The popular theme park makes a huge splash this summer with the opening of Carolina Harbor waterpark and a tide of fresh twists and turns.
By Laresa Thompson and Torie Robinette, Charlottesgotalot.com
Known as the “Thrill Capital of the Southeast,” Carowinds invites adventure-seekers and fun-loving families to experience a slew of new rides, performances, culinary offerings and events, all steeped in the rich culture of the Carolinas (the theme park is uniquely positioned on North Carolina/South Carolina state line). In spring 2016, Fodor’s named Carowinds one of the top 10 attractions to visit in 2016, and in 2015, familyvacationcritics.com ranked it among the top 10 amusement parks for families.
From its rapid coasters and water rides to its kid-friendly attractions, homegrown fare and spectacular live entertainment, guests are in for the ride of their lives at Carowinds in 2016.
A new wave of fun hits the park this summer. With a coastal Carolina theme (there are nods to Blackbeard the pirate, Myrtle Beach and Kitty Hawk), Carolina Harbor is now the largest waterpark in the Carolinas. An extension of the previous Boomerang Bay complex, it also represents the largest waterpark expansion in the park’s history. The complete transformation includes a revamping of some of the most popular attractions formerly housed under the Boomerang Bay name—the Cabanas, Surfer’s Swell, Dorsal Fin Drop and more—and several new attractions tailored to all tastes. Still included with the price of admission, Carolina Harbor is the perfect place to splash the day away!
Dip your toes in the newest waterpark additions:
- Blackbeard’s Revenge: This new 6-story-tall waterslide complex features three attractions (with six exhilarating slides). Pirate’s Plank will send guests plummeting down a nearly vertical free fall where the floor drops out from underneath. Cannonball Drop twists and turns riders through an enclosed chute with four intense 360-degree turns. And Captain’s Curse shoots guests down a series of intense drops and turns.
- Seaside Splashworks: Big kids and little kids alike will love Seaside Splashworks, part of the new, expansive 2-acre family area. This multilevel play structure features more than 80 play elements, including dozens of interactive spray jets, water guns, adventuresome net bridges, awesome water wheels, six impressive waterslides and a giant 423-gallon tipping bucket that drenches everyone below. It’s the perfect mixture of adventure, relaxation and entertainment.
- Kiddy Hawk Cove: This new family area is inspired by Kitty Hawk, North Carolina, the birthplace of flight. You’ll find spray jets, splash areas and more. Together with Seaside Splashworks and Kiddy Hawk Cove, Carolina Harbor features a total of 2 acres specifically created for families.
- Myrtle Turtle Beach: This all-new play area is specifically geared for toddlers and their families. Little ones will love the playful water jets that spray every which way and the interactive water play area. Parents will enjoy the seclusion and shade.
- Surf Club Harbor: Surf’s up at Surf Club Harbor, a new, 27-000-square-foot wave pool that offers everyone the opportunity to catch a wave. With eight massive generators cranking out monstrous waves up to 6 feet high, guests will feel like they’re splashing in the high surf of the Atlantic Ocean.
The new attraction, exclusive to Carowinds, is based off the Plants vs. Zombies Garden Warfare franchise—a hilarious and over-the-top shooter videogame series that drops players into a crazy, all-out battle between plants and zombies in their fight for suburbia. Players can join the battle with new characters, including Super Brainz, a zombie superhero who thinks he’s a 1980s action movie star, and Citron, a bounty-hunting orange from the future. An intra-active experience means the game allows players to interact with the opposing team’s screen. Guests will step inside the state-of-the-art Plants vs. Zombies Garden Warfare: 3Z Arena complex decked with 3-D technology, massive screens, surround sound and motion-based seats to enjoy outrageous and imaginative encounters with their competition. Teams compete in thePlants vs. Zombies universe during an almost five-minute backyard battle, where they shoot screens with blasters and track their scores as they go.
