Cedar Fair announced plans for a multi-year $50 million investment of Charlotte, NC park Carowinds that will include new rides, restaurants, and infrastructure upgrades. While Carowinds already boasts 13 roller coasters, we may start seeing what was meant by the “Cedar Point of the South” statement mentioned at an enthusiast event years ago.

Here’s a statement from Cedar Fair’s press release:

“Over the next three years we intend to make several significant investments in both the amusement and water park areas, including new rides and attractions, new and upgraded food locations, and general infrastructure improvements. We plan to expand the capacity of Carowinds in all areas to appropriately serve its market and provide our guests with a ‘Best Day of Summer’ experience each and every time they visit our park.” – Cedar Fair Press Release

While I didn’t expect this news, it does align with a comment from a Carowinds employee about Cedar Fair identifying Charlotte as a “growth market” at the Carolina Cobra Media Day. As we can see here, “growth market” can equate to plans for large future investments. That comment came before Intimidator, so I was thinking that the 2010 roller coaster was what was meant, but it looks like that ride was just the only thing in store.

It looks like my move to the area was good for both my day job and my hobby. Since I moved to the Queen City in 2007, I’ve seen: expansion of Boomerang Bay (2008), Carolina Cobra (2009), a 232-foot tall hyper coaster in Intimidator (2010), Snoopy Starlight Spectacular (2011), Windseeker (2012), and Dinosaurs Alive! (2013).

Infrastructure Possibilities

Speculation is at a fever pitch as it’s not every day that amusement park operators announce multi-year investments and use words like “expand the capacity”. I’ll give a general sense of the infrastructure ideas that are floating around on CarowindsConnection and on Screamscape:
A new main gate and expanded entrance area, expansion of the water park, the moving or shifting of the parking lot, closure or re-purposing of the South Gate (where Afterburn is located), using the existing parking lot for expansion, and even tearing down the Paladium amphitheater to make room for expansion.

Intimidator at Carowinds - Aerial View

There have been survey markers around the front entrance/parking lot area this summer. So, we may see the new main gate first, but that’s just a guess. The area just past the main gate is pretty small and cramped. I like the idea of a dedicated water park entrance and I also like the idea of turning the South Gate into the main gate after some upgrades and expansion of it. You’d have Intimidator roaring by nearby and you’d get to walk over Afterburn’s buried batwing inversion. It’s no Gatekeeper, but still a cool way to welcome you into the park (although a bit uphill).

New Rides and Roller Coasters at Carowinds

The investment announcement doesn’t speak specifically about any new rides, but this comment has enthusiasts very curious:

The continued growth in the Charlotte market presents a unique opportunity for our Carowinds amusement park, which we believe is ready for record-breaking attractions,” said Richard Zimmerman, Cedar Fair’s Chief Operating Officer. – Cedar Fair Press Release

“Record-breaking” sounds encouraging, but while our minds may think “roller coaster”, this could mean almost any kind of attraction. A rumor Lance describes as “wild” involves a wing coaster for 2015. Could Cedar Fair be planning on literally building another wing coaster-new main gate experience as they did for Cedar Point?

A launched roller coaster makes sense as it’s one of the few roller coaster types we’re missing. After a launch coaster, my top choice would actually be a water roller coaster. They aren’t very common and would be much appreciated in this hot climate. Enthusiasts have been asking for more flat rides for years too. I like the idea that I read on Carowinds Connection about the mega disk-o shaped like a tire in the field next to NASCAR-themed Intimidator.

Carowinds: “The Cedar Point of the South”?

Finally, while I haven’t found an exact quote, here’s a discussion about the “Cedar Point of the South” comment that’s been making the rounds for years on CoasterBuzz.

Obviously, I don’t think Carowinds will become magically become Cedar Point in 2016, but the coming years may bring Cedar Fair’s attempts to have a major regional theme park in an area where many Americans have been and continue to migrate. Also, in 2011, Cedar Fair purchased 61 acres adjacent to Carowinds and there have been rumors of a possible resort for years.

What’s your take? What would like to see at Carowinds? What does the park need most? Here’s the full coaster lineup at RCDB. And here’s the Carowinds’ wikipedia page for a quick rundown of all of its attractions.

About The Author

Founder of CoasterCritic.com. My favorite coasters are B&M hypers and gigas. I'm also a huge fan of terrain roller coasters.

