NEDERLANDS // ENGLISH
Some typical American things just don’t exist in Europe. A Walmart and a drive-in pharmacy for example. Or cobra loops, flying snake dives and super-tall B&M Giga Coasters. Although we’ve got some nice theme parks and fun coasters in Europe, the United States always seem to perform bigger and better. Fortunately, there’s a fairly simple solution to this problem: buy some plane tickets and cross the Atlantic.
Nearly every theme park enthusiast is a credit hunter. Me too… Although I often claim that dark rides and entertainment are the most important elements of an amusement park, I love coaster-count and coaster bingos as well. Everybody knows that there are tons of amazing roller coasters at the American East Coast and in 2017, it’s finally time to discover some of them. I bought A Cedar Fair Platinum Pass and I’m planning several USA trips this year. We will visit Canada’s Wonderland and the iconic Cedar Point in late August, but this first road trip will take us from Charlotte to Washington DC. Even on our first day, we will already meet some legendary roller coasters. While arriving at the Carowinds parking lot, I actually notice that I’ve never seen so many B&M tracks at once.
The sky is blue, the sun is shining and most Americans seem to be in church on this Sunday morning. Crowds are very low at this moment. That’s awesome because there are not less than 13 coasters waiting to be ridden. When we arrive about 15 minutes before the official opening time, Carowinds’ main street has already opened. That enables us to make a cool interstate-selfie. Due to the park’s location, it’s possible to put my left foot in South-Carolina and my right foot in North-Carolina while standing at the square at the entrance gates. A little later, promptly at 10 AM, the American anthem is played and Carowinds opens for a day full of thrills.
First impressions are so important. Unfortunately, Carowinds seems to have some problems in the morning. When we arrive at Nighthawk, staff members tell us that the ride is experiencing some technical difficulties. Same story at Intimidator: although guests are queueing up in front of the entrance, this coaster clearly isn’t ready to open. At that exact moment, I see that Fury’s first passengers are lifted to an incredible height. So maybe you could guess which will be our first stop.
Does a coaster like Fury 325 need introduction? I guess not? If you’ve ever seen pictures or videos of this stunning giant, then you’ve probably considered travelling to Carowinds. That’s because this B&M is one of the most enormous roller coasters on the planet. It’s over two kilometres long, the highest point soars an incredible 99 metres above the ground and trains reach speeds of up to 150 km/h. These figures provide a ride experience which is out of this world. No really, I’m serious… whoever designed this beauty should get a trophy. During the first drop, airtime is so intense that I have to rely on my lap restraint for several seconds. The following curves deliver some strong g-forces and it’s smoother than a brand new Mercedes. The turnaround may be the craziest part of the entire ride. That’s because this elegant element – it seems a giant treble clef – creates a strange kind of lateral airtime. And although you may get the impression that Fury 325 used all of its power during this first half, the small hills at the end (their height is still comparable to the highest point of an average European coaster) are filled with forceful airtime as well. While reaching the final brakes, I can only think about one thing: I want to wake up like this every morning. This truly is B&M at its best and Fury 325 makes every other Mega Coaster look lame.
Staff members at Fury 325 work incredibly fast. This coaster’s 3 trains are even dispatched so quickly that queues are rare today. The wait never exceeds 15 minutes and that’s why we would eventually ride it several times. We even get to sit in the front seats once, where I’m faced with some of the most intense roller coaster moments ever. The train is racing at such an incredible speed that it becomes difficult to keep my eyes wide open. The 466 flies I’m hitting probably don’t like that particular ride, but it’s a memorable experience for sure.
Fury 325 is awesome and this coaster immediately shows what Cedar Fair is about: thrills. Most of Cedar Fair’s rides get a stylish looking sign at the entrance, but that’s it. In general, station buildings aren’t decorated and most queue lines are located on a concrete slab. That doesn’t bother me much, but in some cases it’s just sad. Hurler is one of those sad cases: this wooden coaster begins in some kind of ugly looking factory shed and last year’s Halloween decoration has been dumped between the tracks. The actual ride doesn’t convince me either. I must admit that Hurler isn’t as rough as I expected, but this coaster’s lay-out is kind of boring.
