A woman holds up three fingers, then starts lowering them one at a time. Three. Two. One.
And then the floor drops out from under me as I go from zero to six-story descent in a millisecond. In the free-fall portion, several walls of water hit me square in the face, and I am astonished that none of it finds its way into my nose. Once I get through the first few twists and turns and get my bearings back, it’s basically just a matter of trying to compose myself so I don’t look like too shell-shocked when people see me climbing off the slide at the bottom.
If this sounds like a fun experience, you’re in luck: Carowinds’ new six-story-tall water slide complex Blackbeard’s Revenge makes its debut on Saturday, as part of the revamped and renamed Carolina Harbor water park.
During a media preview event on Wednesday, a small group of journalists were given access to this body slide – called Pirate’s Plank – as well as a tube slide named Cannonball Drop (which isn’t nearly as stressful as Pirate’s Plank but still has a steep and satisfying final descent).
Carolina Harbor also boasts a new restaurant for families; a new bar where adults can wet their whistles while their swimsuits dry off; a new 27,000-square-foot wave pool; and Seaside Splashworks, a multilevel interactive play structure featuring a giant 423-gallon tipping bucket that drenches guests very quickly (but doesn’t just dump all 423 gallons at once – trust me, its goal is not to knock little kids to the pavement).
The water park, located off Interstate 77 at the border of North and South Carolina, is a part of a $50 million-plus expansion at the amusement park. This expansion got rolling in earnest last year with the addition of Fury 325, which is easily the best roller coaster at the park and – according to “Amusement Today” – the best new ride in the world in 2015.
(Carowinds also added Plants Vs. Zombies Garden Warfare: 3Z Arena in 2016, although I feel confident saying you should only venture inside for that attraction if you a) have small children, or b) are looking for a chair and some air-conditioning on a hot Carolina summer day.)
All told, it’s pretty astonishing how far Carowinds has come since I first moved here 10 years ago. Back then, Paramount owned the property, and the Borg Assimilator (now Nighthawk) and Top Gun: The Jet Coaster (now Afterburn) were the marquee rides.
Today, you can pretty much get onto Afterburn without having to wait more than a few minutes. And that’s a plug, not a dig – it’s still an exhilarating ride.
But Fury 325 was a game-changer for the park, and from what I can tell, Carolina Harbor looks and feels like a vast improvement over the previous incarnation of the water park. All of this is making it much more difficult to come up with excuses not to buy a Carowinds Season Pass.
Now all we need for this weekend? A much better weather forecast.
Photos: David T. Foster III/Charlotte Observer