As a person who has nerded out for amu***t parks and fairs for 15 years, Carowinds has become the park with the largest number of roller coasters anywhere in the world that Ive never before visited. That was until CoasterCon 35 rolled into C***te. It also happens to be a park I knew precious little about I knew Carowinds straddled the border of North and South Carolina, was built in the theme park boom of the 1970s, and had a ton of roller coasters. Aside from that? I basically didnt know what the place looked like, what its centerpiece was, etc.
I knew that Carowinds was part of the Con schedule because it was the only large park near Dollywood. It was part of this event not necessarily because it demanded to be so, but really for no other reason than that it happened to be where it was. They still rolled out the red carpet so far as Cedar Fair goes, but the level of e***ment for this part was muted. Was it a universal ignorance about the place that was causing this?
The drive into C***te from Pigeon Forge is quite an attractive one, with cliffs, mountain vistas, clouds, all that good stuff. After that passes, the road becomes completely interchangeable with any other interstate in America up until the big red roller coaster (Intimidator) appears. Carowinds is very obviously a very flat park, a fact that cant be said enough. It is Michigans Adventure flat, and in some ways represents the ultimate version of Michigans Adventure. Theres water in the middle, rides jutting into or over it, rides around the water, an appreciable lack of shade, etc etc etc.
We arrived a few minutes before lunch and decided to take a moment and go ride Intimidator before joining the crowds at the Picnic Pavillion. Meredith wasnt that e***d about waiting in line, but when we got on the ride within about 5 minutes or so, she was willing to let that pass. Busting out the biggest and most important coaster for myself in the park, we headed over to the free lunch and listened to people warble on and on, a group of which included PR people from the park and its President,*** Kinzels son Bart. Much as was the case with our arrival at Dollywood, we were given lanyards, drink mugs to use in the picnic pavilions, and some other free swag that was, well, free. When lunch was over, I somehow convinced my party to ride Vortex before being told that it was hot to justified a frenzied pace, and that we should just leave and go to our respective hotels
Unlike was the case in Pigeon Forge, we ditched the official Con hotel, citing an incompatibility with Choice Hotels properties. We instead stayed at the Aloft Ballantyne about a 15 minutes drive away in the manufactured Ballantyne district of C***te. Constructed starting in 1996, Ballantyne was nothing more than a grove of trees 20 years ago, and now comprises shopping malls, upscale condos and homes, a golf resort, movie theaters, restaurants, and commercial real estate. To some, it is the epitome of what is wrong with western civilization. For us, it was a place to stay in the form of a fairly new Starwood property that had nice beds and a really cool shower.
We headed back to the park in time for the dinner buffet like the lunch buffet before it, it was an OK spread with some half-assed sides (which were all Meredith could actually eat, being a vegetarian) and a meat main dish that was so so. For lunch, there was smoked chicken and rib roast; immeasurably better entrees than any wed see again. The pulled pork sliders on Thursday night were claimed to be a special Carowinds only recipe. They werent bad, but I didnt think they were particularly special. I wouldnt be surprised if the recipe involved industrial canned meat from Gordon Food Service. Anyhow, we ate what we could for free, and in Merediths case, if it wasnt pleasing, shed get a snack from the Aloft refuel snack area. Rinse, repeat, on both days.
After dinner finished up, we headed out and did some of the ERTs own rides; Boo Blasters on Boo Hill and Windseeker, as well as snatching a ride on the parks flyers and Afterburn. It was for the best Boo Blasters loads slow and built a huge line of ACErs during ERT, and all of the above rides were actually really fun to go on. We filtered back in and met up with the crowd for ERT proper. This gave us time to at least discover the left half of the park. Theres precious few trees. The main entrance way is, honestly, not charming in any way. Theres a pole demarcating the state line, theres a big building which you enter through for your metal detecting and ticket taking fun, but otherwise youve just got some pavers, outdoor stages for shows, ugly buildings, etc etc. Carowinds is a tremendously unremarkable park in most respects.
