After 10 years of living in Raleigh, we finally made it to Carowinds Amusement Park in Charlotte. It’s the famous theme park in the Carolina’s and it’s 407 acres are filled from boundary to boundary with roller coasters.
Our good friend has annual passes and has been trying to get us to go for years. Kalyra joined her one year for their famous Halloween event, SCarowinds, and still shivers every time she tells us stories of the scary costumes of the workers.
I’m not sure why it’s taken us this long to visit. I had images in my head of a less-than-average theme park with old wooden coasters. I mean, after several visits to Universal Orlando Resort and Busch Gardens, our theme park barometer is pretty high.
I was pleasantly surprised to discover that Carowinds is modern, fun, and absolutely packed with roller coasters – possibly more than I’ve experienced in any other theme park, and we’ll definitely be back for more fun!
Carowinds is home to almost 60 rides, an impressive waterpark, live entertainment, and family-friendly special events throughout the year.
We were hosted at the park by Carowinds and overnight at Springhill Suites and thoroughly enjoyed our visit and stay! Kalyra is already working hard to convince us to host a birthday party for her there this year with her friends. We shall see!
In this post, we’ll share our top tips for visiting Carowinds, including a guide to our favorite rides.
- Where is Carowinds Theme Park?
- Two Parks, one Price: Carolina Harbor waterpark
- Favorite Rides at carowinds
- Classic Rides at Carowinds to love
- Camp Snoopy
- Top Tips for an Enjoyable day at Carowinds, NC
- Stay at Carowinds
- Carowinds Tickets & FAQS
- Carowinds Season Pass: Gold & Platinum
- How Long Do You Need At Carowinds?
- When Is The Best Time To Visit Carowinds?
- Do You Need Fast Pass Tickets?
- Do you need a locker?
- Is There A Parent/Child Swap?
- Can you bring cameras, GoPros, or Cell Phones on Rides?
- Is Carowinds Accessible?
- Is there parking at Carowinds NC, and how much is it?
Where is Carowinds Theme Park?
As you’ll hear and see throughout your day at Carowinds, this theme park is “where the Carolina’s meet for fun!”
Carowinds is actually located right on the border of North and South Carolina. That means you get to spend the day riding roller coasters in two USA states!
It’s about 15-minutes from uptown Charlotte, North Carolina, at exit 90 (Carowinds Blvd.) off Interstate 77. If you’re driving from Raleigh like us, it’s about a 2.5 hour drive.
Two Parks, one Price: Carolina Harbor waterpark
One thing I loved about Carowinds is you get access to two theme parks with the price of one ticket.
Carolina Harbor Waterpark is Carowinds water park, and a massive water park at that featuring giant slides, wave pools and a kid’s splash pool area. It was a very welcome break from the intensity of the 2pm afternoon summer heat.
But, the pool at Tidal Wave Bay was pretty small and packed with people cooling off. We had recently been to Wet’n’ Wild waterpark in Greensboro a few days before visiting Carowinds and their wave pool was bigger.
Trying to fit in two parks does add extra time pressure if you are visiting just for the day, especially during peak times. The wait times at Carolina Harbor Waterpark were longer than in Carowinds for the roller coasters – but it was a HOT day!
Favorite Rides at carowinds
There are 56 rides at Carowinds (including the Water Park). This includes 14 roller coasters (kids and adults), two of which make the 10 tallest coasters in the world.
We did our best to ride tall the coasters. Unfortunately a few were currently closed AND we had two thunderstorms roll in, which shut down all the rides. Sadly, they had to close all rides for good at dusk, so we missed our last couple of coasters, and missed nighttime coaster rides.
Plan wisely and follow our tips below so you can add more into your day. What rides you choose is up to your interests and thrill levels. For us, we prefer thrill rides over spinning rides.
I almost didn’t ride the double-launch, Copperhead Strike roller coaster. It was mid-afternoon and I was starting to get roller coaster fatigue (and too much dizziness), So Craig went on this ride with Kalyra while I took Savannah on the dodgem cars.
When we met back up, Kalyra dragged me onto the Copperhead strike exclaiming that it was the best roller coaster ride at Carowinds. I’m glad she took me, and again, and again!
Copperhead’s has a slight pause while turning upside down, which added a thrill element different to the other Carowinds coasters.
Similar to the Hulk at Islands of Adventure theme park in Orlando, the ride begins with a launch taking you from 0 to 42 miles per hour in 2.5 seconds. Midway through a second thrust launches you into the next half of the experience.
