It is that time of year once again where the ghosts and goblins come out of the woodwork and start taking over our beloved theme parks. To be honest I have long been apprehensive of visiting one of these scary up charge events. I remember visiting Knott’s Berry Farm as a kid in October and seeing all the creepy stuff in the daylight but we always left before the actual Halloween event. Part of me had always wanted to see what scares they had in store for the unwary traveler, while the other, larger, part of me (the one that does not handle scary movies well) said to run for the hills. Ultimately, I threw caution to the wind this year and decided to try my luck. Rather than diving right into the shark tank and heading to Orlando, however, I chose to enter the kiddie pool for this year and attend Scarowinds.
For those unfamiliar, Scarowinds is the Halloween event at Charlotte’s premier park Carowinds. Now in its 15th year of operation the event promised patrons access to great thrill rides like Nighthawk and Intimidator as well as scare zones and haunted mazes. After paying $15 to park we headed for the kiosk to buy our tickets. It was here that I encountered the biggest jolt of the night. A one night’s admission was $50. Ok, about what I expected BUT for $90 you could get in for the night and get a season pass for 2015 which also includes admission to next year’s Scarowinds event and free parking in the future. Awesome, looks like I will be going back to Carowinds in 2015. My group debated the wisdom of upgrading to front of the line access but opted out as it seemed excessive. For a hefty upcharge you could get the Fright Lane pass which lets you bypass lines for the haunted mazes but if you want to bypass rides that is another, separate upcharge, unless of course you planned on bypassing the always long intimidator line, in that case you needed Fast Lane Plus pass. We decided to take our chances and entered the park.
Full disclosure-I am an adult, at least according to the calendar, but I have yet to recover from the childhood trauma of watching Tremors and other, stupid, campy horror movies (Don’t judge, those giant worms had giant teeth!). But scary stuff has always fascinated me and I barreled through the gate and discovered the biggest scare of the night-Crowds-everywhere. For the rides, the mazes, concessions, everywhere. Maybe the upcharge wasn’t so preposterous but I was stubborn and committed so we waited. The rides were great but as all of you theme park veterans know the enjoyment of the ride is directly proportional to the amount of time waited for it and thus the night dragged. 60 mins for Intimidator, 45 for Thunder road, 60 for Boo Blasters! Fun rides, sure but having to wait in que surrounded by teenagers macking on each other…terrifying stuff indeed.
The Halloween paraphernalia though was really cool. I really have to commend the many scareactors there as they all got into their jobs and did it remarkably well. Some of the best scares came from roving gangs of scaractors who, from behind, seemed to be wearing hoodie sweatshirts and thus seamlessly blended in with the crowds. They would wait for an unsuspecting guest to get distracted and then pounce. Also special shout out to the scareactors who would scamper on all fours…this was really creepy when viewed in ones peripheral vision, it just seemed so unnatural. The best Scare zone was definitely London Terror-a jack the ripper/steam punk themed scare zone. Cool Victorian building facades filled with decaying Bobbies walking their beat, women of the night and even a Tiny Tim on crutches. Maybe it was the historian side of me but I thought this was really awesome, creepy and at times, startling, but certainly enjoyable. Also of particular note was the Blood Yard-a junkyard themed area filled with tires and abandoned cars bursting with crazy bikers and skeletons.
Thanks to the hefty crowds I only had time to visit 2 of the 7 haunted mazes. First up was the Last Laff 3D maze. Unfortunately the 3D aspect was an additional upcharge and the glasses looked pretty cheap so we skipped the goggles and went in au natural. Creepy clowns have long been a Hollywood staple and it is easy to see why. Scare actors in various clown outfits armed with squeaky shoes, horns and other noisemakers roamed the maze and lurked behind nearly every corner. While I thought this was an interesting maze, the psychedelic colors and lack of realistic theme made the actors rely on cheap jump out scares. It kind of reminded me of a jack in the box-with no real ambience to distract my attention, I just waited for the next clown to jump out from behind a corner. While the clowns themselves are unnerving a lack of discernable theme detracted from the legit scares.
The second, superior, maze was Cornstalkers. The theme here was a children of the corn type vibe with tight claustrophobic rows of corn steering patrons deeper into the maze. Scareactors dressed as cannibalistic farmers wielded chainsaws or axes with others posing as inanimate scarecrows until the right time to lunge. Especially creepy was a tunnel filled with curing pieces of (presumably human) chunks of meat. A disturbing maze, a frightening theme and eerie deliverance type scareactors made this a worthy event. This maze piqued my interest so much that I deeply regret not having time to experience the others.
After a final ride on the Carolina Cyclone we decided to head out for the evening and pick up our annual passes. One thing Carowinds could definitely improve upon was this process. We tried to get our passes made earlier in the night but were told the only place to get our photos taken was a kiosk outside the park…but that once you left there was no re-admittance. This would not be such an issue if the park funneled all the guests in and out at the same location but Carowinds boasts 2 entrances. Of course we parked at the back entrance while the kiosk was located at the front. Thus at the end of a long night we had to trek back to the front gate, exit the park, get our passes then walk all the way back around the park again (outside the walls) to return to our car. A curious design, especially considering how hard they were pushing the purchase of annual passes.
Ultimately, my first foray into haunted theme parks was a success. I really enjoyed some of the overlays and appreciated the motivated scareactors. My previous scaredy-cat apprehension was misplaced-these events were quite unique while still retaining all the theme park goodness we all love. I did learn some valuable lessons though. If you fear long waits and massive crowds then either visit earlier in the season where the lines are noticeably shorter or consider the upcharge to skip the lines, less time in que would have certainly made the visit more enjoyable. I also think it would be wiser to simply save the conventional rides for the rest of the year and focus one’s time on the Halloween only mazes and zones. I enjoyed what Scarowinds had to offer and hope to attend next season’s Halloween Horror Nights at Universal…as long as a Tremors maze is not in the works.
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