Giant Christmas bobble at Carowinds Winterfest, Charlotte, NC

Carowinds WinterFest Keeps the Carolinas in a Festive Spirit

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2020 UPDATE

Instead of the usual WinterFest, for 2020, Carowinds is putting on a special Taste of the Season: An Outdoor Holiday Food Festival. You may have guessed, the focus is on food. Tasting Cards allow visitors to choose several samples from 30 holiday foods located around the park.  

Though Carowinds have rebranded the event, there are many similarities with WinterFest. There will still be shows and a dance party, selected rides, holiday decor, games, and shopping.  However, we don’t see anything on a parade or the ice skating rink, but this may change as they finalize details. Plus, it’s more of a daytime event than late into the evening.

The park is limiting capacity, so tickets must be purchased in advance.  

DATES: Select dates between November 21 – December 18, 2020 | 12 pm – 8 pm

Charlotte has several other holiday events also still taking place in 2020. For more read our posts on:

2019 is Carowinds third year opening its big festive holiday gates to celebrate the season with Carowinds WinterFest.

This Carolinas’ theme park, invites holiday lovers to bask in the glow of over 5 million lights and sing along with their 12 holiday shows.  Ride lovers will appreciate that 25 of their rides are open for WinterFest. Most rides are for their younger audience but there are several for grown up fans, including Afterburn and Copperhead Strike.

When we first moved to the Carolinas, we lived quite close to Carowinds. It was so depressing to see this massive park closed all winter. When we heard they are now putting on a holiday event, we knew we had to check it out.

Here’s our experience, along with everything you need to know to enjoy your time at the park.

Giant jingle bell of lights at Carowinds WinterFest, Charlotte, NC

We entered the park from the North Gate which leads into Celebration Plaza.

As we arrived at 5 pm for opening, the massive holiday tree in the center was still in darkness. While a crowd started to gather and wait for the 5:30 tree lighting ceremony.

We decided to take advantage of the time of day, and lack of crowds and headed over to the Carolina Skytower. As the ride lifted us 262 feet above the park, we had an amazing view of the sun setting as the Christmas lights below glimmered around us.

As we exited the ride, we caught the very end of the tree lightening ceremony. At 70 feet tall, with every inch decorated in lights and bobbles, the tree was absolutely stunning. The digital lights danced, creating various patterns and shapes.

70-foot holiday tree sits in the center of Celebration Plaza at Carowinds WinterFest, Charlotte, NC

Next, we then headed down Snow Flake Lane where ice skating sessions of typically 45 minutes are available for $15 (skate rental included).

Ice Skating Rink and Harmony Hall at Carowinds Winterfest in the Carolinas

We passed through Charlie Brown’s Christmas Town and Camp Snoopy. There were some lights but this section of the park was heavily geared toward the kiddies so we headed out.  

Christmas Crossroads and Blue Ridge Country Christmas

If you are a roller coaster junkie, head straight to these areas. There are not many of the larger rides open during Carowinds Winterfest, but Afterburn and Copperhead Strike are open.

As the crowds hadn’t made their way to the back of the park yet, we quickly tucked my camera into a locker next to the Copperhead Strike and headed onto the rides. Lockers were $2 for an hour.

Entrance for the Copperhead Strike roller coaster, Carowinds, WinterFest, Charlotte, NC

One of our favorite shows was the Christmas Bluegrass in the Blue Ridge Country Christmas area.    

Christmas Bluegrass show at Carowinds WinterFest, Charlotte, NC

Some of the best lights and decorations of WinterFest were around Christmas Crossroads. There was also a petting zoo and carolers around a nativity scene.  

Windseeker at Carowinds WinterFest decorated in lights, Carowinds, WinterFest, Charlotte, NC
Lights decorate Christmas Crossroads at WinterFest, Carowinds, Charlotte, NC

Before grabbing dinner we headed back towards the entrance through Candy Cane Lane.

Candy Cane Lane as seen from the Skytower, Carowinds, WinterFest, Charlotte, NC

Eating at Carowinds Winterfest

There were ten dining options open during for WinterFest. In addition, there are about a dozen sweet shops selling everything from funnel cakes, to Cinnabon, to various holiday treats.

Most dinning options had limited menus. The largest eating area is Holiday Hall. Dasher’s Diner also had a good selection and Chickie’s and Pete’s wings and crab fries looked pretty good.

We chose Holiday Hall as it seemed to have the largest selection. 

Though it was quite busy, there was plenty of seating. The show going on in the front kept kids and adults entertained as they munched away on their dinners.

Grab something to eat and watch a show at Holiday Hall, Carowinds, WinterFest, Charlotte, NC

North Pole Excursion

Except for the Horse Drawn Carriage rides, we didn’t find much for adults in the North Pole Excursion area. However, if you have kids with you, they will love this area. Plus, Mrs. Claus’ Cookie Decorating ($16.99 for 4 cookies) seemed to be a hit.