13 Responses

  1. The Coaster Guy

    Wouldn’t a new wing coaster/main gate combo combined with a parking lot reconfiguration pretty much suck up the lion’s share of $50M?

    Carowinds is high on my list of parks to visit. I was planning on trying to hit it within the next two years, but now I’m wondering if I shouldn’t wait an extra year or two. I love reading about these types of investments. It tells me that the industry is alive and well and that we’ll have lots of fun new experiences for years to come.

    • Joel Bullock

      Good point about the cost. But there does appear to be a range for these coasters. From some quick googling it looks like GateKeeper costs $30 million, while X-Flight was only $15 million. I’d have no clue how much a new main gate would cost, but from the hints being dropped by park reps, that’s almost a certainty.

      If I were in your same boat, I’d probably wait the year or two. I don’t get to travel long distance often and I’d want to make the trip fully worth it. And I’m only saying that because you’re in California and one of your main reasons for visiting would be the large attractions/roller coasters. Locals and those interested in the entire park should come every year!

  2. SolarPlexus

    Yeah…Cedar Point of the South has a nice ring to it. ESPECIALLY since Carowinds is like 20 minutes from my house! It would be interesting to see Cedar Fair try to push Carowinds in its original direction. Carowinds was supposed to be a Walk Disney World type of place with lots of shopping and resorts and stuff like that. (I remember the Monorail!!) I do remembe rthe theming of Carowinds to be much stronger before Paramount bought it than now.

  3. lilyruby

    This is a really long post, but I’ve been thinking about it a lot and here’s my chance to get it out there. 🙂

    A thrilling and high-quality flat ride makes sense. I love those giant swing things, they scare me more than coasters at this point!! While I’m trying not to get too excited about the coaster angle, I can’t help imagining what kind of coaster could go in next. In addition to the plausible (and pleasing) launch, wing and water coaster ideas, I need to put my bid in for a world-class woodie.

    I just rode Voyage and Outlaw Run for the first time this summer, both of which were amazing. I love Thunderhead at Dollywood and Beast at King’s Island, and El Toro remains my all-time favorite coaster after close to 100. Overall, I actually prefer an awesome steel coaster, but that’s probably just because so many wooden coasters are rough or just plain lame. I’m an airtime junkie & am fairly neutral on inversions but I hate roughness, so I’m really partial to rides like Voyage, El Toro and the B&M hypers.

    Anyhow…I live fairly close to most of the major southeastern parks (not including FL). Carowinds (my home park) and Dollywood are about equidistant for me, and King’s Dominion & Busch Gardens Williamsburg are close enough for a long weekend trip….and the only really good wooden coaster in the bunch is Thunderhead. So to me, a really outstanding wooden coaster would be a smart move. (Though that may just be my personal wishful thinking…)

    I love launch coasters almost as much as I love airtime machines–but sister park King’s Dominion has three, so maybe that wouldn’t be the most profitable choice for Carowinds? One of the reasons I love going to King’s Dominion is to get my launch fix.

    And how does Dollywood’s new launch coaster figure into this equation? After they add that one, they will have a diverse line-up of five high quality coasters (I have to assume the new one will be up to the level the others are)…top notch woodie, terrain sit down steel looper, amazingly themed Gerstlauer Euro-Fighter and a wing coaster. (Sadly, in its treeless and fairly urban setting, one thing Carowinds will never have is a terrain-type coaster. But I digress.)

    I don’t know which strategy is more profitable for theme parks sharing the same geographical area–getting something totally unique, or adding something that competes directly with what another one has. I have no doubt that what drives every investment decision theme park corporations make is maximizing profits. Either way, though, I think coaster and theme park fans reap the benefits when theme park competitions escalate!

    My (somewhat selfish) hope is that part of this huge investment WILL be some kind of coaster–any kind, really, as long as it is high-quality and has great re-ride potential. At this point, when I go to Carowinds (several times a year), all I do is go from Intimidator to the fliers to Afterburn, with an occasional foray to Goldrusher. Yes, there are a large number of coasters there, but truth is, for coaster fans, there is a lack of true QUALITY in my opinion. A park that has at least three great coasters is a park worth going to over & over for coaster fans who prefer quality to quantity.
    My two cents.