RETURN OF VINTAGE RIDES
For the 2017 season, Carowinds will relaunch a few famed—and now restored and refurbished—rides from its earliest days. These classic, vintage rides will include a range that fall between kid-friendly attractions and roller coasters. Among those returning are: Top Scan, a series of free-rotating gondolas; Troika, which hangs from overhead arms that twist and move during the ride; Breakdance, which features cars that spin opposite one another on a sloped, spinning platform; the Music Express, a train that traverses an undulating track in a snake-like motion; and the Wave Singer, which is a spinning attraction—similar to the park’s existing Chance Yo Yo—that boasts seats hanging by chains.
Carowinds is home to the world’s tallest and fastest giga coaster, Fury 325—a name that pays homage to the “hornet’s nest of rebellion” reputation Charlotte earned during the American Revolution. In 2015, the infamously high and speedy ride earned Carowinds its first ever Golden Ticket award and was named Best New Ride for 2015 by Amusement Today. And fittingly so; no matter where guests are in the park, they’ll feel Fury 325’s sting. With peaks that top 325 feet, a jarring 81-degree initial drop, 6,602 feet of tracks and mind-blowing speeds of 95 miles per hour, Fury 325 is full-throttle. Forget the breaks; they’re nowhere to be found on the three-minute and 25-second ride.
Guests will be mesmerized by the acrobatic performances in the park’s new live show, “Cirque Imagine,” featuring an incredible showcase of strength, balance and athleticism. This new 30-minute show debuts in June.
Live beats, cold brews, colorful fireworks, smoky barbecue and more enhance the Carowinds experience this season.
To join the fun, check out the array of special events on deck:
CAROLINA HARBOUR WATERPARK GRAND OPENING
Saturday, May 21
The event of the season at Carowinds includes the debut of the largest waterpark in the Carolinas.
Saturday, May 28
One of the country’s largest gospel music festivals is coming to Carowinds! Be moved and inspired by award-winning gospel musicians.
May 29-30 & July 2-4
Carowinds will pay tribute to our brave military service men and women by offering free park admission to any active, inactive or retired U.S. service men and women with a valid military I.D.
Saturday, June 4
Sip the best in brew from 10 breweries from the Carolinas and 30 microbrews as you enjoy games, band tunes and tasty eats from the Carowinds food truck. Purchase sample suds (tokens) during your visit for samplings and see why the Carolinas are one of the most popular regions for craft beer.
ROCK THE PARK
Saturday, June 11
Get ready for the ultimate rock and worship experience at Rock the Park at Carowinds.
HARMONY HALL SUMMER CONCERT SERIES
Friday Nights June 17 – July 22
After a hard week at work, wind down at summer’s social hot spot, Carowinds’ own Harmony Hall. On Friday evenings, relax with on the patio, enjoy fantastic concerts and sensational food and beverage specials.
Saturdays June 18 – Aug. 20; Movies start at 8:30 p.m.
Treat your family to the ultimate movie night at Harmony Hall. On Saturdays, catch family-favorite flicks on the park’s big screen!
CELEBRATE AMERICA FIREWORKS SHOW
July 3-4 (Weather Permitting); Show starts at 10 p.m.
Celebrate the 4th of July with one of the largest fireworks celebrations in the region.
Calling all kids! Come to Carowinds on July 16-17 for an extra-special event that’s all about YOU! KidsFest features fun, interactive games and activities designed just for kids and their families. Music from popular kids’ group Choo Choo Soul will rock the house! Fun fare for kids of all ages will be available for purchase.
BANDS, BREWS AND BBQ
Fridays, Saturdays & Sundays July 29 – Aug. 14
Barbecue is a revered institution in the Carolinas. Folks come from far and wide to experience it, and friendly rivalries exist about which sauce—tomato vs. vinegar vs. mustard—reigns supreme. Combine beloved homegrown barbecue with local music and craft beer in Harmony Hall and you’re in for a mighty fine time.
RUN AND RIDE
September 10 – 11
The thrill of the run and the thrill of the ride, all in one day. Carowinds presents its third annual Run and Ride series, which pairs heart-pounding running events throughout the park with breathtaking roller coasters. With a half-marathon, 10K, 5K and 1-mile fun run to choose from, there’s something for everyone to try. Enjoy free park entry for the half-marathon and 10K and discounts for the 5K and 1-mile fun run.
This story originally ran in the April 2015 issue of Charlotte Happenings and updated in May 2016.