Visiting Carowinds amusement park in NC? Read our guide (updated for 2023)
People who live in the Carolinas know that Carowinds is an awesome amusement park in NC — AND SC! Yes, Carowinds amusement park straddles the state line, half in one and half in the other.
It’s got loads of coasters, Planet Snoopy for the kids, and even Carolina Harbor — an amazing waterpark — included with the price of admission.
Carowinds amusement park in NC added a whole new section this year, Aeronautica Landing at Carowinds. This immersive aviation-themed area, offers two culinary experiences and five new rides as well as a re-theming of an existing ride, for a total of six rides, all celebrating the Carolinas’ proud aviation history.
Carowinds is such a unique amusement park in NC — starting with the fact that it extends into South Carolina. The park has long celebrated the local culture, with nods to the Carolina coast, NASCAR and now, aviation.
We have had annual passes and made many visits to Carowinds. We hope this guide to the Carowinds amusement park in NC and SC will be helpful as you plan your trip to the park.
What is Aeronautica Landing at Carowinds?
Let’s start with Carowinds’ new rides for 2023 at Aeronautica Landing.
Aeronautica Landing, located on approximately three acres, is the newest rethemed area to be introduced at Carowinds following Blue Ridge Junction (2019) and County Fair (2017). Each area has strong theming from rides to food venues to entertainment and activities.
A tribute to the Carolinas’ spirit of invention, exploration, and aviation, Aeronautica Landing gives pilots of all ages the chance to “soar.”
Aeronautica Landing at Carowinds was designed to celebrate the influence of the Carolinas on aviation history. The rides celebrate thrills related to the experience of flight.
Aeronautica Landing at Carowinds include several rides:
- Aspiring hovercraft pilots can learn the ropes and maybe bump into a friend at Hover and Dodge, a re-theming of a classic attraction.
- Gear Spin is a red-hot propulsion engine outfitted for speeding and spinning adventures.
- Gyro Force (opening late spring) will test riders’ tolerance for G-forces.
- The Airwalker lets riders experience the adrenaline rush of airborne acrobatics.
- Air Racers challenges riders to rock and roll through obstacles.
- And finally Windstar, opening later this spring, is a choose-your-own hang-gliding adventure.
Beyond the rides, Carowinds amusement park in NC is introducing Terminal A, an eating establishment reminiscent of the golden age of air travel, and Frequent Fryers, a reimagined dining location, and new games in the area. The design focus is for the whole family to enjoy together.
The area is sure to be popular with families who want to enjoy the park together — on rides everyone can enjoy.
What about adrenaline junkies at Carowinds amusement park?
In our family, there are two types of people: adrenaline junkie coaster riders, and those who are shamed for not riding coasters with abandon. I fall into that latter category — and willingly hold bags without embarrassment.
That’s not to say I don’t ride now and then. I enjoy Fury 325 once a year, and really like the Intimidator a lot.
Here’s a list of the best roller coasters at Carowinds — and I encourage you to try at least one!
- Fury 325. We just call it “Fury,” but Fury 325 packs a wallop with a height of 325 feet and speeds up to 95 mph. A giga coaster, this giant sprawls along the edge of the park even crossing state lines! YEP! One ride in two states. How cool is that? I scored major mom points by riding it twice!
- Afterburn Roller Coaster. This coaster gives a nod to the military history in the Carolinas. This hanging coaster takes riders through six inversions, including an Immelmann, which is an actual maneuver fighter pilots use. I am terrified of suspended coasters, but found this to be an incredibly smooth ride, almost enjoying the sense of zero gravity! Ellie loved the spins, spirals, drops and loop.
- Intimidator. In another nod to Carolina culture, the Intimidator is named after famed NASCAR driver, Dale Earnhardt. The ride lasts 3.55 minutes with seven extreme drops and speeds up to 80 mph. After the ride, take a photo in front of a replica #3 Monte Carlo!
- Vortex. So, I chickened out on this one, but Ellie rode it. Twice! Vortex is the first stand up coaster in the south. It takes guests up a 90 foot lift hill before launching them into a curved drop, followed by loops and spins — all while standing. Ellie says it’s not nearly as intimidating as it seems.
- Copperhead Strike: Brand new in 2019, Ellie rode twice! I chickened out. The back story is cute, tying in to the long history of homemade jams you might taste at the state fair, but giving a nod to the very real threat of copperheads who are prevalent in the Carolinas. Like its namesake, Copperhead Strike packs quite a bite, launching from 0 to 42 mph in just 2.5 seconds. Midway through the twists and turns, you launch again, making this coaster a thrill from start to finish. Ellie thought it was “really fun!”
