Carowinds, Charlotte, North Carolina, USA
After a couple of years of not really being able to justify traveling to an amusement park to ride roller coasters, due to becoming new parents in 2019 and then 2020 being, well, 2020, my wife and I took a quick jaunt to Carowinds while our toddler had a nice day with her abuela. It was a super-exciting experience for me, being able to have a nice day with just my wife (though we spent the whole day missing our daughter, haha) and being able to get back to a strong coaster park.
To my surprise, although I suppose it was my first time at Carowinds on a proper summer day, the park was respectably crowded. Now, this translated to 30-minute waits at worst, but that’s more than I’ve ever really seen at Carowinds outside of a Scarowinds Saturday night years ago. It worked out as it meant my wife, whose coaster tolerance is very limited, wouldn’t find herself sitting around while I power-rode, but it also meant that I only got six rides in all day spread across the park’s four marquee coasters.
My wife is averse to a lot of inversions, and even as far as non-inverting coasters go, she still hasn’t totally forgiven me for Intimidator 305, so that meant a bit of creative thinking on my part for what to ride first. We opted for Copperhead Strike, which was still under construction on my last visit. Before anyone points out that it has five inversions and so should’ve deterred my wife, I would note that I honestly forgot exactly how many it had, and the only real non-inverting option at the park that isn’t a family coaster or a mega coaster is the brutally rough Hurler. I went with what I suspected would probably be the park’s mildest thrilling coaster that I figured stood a chance of being a decent ride.
I can safely say I vastly underestimated Copperhead Strike. Mild it is not, with much of its intensity coming in areas the POVs don’t seem to indicate. Just about every direction change was very abrupt, with me often losing my sense of direction, and several of the inversions were incredibly unnerving with the substantial sustained hangtime. I was extremely impressed with this ride, and it gave Carowinds another top-notch thriller. Mack really did a fantastic job on this ride, with it being a nice, Maverick-style coaster that would be a great fit at a good many other parks in the chain that maybe don’t warrant some of the larger, pricier hardware.
Having had to store our stuff in a locker, it made sense to focus our next effort on something relatively close, which meant the rather abrupt escalation for my wife to what is pretty much the biggest overall coaster in all of existence: Fury 325. This was where the waits of the day began, with it taking us about a half-an-hour to get on the ride. The line wasn’t particularly long, but they were only running two trains and still stacking more often than not. A bit disappointing, but having more time between rides meant a lower likelihood of my wife being able to enjoy her day and not feel bleh, so it worked out alright. Knowing that a front-row lap would likely have ended our marriage, we went for the shortest line we could fine, which ended up being the back row. Not exactly ideal given that my wife has ridden enough to know what that implied for the first drop, but I figured she’d like to put the whole experience behind her as quickly as possible, haha.
Climbing the lift made me realized just how far “out of the game” I was. Sitting in the back row with no visibility as to how much track was left on the lift hill to the heavens, I started feeling a bit uneasy. Even though it has a quick chain, it still felt like it went on forever. It felt like it bothered me more than I ever remembered it doing in the past.
Eventually, we tipped over into the drop, and my goodness, that airtime was absolutely unreal. We got launched out of our seats and it was far longer than I ever remembered it being before we started pulling out of the drop. Absolutely sublime.
From there, the ride was its usual good self, but something just seemed like it was…missing. I didn’t feel let down in any way. It just wasn’t the earth-shattering, life-altering experience I remembered.
After that, we swung back to Copperhead Strike, where I went for a second lap. Both this lap and the one earlier in the day were in the second car, and if it was that good there, I can only imagine how fantastic it must be at either end of the train. I love moments where a ride that isn’t necessarily my main reason for going to a park ends up leaving me completely surprised. Some of my happiest park memories come from low expectations that get well exceeded.
