Take a Spin at Carowinds


An Early Start

Entering Carowinds right as the gates opened was my husband Bill's idea. I complained about getting up early for the drive, but the benefits became apparent very quickly. Bill and his son Craig went straight for the Hurler, one of the closest roller coasters to the front gate, and they were able to ride it three times in a row without even waiting in line. Then they moved to another popular ride — the Cyclone —and again had no wait.

Depending on your traveling companions, you will want to carefully craft your list of "first through the gate" priorities. Craig didn't meet the height requirement for the two newest roller coasters in the park: the Borg Assimilator, which allows riders to fly facedown like a superhero, and the Vortex, a stand-up roller coaster full of loops and drops. I noticed, however, that these two had some pretty long waits by the busy time of the afternoon, so plan accordingly.

Take a break around lunch time and have a picnic. You can come and go through the gates of the park as many times during the day as you want as long as your hand is stamped, and there are plenty of picnic areas with nice shaded tables.

For the Younger Set

Carowinds' Nickelodeon Central has more than 20 attractions, appealing to kids of all ages. The new Dora the Explorer's Azul's Adventure was a hit with my 2-year-old daughter. Sitting comfortably by her mom, she rode the train through Dora's world, encountering familiar sights and sounds from the television show along the way.

There are plenty of other rides in this area for parents with small children, including a beautiful antique carousel and Little Bill's Cruisers, mini speed boats equipped with their own anchor bell. The preteens, who still love to watch Nickelodeon even if they don't admit it, will get their thrills on the Rugrats Runaway Reptar, an inverted roller coaster, and the Rocket Power Air Time, a platform that swings back and forth and finally makes a complete 360-degree rotation.

Of course, plenty of characters are walking around the Nickelodeon area, bringing smiles to all the kids' faces. They're more than willing to pose for a picture or two, and give out lots of free hugs.

Old Favorites, New Fun

For those of you who remember trips to Carowinds as a kid, many of the old favorites are still there and just as exciting as ever. Thunder Road celebrates its 30th birthday this year!

My own personal childhood favorite, the Rip Roarin' Rapids, is still fun. The six-person boats take you through a course that simulates white-water rafting in the mountains. It's a great way to cool off on a hot, humid afternoon.

If you have the time, the newest attractions at Carowinds this year are in Boomerang Bay, the newly renovated water park within the amusement park. Kookaburra Bay is a heated beach lagoon, and Platypus Plunge is a two-person tube water slide.

Live Entertainment

These hot, humid, sunny Carolina days are often broken up by a thunderstorm or two. The good news is Carowinds has plenty of fun and interactive shows to enjoy.

We were lucky enough to slip into line at SpongeBob SquarePants in Deep Sea 3D just as the rain started. The entire family enjoyed this production in which SpongeBob takes you on a tour of his world in search of the ultimate krabby patty. The moving seats and 3D visual effects make you feel like you're really there.

If you're visiting with a younger audience, the new Dora's Sing-a-long Adventure is a lot of fun for little ones as they get to help Dora and Boots find the Big Red Chicken. And the School of Rock — Live in Concert will appeal to fans of Jack Black's recent movie, as well as the classic rock fans who never tire of hearing their favorite music.

Extending Your Time

There is enough to do at Carowinds that you could easily make it more than a day trip. If you choose to do so, the newly renovated Camp Wilderness Resort is a 25-acre campground that recently underwent a multi-million dollar renovation. Now, in addition to its 200 campsites, it includes 15 cabins that have two bedrooms, a bathroom and a kitchenette.

Carowinds is open daily through Aug. 23, and on weekends until Sept. 4. Visit www2.paramountparks.com/Carowinds for schedule and directions.

Hours of operation:
Sunday-Friday: 10 a.m. to 8 p.m. through Aug. 11
Saturdays: 10 a.m. to 10 p.m.
Sunday-Friday, Aug. 14-23: 10 a.m.-6 p.m.

Adults (7-54) $49.99; kids 3-6 $31.99 (Check online, at Harris Teeter and Bojangles, for discounts and coupons.)
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