It’s an adrenaline fast-paced coaster that runs for over half a mile taking you through a series of fast, tight, close-to-the-ground maneuvers and five head-over-heels inversions
I have ridden many suspended coasters around the world, and Afterburn at Carowinds has been my favorite of all. I really wasn’t expecting it to be as fast paced and intense as it was.
I felt like the entire ride I was either looping or rolling. There are six inversions: a space drop, vertical loop, a fighter pilot style maneuver, a batwing, spiral, flat spin, and zero “G” roll.
This is the ultimate fighter jet experience. Afterburn is Carowinds 3rd tallest and fastest roller coaster reaching up to 62mph with a first drop of 113 ft. As we traveled under the tracks with legs dangling, it was a pretty smooth ride.
The Flying Cobras
Get ready for a fast paced, high intensity coaster replicating an aerial show. You’ll start with a slow backward climb 125 ft. vertically up before launching off to fly through a 360-degree loop and cobra rolls at speed up to 50mph.
You’ll then come to a stop, this time 125 ft. vertically facing forward, only to be dropped again, this time flying through the course backwards. Get your scream on! You’ll be letting loose on this one.
Of all the Carowinds coasters we rode, I was most intimidated by The Intimidator. I felt very exposed as we started our slow climb up to the 232-foothill.
Once you hit the top, you race down a 74-degree drop at speeds up to 80 mph. It reminded me of the Rip Ride Rockit at Universal Studios Orlando (without the music).
I felt very exposed without an upper body harness and just a lap bar – are we really going to stay seated as we make this steep drop?
Yes, we did and it wasn’t nearly as bad as I imagined. It was a fun drop. For the rest of the 3-minute ride you speed through 5,316 feet of track featuring twists, turns, and rolling hills.
This hyper coaster is one of the tallest, fastest, and longest of its kind in the Southeast and one of the top 10 tallest steel roller coasters in North America. The ride was inspired by NASCAR legend Dale Earnhardt, a North Carolina native.
On your marks. Get Set. Go…
The Fury 325
We missed our chance to ride the Fury 325 – thanks to the storms. I knew we should have gone on it first. But everyone wanted to psyche up for it first. I reckon rip the band aid off and eat the frog!
The Fury is an unmissable Carowinds roller coaster for all thrill seekers, the tallest, fastest, longest giga coaster in North America. It looked almost identical to the Intimidator to me with a few slight differences. On The Fury 325, peak height is 325 feet, followed by a dramatic 81 degree drop.
It will also take you into a massive 190-foot-tall barrel turn and a high-speed S-curve reaching speeds of up to 95 mph, a 91-degree overbanked horseshoe turn, and then take the “HIVE DIVE” underneath a pedestrian bridge,
At 1.25 miles long, it’s said that it feels like this ride takes up the entire park. The average ride time is 3.25 minutes, and the ride crosses both North and South Carolina state lines.
Our second roller coaster in Carowinds was the Carolina Cyclone, which has been thrilling riders since 1980. After dropping from a 95-foot hill you race through two 360-degree vertical looks, and two 360-barrel rolls. There is a great viewing area underneath the loops!
Another suspended coaster we rode several times, the Kiddy Hawk coaster was one of the rides suited to Savanna’s (10 yrs old) thrill level was the.
Unlike the super smooth Afterburn, this one was a lot rougher. As it’s suited for younger ages, it only reaches speeds up to 26mph and had no inversions.
I can never decide if I love or hat wild mouse rides. I sometimes find them scarier than roller coasters, as it always feels like you’re going off the edge until it turns at the last second.
They can also be rough and dizzy inducing – Ricochet was ALL that! Probably my least favorite ride at Carowinds, but the girl’s loved it.
There’s always usually one ride at a theme park that we convince Savannah to go on as it’s going to be a really tame ride. And we always genuinely believe that it is.
And then the ride surprises us with a few hair-raising turns and dips. That was the Big Thunder Mountain Railroad at Disneyland, and at California Adventure Park it was the Guardians of the Galaxy ride (I still can’t believe she did that one!)
At Carowinds, it was the Carolina Goldrusher, Carowind’s oldest roller coaster opening with the park on March 31, 1973.
This wood and steel coaster rips through the Carolina foothills at speeds of 30 mph and features two lift hills and a 43-foot drop. Savannah, while a little shocked, did enjoy it!
Other coasters or thrill rides we wanted to ride, but were either closed or we ran out of time due to the storm include:
- Vortex: The Vortex is a unique Carowinds ride as it is a stand-up roller coaster (the first in the South. It has drops, vertical loops and carousel maneuvers.
- Nighthawk: Carolina’s first flying coaster that rides through eight inversions, most while flying facedown, zooming toward the ground, and turning skyward just in time for the next inversion.
