The 12 Days of WinterFest at Carowinds
Last week, we had the opportunity to take part in what is quickly becoming one of our favorite holiday theme park traditions — a visit to WinterFest at Carowinds. Now officially in its fifth year in its “current” iteration (Winterfest began in 2017, but took a year off in 2020 for the pandemic-necessitated “Taste of the Season”), WinterFest has quickly become one of our favorite times of the year to visit Carowinds — and we’re not even riding anything when we visit!
In the spirit of the season, we’re going to tell you a little bit about this year’s WinterFest in the same style of the classic holiday song “12 Days of Christmas.” (Do some of the numbers feel like a bit of a stretch to make work in the lyrical stylings of the original song? Absolutely. We write for a theme park website, not almost universally beloved Christmas lyrics.)
Anyway — pretend we’re through the first 11 days of the song.
On the 12th day of WinterFest, Carowinds gave to us:
12 Re-themed Restaurants
Seasons Eatings! The culinary team at Carowinds has truly outdone themselves this year with WinterFest cuisine. Across the park, a dozen restaurants have received some sort of holiday overlay and/or menu items. Ranging from sweet and simple like the Holiday Pretzel at Beer & Snacks or Gingerbread Funnel Cake at County Fair Christmas Cakes, to traditional holiday favorites like fresh-sliced bourbon cranberry-glazed ham and open-faced turkey dinners to “how am I eating this at a theme park” fare like chimichurri strip loin and fire-roasted cauliflower, there’s truly a bit of everything!
Our one piece of advice? Don’t skip the candy apple bacon at Bacon Heaven or Cornbread and Sausage Stuffing at Dasher’s Diner (Blue Ridge Country Kitchen). Thank us later.
11 Fires A’Lighted.
All the stockings were hung by the fireside, waiting for Santa to arrive. While there were no stockings, the aesthetic of a roaring fire goes hand in hand with the holiday season. In Blue Ridge Junction, there were a number of fire pits adjacent to the Christmas Bluegrass stage, where people gathered around to warm themselves up with a decided chill in the air. Nearby, one of my favorite pieces of theme park theming, a full-blown mantle and fireplace outside of Copperhead Strike, was also lit. Carowinds offers up “S’mores Kits,” complete with graham crackers, marshmallows, and full-size candy bars, for guests to indulge in a fireside treat.
10 Crafters Crafting
Everyone’s looking for that one extra gift for the person on their shopping list that you just can’t figure out what to buy them. Artisan Alley at Winterfest may have you covered. Adjacent to Boo Blasters on Boo Hill, the traditional WinterFest Artisan Alley is set up with local craftsmen selling their wares. While all of the vendors weren’t open on WinterFest’s opening Monday, there was jewelry, woodworking crafts, handmade soaps and candles, and more. Just in case your friends and family aren’t looking for coaster t-shirts or squishmallows, this could be an option for potential shopping!
If younger are guests are more of the “Crafting” type, they can visit Sally’s Christmas Crafts to create an ornament or greeting card for a loved one!
9 Christmas Cocktails
Giving new meaning to Holiday Spirit. The culinary renaissance at Carowinds doesn’t stop with food, as the park’s mixologists have come up with seven holiday-themed cocktails at the Blue Ridge Country Kitchen Bar for those 21+, along with two “mocktails” for those who aren’t (or just don’t want to drink). With festive names like the Santa-gria, Chilly Cranberry Delight, and Midwinter Sprite Spritz, guests will be sure to get into the holiday spirit with their first sip.
8 Flashy Floats
The Carowinds WinterFest Wonderland parade makes its triumphant return this holiday season. Featuring dozens of live performers, and eight-custom built floats (from Mardi Gras parade float creators Kern Studios), and an incredibly catchy-holiday soundtrack, the WinterFest Wonderland parade steps off each night from inside Carolina Harbor Water Park, making stops in County Fair and Thrill Zone before ending the route in Celebration Plaza with, what else, a dance party!
Take a look at this year’s WinterFest Wonderland below!
7 Story Winterfest Tree
Each night at WinterFest begins with the ceremonial lighting of the 70′ tall WinterFest tree, located in Celebration plaza. The tree lighting ceremony is an excellent way to set the tone each night, truly getting guests into the holiday spirit and allowing them to “Step into Christmas” each night.
(In fact, “Step into Christmas” is part of the song and dance performance that precedes the tree lighting!)
6 Coasters not Coasting
…But that means eight are! Do you want to go “Dashing through the (relative lack of) Snow?” For the first time ever, Carowinds has eight roller coasters that are open during WinterFest (weather and maintenance permitting, minimum operating temperatures and all that, etc. etc, of course.) including Fury 325, Copperhead Strike, Carolina Cyclone, Afterburn, Ricochet, Kiddy Hawk, Nighthawk, and Wilderness Run.