Hurler is a typical credit coaster: after we’ve ridden it once, chances are small that we’ll ever ride it again. Carowinds offers quite a few of those credit-coasters. In the direct neigbourhood of Hurler, you will find the standard wild mouse Ricochet and a very painful Arrow Multi-looper called Carolina Cyclone. The latter is nearly identical to Efteling’s Python and I can imagine that those coasters were top notch during the 80’ies. But nowadays they seem unnecessary and on top of that, Carolina Cyclone is considerably rougher than its sibling in the Netherlands. Ouch.
Alright… ‘Carolina Cyclone’ is painful and bumpy. Noted. But that pain is relatively bearable when compared to the torture of Vortex. This is a stand-up coaster and this type is well known for its questionable comfort anyway. It doesn’t feel natural to stand up in a coaster train and the saddle jamming your ehm… private parts is just awful. But Vortex even makes it worse by adding shaky inversions and nasty curves. Do you know what’s the strangest thing about Vortex? The fact that it’s built by B&M, the manufacturer who also built the heavenly Fury 325.
Vortex? Never again. Then I actually prefer the nearby mine train roller coaster Carolina Goldrusher, an oldie which opened in 1973. You can’t expect this coaster to be as good as Disney’s Big Thunder Mountain and it features some typical Arrow imperfections (why do they start banking 20 metres before the actual curve?!). But overall it’s a decent family ride that’s exactly what a thrill minded park like Carowinds needs.
Most parks in the United States open their novelties just in time for Memorial Day at the end of May. That’s why it can be disappointing to plan your visit during Spring Break. However, some parks do their best to open new rides for spring and Carowinds is one of them. The big news for the 2017 season is County Fair. As you’d expect, this area is themed to a local funfair. The bright colors and the waving flags look nice during this summer day, but it’s not that spectacular. Carowinds gave its Boomerang coaster a visual update (the result looks stunning) and they put four simple flat rides next to it. Americans seem to love this area: the lines for a classic Troika-ride and the new Top Scan are pretty long.
People sometimes ask me why I travel to theme parks in the USA while there are tons of parks in Europe. The answer is simple: because American parks offer rides which can’t be found in Europe. Fury 325 is a good example of such a ride, but Nighthawk is quite unique as well. This is a so called Flying Dutchman, the flying roller coaster which was developed by Vekoma. In fact, Nighthawk was the very first of its kind: the ride opened in an amusement park near San Francisco, but it was later moved to Carowinds. Nowadays, three Flying Dutchman coasters are operating in the United States and they are especially well-known for their long queues. The restraints are quite complicated and it takes a while to check them. I read some reviews about Carowinds and I found out that the wait for Nighthawk can take up to two hours. Luckily, Carowinds’ smartphone-application displays a queue of only 35 minutes today.
First of all: is Nighthawk as comfortable as most B&M flying coasters? Unfortunately the answer is no. The fact that you’re tilted backwards is quite unpleasant. Furthermore, this strange position is kept for several minutes in the final brakes because of slow operations. Lying on your back with the sun shining right into your eyes may be nice on a beach, but it’s not cool in a roller coaster. What I do like about Nighthawk is the actual experience of flying, which is at least as good as B&M Flying Coasters. The first turnaround is awesome and the vertical looping offers a strange (but amazing) feeling. The final part of the ride is less interesting: that double corkscrew is rough and it doesn’t add much to the total experience. Overall, Nighthawk is a decent thrill ride, but it wasn’t as breathtaking as I expected it to be.
I’m not a big spender here at Carowinds. That’s because a Belgian friend advised me to buy an all-year dining plan and an all-year drink deal together with my Platinum Pass. The initial cost is quite high, but the result is fun: I only need to show my annual pass for lunch, dinner and soft drinks. I’m having a typical American meal today (a turkey leg with coleslaw) but there are more healthy salad-options as well.
