Carowinds in Charlotte, North Carolina, is one of the old Paramount parks (like Richmond, Virginia’s Kings Dominion) that was purchased by Cedar Fair when Paramount decided to get out of the theme park business.  You won’t find too many licensed properties (other than Snoopy), but you find a ton of cool roller coasters in parks like these.  I’m actually surprised, that given the hardships so many other companies have faced that the Cedar Fair parks have faired well enough to stay open, considering their closest competitors, Six Flags, seems to be having nothing but issues.

Still, they try to compete in the lucrative Halloween haunt race, with eight haunted houses, three scarezones, and a couple of shows.  Much like Busch Gardens, Scarowinds Halloween Haunt (this year titled Scarowinds X), rather than just recycling props into differently themed houses, actually recycles the majority of the houses from the previous year, and usually injects one or two new houses a year.  Which is a great cost-saving measure, but it kind of makes repeat visits from year to year a little less enticing, as I saw at least two houses that I’d seen from the last time I’d gone there (2 years ago) with very little in the way of change.  Sure, updates were made, but the overall experience was relatively the same.

Still, that was just two of EIGHT haunted houses – was the drive to Scarowinds worth it?  More after the jump. 

Pre-Haunt VIP Add-On:
So I paid the extra $17 or so to get the VIP Add-On, which was to include a buffet meal (starting at 6) and early access to the park (you’d be allowed in at 6:30 before the general public at 7).  Let it be known that, even though I printed up my tickets with a barcode online, someone actually tore the piece of paper in half, like an old timey ticket, instead of scanning the barcode.  Found that funny.

The whole “buffet” thing was a bit sparse, really.  There were about four or five side dishes, and your choice of beef or turkey (sliced), and a carrot cake muffin.  I’ve attended similar events in other parks where the spread is WAY more impressive, but given the relative emptiness of the tent (maybe around 100 or so people), I’m guessing that the sales don’t really warrant doing much more.  While you eat, you get to watch video interviews about the making of the park’s events.  Great idea, but since the tent was outside, you can’t hear much, so I ended up missing most of what was being shown.

At around 6:20, they led us to the closest house, and the only house new for this year, Defex, Inc. (review below).  After leaving Defex, since it was only around 6:30, we figured we’d get in a good two or three houses before 7 o’clock, thus beating the rush after the gates opened.  The only problem?  None of the other houses were open!  Frustrated, we decided to hit some of the rides instead, like the new Intimidator roller coaster that would surely be crowded later.  Well, apparently we weren’t allowed on any of the rides either, even though they were still running them (yup, empty). 

So yeah, we paid $17 extra for a shoddy buffet and ONE haunted house.  Don’t get me wrong, it was beneficial to already be inside the park AT 7 so we could get in as soon as the event started, but a major improvement would be to have at least all the indoor haunted houses open for next year’s VIP add-on passholders, or at least the rides.  I know the add-on wasn’t that much money, but walking around the park for a half hour doing nothing seems like a poor planning decision.

Defex, Inc.
The new house for this year’s event.  There was a bit of sunlight still shining in that affected the experience, but overall the house wasn’t horrible.  Basically the thing I noticed about the houses at Scarowinds is that the houses were more based on themes, rather than stories.  The theme of this house was the rejected toys gone bad and taking over the factory.  No real jumps in this one, and it was a bit generic.  Not a good start to the night, really.

Camp Killauee
Yup, a slasher CAMP type theme.  Actually, this outdoor haunted house was one of the last ones we hit (it wasn’t open until it was dark), but it was actually really good.  There were some good full size props (including a school bus) that really added to the feel of the house, and made it significantly better than the other outdoor haunt…

Yech.  I never realized how difficult it is to make a scary cornfield maze, but it’s a rare occurrence that I’ve been in one.  This one, obviously, wasn’t too hot.  Not too many big scenes – just people hiding in camouflage outfits, and some chainsaws.  Nothing to write home about. 

