Winterfest at Carowinds Amusement Park in North Carolina

Carowinds is a large amusement park located on the border of North and South Carolina. The park opened in March of 1973 as the idea of Charlotte businessman Earl Hall, who dreamed of bringing the 2 Carolinas together via an amusement park after an inspiring trip to Disneyland in 1956.

The park is very popular due to its’ convenient day trip distance from numerous cities in both states, including Charlotte, Asheville, Greenville, Raleigh, and Columbia. The park’s busiest season is the summer, mostly due to the adjacent water park, Carolina Splash Harbor, which is included with admission. A nice water park definitely comes in handy during the hot & humid summer months!

Carowinds also puts on a number of well-regarded seasonal events. Winterfest is amongst the best Christmas events across both the Carolinas. With over 5 million lights, an ice rink, special holiday shows, and seasonal treats & gift shops, this is the best time for anyone who loves Christmas to plan a visit. As the Carolinas do not offer an abundance of great Christmas events, Carowinds is definitely one to add to your December bucket list.

Holiday Entertainment

The holiday themed shows here are really spectacular, and really the main reason to add Winterfest to your holiday bucket list. The best show, known as “Cool Yule,” takes place on the hour in front of a dazzling Christmas tree. Talented singers and dancers perform holiday classics like It’s a Marshmallow World, Santa Clause is Coming to Town, and Let it Snow in front of the 70 foot tall tree.

The show is highly entertaining with great choreography, sparkly costumes, spirited renditions of Christmas classics, and even a few snow flurries. As snow is not all too common in this area, it really adds to the excitement. The singers are all pretty great for a theme park and the dancing is on par as well. Check out this clip from the 2018 season!

Other great shows for the 2018 season include “the Mistletones,” featuring an acapella group singing classic tunes of the 50’s, “Jingle Jazz,” featuring a group of Dickenson carolers performing holiday classics, and “Christmas Bluegrass,” featuring live performances of country Christmas favorites.

Holiday in Harmony old-fashioned radio show at Carowind's Winterfest in North Carolina
Holiday in Harmony is an entertaining, nostalgic old-time radio show held in Harmony Hall. Here you can enjoy a special holiday meal while enjoying this eclectic variety show.

Last but not least, the wonderful “Charlie Brown Christmas Spectacular,” a spirited show held in the Carowinds Theater, features 18 talented singers and dancers, as well as special appearances from your favorite Peanuts characters. This show takes place in an actual theater and is the nicest of the bunch, and thus, tends to fill to capacity before each show, so get here early to ensure a prime seat!

Charlie Brown musical holiday show at Carowind's Winterfest in North Carolina
Charlie Brown Spectacular Show at Carowind's Winterfest in North Carolina

Over 5 million lights!

Strolling through the park is quite beautiful as there are gorgeous light displays spread throughout the entire 400 acre property. Grab a hot cocoa and enjoy one of the biggest light displays in the state.

Choreographed synchronized Christmas show at Carowind's Winterfest in North Carolina
Festive Christmas decorations at Carowind's Winterfest in North Carolina
Pretty Christmas lights at Carowind's Winterfest in North Carolina
Pretty candy cane holiday lights at Carowind's Winterfest in North Carolina
Coca-Cola Santa decor at Carowind's Winterfest in North Carolina
Gorgeous Christmas tree at Carowind's Winterfest in North Carolina

The Carolina SkyTower, a rotating ride up a 262 foot tower, is a great way to take in panoramic views of the entire park. The lights look really pretty from way up here!

View of the Winterfest lights at Carowinds from the Skytower ride
View of the Winterfest lights at Carowinds from the SkyTower ride
Ice rink at Carowind's Winterfest in North Carolina

Which rides are open?

Although not all of the rides are open (most rollercoasters are not in operation), the event is worth visiting particularly for the fantastic live entertainment. Unfortunately, most of the rides open are kiddie rides, so if you are seeking big roller coasters, a summertime visit is more ideal.

The Zephyr (the classic flying chair swing ride), Do-Si-Do (a fun flying spinning ride for all ages), the Scramber (the classic spinning fair ride), and the Rock N’Roller (otherwise known as the Himalaya at the carnival) are a few of the better rides open during the event.

A full list of rides open for Winterfest

Roller coaster decorated for Christmas at Carowinds in North Carolina
Even the roller coasters are decorated!
Zephyr ride at Carowinds in North Carolina
Skytower ride at Carowinds in North Carolina
The SkyTower – the first ride at Carowinds

Seasonal snacks

If you need a snack, there are plenty of seasonal specialties to indulge in including special holiday treats like gingerbread funnel cake and apple cranberry dumplings. Most of the restaurants have been renamed with cute holiday-esque names i.e. Dancer’s Snack Shack and Candy Cane’s Sugar Shack. A Starbucks is also conveniently located on-site, and although the wait time is hideous, it’s well worth it for a delicious Peppermint Mocha. Overpriced – yes, worth the splurge – yes!

Prancer's Pizza at Carowind's Winterfest
Prancer’s Pizza – where you can treat yourself to a festive slice of pizza shaped like a Christmas tree
50's style Jukebox diner at Carowinds in North Carolina
The Juke Box diner decorated beautifully for Christmas

Seasonal Gift Shops

For those seeking a few unique Christmas gifts or a new unique decorative piece to add to your collection, you are in luck as there are a handful of gift shops with have been totally transformed into a Christmas wonderland. Lots of Peanuts and Coca-Cola themed knick knacks to browse through in between enjoying rides and festivities.

Peanuts Christmas gift shop at Carowinds Winterfest in North Carolina
Snoopy lego sculpture at Carowinds in North Carolina
Coca-Cola Christmas gift shop at Carowinds in North Carolina

Other fun activities to get into the holiday spirit include:

*sending letters to Santa at the North Pole

*shopping for holiday crafts at Artisan Alley

*horse drawn carriage rides (extra fee)

*cookie decorating in the kitchen of Mrs. Claus (extra fee)

*Pictures with various characters

*Personalized ornaments

*Christmas craft making

Additionally, there are numerous photo opportunities throughout the park, so be sure to bring your camera.

Cute holiday photo opp at Carowinds in North Carolina

Note: This event is definitely geared more towards families with younger children as the most of the thrill rides are closed and the holiday activities are for the most part catered towards younger children. The shows, on the other hand, are great for all the ages and the lights are beautiful.

Location: 300 Carowinds Boulevard, Charlotte, NC 28273

2018 Dates: Late November-New Year’s Eve

Pricing: Tickets range from $30-35 depending on the date you plan your visit. Parking is $16 (online), and $20 (at the gate).

More info on Carowinds Winterfest