During a trip to the Carolinas, I found myself so close to Carowinds that I couldn’t pass up a visit. The humid, hundred degree Carolina weather made for a hot day, but Carowinds did a great job at trying to keep their guests hydrated. While at the park, I squeezed in 20 rides, including the brand new Giga Coaster, Fury 325. Needless to say, it fulfilled all my expectations and found a spot on my top ten.
When I first arrived at the park, I stared in awe at the park’s towering giants. Although Fury dominated the front of the park, Intimidator’s twisted steel track got its share of the skyline as well. For sure, Carowinds made a good impression from the outside that they were indeed the “Thrill Capital of the Southeast.” I was drawn like a magnet towards the front gate and barely stopped to watch a train of Fury’s screaming riders streak under the entrance to the park as I passed over it. Carowinds’s brand new entrance is bolder and fresher than the old one. A dotted line splits the front of the park in two, with one side being North Carolina, and the other, South Carolina.
Once I had passed through the gate, I immediately made a beeline for the new coaster. Fury’s plaza outside the queue offered a great view of the lift hill, and trees along its borders offered shade for the non-riders. A test seat sat invitingly at the entrance to the queue, allowing riders to prepare themselves for the upcoming adrenaline. After entering the queue, I was able to walk almost the whole way to the boarding station without any wait. I was very surprised to find such an exceptionally short wait for a much hyped coaster. After all, Fury is the world’s tallest and fastest non-launching roller coaster and it just opened!
On my way into the boarding station, I saw a sign that discouraged preferred seating. Apparently, riders had no choice over which seat they got to ride in. This turned out to be the case, because when I attempted to enter the line for the front row, one of the ride ops impatiently directed me to the fourth row. I asked if I could stand to the side until the front was available and she loudly, almost rudely, yelled, “NO! Get into row four!” Though I was relatively upset about not getting a front seat, I compliantly boarded the middle of the train and pulled my lap bar into place. The seat was comfortable and allowed me to freely swing my legs. I was also pleased to find that Fury was equipped with a seatbelt in case of failure in the lap bar.
Within seconds, the ride ops gave the thumbs up for dispatch and the train began its ascent up the towering hill. 325 feet is a long way up, and at the angle it climbed, I felt like I was lying down. Looking over my shoulder, I could see the park far below. The rides looked like toys and the people were like ants. In the brief second before plummeting over the top of the hill, I could see Charlotte in the distance. Before I knew it, the train plunged, and my stomach dropped in the extreme as I flew face first towards the ground. At the bottom of the hill I really “felt the sting” with the intense g-forces and then flew into the following over-banked turn at 95 miles per hour.
After another turn, the train flew sideways over the entrance to the park. Next came the intense turnaround, which sent the train speeding through a tunnel under the park entrance. Following the tunnel came a couple airtime hills, not quite as packed with weightlessness as some rides, but smooth as silk. As the train came to a stop, I cheered and determined to ride again. My second ride on Fury was as good as the first, and I did my best to rile up the other riders by asking them if they were feeling “FURYous.”
Fury 325 easily found a spot as my second favorite roller coaster, behind Millennium Force. It had height, it had speed, it had air, and it had length, but I preferred Millennium Force’s drop over Lake Erie. Read my full Fury 325 review >
Next up on my list was Intimidator. Standing at 232 feet tall, this B&M Hyper coaster joined Carowind’s lineup in 2010. Named after Dale Earnhardt, the coaster was themed as a race car. Carowinds did a great job with the theming around the station.
Though its line was a bit longer than Fury’s, it was only around a ten minute wait before I boarded the train. I asked a ride op if I could sit in the front and he joked, “I’m sorry, but…yes!” I didn’t wait for him to change his mind. Intimidator’s trains sported stadium seating, with two seats next to each other in the first row of each car, and two seats to the sides in the second row. Thanks to this seating style, riders towards the back had a better view of the track ahead.
After boarding the train, I looked ahead in anticipation as I neared the top of the hill. The train slowly crested the top and plunged over the edge. I was disappointed to find that my stomach failed to drop the whole way down. After a tight, race-car-like turn, I was dashed at the ground, then flung at the sky, through several airtime hills. Though I caught some air, it wasn’t overwhelming like on some B&M Hypers. After the ride was over, I asked my friends whether they liked Fury or Intimidator better. They agreed that they preferred Intimidator’s smooth 75 miles per hour airtime hills than Fury’s intense maneuvers. Personally, I enjoyed the ride, but felt that it could be better.
Before riding Nighthawk, the only flying coaster I had ridden was Superman: Ultimate Flight at Six Flags Over Georgia, which was manufactured by B&M. Nighthawk would be my first Vekoma Flying Dutchman ride, and from watching the trains haphazardly flying over the water with jouncing movements, I figured it would be a lot rougher than Superman. But I entered the line anyways.
As a tip for first time riders, Nighthawk’s line is the longest of the park. To reduce wait times, it’s best to ride it at the end of the day just before closing. The reason behind the long lines was explained in the trains: After each rider pulled on a vest and a seatbelt, the seats had to rock back and fold horizontally in the train. To dispatch each train took around five minutes, and since only one train was running, the wait dragged on and on.
Finally, I arrived in the station and boarded in the front. The whole way up the lift, I was lying on my back looking straight into the sun. The drop was a lot of fun, and I soared head first towards the water below. After that, I was in a disorienting sequence of jarring inversions. The double corkscrews at the end were particularly painful. I walked off that ride with a bad headache.
