Pros:NC/SC border location. Lots of rollercoasters. Attention to safety before rides start.
Cons:Expensive food and drink. Poor signage. Odd color for walking surface.
The Bottom Line: Fun day out subject to preparing for weather conditions. Also bring cash to stick to a budget. Lots of rides to appeal to all ages and thrill seekers.
I visited Carowinds, near Charlotte, NC on a Monday in August 2009. This amusement park is right on the NC/SC border. I live in North Carolina so I'm accustomed to the heat but that day it was 100F. This review is based around trying to have fun in extreme heat and humidity.
I got discounted tickets as a member of my local credit union. I would suggest checking for discounted tickets and purchasing those ahead of time instead of paying the full price at the gate.
The park is really spread out and is divided into sections. There are plenty of rides for both young kids, teenagers and adults. Pick up a brochure as you enter because this describes the various restrictions and "thrill levels" for all rides. Whether or not you think the park is busy, it's best to identify which rides you want to ride on before you start heading for your first ride. On a hot day or if you have young kids, you want to minimize how much walking you do.
For an amusement park in the South, I'm surprised that the walking surface is black in color since that absorbs heat. That's kind of stupid.
I should mention that I visited with adults so I can't comment on the children's rides except to say that there are plenty of them throughout the park.
One striking thing about the park is the number of shops scattered throughout the park where you can buy souvenirs, plush toys and plastic junk that appeals to kids. My suggestion is avoid these because they're overpriced and just adds bulk to what you'll be carrying throughout your visit.
I'm a rollercoaster fan and I highly rate most of the rollercoaster rides. Carowinds rollercoasters vary in age and some of them are older like Thunder Road which is a wooden one so it's a bumpy ride. My favorite rollercoaster rides were Carolina Cobra (in Carolina RFD), Ricochet (in Carolina Boardwalk) and Nighthawk (in Carowinds Plaza).
Carolina Cobra was new in 2009. It has two 360 degree loops. It's definitely a must. Ricochet is an odd ride. It's billed as a "family ride' but to me, it stradles the line between family and adult ride because of the many jerky turns the ride makes. Once in a while, there'll be a ride that leaves me walking away from the ride with my legs feeling like jelly (not a very bad way). Nighthawk is one such ride. I rode that one only once and it had the longest line. I waited about 25 minutes to get into a seat on that one.
I wasn't able to ride Vortex that day because it was out of order. I also didn't ride anything that required a separate charge such as Xtreme Skyflyer and the go carts. This would an appropriate time to mention that one should bring cash on a day trip like this. Bring cash so you can budget. Don't use a card. Visitors are forbidden to bring in any outside drinks and bottles of water cost $2.50 (I think). Free cups of water (small) were offered the day I visited but that was only because the temperature reached 100F.
Visitors are welcome to bring in food and picnic but you have to do so outside the park itself (in the parking lot or at picnic tables outside the entrance). I bought lunch in the park and it is very expensive. I had a Chik Fil A lunch and the menu is extremely limited. A sandwich, fries and soda cost around $8.00. This is more expensive than food at a ball game or an ice hockey game. Unlike a regular Chik Fil A, there's no refills on drinks either.
I did look at the other dining/food choices around the park and frankly, the quality looked worse than at a state fair but at higher prices. This is something to keep in mind if visiting with a family.
I was impressed by the attention to safety after getting seated and before the ride began. There are plenty of staff checking and securing riders and also removing any loose items (purses, hats, footwear) that may fall during the ride. The latter items can be collected right after the ride.
As mentioned previously, the park is spread out but signage is poor. There'll be a sign and then the paths diverge and you're left wondering which path to follow. Even with the aforementioned brochure that contains a map, we took a wrong turn a couple of times.
My tip for visiting on a hot and/or humid day is to wear closed shoes. I saw others wearing flip flops which are completly impractical because the tops of your feet can burn and also this kind of footwear is likely to fall off on some rides where the riders are suspended. I would also suggest bringing sunscreen and remembering to apply and re-apply it during your day out.
Overall, I had a good day out. It was expensive even with discounted tickets. I did get a touch of sunstroke even though I stayed in the shade as much as possible, kept hydrated and even re-applied sunscreen. Where possible, visit on a weekday during peak seasons to minimize standing in line. I would go again but probably in spring or fall.
Your ticket also gives you access to the waterpark, Boomerang Bay, but I didn't go there. That's probably a fun thing to do on a hot day.
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