- Drop Tower. I would have done this one myself as no one in our family likes them. I love them. The Guardians of the Galaxy one at Carolina Adventure Park in California is my favorite. The drop tower in Carowinds is 174 feet high. Enjoy those beautiful views as you slowly rise into the air. Pretty soon you’ll plunge into a 100 second free fall with speeds of up to 56 miles an hour before braking to a sudden stop!
- Ripcord: If you are a thrill seeker, I highly recommend this experience. I did it with my best friend in Bali when we were 21. Strap into a harness lying face down, and a cable lifts you to 150 feet off the ground. When instructed, you pull a cord and down you free fall at speeds up to 65 miles an hour. There is an extra fee for this thrill ride.
Boogie Board Racer
This was the only waterslide I went on with the girls at Carolina Harbor Waterpark. Grab a mat and your family members and race down individual-colored shoots that are sometimes out in the sun and sometimes in an enclosed tube.
A 360-degree loop will finish with a drop finish to the end. Boogie Board Racer is the longest mat racing water slide in the Southeast.
Craig and the girls loved the Blackbeard’s Revenge, Hurricane Falls and Pelican Plunge slides.
Classic Rides at Carowinds to love
You can’t go to a theme park without riding a few of the old classic rides. Nostalgia is an important part of memory making too.
I love telling the girls the story of my mum stopping the entire dodgem car ride when I was about six to walk off the track in fear of the other wild drivers! Meanwhile, my kids are happy to ride this classic ride with a mum who is the wild driver crashing into others.
Rock ‘N’ Roller
While I can’t ride this disco train anymore – due to heightened dizziness that comes with aging – this was one of my favorite rides when I was young.
I love seeing my girls ride it together. You’re just spinning around, and up and down on a circular track to high energy tunes and lighting. This one did not go backwards like others I have ridden before.
Get ready to spin around and around in two directions in a car at the end of a huge arm that joins at a central column. I’ll sit this one out girls! I’m sick just looking at you.
Boo Blasters on Boo Hill
Our family loves these laser gun rides, where a cart takes you through a haunted scenario and you get to shoot illuminated targets with your laser gun!
A computer tallies your scores and the family winner can get an ice cream (that’s our own rule we make!) These are no-adrenaline fun game rides.
I’m not going to lie – I’m so glad we are out of the little kid age where we spent most of our theme park hours riding on carousels and miniature trains and watching cartoon character shows.
But your little kids will love it.
It’s a lovely shady area with junior rides (including a little coaster), an 8,000-square-foot climb and play area, and a fountain with shady pergolas serves as the centerpiece.
Top Tips for an Enjoyable day at Carowinds, NC
Here are a few of our lessons learned from our experience spending the day at Carowinds theme park. These tips should help you plan for, and have, a positive experience.
This is our number one tip for traveling in the USA (well around the world, but in our professional experience, most Americans don’t follow the “early bird catches the worm” philosophy!)
We always arrive at opening time and waste little time getting to the thrill rides. There is just too much to see and do in Carowinds to arrive late. For us, 10am opening is LATE!
Head to the slow loading lines and popular rides first
Some rides can hold a lot of people at once, and it might be a short ride time. That means they turn over pretty quick. It’s best to do the lines that load fewer people and are longer first. By the end of the day, their lines will probably be huge and slow.
You’ll also want to ride the popular rides first as well before the crowds build up. If it’s fast loading and popular, do it after the slow loading rides.
This is my tip for any theme park. But it often only works IF you arrive at the park early before the lines build up. It will be too late during peak hours.
Ride the high adrenalin rides first
This may be a personal preference, but adrenalin rides zap your energy pretty quickly. Not just when you’re on the ride but the build up to it, trying to psyche yourself up! With energy, what goes up, must eventually come down.
Usually by mid-afternoon, my psyche has had enough, and just wants to watch a few shows, drink a cold ale, and relax.
If I don’t hit those bucket list high adrenalin rides first, I’ll usually find an excuse to avoid them in the afternoon, because I just can’t handle it.
As mentioned above, follow the rule of: Rip the band aid off and eat the frog! Do the hardest things first.
We took a little break at the waterpark mid-afternoon which helped motivate me for another ride on the Copperhead Strike.
Don’t take in, or buy water
If you want to save on what you carry around, don’t take a water bottle in. We did, just because I drink a ridiculous amount of water and always want it on me. There are plenty of water fountains around.
Carowinds give all their guests free cups of water. Just ask at any soda stand and they’ll give it to you. I loved how Carowinds do this, especially for those hot and humid days where it’s essential you keep up your fluids.
