Carowinds 9/14-9/15: Two Very Different Versions of the Same Park

Monday, September 16, 2013 12:24 AM

September is always a busy travel month for me as I try to squeeze out some of the last glimpses of empty parks before the season's Halloween-themed and massively crowded last hurrah.

This year has resulted in the usual combination of perennial favorites and new discoveries in terms of parks. One of the additions to the usual suspects is Carowinds, first visited by me during an ACE event the year Intimidator opened and one of the final pushes of last year's Year of 100 Roller Coasters tour.

My airline started flying its own metal into CLT a few months ago, and as silly as it sounds, it was a joyous occasion to fly into the airport, a long-desired addition to our route map that, after years of waiting, came with the acquisition of another carrier.

From the airport, I decided to go to the hotel and wait until the park's first set of Saturday operating hours ended in preparation for the opening night of Scarowinds.

A two-mile backup on I-77 just getting into the park gave a sense of foreboding about how the evening might go, and a mob the likes of which I've never seen at any park anywhere just getting into the park itself added to my concern. Once inside the gates, it was packed. I walked by Intimidator to find a lengthy line, which I suspected would be a universal problem. To my great surprise, it was not. I waited maybe three cycles for WindSeeker and perhaps fifteen to twenty minutes for Afterburn.

Those would be my only rides of the evening due to my desire to experience that which cannot be experienced at any other time of year: the haunts. I did not get to them all, but the atmosphere alone was enough to satisfy me, and I had fun just walking around.

I understood almost immediately why the haunt remains separate from the regular hours. One simply cannot make it to every portion of the park without going through the scare zones. Several key midways were the territory of the actors, but they maintained a presence throughout the entire park, making anyone trying to just enjoy the lights and theme work unable to ever have a total sense of safety. Haunt-wise, I tried out two: Corn Stalkers and Fury. Despite seemingly long lines, they moved continuously and the waits were not bad at all.

Overall, I was substantially impressed with the event, but that may be due to my lack of experience with these events (I've only been to the Halloween festivities at three). I rather enjoyed the immersive nature of it all with the nowhere-to-hide atmosphere. I'm pretty sure I was basically on edge for a good three hours straight.

Sunday (today at the time of this writing) was the Carowinds I was used to visiting. Substantially less crowded than the night before, gone were the actors, crowds, and south gate access. In their place was a day of virtual ERT with walk-on or one-train waits for pretty much everything.

Taking a different approach than the credit-whoring of my previous visits (once to bolster my lifetime track record, the other my track record for that year), I went with the intention of sticking to the trifecta of Intimidator, Afterburn, and WindSeeker. I stayed pretty true to plan, but Nighthawk and Vortex were added to the roster.

Nighthawk was not overly fun, it's substantially inclined final brake run essentially torturing the train's captive passengers during some of the world's worst stacking. The later models were wise to add the final helix to help keep people off the brakes.

As for the ride itself, I still prefer any of the B&M flyers to it or any of the three Vekomas. I enjoyed the lie-to-fly maneuvers greatly, but that's the only real redeeming quality of it, or either of the the other two when stacked against their Swiss counterparts.

Vortex, on the other hand, delivered a ride that I'd somehow never experienced on my previous visits. I actually enjoyed the ride, likening it to it's identically-named fellow stand-up in the San Francisco Bay Area, another surprisingly good example of the early years of B&M. The transitions were fun and it was a nice example of how much more creative the Swiss duo could be layout-wise when they wanted to be.

Along those lines, Afterburn was also a wonderful ride to hit up again. Cedar Fair's best invert was as good as ever, delivering Batman-esque intensity through a layout that seemed to exemplify the transition from the mega-inverts to the Talons and Patriots of the next few years.

Intimidator was typical B&M speed coaster greatness with seemingly endless floater airtime and some of my favorite turning climbs and dives. There's not much more to be said of the ride save that for being light on intensity as was common of that speed coaster trio, it was still an absolute blast to ride.

As for the CaroWindSeeker, it was as terrifying as I remembered it to be. I have told friends who have asked me which was the best of the series (as of this writing, I've been on all but the soon-to-be SteelHawk) that the Carowinds version was probably in a tie for being the best with the Cedar Point model. Where Cedar Point's derived its terror from being taller than a ludicrous amount of other exceptionally tall rides, including the unnervingly close Wicked Twister, Carowinds's has earned its fear factor from its position in the center of a park that sits between the arrival/departure paths to/from Charlotte airport's runways, located only a few miles up the road. Because of this location, it was as horrifying as I expected with planes popping up in the distance and shooting by on either side. On my first sunny visit to the park as opposed to the overcast visits of years past, however, the air traffic comprised of departures this time. As aircraft tend to climb at a rate faster during the initial portion of their departures than they descend during their final approaches, there was more of an altitude disparity than there would have been had the arrivals been swooping around from the south and traffic entering and exiting the airport on northbound headings. Even so, I saw one 757-200 on a VERY slow climb-out, but I was on the ground when it shot over.

Ultimately, I had a wonderful time at a park that, for whatever reason, has become one of my absolute favorites. It may not be the most glamorous park, but it sure is a blast to visit.

Last edited by sirloindude, Monday, September 16, 2013 12:24 AM
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Monday, September 16, 2013 5:10 PM

sirloindude said:

making anyone trying to just enjoy the lights and theme work unable to ever have a total sense of safety.

I know what you mean by a sense of safety, those are actual chainsaw murderers on loan from the nearby prison.

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Monday, September 16, 2013 5:23 PM

You know what I meant. ;)

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Monday, September 16, 2013 6:14 PM

I don't know; that sounds kind of scary. I might throw up.

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