The Magazine of South Carolina

Wooden Hills & Twisted Rails

At Paramount's Carowinds, the young and young at heart lose themselves in a zany world.

by Joey Frazier


The first thing you will hear when you walk in the gate at Paramount's Carowinds theme park is the clacking of a wooden roller-coaster climbing that first steep hill, or the whirring roar of a modern coaster racing around twisted steel tracks. If you are looking for thrills and chills, then the 100-acre park on the South Carolina-North Carolina border near Rock Hill is the place to be this summer. Six of the more than 40 attractions available for the one-price-includes-(almost)-everything admission are twisting, turning, looping, racing, dropping, dipping, speeding roller-coasters. It's my kind of place.

Carowinds' original wooden coaster, Thunder Road, is celebrating its 20th year in operation at the park. This year, one of the twin coasters is running backwards for a totally new sensation on the proven crowd pleaser. For traditionalists, the other track still runs forward. Thunder Road is the only twin wooden roller-coaster that crosses a state line.

There are two other wooden roller-coasters to ride, the Hurler and Scooby-Doo's Ghoster Coaster. There also are three steel roller-coasters, the Carolina Goldrusher, the Carolina Cyclone and the Vortex, a dramatic stand-up coaster ride.

The newest attraction in the park is the 174-foot Drop Zone stunt tower. This ride is simplistically crazy. You get into an open car that is lifted 160 feet into the air at a speed of 16 feet per second. Then the car is released for a 100-foot, 56mph free fall. Just 60 feet above the ground, the "fail-safe magnetic braking system" saves you from gravity. The whole ride, up and down, takes less than a minute. The $4 million ride can accommodate up to 700 guests per hour.

But the thrills and fun don't stop with the roller-coasters. There are shows to see, games to play and plenty of food to eat. You can beat the heat on any of the swirling, splashing water rides. All of them will get you wet - some may get you drenched. Some tamer rides both young and old will enjoy are the Carolina Sternwheeler, a three-deck riverboat ride in the center of the park, and the restored 1923 antique carousel located in Animation Station. Besides the great shows provided daily in the park, the 13,000-seat Paladium amphitheatre hosts special performances from big names in show business.

If you tire of the rides and shows, just walk around and enjoy the 30,000 beautiful flowers, the 1,600 light bulbs and the other brilliant colors that decorate Carowinds. Animation Station, designed for visitors less than 54 inches tall, is especially colorful, with huge cartoon props that provide excellent photo opportunities for your scrapbook.

A Carowinds experience is great by yourself, but even better with friends. I went with Darren and Brian Corley, Cathy O'Farrell and of course my ever faithful, patient and enduring wife Michele. The day we went, the lines were long and the weather was hot, then wet - but we had a great time anyway. I rode the thrill rides; Michele ate funnel cakes. We both got wet when it rained. Darren, Cathy and Brian rode and ate and walked and got wet and rested and posed for pictures.

It's a great place to spend a day - maybe two, if you want to ride every ride, see every show and sample all the food. Paramount's Carowinds annually hosts more than 1.7 million guests. It's wonderful anytime, but remember weekends are especially busy, therefore the lines for the major attractions will be longer.

Carowinds is open daily from early June through August and on weekends until October. Regular admission is $30 per person; many restaurants and businesses offer discount coupons; reduced admission for children 4-6 and adults older than 55. Admission includes all the shows except at the Paladium and all the rides except the Xtreme SkyFlyer (a free-fall hang gliding experience). Food and souvenirs cost extra.


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