Intimidator (M#309/A#619): In the never ending battle of B&M Hypers vs. Intamin Hypers for the hearts and minds of coaster fanatics, I guess Im throwing in my hat once and for all with the B&Ms now. I like the Intamin coasters and the forces they generate, but the days of wild ERT sessions with lap bars way up and seat belts loose as a mother***er are dead and gone. Youre gonna get plastered to the seat with that bar, which means that the coaster has to do a lot to give you the sensation of airtime. The tighter to the seat you get, the stronger the airtime has to be for you to sense anything is going on. Its a vicious cycle. For some people, Skyrush is where the design of the lap bars and the need to pin you in the seat while making you feel like the ride is doing something crosses the line into just being uncomfortable and stupid. I dont think Intamin coasters are entirely uncomfortable and stupid but if I grew up riding nothing but shit with buzzbars, Id probably feel that way and be an old grump who doesnt give a *** about those rides too.
B&M hyper coasters have incredible restraints and seats, and most importantly, while the airtime is never extreme, per se, you can actually experience it physically in such a manner that does not result in bruises in your thighs. I dont rank steel anymore because all the Intamin hypers I ever rode felt the same (and Ive been on all the ones that still cycle riders) and nearly all B&M hypers feel the same to me too. Intimidators experience is basically the same as Nitro, Diamondback, Behemoth, Goliath (either, probably), Apollos Chariot, and probably every other one out there that isnt Raging Bull or Silver Star. Do you like Diamondback? Great, because this is in many ways the same ride, and to sit here and say which I like better getting into a discussion about pacing and shit like that is a discussion of minutae I find sorta disgusting and not becoming of what I want to write or think.
All the hills have airtime, and if you have some room in the lapbar (and we all have a little room, lets be real) you end up getting elevated well out of your seat, hovering around enjoying the sensation of zero-g. It doesnt have ball crushing airtime or super positive g-forces that make you grey out, but Im not really interested in having my superpower of babymaking get taken away, nor am I all that stoked about riding something that aspires to give me a subdural hematoma. Its a really good ride, though I wouldnt call it any sort of destination attraction given that, well, most destinations have a coaster very similar to ride already.
Vortex (M#310/A#620): Im down to just one operating stand up coaster in the western world, and then the ones in Asia, and Im done collecting them! Not that Im counting or anything.
Vortex is a B&M standup with a fresh paint job, so it looks really good. It also didnt have more than a 3 train wait, and we got the front row, which means we didnt have a bad ride on it. In fact, I actuallygaspliked it. I guess I like standups in the front row? Im not sure. I think I might have to demand my wife and I ride Mantis at Cedar Point front row and see if thats the trick for us or something. It was about as smooth as any of the others B&M ever built, the layout is not badI thought it was pretty fun, though still an intensive workout on the calves.
Afterburn (M#311/A#621): Once known as Top Gun, this was sorta the centerpiece of Carowinds coaster collection up until Intimidator got built. With the tunnels and batwing element, it got compared quite a bit to Montu back in the day as a sort of Montu-Light. It isnt as well themed as Montu is, and does lack in size a little bit. The intensity isnt Nemesis or anything, but it seems intense enough to me to be pleasurable. I guess the big negative here is the camelback over the lift to get to the far end of the ride and the final flat spin/helix, but I dont think it was any less offensive than Raptors little meaningless stretch before entering the last inversion and helix section.
I need to stop myself before I over-analyze more. Fun ride, doesnt get the attention some think it deserves because, well, it doesnt deserve it. Not as over the top themed as Black Mamba, doesnt have the intense layout of a Batman clone, falls into the Talon-zone of good roller coasters people forget exist.
Nighthawk (M#312/A#622): On April 1st of 2000, Paramounts Great America saw the opening of a new breed of roller coaster. OK, OK, so some crappy park in Manchester, England built one first and promptly shuttered itself and scrapped the ride in the late 1990s. When it really mattered was when the first Vekoma Flying Coaster started getting put together and testing all the way back in 1999. Stealth opened to the public on April Fools Day, promising a new age of roller coaster riding, and early reviews were extremely positive. Like all Vekoma products seem to do, Stealth aged poorly. It always had maintenance issues and the restraint system ...
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