That’s right, I said Themed Amusement Park, because that’s how they describe themselves. Most similar venues fall into one of two categories – amusement parks, which are often just large collections of games, rides and things to do, and theme parks, typically owned be large media companies, such as Disney or Universal, and can therefore be more practically integrated with the properties that are a part of those companies. Sure, they can have big rides, too, but instead of just roller coasters and thrill rides, they are often themed to coincide with a movie release or even a famous character from the stable of years gone by.
Carowinds is actually something of a crossover (hence the name), in that until recently it was owned by Paramount, which mean that there was a good deal of theming going on. Not on the scale of Disney parks, mind you, but a decent amount, nonetheless. That all changed in early 2006, when it was announced that none other than Cedar Fair Entertainment had acquired Carowinds (and all of the Paramount Parks), meaning that changes were definitely afoot. Still, nothing really changed for the 2006 operating season, and even through 2007, only the Cedar Fair logo was added. But in 2008, changes definitely started showing.
What’s in a Name?
The first, and largest, change was that the entire water park area was revamped and renamed with an Australian theme, and the addition of a second wave pool and a third pool for smaller children, without the wave pool element. Other than that, there really isn’t much to report that changed, other than the renaming of a couple of the more popular rides. Perhaps the most popular ride, Top Gun, has been renamed to Afterburner (which is surely a bit of a worse name), and if Top Gun isn’t your favorite, then it’s likely that The Borg might be – it was renamed too, to Nighthawk. The only other renaming I could find was the Drop Zone, which changed to Drop Tower, not nearly as dramatic!
Why the change? Presumably because of licensing deals: Paramount probably wanted too much to keep those in place. But others stayed – the Rugrats and other Nickelodeon characters, most of which are kid-oriented, are still in full force around the park. Scooby Doo is still there, and the Carolina-named rides (Carolina Cyclone, Carolina Goldrusher, and Thunder Road) haven’t changed either. Lots of other names haven’t changed, but don’t have any particular reasoning for it that I can see. In general you probably aren’t likely to see much change unless you’re going to The Borg or Top Gun, so I wouldn’t worry much over naming.
Season Pass Changes
Cedar Fair also brought some nice changes with their first full year in operation, continuing the free parking that had been in effect with prior season pass years, but they did change things up a bit. Rather than the season pass holder parking lot near the South gate, they appear to have moved this section up near the North Gate, but the free parking offer still stands, even if you buy your pass now – plus you get free admission to Scarowinds later this season. That’s a nice benefit that was never offered before, and it makes the deal better than ever.
If you happen to buy your pass online, you can still get in, and even get into parking, even if you don’t have your pass yet – just take your receipt (that you can print from your computer) and the person at the parking entrance will scan it for you, as will the person at the entrance you choose to use. Then go to the season pass processing center. They’ll take your picture, just like always, except now you no longer have to wait for them to print your pass with a picture on it (what always used to hold them up). As soon as your picture is in, they are done and you’re on your way. Very quick and easy!
Now for the Park Itself
We visited twice – late one Friday afternoon and then again on a Saturday morning.
The Friday afternoon gave us time to get our season passes processed, and then ride a single ride (Rip Roarin’ Rapids). Things went smoothly, but the place was absolutely packed. Luckily, most were leaving as we were coming in. The line for RRR was reconfigured a bit – I guess they figure with a ride as old as this one, the lines won’t be as long. We’ll see. I’ve always found this line to be one of the longer ones. The ride itself is pretty standard, and some get wet, while others don’t. But it moves fairly well, and is seeing some signs of age, with the false rock walls falling apart in places.
Saturday morning we decided that we’d go for the new water park, which was a good choice because of overcast skies. Everyone stayed home. Unfortunately they were the smart ones. The wind moved in and it was rather chilly. So we were able to test out the Great Barrier Reef (the old wave pool, renamed), which was rather dirty, and the Awesome Aussie Twisters – nice, quick waterslides, which were nice because no one was on them. Then we tried out a handful of rides before anyone came in – Scooby Doo’s Haunted Mansion, Carolina Goldrusher, Scream Weaver, Drop Tower, and Carolina Cyclone.
All of them went well, mostly because A: We were there early and B: People weren’t interested in a lot of those rides. The only one that ended up with any of a line was the Haunted Mansion, and the shame there is that the guns seem to be getting some age on them, because it was tough to get any shots to hit – it used to be that you could rack up a decent score, but even pointing the gun directly at the target, only a few inches away wouldn’t register any longer. It seems like some maintenance is needed. Badly.
All-in-all, I’d say that the Cedar Fair acquisition is a good one, and won’t cause any disruptions. Frankly I’m looking forward to the no-extra-cost Scarowinds in the fall. But more than anything else, I’m hoping it brings some extra thrill rides in the future, since that’s the real calling card of Cedar Fair. We’ll have to see if that works out!