Family Photo Carowinds Characters

Carowinds: The Ultimate Guide for Your First Visit

If you follow our blog, you’ll know we recently visited Charlotte, NC for one final summer hoorah. It’s hard to believe that it was our first visit to the Queen City, so we knew we had to live it up. And like The Ballantyne, Carowinds Amusement and Theme Park was at the top of our bucket list. 

BUT, what you may not know, is that I successfully endured a full day at Carowinds, alone, with our three kids!

Family Photo Carowinds Characters

This expansive park covers 407 acres and although it has a North Carolina address, Carowinds spans across both North AND South Carolina state lines. During our visit it was 100 degrees with blistering sunshine, BUT lucky for us, there’s also an on-site water park, Carolina Harbor! 


If you’re looking to crush your first (or next) visit to Carowinds Amusement and Theme Park, read on! I’m sharing my top tips: what to do, what NOT to do, and how to avoid toddler tears. All the while keeping everyone happy and hydrated! Shall we?  

Carowinds family ride

Preparing for the adventure

1. Download the app

The park is HUGE! And honestly, I’m not Magellan but I found it wasn’t well-marked and difficult to navigate without a map on hand.

2. Check out the Carowinds ride map beforehand

This will give you a better idea of height requirements and where certain attractions are located. At Carowinds there are plenty of rides for toddlers, and if you’re a parent to a child five and under, you’ll likely spend most of your time in ‘Camp Snoopy,’ a Peanuts-themed area of the park with rides geared towards the youngest of thrill seekers. 

Rides at Carowinds

3. Purchase tickets ahead of time

Amusement parks can often be associated with lots of ‘waiting’ and with excited little ones you’ll want to avoid any extra time standing around. You’ll also save $12 by purchasing online, and children under two are free.

 **pro-tip: cut costs and skip on the Fast Lane pass. Even on a popular weekend, the lines were never long enough to require one. AND only one kiddie ride is included. The longest line, Flying Aces Balloon Race was maybe 15-minutes.

colorful rides at carowinds

What to bring

4. Comfortable shoes for mom and stroller for kids!

Even though the girls are five, at the end of an epic park day, they’ll definitely need a ride. Trust me, I wanted someone to push me!  You will walk A LOT. 

Carowinds family travel tips

5. Clip-on fan for stroller // hats // sunscreen

Again, this goes back to being cool and protected from the sun. I can only imagine how hot and sweaty it is to be sitting on a black piece of nylon all day! Keep baby cool with an extra breeze of air and pack the clip-on fan. Hats and frequent application of sunscreen are also essential in beating the heat! 

Carowinds children's rides

6. Bathing suits

Our unanimous favorite part of the day, the water park! I decided to save space in my two bags and left towels at home. Turns out I didn’t need them since it was so hot that we dried off within minutes. 

Carowinds waterpark photo ops

**pro-tip: save even more space in your bag and leave the kids floaties behind too. Children’s life vests are complimentary to park guests. 

Time to get this party started

7. Parking

Like the Fast Lane passes, preferred parking is not necessary. We rolled in 15-minutes after opening and we able to park very close.

8. Bathrooms

After breezing through the admission gates (with your prepaid ticket!), hit up the bathrooms immediately to the right of the entrance. Nothing is more of a buzzkill than having to wait in a bathroom line 10-minutes into your adventure. 

Enjoying children's ride at Carowinds

9. Water, water, snacks, and more water

The summer months in North Carolina are HOT, but with enough hydration and shade you can keep cool. Staying hydrated and comfortable any way possible is VITAL! We were not afraid to take frequent drink and snack breaks to keep everyone well rested and nourished.

Carowinds playground

10. While standing in line carefully assess the situation

I knew almost immediately that I was in trouble while standing in the ‘Flying Aces Balloon Race’ line. (It was spinning MUCH faster than I anticipated, especially for a kids ride!) After that experience, I made a quick decision for the rides to follow. Woodstock’s Whirleys, for example, not a chance. 

snoopy carowinds ride

11. Explore the shaded play areas

Heat mixed with thousands of steps equates to exhaustion. Real fast. Take a break from the action and enjoy some chill time at ‘Beagle Scout Acres.’

playground at carowinds

12. Play a game!

They’re everywhere! You’ll actually save more money winning a $5 stuffie than if you were to buy a souvenir at a gift shop. 

playing games at carowinds

13. Grab a frozen treat

When it’s so hot that water doesn’t cut it, seek something ice cold and sweet! Luckily, it seemed like every 20-feet there was a concession stand selling Dippin’ Dots or shaved ice. As for us, we indulged in a refreshing mixture of frozen yogurts at Sweet Frogs. 

Carowinds Sweet Frogs

14. Watch a Peanuts show

Another great option to keep over-stimulation at bay. Pull into the Camp Theatre and watch an upbeat, short production. (Who doesn’t love Charlie Brown?!)

**pro tip: Offered daily March – Sept 1 at 11:30 / 12:30 / 1:30. Definitely stick around after the show for a group picture (see above)!

15. Cool off!

The ultimate reward for surviving a full day alone with 3-kids at an amusement park? Carolina Harbor! This massive on-site water park includes various play areas geared towards early walkers, wildly active toddlers, to bigger kids, and beyond! Lifeguards also scatter the area which made me feel relieved as the kids were having fun bouncing from one attraction to the next!


Forget a key essential at home? Need more hydration? No problem! A merchandise shop and numerous refreshments stands are also located within Carolina Harbor.


Best of all, admission is included with entry to Carowinds!

Carolina Harbor Carowinds

So there you have it! Fifteen tips to make your first visit to Carowinds a cake walk! Overall it was clean with ample amenities (how could I forget all the family restrooms?!) and had a wide variety of attractions to entertain our young crew. It was a great confidence builder for our little ones before hitting up BIG rides (stay tuned for Splash Mountain in November)! 


**Note: Carowinds hours are reduced after August 25th. Open Saturdays 10 AM -5 PM and Sundays 10 AM -7 PM. Check the calendar as selected dates and times of operation do vary.

Have you been to Carowinds? What was your favorite part? 




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