Other Parks

Carowinds: A First Time Visit

Head south 15 minutes or so from Charlotte, NC and you’ll find one of the premier amusement parks in the US – Cedar Fair’s Carowinds.

Carowinds has long been a theme park we wanted to visit, but could never seem to find our way over to this part of the country. Wrapping up a recent Dollywood visit, we decided to remedy that. 3.5 hours after leaving Pigeon Forge, TN , we begin to see the coaster skyline of Carowinds coming into view. I knew you could see the park’s flagship coaster, Fury 325, from a ways off, but I had no idea that meant you could literally see it from miles away.

After checking into our hotel, we were off to make our first ever visit to the park. I had heard great things from my Dollywood friends, but still wasn’t sure if Carowinds would meet my (admittedly high) expectations. Either way, it’s always exciting experiencing something new…

…so at least we had that going for us.

What we Liked

  • Parking at Carowinds was an absolute breeze – get there at park opening and you’ll have one of the easiest walks to a theme park entrance you’ve ever experienced. I think it literally took us five minutes to reach the front gate from our car.
  • For as much as we love our favorite park – Epcot – a few loops around that park will kind of beat you down. Carowinds, on the other hand, seemed to be the perfect footprint that allows you to reach anywhere in the park without feeling like you’ve trekked across the country.
  • One area I wasn’t sure how Carowinds would hold up inn was in the “park” part of amusement park. No worries here – landscaping, pavers, and general upkeep around the park was so beyond what I was expecting that…well, I was just floored. Clearly someone in management cares about this and it shows.
  • In the day we spent at Carowinds, I don’t think we had a single negative interaction with the staff. Everyone we encountered was professional, engaged, and helpful. This was especially prevalent at the high-demand attractions like Fury 325 and Intimidator where high through-put is a must.
  • Camp Snoopy is really an amazing children’s area. There is just so much to do, so much shade, and so much Peanuts cuteness. We couldn’t believe the sheer amount of quality attractions available for the littles in this area – a definite win in our books.
  • While we didn’t ride a bad coaster, the four stand-out coasters for us are Intimidator, Afterburn, Copperhead Strike, and Fury 325. These are all world-class and just a ton of fun to ride, re-ride, and re-ride again. Honestly, I could spend the entire day on these four coasters and be happy.
  • One stand-out we weren’t expecting was the park’s current festival – Grand Carnivale. Crafts for kids (and adults), live music, wide-ranging eats, and a great parade make a legitimate case for planning your Carowinds trip around this particular festival.
  • While we didn’t have enough time to visit, we loved that Caroline Harbor, Carowind’s water park, is included in park admission. Based on the attraction mix, Harbor isn’t a half-hearted stab at a water park, but a really-for-real park that would hold it’s on even if it were stand-alone.

Some Notes

  • We definitely recommend purchasing at least one refillable mug for your park day. The the large number of refillable beverage stations around the park make it pretty easy to get your money’s worth from the initial purchase.
  • We also recommend purchasing a meal plan for at least a portion of your party. The meal deal we purchased was around $30 and allowed you to get an entrée and side every 90 mins from a number of dining locations throughout the park. Having the meal plan paid for itself after two meals.
  • If you’re looking for a good hotel option on a budget, search the Fort Mill, SC area. We stayed at the Home 2 Suites roughly 15 mins south of Carowinds. It was a much better value than what we found closer to Charlotte and was pretty easy drive to the park.

Wrap-up

To say Carowinds exceeded our expectations is an understatement. I would go so fair to say that, in the category of amusement parks, Carowinds is simply the best we’ve visited. While the park is roughly a 6 hour drive for our family, we’ll definitely be back – likely for a longer visit. There are so many things to do at the park that it’s kind of hard to cram it all into a single day – not to mention Carolina Harbor.

As always, if you’re planning a trip, take a look at the Carowinds official site to make the most of your visit.

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