As to the other coasters at the park, Ellie says they’re good, but not something you’ll miss if you have limited time. These five roller coasters are the very best at the park. She does give “honorable mention” to Nighthawk Roller Coaster, which is different because riders start out lying on their backs to climb the hill, then flip to face down before soaring through the ride.
Other roller coasters, which we usually skip because they aren’t the big five, are: The Flying Cobras which goes backwards (no thanks), Carolina Cyclone (a bit jerky and hard on the neck), Carolina Goldrusher (the oldest coaster at Carowinds — and tough on my old bones), and Ricochet (think the mouse).
Ride heights for Coaster Fans
For the most current information, check ride height requirements on the Carowinds website or app. A handy tip, though, is to have your child’s height check just after arriving at the park. Park attendants will provide a wrist band saving you a bit of time.
Park attendants sometimes double check height at the rides. Safety is important!
Most Carowinds roller coasters have a minimum height of 54″ including Afterburn Roller Coaster, Fury 324, Intimidator Roller Coaster, Nighthawk Roller Coaster, Ricochet and Vortex. The brand new Copperhead Strike Roller Coaster “only” requires riders to be 52″ tall.
Other coasters, which are a bit more tame, have shorter height requirements. Guests at least 48″ tall can ride Carolina Cyclone, Carolina Goldrusher, Hurler and the Flying Cobras. Woodstock Express and Wilderness Run in Camp Snoopy are geared for younger guests.
Which other rides at Carowinds are popular?
We admit to liking roller coasters — especially Ellie. A lot.
We made a trip to Ohio just to ride the coasters at Kings Island and Cedar Point, sister parks to Carowinds amusement park in NC.
But, there are many other rides at Carowinds.
Classics like Dodg’ems, the Carousel and Scrambler usually have short, if any, wait times. They offer a breather between coasters! They’re nostalgic, but still quite fun! One of the fun things about the carousel is all the horses have names. We found “Robert,” so even if my hubby couldn’t be there for real, he was there in spirit!
Do you need Fast Lane Passes at Carowinds amusement park in NC?
The good thing about Fast Lane Passes let you save time by using an express line. But, fast lane passes can be pricey — even more than the cost of a Carowinds amusement park admission ticket!
Answering the question, “do I need fast lane passes?” really comes down to personal preference.
Here are some guidelines that might help when planning your Carowinds amusement park visit:
- If visiting on a weekday that is not a holiday (especially Tuesday, Wednesday or Thursday), you probably don’t need Fast Lane Passes. We went on Wednesday, June 19. It was hot (90 degrees) and cloudy (40% chance of rain). We waited no more than 5 minutes for any roller coaster, and usually walked right on to the next ride. We rode all the coasters, some twice, and saw everything we wanted to see in about 7 hours. Easy.
- If visiting on a rainy/overcast day, you probably don’t need Fast Lane Passes. People don’t go to theme parks when it’s raining, so if that’s the day you decide to go, you’ll have the place to yourself. Or close to it. Of course, you have to wait for the rain to stop to enjoy some of the rides. In the Carolinas, it rarely rains all day during the summer. You’ll probably enjoy the park while others miss out.
- If visiting before the last week of June or after the second week of August, you probably don’t need Fast Lane Passes. Early and late season, the parks are less crowded because many kids are still in school. That means smaller crowds and no need for Fast Lane Passes to see and do it all.
- You might consider Fast Lane Passes for the following times (though I think it’s a decision you can make that day):
- Fourth of July holiday weekend,
- Weekends in July generally,
- Special event weekends,
- If you have only part of a day to see and do it all.
What rides does Carowinds amusement park in NC have for preschoolers?
Camp Snoopy is a themed area at Carowinds just for the younger crowd. And, there’s an amazing playground tucked away in a relatively quiet corner of the park!
FCamp Snoopy at Carowinds amusement park in NC has child sized rides just for little guests, and is also a great place to find shaded areas to relax, first aid, a room for nursing parents, and more.
Ellie and I both thought the playground was amazing! It’s quite large, offers an abundance of shade and is fenced in. It allows kids the chance to run and play without all the restrictions of rides.
For young ones, some unstructured free time during the day can make all the difference in how much and how long they might enjoy the park. For parents and grandparents, the playground is a great place to entertain little ones while friends and family ride coasters.
How much is admission to Carolina Harbor?
Carolina Harbor Waterpark, which honors the beautiful Carolina coast with its beachy theme, is included with the price of admission to Carowinds!
Enjoy water slides, two wave pools, a lazy river and a 3-acre kids’ area and beat the warm, Carolina heat!
You must have appropriate swimwear to enjoy the attractions in the water park.
We also recommend you wear water shoes (not to wear on the rides), because the ground gets really hot and can be slippery.
