I was recently invited to spend the day at Carowinds to experience the park during the brief Carowinds In Bloom weeklong festival. This is the first time that they’ve held their Bloom event and I was interested to see it.
Charlotte, NC- Carowinds debuts a new festival this year featuring food, thousands of flowers, bluegrass, and special activities for kids. “Carowinds In Bloom” takes place in the Carolina Showplace area of the park from April 11-20. Admission to the festival is included with park admission.
“It’s been a cold winter we‘re ready to celebrate Spring and what better way to do that than with the music, flowers, food, wine and craft beer of the Carolinas. All that plus our coasters and other attractions our guests will have so much to enjoy, “said Bart Kinzel, Carowinds general manager, adding “we look forward to making “In Bloom” an annual event.”
It’s been a few years since I’ve visited Carowinds. Even though it’s only about an hour and a half from my house, my energy and money has always been focused on Disney parks. Carowinds opened in 1973 and was the brainchild of Charlotte entrepreneur E. Pat Hall. He’d visited Disneyland in the early years and felt that a similar park would do well near Charlotte, NC. One of the unique features of Carowinds is that it does straddle two states. Carowinds is now a Cedar Fair park, along with King’s Dominion, King’s Island, Cedar Point and Knott’s Berry Farm. Carowinds also has the reputation of being more of an amusement park offering more coaster experiences than story-based attractions like at Disney parks.
The Carowinds In Bloom festival featured an area with North Carolina craft brews, cooking demonstrations, bluegrass music, a kids planting zone (in which they taught kids how to plant) and flowers all over the park.
Kids Flower Planting Zone- Sponsored by Home Depot, The Kids Flower Planting Zone captures the essence of Spring getting your hands into the dirt to help make the world a little prettier. The Planting Zone will also feature a Kids Scavenger Hunt with great prizes from The Home Depot. Come on kids let’s get to work and have some Spring fun!
The Kids Flower Planting Zone attracted a lot of families, especially when they found out that Home Depot was giving away free aprons! It was much slower when the festival opened at 12:00, but by 3:30 or so, there was a long line for this tent.
This unassuming gate was the entrance to the Topiary Garden. This being the first year of the festival, the decor was on the minimal side of things.
There were beer and barbecue tents available. The beer tent was on the left and the food one on the right. You paid at the middle tent and your food and beer was brought to you. The area had a very temporary look to it due to the use of simple pop-up tents.
We saw this ladybug sneaking up on guests throughout the day. Not sure why he had a net, though. Once kids (and some adults) understood that Mr. Ladybug was here to play, they got into the spirit.
The barbecue sandwich was rather large and reminded me of Lexington-style BBQ. The beer samples were $1.00 a piece for about 5 oz.
At least I remembered to take a photo before I finished the whole thing!
Once you made your selection, either a sample (or three) or a full cup, one of the beer ladies took your order and filled up the appropriate cup. There were eight choices in all, with a variety of wheat and cider. By far, our favorite beer selection was RJ Rocker’s Son of a Peach. Although, almost any beer is a great choice on a warm spring day after a few rounds on the Intimidator!
Johnson & Wales University offered a few cooking demonstrations, as well.
Johnson and Wales Cooking Demonstrations- Culinary masters from Charlotte’s own Johnson and Wales University impress and educate during daily cooking demonstrations.
This dragonfly was seen flitting around various parts of the festival, including nearby areas of the park.
The West End String Band played several sets throughout the afternoon, often with the Vortex flying by in the background. I’m not a big fan of bluegrass but the live music went well with the beer, barbecue and the warm spring breeze. It was a nice and unexpected touch.
The crowds were a little heavier in the afternoon. It was a large space with very little direction and it took a few moments of orienting yourself. It never felt out-of-hand, like a Friday night at the Food & Wine Festival at Epcot, and most people seemed to stumble into the area rather unexpectedly.
All in all, the Carowinds in Bloom festival was a nice and unexpected bonus for park-goers. It was certainly more of an added value than a sole reason to visit Carowinds. Something that would make the day a little bit fuller. There was no additional charge for the event, except for the food and beverage options. On a much busier park day, it would have been a long wait to try the beer flights.
I would love to have seen more in-park promotion of the event and some more signage to direct guests to the festival and to offer a better idea of what to expect. A few well placed employees at the entrance directing guests to the festival would have added a lot more traffic. The promotion does run during the local school system’s spring break, so there should be more of a crowd during the rest of the festival, especially this weekend.
Carowinds sister park, Knott’s Berry Farm, was the first in the chain to do this sort of event last year and has continued to grow their “Berry Bloom” event into something quite popular. Carowinds could probably pick up a few pointers on decoration and entertainment from Knott’s. Though, any time a park offers you a little extra something at no additional cost in ticket price, it’s a welcome thing.
Given a year or two to cultivate (get it?) this festival into a larger and more substantial event, I do think that the Carowinds in Bloom festival will take root. With the local brew scene growing, great musicians, great barbecue and the backdrop of some pretty stunning coasters, you’ve got a good mix for a great festival in the years to come.