the four years prior to that (be sure to check out reviews from 2018, 2017, 2016 and 2015!) With a variety of previous experience under my belt, I had a pretty good idea of what to expect, and how to plan out my evening. Frequent visitors to SCarowinds know that to avoid crowds, plan to visit on a Sunday evening. This past weekend was the first Sunday of SCarowinds operations for the season, but coupled with a holiday weekend, it might have felt a tad busier than Sundays past.
— Coaster101.com (@Coaster101) October 10, 2021
I’ve found the best way to maximize your time at SCarowinds is to do two things.
First, arrive at the park for a few hours of daytime operation before Carowinds closes to clear the park for SCarowinds. While they clear the park, they don’t clear the parking lot, and allow guests to stay in their cars. Rather than fight the crowds and traffic at the parking entrance plaza, hang out in your car, charge your phone, grab some air conditioning, and move your car to a closer-to-the gate parking space if you desire.
Second, I can’t recommend Fright Lane passes enough. For Sunday night, our pass was $45, which got you front-of-the-line access to each of SCarowinds’ five mazes. If you do the math, it’s $9 per maze to not wait in any line. My plans for SCarowinds only included the one visit, so in order to experience everything, it truly was a no-brainer. This year, with purchase of a Fright Lane pass, you also receive a commemorative coin celebrating SCarowinds’ 20th anniversary.
To open each night of SCarowinds, guests are greeted by a new SCarowinds icon: Queen Scelaterus, who has replaced the Overlord. The “Queen of Mirrors” brings out a variety of monsters of each of SCarowinds mazes and scare zones in a quick welcome “show.” When the “hounds” (or in this case, SCarowinds monsters) are “released,” they come down off of Carowinds’ main stage and lunge at the crowd, setting up the evening for the scares lurking around every corner.
As guests are corralled at the park entrance prior to the official opening times, there seems to be one of three main groups of people that all of them fall into. 1) They want to see the SCarowinds opening, and gather around the stage. 2) They veer to the left, and are corralled, eager to get on Intimidator, Nighthawk, or make their way to rides on the “South Carolina” side of the park. Finally, the third group veers to the right, to get in line for The Reaping, SCarowinds’ new corn maze, or book it to Fury 325 before the lines get long.
Here’s our advice. Watch the opening, and then meander around the park, in a clockwise direction, through the Windseeker pathway to the mazes and scare zones in the “back” of the park first. Dividing the park into halves, three of the mazes – The Reaping, Depths of Darkness, and The Tooth Fairy are located fairly close to the park entrance, along with fan favorite attractions like Intimidator and Nighthawk. Go where the crowds aren’t, and you’ll have a better time.
Coming up on our first scare zone of the night as daylight waned, the facades of London previously known as Fleet Street have moved locations since my last visit to SCarowinds, and are now located on the Nighthawk pathway as Ripper Alley. The faux buildings are shrouded in fog, providing a variety of hiding places for the numerous scare actors in the area, while also creating a significantly narrower pathway. I did make it through London Alley later on in the night when it was darker, and it was a little more difficult to navigate.
As it got darker, the “roaming hordes” of SCarowinds monsters were released upon the park. I happened upon a “Chainsaw Army” while en route to my first maze of the night, Slaughterhouse.
— Coaster101.com (@Coaster101) October 10, 2021
The second scarezone we came through en route to Slaughterhouse was Dead Man’s Landing, which made its debut in 2018. Pirates have taken over Coutny Fair, and are everywhere. This scare zone had some good scareactors, and one of the most constantly “jarring” scares that caused me to jump a few times. (Pro tip: If you jump at loud noises…you have been warned.)
One of the best lines of interaction I heard all night was from a “mermaid” in Dead Man’s Landing, who asked a family with a small child, “Can I eat the little one?” It took a lot from me not to belly laugh.
Before I got to the first maze, I made it through three scare zones, including Grave Walkers on the Carolina Boardwalk. Though I didn’t spend a lot of time in Gravewalkers, the area was decorated really well, despite being one of the smaller scare zones at SCarowinds. I only had one brief interaction with a scare actor, who wanted to know if I wanted to meet “Michael,” who was presumably in that coffin.
