Between the missed baseball games and my inability to comb a straight part for pigtails, I’ll never win father of the year. Still, I like to think I’m a decent dad. And, according to my wife, a courageous one.
“You’re brave,” Elena said when I told her I wanted to take our two young kids to an amusement park—alone. I figured since I’d been going to Carowinds every summer since I was a kid, I was qualified to chaperone a 7-year-old and her 9-year-old brother. I had heard about the new rides opening at Carowinds, which was a convenient excuse to go again. But this time, with my kids!
Naturally, Lars and Hannah were on board, and Elena—eager to have a day to spend with her girlfriends—gave us her blessing. She sent us off, covered in sunscreen and kisses on our cheeks, with promises not to have too much fun without her.
It was a promise we couldn’t keep.
Let’s take a ride
Since Elena had wisely bought us Carowinds Gold Passes online, we didn’t have to decide which ticket line to get in. Instead, we had to decide what to do first. Lars’ jaw hit the pavement as he gaped up at the sky-scraping roller coasters, my stomach filled with butterflies, and Hannah was like a moth to the flame—except the flame was the newest section of the park, County Fair. Instead, I countered with a compromise.
“Let’s do a few old favorites first,” I said. Lars and Hannah agreed, and together we started on the Rip Roarin’ Rapids, a white water rafting expedition that had us spinning around a tumbling river, with all six of us at risk of getting soaked by water that made it over our raft’s edges. Next, we headed to Boo Blasters where we aimed at Boocifer on a digital, haunted, 3-D journey on his old plantation.
Before long, the stomach butterflies turned to growling, and I knew I could no longer ignore its calls. After a colossal turkey leg, mouthwatering fries and corn dogs so crispy I could hear the kids’ every bite, we let our food digest for a few minutes and FaceTimed Elena with an update. “Promise to eat a funnel cake for me!” she said, remembering I’d told her Carowinds claimed to be home to the “World’s Largest Funnel Cake.”
That was a promise we could keep. I looked forward to a Carowinds funnel cake every visit—delicious whether you’re young or old. It was the perfect kick start to our next stop.
It’s fair time
“Dad, were you alive in the 1950s?” Hannah asked earnestly as we approached County Fair. “Not quite,” I said, laughing. County Fair had plenty of flashbacks to the past, but the futuristic rides left no doubt that this wasn’t grandma’s fair.
“Let’s start with Do-Si-Do!” Lars suggested, pointing at the giant upside-down tripod with legs that were really arms, designed to spin and spiral dozens of riders high off the ground. “Only if we can try that next,” Hannah countered. “That” was a towering ride that looked like an elaborate carousel, except instead of horses on poles, it had swings suspended from the top.
While Do-Si-Do kept us guessing with its seemingly random dips and spins, Zephyr (Hannah’s choice) was predictably clockwise so we could spend more time taking in the views than screaming our lungs out. I got an aerial view of Rock ’N’ Roller, the source of some familiar tunes. Every county fair needs a classic ride, and a few minutes later, I was singing along to the classic rock tunes blaring over its loudspeaker. The kids looked embarrassed, totally not proud of the fact that their dad was singing along.
High flying, huge thrills
Next, we stepped our thrills up two whole levels to try The Flying Cobras—a roller coaster ride that I had known as Carolina Cobra in a previous life. Carowinds redesigned and renamed the coaster after being inspired by the traditional airshows seen at county fairs of decades past.
Instead of being strapped into an Air Force Thunderbird, we did our aero-acrobatics while seated in a train car. It drew us back in utmost anticipation before dropping us more than 100 feet to pick up the speed needed to propel us forward into a spiraling 360-degree loop. The kids’ cries of joy accentuated the same adrenaline coursing through my veins. Our feet had barely touched the ground after stepping out of The Flying Cobras before they were in the air once again as we flipped upside down on the aptly named Electro-Spin.
The energy coming from the bodies hanging on for dear life in the ride’s floorless gondolas was palpable, and we definitely did our share of spinning. Lars said it felt like we were in orbit—utilizing a vocabulary word he learned from school.
A lifetime of fatherhood and fun
As the sun set on our day at Carowinds, and the lights and colors of each roller coaster made the night sky twinkle, I couldn’t help but feel a little nostalgic. I listened to Hannah and Lars talk about their favorite rides and roller coasters, animatedly imitating each loop and spin. This was a place I’d come to since I was Hannah’s age—it was nice to know that they enjoyed it as much as I had. Ok, admittedly, as much as I still did.
Even if I weren’t a contender for father of the year, the day at Carowinds was making me realize I could strive for father of a lifetime. If Lars and Hannah remembered their childhood visits to Carowinds as fondly as I did, then I’d be doing pretty well. And as a bonus, it meant I could squeeze out at least another decade of Carowinds visits of my own.
We already had one trip planned for this summer once Carolina Harbor, Carowinds’ water park, opened up. Good thing we had our Gold Passes. Once again, we’d combine old favorites with new features, including Blackbeard’s Revenge, Coastal Currents, Seaside Splashworks, and Hurricane Falls.
Until next time.
Hop state lines to find more thrills in South Carolina!