Do not buy water. Your wallet doesn’t need it and Mother Earth would prefer you didn’t. Mother Earth would also prefer it if you took in your own refillable water bottle.
Food is expensive
Unfortunately, if you want to eat you don’t really have an option but to buy the food at Carowinds. I was grateful, the Grand Carnivale event was on in the evening with international food to sample.
It was somewhat expensive, but I found it to be better value and much better food than the typically unhealthy food from the usual theme park vendors. The gluten free pizza was probably four inches and cost $12. I bought an expensive really small salad instead for lunch.
There are a few different places to eat around the park with a variety of options. Gluten free eaters will find options.
Note: You can’t take in your own food. I’ve heard of people leaving food in their cars and going in and out to eat. Make sure you get a stamp before leaving so you can re-enter.
Enjoy a local beer in the shade
The only time we sat down the entire day for a break was to have a local draft beer from the Shady Beer & Snacks. They had a great range of NC and SC beers. They had just run out of the seltzer so I had a cider instead.
As it was right near the Boo Blasters on Boo Hill, the girls went into ride that while we rested. It was a lovely break.
Not quite for ALL ages or thrill levels
If you’re a thrill-seeker, Carowinds has the perfect number of rides for you. If you have young children, Carowinds is also great as there is the Camp Snoopy area filled with children’s rides and entertaining shows.
BUT, we found for those kids who are a little more cautious, like our 10-year-old Savannah, there wasn’t quite enough middle-of-the road rides for her. She was too freaked out for the thrill rides and roller coasters, and a little too old for the kid’s area.
While she had a wonderful time, she was a little disappointed she didn’t get to go on a lot of rides and spent too much time waiting for us to come on and off. The waterpark was a little more suited to her thrill level.
Make sure you check height restrictions for each ride as some young thrill riders may be too short!
The Carowinds App
There is a Carowinds App you can download and use to manage your tickets and time in the park. It has some handy features like ride wait times, and mobile food ordering.
I found the interactive map function to be not so helpful. Perhaps just my internet connection? Not sure. My phone seemed to work okay otherwise.
Visit for Seasonal Events
Carowinds hosts a number of different fun events and celebrations each year.
As mentioned in the beginning, the nightly Scarowinds during Halloween is one of the most famous Carowinds special events. It’s also the largest Halloween event in all of the Carolinas.
You can enjoy all the thrill rides the park has to offer while being constantly spooked by Carowinds staff dressed up in scary costumes. They all have been trained to bring out your largest screams (but have also been trained to leave those alone who don’t want to be spooked).
Carowinds Winterfest helps you celebrate the Holiday season and we visited during Grand Carnivale, an international festival with food from around the world, interactive street performers and the nighttime Spectacle of Color Parade. (as we’ve been to Mardi Gras in New Orleans, we were a little underwhelmed.)
Carowinds will be a BIG day as it closed at 10pm for us. (Check out our next big tip below to help you with that.)
In order to experience all the park has to offer, we recommend you stay until close. Who doesn’t want to ride coasters under a starry sky? Plus, Carowinds has lots of entertainment and special events to keep you occupied, if you want to relax more.
Stay at Carowinds
If you are visiting Carowinds from Raleigh (or anyone that is more than a 90-minute drive), we highly recommend staying at Carowinds.
We were so grateful we could walk five minutes to collapse into our hotel bed at park closing instead of having to drive 2.5 hours home to Raleigh!
The Springhill Suites Charlotte at Carowinds
If you’re looking for hotel near Carowinds, you can’t get any closer than the Springhill Suites by Marriott, the official hotel of Carowinds Amusement Park.
This family-friendly hotel is right across from the main entrance to the park (which saves money on parking!) As it’s an all-suite hotel, families will have a little more room to spread out.
Our room was still a standard two queen room, but we had a small sitting room with a sofa couch and desk. We weren’t really there that long to make use of it anyway.
Your hotel stay comes with a standard hot breakfast. The bar area has local craft beers, premium wines and light fare and the hotel offers cozy indoor areas and outdoor seating featuring a fire pit.
There is also a small pool area outdoors and guests will love the views of the theme park. It almost tempted us to go back in for a second day when we were checking out!
Campers will love knowing you can also camp onsite at Carowinds Camp Wilderness Resort.
Carowinds Tickets & FAQS
Carowinds has a range of tickets available from one day tickets to multiple days, military and group discounts. You can save money by purchasing tickets in advance via Undercover Tourist.
