Get ready to take flight, as Carowinds‘ newest area, Aeronautica Landing, opened to the public earlier today. Located in between Copperhead Strike and Afterburn in an area that was previously known as Crossroads and the original County Fair, Aeronautica Landing celebrates all things aviation. Past, present and future are all represented in the refreshed land, which will eventually feature five all-new rides, along with a reimagined version of Carowinds’ classic bumper cars.
We attended a media preview of Aeronautica Landing before the area opened to the public, and, to get right to the point, were incredibly impressed with the transformation that this oft-forgotten back corner of Carowinds has undergone in just a few short months. Here’s a little bit of what we saw.
The first thing people will immediately wonder when a new theme park land opens is “how many rides” and “what are the rides like?” As we mentioned, Aeronautica Landing will eventually be home to five all-new rides, along with the refreshed version of Carowinds’ former Dodgems bumper cars. During our visit, Hover & Dodge, the new name for the Bumper Cars, along with three of the all-new rides were open. The other two attractions – Gyroforce (Chance Trabant) and Windstar (Zamperla WindstarZ) will open later this spring.
Each ride has a different tie-in to aviation and flight, along with an appropriate name. Hover & Dodge is themed to futuristic hovercraft, while Air Walker (Zamperla Disk’O) is themed to more classic bi-plane “wingwalker” displays of airshows past.
The centerpiece of Aeronautica Landing is Gear Spin, the first Zamperla NebulaZ to be built in a Cedar Fair park. Whether riding, or watching safely from the ground, the attraction is a sight to behold. Each of the ride’s four arms holds eight riders, who rotate on multiple axes around a central post. If you’ve never ridden a NebulaZ before, you’re truly in for a treat. While it looks imposing, its thrills are mild enough where the ride can be enjoyed by children, parents, and maybe even a few adventurous grandparents at the same time.
Carowinds’ former bumper cars have received a major facelift in the form of “Hover and Dodge.” While the attraction is still largely the same bumper car experience, the interior of the attraction has been completely re-themed with a new futuristic look. Each of the bumper cars has been replaced with futuristic-looking hovercraft-esque vehicle (it doesn’t actually hover with air like a traditional hovercraft would), complete with LED lights and display screens. Even better, the attraction has an all-new soundtrack, further cementing the futuristic theming.
Another attraction that provides milder thrills is Air Walker. As riders rock back and forth on the halfpipe-shaped track, the 24-passenger ride vehicle rotates around a central axis. Depending on each particular turn, riders who might not like spinning may be turned off by Air Walker’s motion, but take it from someone who is vehemently anti-spinning: It wasn’t violent spinning. The experience was glass smooth, and felt like a similar experience to a Giant Frisbee. (The motion is definitely similar.) This is another attraction that’s going to be perfect for families to experience together.
Last of the currently open rides, but certainly not least, is Air Racers. (Conveniently enough, sharing a name with the ride model – a Zamperla Air Race). Of any attraction at Aeronautica Landing, this one is certain to be deemed the most intense. As riders rotate around a central spire, their four-passenger planes consistently rotate in a sideways looping motion. I’m don’t remember enough high school math to know if they’re rotating around the X or Z axis, and I’m not sure it matters. If you ride Air Racers, you will be upside down. A lot. Of the open attractions, this one will bring the highest thrill factor. But, like Gear Spin, it’s equally as enjoyable when viewed from a safe distance.
The other two attractions, Gyroforce and Windstar, will be taking off later this spring. Signs in front of the attractions note that they “have not yet been cleared for takeoff.” That said, Gyroforce has some fantastic theming which is carried throughout the entire area — we’ll touch on that shortly!
One of the most striking features of Aeronautica Landing, at least to me, was the consistent and dynamic energy that each of these attractions brought to the area. With each of the three Zamperla flat rides rotating around multiple axes, there was always something to look at that was in motion. This area is just as inviting and exciting for on-lookers as it is for those brave enough to take on the attractions.
From the pavement resembling taxiways to aviation-themed midway games, to even the trash cans, no stone was left unturned when bringing Aeronautica Landing to life. In recent years, and specifically with projects like Blue Ridge Junction and Aeronautica Landing at Carowinds, Cedar Point’s boardwalk, and Jungle X-pedition at Kings Dominion, Cedar Fair is clearly placing an emphasis on theming and creating a story within their new areas.