Perennial fan favorite Slaughterhouse: The Final Cut was back again, after making its “re-debut” at SCarowinds in 2015, and proved to be my first maze of the night. Inside the fictional Red Ribbon Meats (they should really fix their sign, it kept shorting out, save for one letter on each line – D, I, and E.) the butcher shop has gone awry, and are now grinding up unsuspecting park guests! This mazes is always good for a few good scares, but if “blood and guts” aren’t really your speed, this maze might make you a little squeamish. It’s definitely the “gore-iest” maze at SCarowinds.
While I got to Slaughterhouse fairly early in the night, the line was basically nonexistent. As the crowds filled in, the lines got longer. Again, if you only have one trip to SCarowinds planned, consider a Fright Lane pass!
Inside the Blood Yard scare zone, located in Thrill Zone, there are zombies on the loose. I may have caught it at an off-time, but there didn’t seem to be as many scare actors in this area compared to other scare zones. Blood Yard also plays host to the first of SCarowinds’ three new entertainment offerings we experienced: Hard’t Beatz.
Performing on an elevated stage above a bar, Hard’t Beatz performed high energy dance routines to a number of up-tempo songs. Definitely designed to be more entertaining than terrifying, the Hard’t Beatz cast were all incredibly talented dancers, but personally, I preferred its predecessor Blood Drums a little bit more. It’s definitely worth stopping and watching if you’re in the area though!
The second maze of the night was Silver Scream Studios, another long-running SCarowinds maze, this time themed to a film studio. It was here that I noticed that the lines for the mazes were starting to get a little longer, and was glad that I had my Fright Lane pass. It’s very dark inside Silver Scream Studios, with danger lurking around every corner, but there unfortunately weren’t a ton of scare actors in the maze. The actors in the maze were great, but there weren’t enough of them to put together a good sequence of scares.
A walk through The Hollow was next. The pumpkins in this area are all hand-carved by Carowinds, which is incredibly impressive. The decor around Carousel Park was all outstanding, as were the scare actors. One axe-wielding scarecrow near the Carowinds Theater was particularly great at interacting and ad-libbing with the crowds.
From The Hollow, I headed to one of SCarowinds’ two new mazes for 2021, The Reaping. While SCarowinds has had its fair share of corn mazes before, including CornStalkers and more recently Dark Harvest, this version was different, because of its location: the former Rip, Roarin’ Rapids queue.
In all my years of visiting Carowinds, I had never been in that queue before, so it was a very new experience to me. Throughout the maze, a variety of scare actors, portraying scarecrows and wearing ghillie suits were “stalking” guests throughout the maze. I’m not sure how much of the queue path was used, but it felt like the entirety of the entrance and exit were utilized fully, completely covered in corn. I got the one of the “best” scares of the night from a scare-actor who popped out from behind a corner and simply relaying the message “please proceed down the stairs!” The delivery was perfect!
Headed around the park again, it was time for the second show of the night, The Queen’s Ball. Now, I had heard a lot of good things about this show, but wasn’t exactly sure how it would be different than your typical “acrobats who are stronger than you” show that seems to be a staple at haunts around the country. When I tell you I was blown away by The Queen’s Ball, it’s an understatement. It’s one of the best shows I’ve ever seen at a regional theme park, and definitely the best live entertainment I’ve ever experienced at a Cedar Fair park (which isn’t a slight, because Cedar Fair has REALLY stepped their live entertainment up in recent years.
We’re joined again by Queen Sceleratus and the “Queen’s Court” dancers, who perform highly-complex dance numbers throughout the 18-minute show. The soundtrack to Queen’s Ball is fantastic, featuring modern pop hits with a techno twist.
Those acrobats? Yeah, they’re there as well, with some seriously impressive aerial yoga, balancing acts, and even more impressive…knife balancing, juggling, and throwing, all set to the catchy soundtrack. (Seriously, good 4 u by Olivia Rodrigo is in this show. It’s amazing.)
Queen’s Ball was by-far my biggest surprise at SCarowinds, and if you make it to SCarowinds and experience one seasonal offering, it should be this one. I’m not the type of person to watch the same show at a theme park twice in one visit, but I knew that I had to catch another showing of the show before heading home for the night.
The journey around SCarowinds continued with a trip through Ripper Alley at Darkness, and SCarowinds’ second new maze, and my fourth overall for the night, The Toothfairy.
