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Paramount made a major change at Carowinds for the ’04 season, and many of the park’s loyal fans have very mixed emotions about it.
The company introduced the Borg Assimilator to Carowinds to increase the coaster lineup. But to make room for it, not only was the beloved paddlewheel steamboat removed, but so was the beautiful river it traveled on and the island it slowly circled.
The steamboat was a symbol of the park. It had been there since the very first opening day. The whole family could ride that steamboat and enjoy the plentiful wildlife inhabiting the river and the island. Even for those who spent most of their day on the thrill rides, the boat provided a moment of calm. The top deck offered photographers great angles for shots of five coasters from a side there was no other access to. And the steamboat
itself was a magnificent photo op, with the river and trees providing quite a background.
Fans might have been somewhat mollified had the boat been parked somewhere and converted to a restaurant, and paddleboats or bumper boats been placed on the river. But to just demolish the boat on site and fill in the river infuriated long time followers. There will be hard feelings over this for at least a decade. Even the best executives make mistakes, and Paramount brass showed great insensitivity on this issue.
It’s not the first time. The $8 parking fee still rankles many. Converting the old South Gate to a Pass Gate exclusively for season pass holders ignores the fact that as the parking lot fills up, customers are forced to park further and further around to the South side, so now instead of just walking in that gate, they have to hike a mile around to the Main Gate. Families with toddlers in tow are not appreciative.
Closing Kiddieland at 9 pm is a reasonable move, since most rugrats are wearing out by then anyway. But placing the gate at such a point that Ghoster Coaster and the Balloons are also closed off is absurd. They are hardly Kiddieland rides, and riding them after dark was one of the park’s great moments.
However, Carowinds is still a great summer experience.
The landscape is maturing to give the park a very pleasant ambience. Of course, the Carolina climate helps; it would be difficult for Kennywood or Cedar Point to match the plant displays given their hostile Winters and shorter growing seasons. Especially welcome is the huge arbor, grown over with a heavy mat of greenery, with misters humidifying the dark inside. On a hot sunny day this provides cool, moist shade with plenty of benches and nooks. More parks should build these long leafy tunnels as transitions from one zone to the next.
Carowinds has also responded to complaints and focused attention on cleanliness.
The game booths are modern and more spacious than most. Outside food franchises, such as Subway, are another popular idea other parks should emulate.
Paramount has invested probably a hundred thousand dollars over the last two years into theming. You can’t turn around without bumping into a life sized cartoon character. Rugrats, Wild Thornberries and the Scooby Doo Gang stand atop buildings, sit on benches and fences, and hang from trees.
As a Coaster Park, Carowinds is surprisingly competitive. Cedar Point bills itself as the Coaster Capital of the World with 14, but two of those are Jr. Gemini and Woodstock Express. Carowinds has 12, one of which is Taxi Jam. So Carowinds really only trails 12-11 in real coasters. If it re-engineered its lineup for smoothness and comfort and added just one more, maybe a hyper, it could claim the same numbers as CP. Certainly its lineup would still not be as spectacular, but that could be addressed over time.
Consider the location here. Carowinds is just off the exit ramp, the only major park in North or South Carolina, down one interstate from Pennsylvania, east on another from Atlanta, and a one day drive from Virginia and Florida.
Carowinds has tremendous space. If its designers took lessons from Kennywood and Indiana Beach, they could double the number of rides without even borrowing from the huge parking lot. A visit here is much less expensive than Cedar Point. The Southern climate allows a much longer season. And there is no mufflehead invasion to annoy visitors.
Carowinds has a great potential which has not begun to be exploited. Paramount knew what it was doing when it added this park to its chain. It should be interesting to watch Carowinds evolve over the coming decade.
Lodging --- At the edge of the parking lot are a Holiday Inn Express, Sleep Inn and Comfort Inn. All include free breakfasts and outdoor pools. You can buy packages for full day but not evening passes.
Food --- Across the street are a Shoney’s, Kentucky Fried Chicken and Cancun, a good Mexican Restaurant. Inside CW the offerings are not competitive with Indiana Beach, Kennywood, or Busch Gardens but are better than Six Flags and similar to other Paramount parks.
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