Several of these coasters are operating at Winterfest for the first time ever! The coasters join a list of operating attractions at Winterfest that numbers more than 30!
5 Million Lights
Not an exaggeration. Everywhere you turn, Carowinds is beautifully decorated with five million lights. Rumor has it that Carowinds director of Live Entertainment Ryan Allen counted each light individually like he was Clark Griswold before hanging them across the park.
Each area of the park has its own distinctive theme and style of lights, and several areas of the park, including Camp Snoopy, have all-new lighting packages this year. The lights won’t stop in 2023, as Carowinds told us that there are plans to add an additional one million lights to the all new Aeronautica Landing next season. (Which almost certainly means that the park plans to open the new area for WinterFest next season — another first time happening!)
4 Drummers Drumming
…and more than a dozen more shows. Carowinds’ Live Entertainment department is on full display during each night of WinterFest, where 15 (!) unique shows hold a combined 50-plus (!!) performances a night. While most nights at WinterFest only consist of five hours of entertainment, it’s truly impossible to see the entirety of every show in a single night.
I made this reference during last year’s WinterFest write-up, but Santa has a better chance of visiting every house in the world in a single night! Holiday Music in a variety of different performance media makes up the majority of the performances, but even different groups performing the same songs results in different interpretation that makes each show worth seeing!
During our visit, we were able to catch bits and pieces of several performances, including perennial Carowinds favorites Christmas Bluegrass, Four Drummers Drumming, and the Holly Jolly Trolley. One of the main goals of WinterFest is to create lasting memories, so many of the shows are fairly similar year after year, and are fantastically done each year.
However, this year, I saw two new (to me, at least) shows for their full duration — Tree-ditions and Fezzywig’s Brass Band. Tree-ditions featured a group of musicians that had an almost-wedding band vibe, and they were all incredibly talented. Fezzywig’s was a twist on the Brass Brigade that has performed at Winterfest in past years. They had a fantastic sound, as well!
Check out Tree-ditions and Fezzywig’s in the videos below!
While I didn’t get the chance to see Tinker’s Toy Factory, the show has moved to the Carowinds Theater from Camp Snoopy. Fun Fact: the show originally appeared in the theater during the park’s previous edition of Winterfest! Bottom line: Any show you see, you will not be disappointed! For a full list of Carowinds’ WinterFest shows, click here!
3 Christmas Cookies
One of the available activities during WinterFest was Mrs. Claus’ Cookie Decorating, which takes over the Rock Shop near Fury 325. For a nominal fee, guests have the opportunity to purchase and decorate four Christmas cookies with a variety of colored icing and sprinkles. You might be saying to yourself, Carowinds sells four cookies, you said three. Yes, there’s a catch here.
As part of the media preview, Carowinds provided us with a voucher for Cookie Decorating. While I love Christmas cookies, after sampling the aforementioned Holiday cuisine, there was no way I could power through four fully decorated cookies. After I (expertly and artistically) decorated (and consumed) the stocking-shaped cookie (which was PHENOMENAL, by the way) I found a family enjoying a meal at the nearby Jukebox Diner and offered them my remaining three cookies, and three icing containers. ‘Tis the season for giving, right?
2 Dollars to Make A Wish
On the subject of giving, I wanted to take note of a really unique initiative that Carowinds is participating in with the Make-A-Wish Foundation and Macy’s. At the WinterFest North Pole Post Office, for each letter that is written to Santa and dropped off, Carowinds and Macy’s will donate $2 to the Make-A-Wish Foundation as part of Macy’s “Believe” Campaign. It costs guests nothing to write a letter to Santa, and then Make-A-Wish is the beneficiary of a donation. Everyone wins, and I wish more parks would have charitable initiatives like this, especially around the holidays. Bravo to everyone involved with this!
1 Blue Wall
We’ve reached the partridge in a pear tree portion of the song. However, I didn’t see a partridge or a pear tree. I did, however, see a blue wall between the park’s former Chick-Fil-A restaurant (which has already closed) and Boo Blasters on Boo Hill. The future of Aeronautica Landing awaits, and with Carowinds being open every weekend in 2023, progress will soon be able to be seen beyond that blue wall! We can’t wait to take flight in 2023!
(Here’s a free Winterfest idea for Carowinds that they almost certainly don’t need. Aeronautica Landing transforms into Santa’s Sleigh Runway. It’s the last scene of the WinterFest Wonderland parade brought to life! Think of the possibilities!)
Thankfully, Carowinds and Winterfest are open for far more than 12 days. WinterFest takes place on select evenings from 5:00pm-10:00pm. On New Year’s Eve, the park extends operating hours until 12:30am on January 1. For a full calendar, click here!