After taking a drink break, I headed over to Afterburn. Situated in the very back of the park, it took some winding around to find, but the loud roar of the trains helped me to find it.
Afterburn was a great invert with a ton of speed and intense loops. Standing at 113 feet tall, it featured six inversions paced perfectly apart for non-stop adrenaline. My favorite parts of the ride were the batwing and the dive through the underground trench. The other inversions were fun too, but my head slammed against the restraint enough to bring back my headache. Overall, Afterburn became my new favorite invert and if my head didn’t bang around so much I would’ve ridden it again.
I’m not the biggest fan of old wooden coasters, but since Thunder Road is closing permanently on July 26th, I wanted to check it out. Having opened in 1976, the coaster was one of the first of Carowinds’s first roller coasters. Being a racing roller coaster, one track represented North Carolina and the other represented South Carolina. I picked the South side and entered its line. Interestingly enough, Thunder Road is the only roller coaster to cross two states.
The whole way up the 93 foot lift hill, riders from opposing trains yelled taunts at each other as they attempted to guess which state would win. Sitting towards the middle train, I was impressed with the airtime on the first drop. Though it was definitely rough, it wasn’t painful, and as the train tore down the track, I started to laugh. Our train was inching its way past North Carolina. The second hill dropped my stomach too. As the trains parted ways and flew through the turnaround, the wheels squealed in agony. Clearly, the ride was getting old. In a flash, the trains were screeching to a stop, with South Carolina in the lead. I had to ride it again. Sure enough, the North Carolina side was just as fun. Though Carowinds likely has expansion plans for the future, I thought it was a fun classic coaster worth keeping. At least I got a ride on it before it closed.
Beating the heat
Like I mentioned earlier, the weather was really hot, with temperatures reaching 100 degrees and 84% humidity. I had originally been worried that I would have to spend a lot on water (Carowinds sells bottles of water for about $3 each), but the park was great at keeping their guests hydrated. At every food stand, employees were handing out free ice cold cups of water to the thirsty crowd. The water was so refreshing after standing in line all day. I had never seen a park handing out free water before, so kudos to Carowinds on that.
But drinking water wasn’t the only way to cool off. White Water Falls, the park’s shoot-the-chute, soaked me to the bone. It felt great.
Now that I was nice and cooled off, I decided to try out WindSeeker, the park’s giant swings that took riders 301 feet into the air. While I’m usually not a big fan of spinning rides, I wanted to try it anyways if only for the view. As the ride slowly lifted into the air and began to spin, the people below grew smaller and smaller. WindSeeker turned out to be relaxing and comfortable, with a spectacular view of the entire park. I could even see Charlotte in the distance from the top.
After a quick ride on Southern Star, the park’s swinging ship, I headed to the other end of the park for a ride on Drop Tower. Despite its boring name, Drop Tower really delivered the thrill with the extreme airtime only felt on these rides.
With the Cobra being my first Vekoma Boomerang coaster, I wasn’t quite sure what to expect. Picking a seat in the back row, I clung to my shoulder harness as the train ascended the first lift backwards. When the train finally made it to the top, I held my breath in anticipation. My stomach dropped as the train flew back down the lift and through the station. As the train charged through a cobra roll and a vertical loop, I clung to my head in agony. Thankfully, I got a break as the train began to ascend the second lift, this time forwards. The backwards drop generated a unique thrill, but before I knew it, I was barreling through the same loops again, backwards. I got off that ride vowing never to ride it again.
Ready to tackle another of the park’s wooden coasters, I boarded Hurler. Standing at 83 feet tall, this beast earned its name rightfully, though I wonder to this day whether it’s because it hurls riders or makes them hurl.
The first drop was fun, I’ll admit, but the following over-banked turns and hills flung me around in my seat and worsened my headache.
Ricochet was your typical wild mouse roller coaster, with mild thrills for young riders and extreme lateral forces which threw me to the side so hard I thought the car would fly off the track.
As a vehement stand-up coaster hater, I have no idea why I entered the line for Vortex. The line dragged on and on due to the long loading process of adjusting each rider’s seat to the correct height. The ride was shorter than most, at just over 2000 feet long, and it banged my head against the restraints. Don’t even get me started on the excruciating pain in my legs from the g-forces. Though stand-ups provide a unique “thrill,” I approve of the parks that have been replacing them. Cedar Point transformed Mantis into a floorless coaster, for example.
Overall, I was pleased with Carowinds, but other than Fury, Intimidator, and Afterburn, the rides felt old and rough. I immediately noticed its lack of a launched coaster, which provides a unique thrill not found on other coasters. An Intamin launched coaster like Maverick at Cedar Point or Cheetah Hunt at Busch Gardens Tampa would be a great addition to Carowinds in the future. A smoother woodie or a hybrid roller coaster would be welcome as well.
Most of the ride ops seemed to be more concerned about getting trains dispatched as quickly as possible than going out of their way to make a pleasant experience for their guests. Although I’m sure it was helpful for shortening the lines, I always like the ride ops that crack jokes as they prepare each train for take-off. The ops did seem to have safety as a top concern though.
Despite the scarcity of thrilling rides, I loved my visit to Carowinds and will definitely take another trip there in the future. If you’ve never ridden Fury 325, I highly recommend taking a trip to check it out.
Have you been to Carowinds? Share your experience in the comments section below.