Charlotte, North Carolina and Fort Mill, South Carolina
Carowinds is a theme park located on the state line between North and South Carolina, in Charlotte, North Carolina, and Fort Mill, South Carolina. The park opened on March 31, 1973, at a cost of $70 million, after a four-year planning period spearheaded by Charlotte businessman Earl Patterson Hall, who was inspired to build the park by a 1956 trip to Disneyland and a dream of bringing the two states closer together. It is owned by the Cedar Fair Entertainment Company.
March 31, 1973, marked the opening of a 73-acre theme park on the border of North and South Carolina named Carowinds. The park, inspired by the West Coast's Disneyland, was the vision of a developer named E. Pat Hall, and the first phase of a grand plan that called for 2,900 acres of land in and around Hall's home town of Charlotte, North Carolina to be developed into a complex also containing a golf course, resort, hotels, motels, a marina, and other development.
Although only the first phase of the project would come into being, the theme park was completed at a price tag of $27 million and debuted with seventeen rides, among them, being a 32-story observation tower, a log flume, monorail, cable cars, miniature railroad, a double-decker carousel (which would only last one season), and one coaster - the Goldrusher mine train (renamed Carolina Goldrusher. Guests could explore seven themed sections reflecting on the history of the Carolinas: Contemporary Carolinas, Country Crossroads, Frontier Outpost, Indian Thicket, Pirate Island, Plantation Square, and Queen's Colony.
Disappointing attendance plagued Carowinds in the park's second year, but Taft Broadcasting, already the owner of Ohio's Kings Island and Virginia's Kings Dominion, stepped up and purchased the theme park along with eighty-five adjacent acres of land, and went to work spending two-million dollars on park improvements, along with adding the Happy Land of Hanna Barbera, containing a second smaller-sized coaster with the wooden Scooby Doo's Ghoster Coaster.
The following season, a major coaster finally arrived when the ninety-three-foot tall wooden racing Thunder Road opened with twin 3,819-foot tracks crossing the Carolina state line. Several flat rides were removed and relocated, then the park received its first steel looping coaster and one of the first three Schwarzkopf launched shuttle-loopers to be made, named White Lightnin'. Carowinds was finally regaining popularity, and 1979 brought another themed area, Country Fair, along with five flat rides.
A third major coaster storm blew in with the first-ever quadruple-inversion coaster, Arrow Dynamics' Carolina Cyclone, and then Rip Roarin' Rapids, a five-acre river rapids ride, was built two years later, for 1982. Ownership of the former Taft theme park business changed to King's Entertainment Company and with the change came the Smurf Island kids' section in 1984, and new flat rides and improvements over the next three operating seasons. White Lightnin' ran for its last year in 1988 and was relocated, and the White Water Falls splashdown ride opened in its place.
Carowinds introduced the concept of a combined theme park and water park the next year in adding the six-acre Riptide Reef within the dry park. In another two years, Bolliger and Mabillard's stand-up looping coaster Vortex saw its debut, and that same year, Paramount purchased the King's Entertainment chain, with the park subsequently reopening as Paramount's Carowinds for the next season, with a new motion simulator added.
Hurler, a 3,157-foot long triple out and back wooden coaster, became the main attraction of a new expansion in 1994, and a new 17-story Skycoaster attraction the following year. Also in 1995, the park's kids area was revamped into Animation Station, along with one side of Thunder Road rotated to travel backward. For 1996, the Carolina park saw Drop Zone Stunt Tower drop in from Intamin AG at 174 feet high. Waterpark improvements and expansion came for the '97 season, with it being renamed Water Works. A new kids area named Zoom Zone was 1998's new attraction, featuring the Taxi Jam kiddie coaster.
A sleek six-inversion inverted steel coaster took off when the Bolliger and Mabillard-designed Top Gun: The Jet Coaster had its inaugural flight on March 30 of 1999. The Flying Super Saturator became the tenth coaster track at Paramount's Carowinds, featuring a suspended course through water obstacles. Scooby Doo's Haunted Mansion, a dark interactive attraction, joined a number of park improvements for 2001, and Ricochet debuted the very next year with a wild mouse course of hairpin curves. And another junior steel coaster was added to the collection in 2003 with the suspended Rugrats Runaway Reptar, part of a third kids area named Nickelodeon Central.
In late 2003, sister park Great America announced that they are closing and removing their Vekoma Flying Dutchman coaster called Stealth for a water park expansion. What would happen to one of the world's most revolutionary coasters? Stealth took a cross country trip from California to the Carolinas as at the end of the 2003 season, Carowinds' classic steamboat ride around the lagoon, the Carolina Queen was removed. A new thrill was in the air and in early 2004, Borg Assimilator was announced as the world's first Star Trek themed coaster. Being the Carolina's first flying coaster, Borg has some good theming to boot, including a sphere in the lagoon. Borg opened to riders at the start of the 2004 season and since then has attracted more people to the park.
In January 2005, an announcement came for one of Carowinds' biggest expansions. Nick Central got expanded even more to cause a retheme of the classic Hanna Barbera Animation Station area. Rides that were already in the area were renamed to Nickelodeon themes such as Scooby Doo's Ghoster Coaster was renamed to Fairly Odd Coaster and Top Cat's Taxi Jam renamed to Hey Arnold's Taxi Chase. Some new rides were also installed, the highlight being a relocated ride from Paramount's Kings Island] called Phantom Flyers. The ride is a classic style Flyer ride that has been in operation since 1935 when it was at Coney Island Ohio. The expansion of Nick Central made it the biggest Nickelodeon themed area in any theme park.
