I always loved Carowinds when I was a kid, but I’m more jealous of children today. They get to visit a vastly improved version of the park. Under the guidance of Cedar Fair Entertainment Company, Carowinds has improved dramatically since 2006. It’s now a place with a couple of the best coasters on the planet, the Intimidator and (especially) Fury 325, the latter of which is a Gigacoaster with a mean streak.
Perhaps the best change to Carowinds is its all-year, family-friendly focus. It now throws in free water park admission to Carolina Harbor and has a pair of seasonal events. WinterFest is extremely popular with the locals, but I’m partial to SCarowinds, one of the best Halloween parties at any theme park.
5. Kings Dominion
I’m deeply impressed by the management team at Cedar Fair. Whenever a quality theme park hits the market, they’re ready to swoop in with a bid to buy the place and elevate it. They did this with Carowinds in 2006 and again with Kings Dominion in 2007. Both of those decisions positively impacted the theme park industry in the Southeast.
Under Cedar Fair’s stewardship, Kings Dominion added Intimidator 305. It’s somehow a successor to Carowinds’ Intimidator and a precursor to that park’s Fury 325. The new Intimidator is a Gigacoaster with a nasty 85-degree drop from 300 feet in the air. The park brags that it’s like plummeting the Eiffel Tower’s observation platform, only you’re going 90 miles per hour.
Cedar Fair added a Halloween event here, too. While I believe SCarowinds is better, Halloween Haunt has its supporters, also. Plus, the Planet Snoopy area here is more extensive than at any other Cedar Fair property. Disney and Universal receive 99.9 percent of the media, but Cedar Fair is quietly one of the best theme park companies ever.
4. Busch Gardens Tampa Bay
Being the third-best theme park in Florida is akin to winning a bronze medal in a sport where you weren’t expected to place in the top 10. You’re thrilled to be on the podium because you know that the top two options are better than you. Such is Busch Gardens Tampa Bay's lot in life. It's plenty good enough to finish on the top half of this list. Had we excluded the two obvious but yet to be mentioned parks from the list, it would have been a coin flip for first place. By regular theme park standards, it’s a lovely place to hang out. It’s just not, you know…
The star attraction at Busch Gardens Tampa Bay now is Tigris, a twisting, turning,, go back and forth-ing ride that is NOT for those prone to motion sickness. It’s one of the most novel ride experiences in the world, primarily because you’re never quite sure what’ll happen next.
Sometimes, you'll feel like your coaster cart might not have enough energy to make it over the hill…and it won't! Then, it might surprise you by having just enough oomph for the next section. Seriously, there's nothing else quite like Tigris at the moment.