We had lunch at Harmony Hall Marketplace, a huge food court which can be found right next to Intimidator. If I mention Intimidator, you may spontaneously think of Intimidator 305, a well-known roller coaster with heavy g-forces. But except for its name and colour scheme, Carowinds’ version has nothing to do with that famous black-out machine. Here, Intimidator is a 70-metre high B&M Mega Coaster with a length of approximately 1.600 metres. You could consider it as the American version of Silver Star, but it’s smoother and more forceful than its German counterpart. Intimidator creates a good sense of speed and the airtime is fairly intense. Intimidator actually features every element an awesome coaster needs, but there’s one major problem: the fact that it’s standing next to Fury 325. When a park offers two coasters of the same kind, you will automatically compare them. And in this particular case, bigger seems better.
The wait for Intimidator was just 20 minutes and that’s a good deal for such a great coaster. It’s kind of strange to notice that the small roller coasters in a nearby children’s area have longer queues during the afternoon. You’ll find a total of three coaster credits in Planet Snoopy. The smallest of them all is Lucy’s Crabbie Cabbie. I skip this one, but Steven and Nick absolutely want to ride it for their coaster counter. The neighbouring Woodstock Express is more interesting: this small wooden coaster reminds me of Pegasus – may his soul rest in peace – at Efteling. Luckily, this American version is considerably smoother and faster than Efteling’s demolished woodie. Despite the purple painted tracks (what a horrible sight!) I really enjoyed this family coaster. I wish that my opinion about Flying Ace Aerial Chase could be similar. This Vekoma inverted coaster has the looks, but it’s also a quite unpleasant and rough experience.
Carowinds doesn’t only cater to thrill seekers. The park is known for coasters and it offers a good amount of flat rides, but families and children aren’t forgotten. We even encounter two relatively new dark rides today. The funny thing is that they’re both interactive and you need to shoot monsters with a laser gun in both cases. We skip ‘Boo Blasters’ due to limited time, but we do visit Plants vs. Zombies Garden Warfare 3Z Arena (what’s in a name). This attraction reminds me a lot of the Desperado shooting games which I visited at the Belgian Bobbejaanland and Lotte World in South-Korea, but this one is on a bigger scale. The nice thing is that the room is divided in two parts (plants and zombies) and you need to defeat the others. Despite the fact we lost the battle, I really enjoyed this ride. It’s an ideal way to escape the coaster madness for a while.
Coasters? Yes… coasters! In a somewhat abandoned area of the park, we suddenly encounter a huge B&M inverted coaster. Afterburn is bigger than most of its European siblings: it’s 34 metres high and the top speed is 100 km/h. While riding this coaster front seat, we notice that the inversions and the curves are very intense. Especially the batwing – an element which hasn’t been built that often – makes me grey-out for a second. While re-riding Afterburn in the back seats, those heavy g-forces only get more intense. I don’t know if it’s linked to the scorching heat, but this coaster seems to be running faster than it should. I don’t care, but I can imagine that some other visitors find Afterburn a little too forceful. That may be the main reason why the queue remains empty all day long. Exclusive ride time? Yes please.
At about 7 o’clock, we head back to the North-Carolina side of the park. That’s because we want to spend the last hour on re-riding Fury 325. We have been spoiled with low wait times today and that’s not different during dusk. A 10-minute queue to conquer this beast again, that may even seem too good to be true. It makes me realize that I really enjoyed our visit to Carowinds. The weather was beautiful, crowds were low, staff members are generally very friendly and the park offers a good variety of rides. Of course, not every ride is on par with Fury 325 and Afterburn. For example: some of the coasters are only good for my coaster counter and I wouldn’t ride them again next time. Carowinds is a typical American park where quantity is at least as important as quality. There are lots of roller coasters, a ton of kiddie rides and you can empty your wallet at many game stalls. Please don’t expect any top-notch decoration or world class entertainment, but just enjoy a selection of good rides and a fair admission price.
Carowinds is a fine amusement park. I discovered two amazing and one extraordinary roller coaster, but I enjoyed the nice atmosphere as well. Overall, this day at Carowinds was the perfect start of our East Coast road trip. But the best is yet to come. The awesomeness could start tomorrow: after driving through the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, we’ll arrive in the beautiful state of Tennessee. Tell any coaster enthusiast about Tennessee and he/she will automatically think about Dollywood. That’s because Dolly Parton’s theme park is home to some legendary rides and an atmosphere you won’t find at any other park. We bought our tickets many weeks in advance and we’re looking forward to our stay in the town of Pigeon Forge. To be continued.