Dead Inn
Probably would have been the best house of the night, had it not been SO dark.  You walk through a haunted inn where horrible things are happening, and the whole haunt was extremely well done – scenes in different rooms really add to the experience.  The main issue really lies in that the rooms are left wide open, with little to no direction on where the exit is.  So…the actors have to break character to guide you out.  We got lost multiple times in the house before finally getting separated.  Some of the tunnels were so dark you couldn’t even see where to go or which way to turn.  With a little extra work on guiding your guests to the right areas, this would be a stupendous house.

Last Laff in 3D
While we were in line, I noticed a booth with 3D glasses for this maze.  I went to get the glasses, just to find out they cost a dollar.  Yes, you have to pay a buck to really get anything out of this house.  Without the 3D glasses, this house is HORRIBLE.  However, with the glasses, it’s extremely effective, so pay the stupid dollar.  Still, I found myself really liking this house (with the glasses on) – if you’ve been to any haunt in the last couple of years, you’ve seen the blacklight 3D house (typically with clowns) so nothing really original here, but what was done was well done.

Silver Scream Cinema
I was excited for this house.  Ever since 2003’s Universal Orlando’s HHN event (with its icon, the Director), I’ve been a fan of movie theater-themed mazes.  It starts with a pretty cool little set up, where you walk in and have your picture taken (not sure how that plays into the movie theater theme though), then walk through a movie theater lobby.  The problem with this house is when you walk into the movies – you get a mummy scene, a mad scientist theme, vampires, blah blah blah, before ending by walking through a movie theater.  The movie theater stuff itself was great – the rest of it was still good, just not as good.

Slaughter House
One of the repeat houses I’d been through before.  Overall, the house itself is pretty good.  It’s not just the slaughter house that you walk through, but also through the office area and all that.  It’s a pretty good overall experience.  You get to walk through hanging body bags, and get chased by weirdos in pig masks.  Some great scenes in this one.  Though it was a repeat from a previous year, it was well done enough that I could understand its repeat performance.  It would be great to add a bit more of a story to it though.

The Asylum
The other repeat house for me.  This house has a great façade, but there were some definite issues with the house.  First, they’re playing dance music throughout the house.  Yup, in an asylum.  I get music for feel, but that music just didn’t work.  They couldn’t use the Saw soundtrack or something?  Also, at one point, one of the scareactors walked up to me, pointed at my HHN XX shirt and, in monster voice, asks “Did you go?”  Seriously.  I mean, I get finding like minded individuals to talk to…but don’t break character!  Sigh…. 

And now the Scarezones….

Feeding Frenzy
Vampires have over a city.  A pretty elaborate scarezone, fully enclosed with multiple cars and set pieces.  The main issue?  It’s fully enclosed.  For a house that works, but for a scarezone that everyone walks through (there is a way around it), it got packed REAL tight in there.

The Cemetery
I dug this one, which was a repeat from a previous year.  It’s a pretty elaborate little cemetery set up with different ghosts and ghouls.  Really, this scarezone was more of an outdoor haunt than a scarezone (same as Feeding Frenzy).  Worth the walk through.

The Playground
I thought I’d like this one.  I walked through in the day time and noticed all of the cool playground props.  But walking through it with the actors didn’t add anything to the experience.  They just either didn’t do much, or the area was just too large and spread out to really work as well as the more enclosed other scarezones.  It’s a shame – this one had promise…I think it just needs to be a little tigher.

Overall experience:
Overall, Scarowinds is worth the price of admission (my ticket was $35, not including the add-on).  Of course, the add-on is really up to you, as I felt it didn’t really have enough bang for the buck.  Still, the longest we waited for any house (no express pass is offered) was about a half hour, and we hit all eight houses by 9 o’clock.  The longest lines seemed to be for the rides, so if you’re going for those, be prepared to wait (actually, the last time I went, we waited over an hour for a roller coaster, a big time hit on the evening). 
While I understand the need to cut costs by repeating use of props and sets, I really wish they’d work more towards updating their houses every year.  When 7 of your 8 haunted houses are repeats, I find that seems to hurt motivation to go year after year. 
Still, if you’ve never been, and can’t make it out to Orlando this year, check out Scarowinds.  They really do try to put on a good effort despite the lack of resources, and the passion comes through.  Recommended.

Click any pictures below to enlarge!