Coco-Cola Polar Bear Plaza and Jingle Bell Boardwalk

If you love rides that spin, Polar Bear Plaza is where you want to be.  

In addition to the rides, there was a DJ keeping everyone engaged and on their feet. This was a great area to hang out, listen to the music and enjoy the lights.  

Electro Spin ride at Carowinds theme park, Carowinds, WinterFest, Charlotte, NC

A 30-foot Santa greeted us as we made our way down Jingle Bell Boardwalk. 

The lights in this area are synchronized to the music. So we took a seat and watched the as little ones darted in and out of the very well-done North Pole Post Office.

Giant inflatable Santa Claus in Polar Bear Plaza, Carowinds, WinterFest, Charlotte, NC
North Pole Post Office at Carowinds WinterFest, Charlotte, NC

Tinsel Town and Christmas Park

Tinsel Town seemed a little under utilized in our opinion. It looks a bit like a 60’s or 70’s set. It is worth the walk-through to see the lights. Plus, there are some fun photo opportunities. But, there is not much that will hold your attention for too long.

Christmas Park

Christmas Park, however, centered around a beautifully lit giant carousel. The white lights brought a classic Christmas feel to this area and a stunning contrast to the multicolored walkway that joined it to Celebration Plaza.
Grand Carousel in Christmas Park, Carowinds, WinterFest, Charlotte, NC
The beautifully decorated Christmas Park as seen from the Skytower, Carowinds, WinterFest, Charlotte, NC

Throughout the Park

In addition to the 12 themed shows and the 25 open rides, Carowinds WinterFest delights with seasonally themed games and holiday shopping around every corner.

We absolutely loved that all their normal stores and dining facilities were renamed to enhance the ambiance of the park.

Ugly Sweater Shop, Carowinds, WinterFest, Charlotte, NC
Sign pointing the direction at Carowinds, WinterFest, Charlotte, NC

Closing the Night

New for 2019, Carowinds ends the night with the 9 pm Wonderland Parade. To our pleasant surprise, it is an actual parade, with larger than life floats, great music, and a cast of holiday characters.

Train float in the WinterFest Wonderland ParadeTrain float in the WinterFest Wonderland Parade, Carowinds, WinterFest, Charlotte, NC

The parade started off in the North Pole Excursion and wound its way through half the park. They made their way into Celebration Plaza, where they parked half the floats on the thoroughfare leading out of the park.  

Music blared, as cast members took to the stage and plaza. The whole park seemed to join in the celebration of singing and dancing.

It was a perfect way to end the evening and keep everyone smiling and laughing as they left.  

Gingerbread Parade Float in the Wonderland Parade, Carowinds, WinterFest, Charlotte, NC
The parade finale and dance party with the cast at the giant Christmas Tree in Celebration Plaza, Carowinds, WinterFest, Charlotte, NC

Everything Else You Need Know

Where is Carowinds located?

Located on the border of North Carolina and South Carolina, Carowinds is less than 20 minutes from uptown Charlotte.

It is the only U.S. theme park to be located on the border of two states. We have no idea how they sort their taxes because the park really does straddle the two states.

Address:  300 Carowinds Blvd, Charlotte, NC 28273

When is Carowinds WinterFest Open?

Winterfest only runs on select days. In 2019, they open November 24, 29, 30 & December 1, 6 – 8, 13 – 15, 19 – 23, 26 – 31.

The hours vary by the day. Typically, they open at 2 pm on Saturdays, 4 pm Sundays and 5 pm weekdays.

The park closes at 10 pm, except for New Year’s Eve when they stay open until 1 am.

Where Do I Purchase Tickets?

You can purchase tickets at the gate but they are considerably more expensive than purchasing online directly through Carowinds. Plus, it gets you out of the ticketing line. You will still need to wait through the security lines at the entrance.  

We also recommend getting your parking ticket ahead of time online to save $4.

Adult Pricing: from $26 online (plus a convenience charge) to $41 at the gate

Parking: $16 online and $20 on the day

Where is a Good Place to Stay?

Carowinds Wilderness Resort is on the North Carolina side of the Carowinds property. There is an RV park and cabins. The smaller cabins accommodate three people while their standard cabins accommodate eight. If you have a larger group, the executive cabin can accommodate up to 14.

Outside the property, the closest hotel is also the newest. The Marriott’s Springhill Suites is just outside the Carowinds property. It takes less than 10 minutes to walk to the entrance.  

Comfort Inn at the Park is on the Avenue of the Carolinas. This would also take less than 10 minutes, especially if you walk through the Carowinds parking lot. 

There are several chain hotels, such as the Best Western Carowinds, on Carowinds Blvd right off I-77. You can walk to the park from these hotels, but we don’t recommend it. Crossing Carowinds Blvd can be a dangerous nightmare as there are no crosswalks, we are aware of.      

We would love to hear what you thought of Carowinds WinterFest. Leave us a message in the comments. 

Planning to go? Save this guide to Pinterest so you can find it later.   

Carowinds WinterFest Pinterest Pin
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