There are clever nods to the Carolinas’ aviation history, including this berm, designed to look like the beaches of the Outer Banks, where the Wright Brothers took their first flight.
Located just behind Gear Spin is a sculpture known as the “Founders Statue,” and even it has an aviation vibe to it. The statue has a plaque that is “dedicated to all those who made the dream of reaching the skies a reality.” While this could definitely mean aviation, there could also be a deeper meaning for Carowinds as a whole, who celebrate their 50th season in 2023. With out those initial dreams, its unclear if Carowinds would be in the position it is today.
Even the midway games in the area have an aviation tie-in, though I’ll always stand by my opinion that the name “Air Ball” was right there for the basketball game.
The inspiration of aviation can be found everywhere.
Even the ride signage has seen a significant upgrade across Aeronautica Landing. For bumper cars, you could very easily have a sign, like Dodgems used to have. Or, you could build an entire airport tower to showcase the sign. We’re glad Carowinds went with the latter.
One of my favorite small touches was the signage around the land that was built to resemble runway markers, but had an addition meaning. During our visit, we saw R4-CR (Racer), PL-4Y (Play), R1-D3 (Ride), and AL-23 (Aeronautica Landing, 2023). There might have been a few more, but they definitely added to the overall atmosphere of the land.
The food in Aeronautica Landing isn’t the “Airline Food” that Jerry Seinfeld joked about years ago. Between the all-new Terminal A, which features “Elevated” Bites and Brews, and the cleverly named “Frequent Fryers” serving up Popcorn Shrimp and Chicken nearby, guests will have options far better than pretzels, Biscoff Cookies, and Ginger Ale in a plastic cup.
Terminal A features an elevated patio that overlooks the entirety of Aeronautica Landing, and we predict will be a top tier theme park watering hole, especially once Carowinds enters the warmer summer months.
The view from Terminal A’s patio — where you’ll be able to see portions of five of Aeronautica Landing’s six rides. (The pad with the tables in the foreground will be the location of Windstar)
I’ve said it before, and will continue to tell anyone who will listen. Frequent Fryers is the best-named quick service restaurant at any amusement park. Prove me wrong.
Terminal A’s menu is inspired by upscale airport lounge food. You are reading this menu correctly, and yes this food, including Pork Belly Burnt Ends, Smoked Brie, and Heirloom Cauliflower will be served in an amusement park. Even better, they’re going to be delicious. (We sampled several of the menu items during our visit.)
Terminal A also has a number of craft beers available on tap, as well as a full bar with custom cocktails.
On the other side of the land, under the awning of the former Action Theater/Plants vs. Zombies attraction, Carowinds has also created a seating area and shipping container bar – the Southern Star Aircraft Brewery – that will serve craft, import and domestic beer, soda, water, and popcorn.
The Grand Opening
As part of the Grand Opening, Carowinds’ Vice President and General Manager Manny Gonzales addressed the crowd for a few minutes. (You can watch the full speech on our Instagram!) During his speech, a plane flew by, and it almost the perfect time, just before he encouraged guests to turn their heads skyward for some “real life” theming from nearby Charlotte-Douglas International airport.
To open the land, Carowinds enlisted the help of Jim Henderson, Carowinds’ first ever guest when the park opened on March 31, 1973, to cut the ribbon.
Aeronautica Landing is everything you want, and then some, when coming up with a new theme park area, especially at a regional park. The rides are a perfect mix for thrill-seekers of all ages, and even for those who aren’t riding, there’s always something exciting to watch from afar. The area is stunningly beautiful, and should set a standard for future new park areas at Cedar Fair parks (and hopefully other regional park chains) around the country. And if the food quality remains at the level of the food we sampled today (and I have no reason to doubt Chef John Loukas and the culinary team that it won’t), Terminal A has the potential to hang a “Mythos-esque” “Best Park Restaurant” banner above the front door.
The best part? Aeronautica Landing was a direct byproduct of Carowinds and Cedar Fair listening to their fan base. They took their thoughts into consideration, and the end result is a perfect 50th birthday present for the place where the Carolinas come together. When the land fully opens with the addition of Gyrospin and Windstar later this spring, Aeronautica Landing will become the most “complete” area at Carowinds, by far.
The only question remaining is “how does Carowinds top this?” If the past eight years or so of capital investment are any indication, it’s clear that they’re going to try, but the bar is becoming increasingly difficult to clear with each addition!