Read our full review of Carolina Harbor — with pro tips from annual passholders
Tips for visiting Carolina Harbor:
- Life jackets are available free of charge for anyone to use at Carolina Harbor,
- You cannot use inflatables or other toys at Carolina Harbor,
- Swim masks and snorkels are not allowed at Carolina Harbor,
- Use sunscreen!
- Bring towels as they are not provided by the park,
- Inner tubes are provided for rides that require them. You can rent tubes for the wave pool.
What are the best hotels near Carowinds?
There are some great hotels near Carowinds amusement park in NC and in SC. In fact, most close by hotels are near Carowinds in Fort Mill.
Click here for a list of the best hotels near Carowinds with amenities and prices laid out so you can pick the one best for you.
Special events at Carowinds
Throughout the year, Carowinds offers a number of special events. These events include special entertainment, unique food offerings and fun theming throughout the park.
Grand Carnivale runs from late June to mid July. This larger-than-life global celebration will feature high-energy live music, international food, games and crafts. The nighttime Spectacle of Color Parade will feature street performers, lavish floats and live music, ending with an incredible street party (and probably a few beads!).
SCarowinds, a spooky Halloween event with special entertainment and haunted mazes runs from mid September through the end of October. In 2022, SCarowinds policy required that teens be accompanied by an adult — so check the requirements before you make plans!
The Great Pumpkin Fest, a family friendly Halloween event, is offered during daylight hours on weekends in September and October. No spooks. All fun!
Winterfest, which runs from late November through January 1, is probably our family’s favorite time at the park. We went for the first time last year, and our daughter (age 18) asked if we could make it an annual event. When the weather is warm enough — usually above 45 degrees — some of the roller coasters are running. There’s something magical about seeing thousands of holiday lights twinkling in the trees below as you soar through the hills and loops of a coaster. The whole place is magical!
How can I save on my trip to Carowinds?
There are many ways to save on your Carowinds amusement park in NC trip, including purchasing Carowinds dining plans and shopping around for Carowinds discounts. Here’s a guide to some of the easiest ways to save — and tips to use them:
- Carowinds Dining Plans — Dining at Carowinds is expensive! Ellie and I got an 8 piece chicken nugget snack at Chik-fil-A in the park, and it cost $7.19. To save on dining at the park, get a Carowinds meal plan. There are several meal plans to choose from:
- The single meal deal, which costs $15.99 + tax for 2023, includes an entree, side and soft drink. This plan is only available through advance purchase online. It’s a great option if you know you’ll only be at the park over one meal time. Go after breakfast and leave before supper. It’s also a great option if you know you like to snack. Get the meal plan and enjoy one full meal during the day, then enjoy things like ice cream, popcorn and funnel cake the rest of the day.
- The Carowinds all day dining plan, which costs $31.99 + tax and fees, is a great deal for those who want to spend a full day at the park and try all the food. This dining plan includes unlimited meals (an entree and a side), you just need to wait 90 minutes between meals, all day long. The all day dining plan does NOT include a beverage or dessert, is good only at participating locations and can only be used through October 27 at Carowinds and Carolina Harbor.
- The premium dining plan is new in 2023, and costs $42.99. It includes the all day dining plan, an entree and side every 90 minutes as well as the drink wristband which lets you enjoy sodas every 15 minutes all day long and also includes an expanded snack menu option instead of a meal.
- If you want soda (aka pop or coke), consider a souvenir bottle or drink wristband, $16.99 + tax, to enjoy soda all day long. Refills are free the day of purchase/first day of use, and refills are only $1 each the rest of the summer. There is a 15 minute wait between refills. Since sodas, tea and lemonade are $4.00 each, this is a great money saver for soda guzzlers!
- Season pass savings — If you plan to visit the park for three days or more, a season pass might be the best value. Some season passes include free parking and discounts on food, which only adds to the value! Visit the Carowinds season pass page to learn more. It’s definitely a great way to save!
- Save with Groupon — Carowinds discounts are regularly offered on Groupon, which is a great way to save on admission. If you’re new to Groupon, search Charlotte or Carowinds to find local deals.
There are many more ways to save at Carowinds, as well:
If you don’t have free parking included with a season pass, Carowinds hotel packages or an all-inclusive park ticket, pre-pay for parking at Carowinds online and save a few dollars. Regular parking at Carowinds costs $20/day for each vehicle, but when you purchase in advance — you must specify date of use — you save $4 (or the cost of one soda)!
So, shop around and compare deals to find the best one for you.
One last tip from Ellie!
Ellie has one last tip for musical people who visit Carowinds (she made her first trip with band for a competition), “When you’re leaving the park, look for the treble clef that Fury 325 makes. It’s awesome!”