    • Joel Bullock

      Great analysis lilyruby. While I’m sure the other major rides in the larger region have some effect on choices, I’d have to imagine that there first focus is on what will catch the attention of people in this market. I think the wing, water, and launch coasters will all do that. I can’t think too many would be disinterested by a launch coaster because Kings Dominion is the launch capital. I have to remind myself that we (theme park fans) know the country’s coaster landscape, but the average guest either has no idea, or maybe a vague concept.

      Good points about woodies too. There’s quite a bit of steel already at Carowinds. The park’s tied with Alton Towers for 5th most inversions in the World! I wouldn’t mind an awesome woodie, I’d just be surprised as the attention garnered by the general public would be smaller in my opinion. Again, great comment!

  4. Eric

    I don’t know if Cedar Fair could be looking to go the same route as Six Flags in transforming wood coasters into RMC hybrid coasters. Carowinds has 3 wood coasters… Thunder Road twin racing coaster… Hurler out and back coaster… and Woodstock Express family/kiddie coaster. I could see either Thunder Road or Hurler getting RMC hybrid transformation (via the iron horse re-track).

    My assumption is that Cedar Point would likely be first to give one of its existing wood coasters the RMC transformation, before any existing wood coasters at other Cedar Fair owned parks would get a similar transformation… especially with Cedar Point being Cedar Fair’s flagship park. Don’t know if Gemini would count as a hybrid coaster or not… Blue Streak and Mean Streak are Cedar Point’s existing all-wood coasters.

    I could picture Carowinds possibly getting another new steel coaster… either in the form of Gerstlauer (euro-fighter or spinning) coaster, Premier Rides launch coaster, or B&M wing coaster… something that could make the park stand out.

  5. Thacrrigler

    About the part of record breaking attractions I’m not sure I would count on that being roller coasters as Cedar Fair is done with Intamin and they are the limit pushers. I think what the park could use the most is an Intamin Blitz Coaster like Maverick as they have nothing like that, and maverick is my third favorite coaster. But alas, they are done with Intamin. I could see a wing coaster going there soon after Gatekeeper’s buzz dies down.

  6. Mike M.

    I think one of Carowinds’ woodies should be refurbed. I skipped Hurler due to the bad reviews, and my ride on Thunder Road was pretty rough. I think Thunder Road has the most potential out of the two. Not saying it should get an Iron Horse-style remake, but maybe a retracking and designing some unique elements into it (high-five between North & South Carolina????). Other than that, I agree with what others said about adding a launch coaster.

    • Joel Bullock

      They’ve been re-tracking Thunder Road for years and if I’m not mistaken, this is the first year that it has been completely re-tracked. A high-five element would be awesome indeed. Someone needs to come along and spice up these old racing woodies somehow. But I doubt Carowinds will do anything to Thunder Road other than the rumor that it might get painted all white.

  7. ethan

    I rode Thunder Road last year and it was bumpy as heck. This year I rode it and it was the smoothest wooden coaster I had ever been on. They really did re-track it. Now my idea on expansion is to take out the grand prix raceway and pave over the intimidator field. It just makes so much sense with the racing theme. Intimidator would have its own little section along with the kiosk and victory lane. Next, since I doubt they would do an Iron Horse treatment to Hurler. I would take that out. It’s too bumpy and gives me a head ache. Once you’ve done those to things, BOOM you have room to expand.

  8. ethan

    I’d like to see a zac spin coaster at the park. I didn’t look up the price yet for the coaster, but it is good for these reasons:

    1. Since your feet are dangling, you get the feel of an inverted coaster. A good choice for riders who are quite yet tall enough for Afterburn but want to ride inverted coasters.

    2. For Winged Coaster fans, you are on the outside of the rollercoaster giving you the winged coaster feel.

    3. For people who want to get their 4D fix and live in the south, this is the perfect ride.

    4. This ride doesn’t take up as much room as something like Intimidator, Afterburn or Nighthawk, but about the size of the Carolina Cobra.

    I hope Carowinds considers this ride for the future as it would be a very good addition and fit in nicely to the park.

  9. Michael Chapman

    Well if they did create a resort it would about complete the dream of many of us who walked through the gates the first day. The original owners had big dreams that unfortunately didn’t have big money. I have always been proud of Carowinds as I grew up going when I could. I’m very proud to see that someday it may become the Mega amusement park we always hoped it would become.

  10. Bryan

    I wish they’d bring back the steam train and the North and south theme that the original park had. It was very much like Cedar point in it’s early days.


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