Carowinds Season Pass: Gold & Platinum
If you’re a theme park lover and can visit Carowinds a few times a year, a season pass my be your best value tickets. A 2022 Gold Pass to Carowinds offers unbeatable value and pays for itself in just two visits.
There are two types of season passes at Carowinds: the Gold Pass and the Platinum Pass.
Both the Gold and Platinum passes include:
- Purchase up to six (6) Bring-A-Friend tickets per eligible operating day.
- Free parking all season long
- Unlimited visits to Carowinds and Carolina Harbor Waterpark.
- 10% discount at select dining and retail locations throughout Carowinds.
- Discounts at the onsite hotel and campground
- Admission to SCarowinds and WinterFest.
A Platinum Pass offers one additional benefit: access to all 17 Cedar Fair Parks.
The Carowinds Pre-K Pass. It’s FREE for kids three to five years old and includes unlimited visits for the rest of 2022.
How Long Do You Need At Carowinds?
I would use up the entire day. The park is opened from 10am-10pm with the water park closing at 6pm during the peak summer times. Check opening times as the Carowinds hours vary throughout the year.
You should be able to get a lot done in one day IF lines aren’t too long. If you’re visiting during peak season, consider Fast Lane passes, or staying at Carowinds and going for two days.
When Is The Best Time To Visit Carowinds?
Weekends and holidays are normally the busiest times to visit Carowinds. Thursday and Wednesday often have shorter lines.
The most popular months are typically October, September, and June. March, April, and August are normally quieter.
July was also pretty quiet for us, and we visited on a Friday. I’m really happy we visited at this time of the year. Those shorter lines are worth a little extra heat. Let’s face it, it’s hot all the way up to the end of October anyway!
Do You Need Fast Pass Tickets?
This really depends on when you are visiting Carowinds.
We visited middle of July. Despite being summer break, it’s also intensely hot, so many Carolinians flock to the NC beaches instead of theme parks!
That meant we didn’t need Fast Lane Tickets.
While it was hot, I was happy that we did not have long wait times and could ride on our favorite coasters multiple times.
If you are visiting during peak days, Fast Lane passes are always a clever idea. Lining up for several hours for one quick roller coaster ride is NOT my idea of an enjoyable time. This is a handy resource to see what days will be busiest.
Also, some of the rides won’t be part of the Fast Lane pass, but most of the popular rides and coasters will.
Do you need a locker?
If you are not carrying too many bags, you won’t need to get a locker at Carowinds. We found all but one ride allowed you to leave your bags, sunglasses, hats, and flip flops on the other side of the loading area for the ride. You collect them once you finish your ride.
It felt safe, but if multiple rides are running, you do run the risk of someone in the ride swiping your stuff before you get back.
We did run into a problem in the water park, however. As the rides start and end at separate places, you have to leave your belongings at the bottom of the slide.
I’m fine with leaving my flip flops there, but definitely not my bag with wallets and expensive camera gear. That meant we had to tag team on the rides with the girls, which wasn’t ideal.
But we were only in the water park for just over an hour and the lockers were really expensive for such a short amount of time. Craig rode most of the slides with our kids while I relaxed by the wave pool reading!
Is There A Parent/Child Swap?
One of our favorite things about Universal Studios in Orlando is their parent swap feature. If you have a child too young to go on rides, one parent waits off to the side, and once the riding child and parent finish, the parents can swap.
That parent goes straight onto the line without having to line up at the end of the line. It saved us so much time and meant Kalyra got to ride twice on every ride.
They don’t have that at Carowinds. But if your child is old enough to wait on their own – like Savannah was- you can take them up to the loading area of the ride where they can cross over to the area where you disembark. They can wait for you there instead of waiting out in the crowded general area.
We wouldn’t let Savannah wait out in the general public area on her own, but felt safe letting her wait on the other side for a few rides.
Again, that saved us time having to go through two line waits for the whole family for just one ride.
Can you bring cameras, GoPros, or Cell Phones on Rides?
NO. I know it’s disappointing, but safety is Carowinds priority. You’ll be dismissed from the park if you try to bring on any recording devices.
Is Carowinds Accessible?
Yes. Carowinds makes a huge effort to create an amusement park experience that everyone will love. You can read more about policies, programs, and assistance the park offers here.
Is there parking at Carowinds NC, and how much is it?
Parking is $25 a day. It is strongly recommended that you purchase parking in advance online before visiting the park. There is no cash accepted at the toll booth. Carowinds is a cash free theme park.
If your ticket includes parking, have them ready to scan at the toll booth.
And remember, if you stay at the Springhill Suites, you have complimentary parking at the hotel.
What’s your favorite ride at Carowinds? Any other tips for saving time or money at Carowinds?