Carowinds expanding its water park in 2016

Rendering of Carolina Harbor at Carowinds shows what’s coming, including a six-story water slide complex; an interactive family area; new wave pool.
Rendering of Carolina Harbor at Carowinds shows what’s coming, including a six-story water slide complex; an interactive family area; new wave pool. Carowinds

Thanks to an endless amount of teasing – mostly centered on water- and beach-related puns – we knew this was coming.

But after more than a year of buzz-building, Carowinds on Thursday provided specifics about its worst-kept secret: Its water park will be expanded and rebranded; upon reopening in May 2016, it will be the largest water park in both the Carolinas, swiping the title from Wet’n Wild in Greensboro.

Formerly named Boomerang Bay and carrying an Australian theme, the new moniker is Carolina Harbor Waterpark. (If you’re keeping score at home, this is the fourth name change since the park within the park opened at Carowinds as Ocean Island in 1982. It has also been called Riptide Reef and WaterWorks.)

A majority of the attractions will return, but all will be retitled. On top of that, the water park’s footprint will grow by several acres (it currently covers about 20) into the space vacated by the Thunder Road wooden roller coaster, which closed on July 26 after nearly 40 years in operation.

The expansion will make room for:

▪ Blackbeard’s Revenge, a six-story water slide complex featuring six slides – one of which starts with the floor dropping out from underneath guests and sending them into a nearly vertical free fall.

▪ A two-acre family area featuring a multilevel children’s water spray ground (centerpiece: a 423-gallon bucket that will make guests feel like they’ve been hit by a tidal wave); two toddler areas (Kiddy Hawk Cove and Myrtle Turtle Beach); and a wave pool that can create waves up to six feet high.

▪ A restaurant with two 2,400-square-foot outdoor patios; a full-service bar; sand volleyball courts; 40 new cabanas and 1,100 new lounging chairs; new restrooms and a bath house.

“It’ll be a whole new experience,” said Carowinds general manager Mike Fehnel. “Every single aspect of what’s existing that’ll be coming back and everything new is all going to have ties to the Carolinas, with the Kiddy Hawk Cove and Blackbeard’s Revenge ... and actually, Blackbeard’s Revenge was the name of a ride that was here back when the park opened (in 1973). So with the rebranding, we were looking back at both the Carolinas’ history and our history.”

Admission for the water park will continue to be included in regular park admission, although – and this will come as a welcome addition to people who don’t care for the dry part of the park – Carowinds is creating a separate gated entrance with direct parking-lot access to Carolina Harbor. Previously, water park guests faced a five-minute walk after entering the front gate, and had to dodge packs of kids running from coaster to coaster while schlepping beach bags with towels and bathing suits.

Officials won’t give specifics on how much the upgrade will cost, only saying it is “the latest phase in a $50 million-plus multi-year expansion.”

The worst-kept ‘sea’cret

Carowinds started teasing what it has referred to repeatedly as “a big splash” a year ago, with a nod at the end of a news conference dedicated to the Fury 325 roller coaster announcement last August.

If you emailed members of Carowinds’ media relations team fishing for hints, they’d reply by saying something to the effect of “It’s a ‘sea’cret,” almost always adding a winking emoticon.

And earlier this month, journalists and VIPs were sent invitations to Thursday’s news conference that came as messages in a bottle; the bottle contained seashells and sand, while the message read: “We’ve been ‘harboring’ a secret” and promised the reveal would be “a treasure you’re ‘shore’ to love.”

“Once the can of worms started opening, there was no holding back,” said John Taylor, vice president of marketing, with a laugh. “It was either embrace it, or try to keep it a secret – and there was no point of trying to keep it a secret, so we just embraced it.”

Also coming soon

In addition to the water park announcement, Carowinds trumpeted three other bits of news:

▪ A 3,000-square-foot Starbucks will open at the front entrance of the park in 2016, to give guests a caffeine rush to go with their adrenaline rush.

▪ “Cirque Imagine,” a 30-minute live show, will debut in June. Two performers gave a demo Thursday; one was a cyclist who hopped his bike over three people lying prone on the floor of Carowinds’ Harmony Hall, the other showed off Cirque du Soleil-like skills while spinning inside a large metal ring called a cyr wheel.

▪ Taylor presented a new tease, for another new attraction, using another pun: “Get ready to soil your plants.” (Interestingly, this is also the tagline for PopCap Games’ popular “Plants vs. Zombies” video game.) Details, Carowinds says, will come in October.

Janes: 704-358-5897;

Twitter: @theodenjanes

The water park name game

▪ Carowinds opened it as Ocean Island in 1982.

▪ It was renamed Riptide Reef in 1989.

▪ In 1997, Carowinds spent $7 million while doubling it in size to 12 acres and changing the name to WaterWorks.

▪ In 2006, the water park grew again – by nearly 25 percent – and spent millions turning it into Boomerang Bay.

▪ Next year? Say hello to Carolina Harbor.