Fact Friday 376 - Carowinds - The Entertainment "Bridge" of the Carolinas
This week's Fact Friday comes to you from Wikipedia, with additional content added.
Carowinds was announced on October 10, 1969, and originally planned on being a large resort which would include a theme park, hotels, a shopping center, a golf course, and an NFL stadium. The name Carowinds was conceived from the park's original theme of the history and culture of the Carolinas, and is a portmanteau of Carolina and winds, in reference to the winds that blow across the two states. Ground was broken on May 1, 1970, with a planned opening date in April 1972. After numerous construction delays due to weather, the park eventually opened on March 31, 1973, under the ownership of the Carowinds Corporation, a consortium of local investors headed by Hall. The first season brought in over 1.2 million visitors, but attendance at Carowinds was curtailed by the 1973 oil crisis, and plans for the proposed resort were put on hold. Sagging attendance and mounting debt forced Carowinds Corporation to merge with Taft Broadcasting in early 1975.
Taft Broadcasting and KECO Era (1975-1992)
Taft originally ran the park through Family Leisure Centers, a joint venture between Taft and Top Value Enterprises. It was later transferred to a wholly-owned Taft subsidiary, Kings Entertainment Company. Taft Broadcasting brought new life to the park with its Hanna-Barbera characters and several rides aimed to appeal to younger guests. Carowinds added its second roller coaster, and first wooden coaster, with the addition of Scooby-Doo in 1975. The Wagon Wheel and The Waltzer flat rides were also added to the park. A small carousel was added to the Carolina Crossroads area. In 1976, Carowinds opened Thunder Road, a Philadelphia Toboggan Coasters racing wooden coaster designed by Curtis D. Summers. It was the largest and most expensive ride built in Carowinds' short three years of existence, at a cost of $1.6 million. The trains were relocated from the defunct Jetstream roller coaster at Chicago's Riverview Park. White Lightnin', a Schwarzkopf launched shuttle roller coaster, opened in 1977. The Witchdoctor was relocated to Pirate Island and renamed Black Widow. The Waltzer is removed after a year of operation and Wagon Wheel is moved into its place. Trams are added to the parking lot. In 1979, a $3 million expansion adds the County Fair area, which contains four new rides. Additionally, a 1923 antique carousel built by the Philadelphia Toboggan Company is added to The Land of Hanna-Barbera.
The Carolina Cyclone was added in 1980 as the first roller coaster in the world to feature four inversions. Thunder Road received new Philadelphia Toboggan Coasters trains. The original themed trains were destroyed after causing damage to the tracks. Rip Roarin' Rapids, a water rapids ride, opens in 1981. In 1982, Ocean Island opens as a separately ticketed attraction between Thunder Road and the White Lightnin' roller coasters. The water park was not owned by Carowinds, and included a 700,000-gallon, 25,500 square foot wave pool that featured waves reaching heights of five feet. The complex also featured other standard water park amenities including picnic and sunbathing areas, shower and changing facilities, a snack bar, game room, raft rentals and a gift shop. Oaken Bucket was removed. The Heritage Theater was converted into an arcade. In 1984, Smurf Island opens on a 1.3 acre island surrounded by the Carolina Sternwheeler river boat. The Flying Dutchman is removed and the Paladium is expanded. Blackbeard's Revenge, a motion simulator, is added in 1985.
In 1986, County Fair is renovated and Frenzoid, a 360-degree looping Viking ship, is added to the area. In 1987, Carowinds purchases Ocean Island. Vintage Jalopies is removed and the Panorama Vision theater is converted to an arcade. The following year, White Lightnin' is removed due to continuous maintenance downtime. The Balloon Race flat ride and WhiteWater Falls, a 45 foot tall water attraction is added. In 1989, Ocean Island is renamed to RipTide Reef and expanded to over 6 acres on the land previously occupied by White Lightnin'. Carowinds became the first amusement park in the United States to include a full water park with admission. Black Widow is removed the same year.
In 1990, Gauntlet, a prototype thrill ride, was added to the park. The following year, the Paladium becomes a stand-alone concert facility- separate from the theme park with an expanded seating capacity of 13,000 after a $4 million renovation. In 1992, Kings Entertainment Company was acquired by Paramount Communications and Paramount Parks was formed, with the corporate headquarters a few miles away from the park in Charlotte. The same year, Carowinds introduces the Vortex stand-up roller coaster.
Paramount Era (1993-2005)
The park's name was changed to Paramount's Carowinds in 1993. Movies and television shows from various Paramount Pictures were introduced into the park, including Days of Thunder. The Paramount Walk of Fame was constructed on the path from the park's main entrance to the park's central hub. In 1994, Wayne's World, a new three acre themed area that re-creates the Hollywood set popularized in the Paramount motion picture of the same name, is added to the northwestern corner of the park with the Hurler roller coaster as its centerpiece.
In 1995, Animation Station introduces an interactive experience for kids featuring The Power Station, a three-story climbing structure, and Kids' Studio, an outdoor amphitheater for children's shows. On June 30 of the same year, a skycoaster ride called Skycoaster opened in the Wayne's World section. Drop Zone: Stunt Tower was also added in 1996 in the same area. The park hosted 1.8 million visitors, making it one of the largest tourist attractions in the Carolinas. In 1997, to celebrate the park's 25th anniversary, RipTide Reef is expanded into WaterWorks, doubling its size to include 12 acres at a cost of $7.5 million. In 1998, ZOOM ZONE opens in Animation Station. The expansion adds three new attractions: Taxi Jam, Chopper Chase and Road Rally and increases the size of the area by 3.5 acres. The addition of Top Gun: The Jet Coaster in 1999 became the single-largest investment in the park's history at a cost of $10.5 million.
In 2000, The Nickelodeon Flying Super Saturator takes riders along a 1,087-foot suspended track while dodging a gauntlet of gushing geysers and rain curtains and was the first of its kind roller coaster in the world. SCarowinds, the park's annual Halloween event, is introduced for the first time in October. In 2001, the park introduced three new attractions including Scooby-Doo's Haunted Mansion, an interactive ghost-busting experience through the former Harmony Hall, Pipeline Peak, the world's tallest enclosed body slide and increases the size of WaterWorks to 13 acres, and the park's first 3-D attraction, 7th Portal. Plantation Square, the park's entrance area, is remodeled into Paramount Plaza. The Wayne's World theming is removed and the area is converted to Action Zone. The following year saw the addition of Carolina Boardwalk, a newly themed area that takes guests on a walk through of the famous beaches of the Carolinas. Included in this area is the parks 11th roller coaster, Ricochet. After the success of Flying Ace Aerial Chase at sister park Kings Island, Paramount decided to build a clone at Carowinds in 2003 as part of the Happy Land of Hanna Barbera's transition into Nickelodeon Central. In 2004, Nighthawk (then known as Stealth) was relocated from California's Great America and opened as BORG Assimilator in the location previously home to Smurf Island. Nickelodeon Central was expanded in 2005. On January 27, 2006, the Dayton Daily News reported that CBS, owner of Paramount Parks, was interested in selling all of its theme parks, including Carowinds. On June 30, 2006, Cedar Fair acquired all of the Paramount Parks, including Carowinds.
To read more about the more recent history (2006-present), click here.
I've been going to Carowinds since I was kid and some of my all-time favorite attractions were Thunder Road, White Lightin', and Days of Thunder... oh, and Drop Zone. So congrats to this Charlotte-area staple for hitting such a monumental milestone!
Until next week!
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