To describe Toothfairy in one word, it would be “eerie.” It’s definitely more of a psychological maze, rather than relying on a lot of props and jump scares. The scare actors in this maze, all donning “laughing gas” masks like one might find in a dentist’s office, were menacing without being too “in your face.” While the maze did feel shorter than some of the other mazes at SCarowinds, it ends with one of the best frights of the night. I’m not going to spoil it any further than that.
With three more scarezones, one more show, and one more maze to experience, I had my work cut out for me, heading first to Outlaw’s Revenge, themed to the wild, wild, (and possibly dead) west. One of my favorite elements of any Halloween Haunts are “sliders,” and they were everywhere! I had a good time just standing off to the side and watching them pop up on unsuspecting guests. Just down the hill from Outlaw’s Revenge was CarnEVIL, a clown-themed scare zone. This area seemed to be the most populated with scare actors of any of the other scarezones, and as someone who doesn’t like clowns, I didn’t spend a lot of time in this area.
The final ScareZone I walked through was Raven’s Nest, which is loosely themed to Edgar Allen Poe’s The Raven. The “grim, ungainly, ghastly, gaunt, and ominous birds of yore” were out near Afterburn, and I got my favorite taunting from a scare actor that stuck out the most from my visit in this area. It was a very simple “ha ha, you’re all alone!” came from one of the foul fowl, who definitely lived up to their reputation of taunting and haunting.
SCarowinds’ most light-hearted entertainment option involves a pair of “Ghouling” pianists who tickle the ivories to some “spookier” themed songs. There was no “Monster Mash,” at least when I was watching, but they did play songs like “Superstition,” “Radioactive” and “Bad Moon Rising.” These two guys were great, and I wish I had a little more time to experience their show. Check out a sampling below!
My final maze of the night was tucked back on the outskirts of Planet Snoopy, at Depths of Darkness, which first made its debut at SCarowinds in 2017.
As my favorite maze in both 2017 and 2018, I had high hopes for Depths of Darkness, and its concept is still one of my favorite mazes that SCarowinds has. Unfortunately, two key elements of the maze – in my opinion – a “newscast” that aired on screens outside of the maze, and a pre-show scene, both designed to give some more background in the maze, weren’t operational during my visit. Not sure if this was a staffing issue or not, but without knowing the backstory of the maze, it felt a little difficult to follow, especially for someone who wasn’t as well-versed in the story after two years of no SCarowinds. There weren’t a ton of scare actors in the maze, but it still had some of my favorite haunt elements, including a “Laser Swamp,” and a really good scare at the end of the maze!
In just over two and a half hours, I had made my way through all of the mazes and scarezones, and had seen all of the shows. (Thanks, Fright Lane pass!) But, like I said earlier, I had to watch Queen’s Ball once more before heading home. So, perhaps a bit overzealously, I grabbed a space front row, center for the 10:00pm performance of Queen’s Ball. Yes, it was 9:40pm when I got to my space. No, I don’t regret my decision.
While I did film the show, I can honestly say that video does not do this performance justice. If you go to SCarowinds, you need to set aside 20 minutes and see this show. This is the best piece of SCarowinds advice we can provide. After the show, I headed home, with Ava Max’s Kings & Queens providing the best earworm possible!
In summary, if you’re looking for some thrills and chills, with some incredible live entertainment, look no further than a trip to SCarowinds! We had a blast, and can’t wait for next year!
If you’ve made it this far, or hope you could skip all of those words to see how we ranked everything, you’re in luck! (Note, just because something is ranked low, doesn’t make it bad. We had a fantastic time!)
1. Tooth Fairy (New for 2021)
2. Slaughterhouse: The Final Cut (2018: 3, 2017: 2, 2016: 2, 2015: 1)
3. The Reaping (New for 2021 – Dark Harvest 2018: 2, 2017: T-3, 2016: 1)
4. Depths of Darkness (2018: 1, 2017: 1)
5. Silver Scream Studios (2018: 4, 2017: T-3, 2016: T-3, 2015: 4)
1) Outlaw’s Revenge
T3) The Hollow
T3) Dead Man’s Landing
5) Ripper Alley
6) Raven’s NExt
7) Blood Yard
8) Grave Walkers
1) Queen’s Ball
2) Ghouling Pianos
3) Hard’t Beatz
SCarowinds is open Fridays, Saturdays, and Sundays through October 31. There is also a Thursday SCarowinds on October 28.