We grabbed an overpriced lunch at Harmony Hall, and then we decided to jump on Intimidator. My wife had told me beforehand that it was going to be the last ride for her, with me having already told her she probably wouldn’t enjoy the inversion-laden Afterburn and there not really being much else of interest. Intimidator’s line was the shortest after the walk-on first Copperhead lap, with us maybe waiting ten to fifteen minutes. We were ushered to row three in short order (note: Intimidator was the only coaster besides Copperhead Strike that was assigning rows) and sent on our way.
Where Fury had left me feeling like it wasn’t quite what I remembered it to be, Intimidator had no such problems. Perhaps it was the proximity to the front, but it was every bit the legendary favorite it has always been to me, with airtime for days and the fantastic dive-bomber and hammerhead turns. It would turn out to be the only lap I got on it, but it made up for that by being absolutely stellar.
We walked around for a short bit before I went back for a second lap on Fury. The wait was slightly quicker than before, and this time, I was able to make it to the front row.
Where lap one left me feeling somewhat underwhelmed, this was very, very much the opposite. The front row is where all the might and power of this ride is brought to bear, and it delivered in spades. The front half of the ride, being so focused on speed and turns, is best experienced with nothing in front of you but the wind and all the weight of the train essentially pushing you through it. Even the airtime in the second half felt better as I prefer the sensation of getting shoved out of my seat on the front end of a hill as opposed to getting yanked over the back end. Hitting the brakes, I was very well convinced that my adoration of the coaster was not misplaced or overstated.
We then walked over for what would be my final ride of the day: Afterburn. Here the wait was the most painful because the crew was moving at a total snail’s pace. Train two would be parked in the brakes at the end before train one would even start having its restraints checked. I feel like Afterburn’s crew has always been pretty slow compared to others at the park, but it was really rough yesterday. It could’ve been a ten-minute wait even if there was some occasional stacking, but it really dragged at the pace they were going.
I was able to grab the front row on this one as well, and it was its usual, epic self. Afterburn has been among my favorite looping coasters ever, and my second-favorite invert behind the Batman clones, and it has never let me down. It feels a little weird to refer to a B&M invert as a classic, but as looping coasters have continued to evolve and new styles have come into existence, rides like Afterburn have started taking on somewhat of a vintage quality of their own, and it’s impressive that they continue to hold their own. Afterburn is a masterpiece of design. I also got an extra kick of enjoyment out of it because it, along with Intimidator, has been at Carowinds as long as I’ve been going, so it always brings back memories of those earlier visits.
I had hoped for one more lap on Intimidator, but my wife and I wanted to venture into town and get dinner somewhere local before our flight out later in the evening, so we called it quits after Afterburn.
The only ride I really would’ve liked to have ridden that I didn’t was WindSeeker, but it was down all day, so it wasn’t like I just didn’t get around to it.
We left with me feeling a bit less enthused with the park I often swore by, due partly to the limited amount of experiences we took in and the realization that in general, there isn’t much to write home about there beyond the signature coasters. I think I realized that the high level of fondness I once had for it likely stemmed more from serious power-riding than from the general quality of the park itself. It’s still a very fun park to visit and one to which I’m always excited to return, but it was interesting to see how “staying busy” on my past visits had probably colored the lens through which I viewed the park. I’d still recommend the place to anyone, though. The fine citizens of the greater Charlotte area are lucky folks.
13 Boomerang, 9 SLC, and 8 B-TR clones
I have always liked Carowinds since my first visit in 2012 and I've long thought it is an underrated gem in the Cedar Fair portfolio of parks. In the Paramount days I feel like it had a good collection of "really okay" rides, but Cedar Fair has made it a standout park. In 2019 I went in expecting Copperhead to be a sort of intense but still mild and family friendly coaster. Instead it wound up rivaling Maverick during night rides (although now Velocicoaster blows them both out of the water).
I look forward to getting back there sooner than later.
I went in expecting Copperhead to be a sort of intense but still mild and family friendly coaster. Instead it wound up rivaling Maverick during night rides...
Remember when we thought Maverick was gonna be a family friendly ride before it opened? Just shows you can’t judge a book by its cover.
But then again, what do I know?
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