If you’re a roller coaster junkie like I am, it’s hard to resist the call of a good amusement park! From Cedar Point to Six Flags, there’s nothing like the thrills and chills running through you body as a roller coaster tips over that first hill. And thankfully, here in North Carolina you’ve got a great roller coaster park: Carowinds! With two coasters rated in the top 25 in the country by CoasterBuzz, it’s worth the effort to head over to the NC/SC border and enjoy the rush and excitement at Carowinds. And after 3 visits to the park over the past couple of years, I’ve got some advice and recommendations for you.
First of all, if you’re headed out to Carowinds from the Triangle, you’re probably looking at a 2 to 2:45 minute ride to the southwest with minimal traffic. If you’re focused on the coasters, it’s wise to go on the off-days between Monday to Thursday or alternatively on the weekend, on Sunday when the crowds are quieter. Showing up right at open is key and if you’re the owner of a seasons pass, you can get in earlier! Thankfully, both the Intimidator and Fury 325 are at the front of the park, one to the left and one to the right. If you’re not quite sure you’re ready to take on the Fury 325 as your first ride, I’d head to the Intimidator first. Given it’s a “smaller coaster” and its longer load times, you’re best off getting started there! Just look for the red-orange monster to your left…
Now while the Intimidator may be the smaller of the two thrill coasters at Carowinds, by no means is it a pussy-cat type of ride. With a 230′ first hill and hitting speeds of up to 75 mph, you’re talking about a great ride experience but everything is relative! One of the unique features of the Intimidator which is based upon Dale Earnhardt of NASCAR fame is the bucket seating which mimics a race car seat. The seats are also offset with the two outside seats flared out and to the back giving you more space between rows and a clearer view of hills ahead. One lap restraint holds you in tightly and you’re off!
As you move to the top of Intimidator’s first hill, you feel as if you should be doing a sanity check! The long, undulating red track in front of your gets your heart rate going. Swoosh, you’re down that first hill and picking up speed now. The key part of the Intimidator are the camelbacks. A series of hills and bumps that get you nearly airborne out of your seat to create that discomforting feeling of weightlessness! And without any shoulder harnesses, those camelbacks make you feel as if you’re about to pop out of the Intimidator, several times. But not to worry, soon enough you’re back in the loading station, ready to ride again! The Intimidator is currently ranked at #22 by CoasterBuzz and is a fantastic ride except for…
The Fury 325! Built for Carowinds in 2016, the Fury 325 is defined as a giga-coaster (over 300′ high) and is currently ranked by CoasterBuzz as the #1 roller coaster in the country! And having ridden this teal-green beastie 6 times, I can tell you for sure that it lives up to that billing. Located to the right of Carowinds’ main entrance, this coaster makes its presence know by curling around and under the customer walkway as you approach. The sight of eight cars of screaming people just gets the adrenaline going and heightens your anticipation.
The entryway to Fury 325 is pretty impressive, carrying on the Fury 325 hornet theme. The large queuing area is deep and wraps around two large sections. I’ve waited as long as 90 minutes to ride Fury 325 but if you’re lucky, it’ll be under 30 minutes. As you wait, there isn’t a ton of entertainment but there are some shaded areas and overhead coverage. You stand right next to the first climb and can watch the cars tick up that massive first 325′ hill, whoa!
And finally you’re at the loading station, with eight cars and an experienced staff, people move on and off the Fury 325 pretty quickly. You’ve got a lap restraint and lap belt, just in case… and then you’re off! The climb up the main hill is pretty durn fast, fast enough to make you think “oh, I don’t know if I made a very good decision” but it’s too late now, my friend. You watch the ground and crowds fall away along with their noisy chatter and realize you are WAY up high. As you start to tip over the peak, your stomach tightens up and yay, we’re going over! And whooosh… Down that first hill that feel like it’s over 90 degrees and then out! Fury 325 doesn’t do any loops but hits you with quite a few over-banked turns, does a 180 degree u-turn at the end and then plunges you into a tunnel underneath the main entrance. Then some camelbacks on the way home to lift you out of your seat and through the braking area before you return to the loading station, phew! And all of these acrobatics are done at really high speeds, Fury 325 hits up to 95 mph on this heart-pounding trip! And thankfully, the ride is long so your adrenaline stays ramped up for an extended period of time, what A RIED! If you’re an aggressive coaster enthusiast, you’ll love Fury 325 but if not, you’ll probably never want to get near it.
Besides Fury 325, I’d also recommend Afterburner, an inverted coaster where your feet dangle and the Nighthawk, a lie-down coaster which has you whooshing over water and looking down at the ground. This coaster loads pretty slowly so wait times are on the long side, beware! Some other good rides are the Windsweeper (300′ high, rotating swings) which will scare the heck out of you in a different way. Carowinds also has some great, classic wooden coasters along with the new County fair section which highlights carnival rides. And I’ve heard Plants vs. Zombies is a lot of fun, woo-hoo! There is plenty to do here at Carowinds for the day if you’re a coaster fan but not so much if you’re a fan of less aggressive rides. On a good day, you can knock down 6 to 10 rides in a day if you come at a less crowded period.
And what about food at Carowinds? It runs the gamut of traditional, trashy amusement park fare. Funnel cakes, cotton candy, burgers, Italian and more. I’ve had good luck at both Harmony Hall Marketplace and Chickie’s & Pete’s Sports Grill. Harmony Hall offers a ton of Southern food options along with a huge, air-conditioned dining space while Chickie’s & Pete’s offers up cheesesteak, crab fries and more. While the food is a bit expensive at Carowinds, it’s pretty decent quality and will keep you fueled for a busy and active day.
So enjoy Carowinds, all those roller coasters and all that naughty fair food! It’s a fun way to spend the day on a warm Carolina evening. And Carowinds just renovated Carolina Harbor, their waterpark that’s also part of your admission ticket! More to come there but I’m guessing that Carowinds Harbor won’t be nearly as exciting as the roller coasters but to each his own!
14523 Carowinds Boulevard
Charlotte, NC 28273