In 2006, Frenzoid was removed from the park at the beginning of the season. However, it wasn't until the season was in full blast when the biggest announcement came for the entire Paramount Parks chain. On May 22, 2006, Cedar Fair announced that they bought out the entire Paramount chain for $1.24 billion dollars. The Cedar Fair chain doubled in size and many changes were underway for the entire chain in 2007. Cedar Fair's first move after the purchase was dropping the Paramount name from all of the parks, making the park Carowinds once again. Also, the Frenzoid ride was rebuilt and relocated inside the park, with a brand new name, the Southern Star. While major new additions are not being rushed during the park's first year under Cedar Fair's management, there are bound to bigger thrills and chills for a park that is too good for just one state.
In the 2008 season, Carowinds implanted a Yo-Yo flat ride from the closed Geauga Lake Park. The ride sits in the place where the park's former swing ride, the Whirling Dervish, once sat. The park's major addition in 2008 was the expansion of the Boomerang Bay water park. Additions included a 600,000 gallon, 34,000 square foot wave pool, called Bondi Beach was added, cabana services, tube rentals, and a new eatery. For 2008, the former Paramount names for attractions were also dropped. Top Gun: the Jet Coaster became Afterburn, Borg Assimilator became Nighthawk, Drop Zone: Stunt Tower became Drop Tower, and other minor name changes also occurred. Thunder Road was closed until July, due to a refurbishment by Great Coasters International. The backward side of the coaster was switched to run forwards again, and both coaster trains now race. Carowinds may not have turned into the Disneyland-like theme park that it set out to be,
For the 2009 season, Carowinds added yet another roller coaster to its large lineup with Carolina Cobra, a 125-foot boomerang coaster. Originally operating as Mind Eraser, and later as Head Spin, since 1996 at Geauga Lake, the Vekoma boomerang became yet another orphaned ride when the park was closed in 2007. After a rather large investment for a used, relocated coaster, Cedar Fair brought Carolina Cobra to Carowinds, upgrading the trains in the process for a greatly improved ride experience. The new trains feature a more open restraint system, featuring more vest-like restraints with bars to grip onto, rather than the infamous “head-banging” over-the-shoulder-restraints. Later in that season, it was revealed that one of the parks few remaining original attractions, the Wild Thornberrys’ River Adventure log flume (originally Powder Keg Flume) was being removed to make room for a new attraction in 2010. When it was announced that the parks miniature train, Dora the Explorer Azul’s Adventure, would also be modified and taking a new route, speculation surrounding the parks 2010 attraction became rampant.
Finally, after over 10 years since the parks last major, non-relocated coaster, Carowinds would be getting the coaster it had long been waiting for. In 2010, the park saw the opening of Intimidator, a 232-foot tall, 5316-foot hypercoaster from Swiss masterminds from B&M, themed to none other than NASCAR legend, Dale Earnhardt “The Intimidator.” Not only did Intimidator become the largest coaster in the park, it became the largest coaster in the entire Southeast US. Along with the new coaster, Carolina Cyclone received a new paint job, Nickelodeon Central was transformed into Planet Snoopy, and the last traces of the old Hanna Barbera were removed when Scooby Doo’s Haunted Mansion was turned into Boo Blasters on Boo Hill. Cedar Fair also began making internal improvements within the park, adding more plants and landscaping, and replacing more paved areas with brick pavers to reduce the intense heat on the parks many exposed walkways.
In 2011, the park took a bit of a year off, again mostly continue to make internal and landscaping improvements, extending its hours during peak times, and continuing rehabs on Thunder Road (being performed by Great Coasters International) and Hurler. The park also received its own version of Cedar Fair’s Snoopy’s Starlight Spectacular nighttime walk-through light and sound experience, as well as the “Nights of Fire” nightly fireworks display every day during the peak of summer.
For the 2012 season, Carowinds became the recipient of one of Cedar Fair’s second batch of WindSeekers, a 301-foot tall swing ride. In 2011, the company installed WindSeeker attractions at Cedar Point, Canada’s Wonderland, Kings Island, and Knott’s Berry Farm, each at a cost of $5 million. Kings Dominion and Carowinds would become recipients of the second set of WindSeekers at a cost of $6.5 million each.
With Carowinds under the control of Cedar Fair, the park should continue to grow as the company’s southernmost park, and with 61-acres of adjacent land recently purchased, the park certainly has the room to grow. The park still has more quantity than quality of coasters and is lacking in terms of flat rides and non-coaster thrill rides, but Cedar Fair has been trending on a more balanced approach to attractions than Paramount’s, their predecessor, more family-oriented approach.
Present Roller Coasters (14)
|Afterburn||Bolliger & Mabillard||Inverted||1999||Open|
|Carolina Cyclone||Arrow Dynamics||Sit-Down||1980||Open|
|Carolina Goldrusher||Arrow Dynamics||Mine train||1973||Open|
|Copperhead Strike||Mack Rides||Launched||2019||Open|
|Fury 325||Bolliger & Mabillard||Giga||2015||Open|
|Intimidator||Bolliger & Mabillard||Hyper Coaster||2010||Open|
|Ricochet||Mack Rides||Wild Mouse||2002||Open|
|The Flying Cobras||Vekoma||Shuttle||2009||Open|
|Vortex||Bolliger & Mabillard||Stand-Up||1992||Open|
|Wilderness Run||E&F Miler Industries||Kiddie||1998||Open|
|Woodstock Express||John C. Allen||Wooden||1975||Open|
Past Roller Coasters (3)
|Flying Super Saturator||Setpoint||Suspended||2000||2008||No|
|White Lightnin'||Schwarzkopf||Launched||1977||1988||Gold Reef City|
|Thunder Road||Curtis D. Summers||Wooden||1976||July 26, 2015||No|