It’s been over twelve years since I’ve ridden a rollercoaster. I went on vacation to Disney World with my family in spring of 2013 but unfortunately I didn’t have the foresight to ask my neurologist if rollercoasters are safe given that I have an electrode implanted in my brain. When I had the chance to ask him later that summer, I was surprised to find out that it’s actually no big deal. Since that moment I had been waiting patiently for the opportunity to arise again.
In August 2014 my girlfriend and I decided to spend the day at Paramount’s Carowinds amusement park, about a half hour from Charlotte just over the SC border. Despite my neurologist’s approval I was still a little nervous, mainly about getting on and off the rides. While Disney leads the charge in accessibility, I wasn’t sure what this local amusement park would be like. But I figured there’s no sense in staying home just because something makes you apprehensive, so we decided to give it a try.
Parking was surprisingly easy. There was ample handicap parking and we found a spot near the front. After buying our tickets and entering the park, we rented an electric scooter. They run about fifty bucks for the entire day. The one they gave us was almost out of batteries and petered out before we even made it to our first ride, but a replacement was provided at no charge and that one worked fine. If you don’t bring your power chair with you, I would definitely recommend renting one of these scooters for the day. The park grounds are expansive and using a push chair would be a challenge.
We selected a rollercoaster called “Ricochet” for our first ride, based on its bright colors and relatively tame appearance (no loops or big hills). We thought Richochet looked like a good ‘warm-up’. However, if we expected a stress-free, leisurely ride then we were sorely mistaken. The shenanigans started when my feet wouldn’t fit into the car. The seat was evidently not designed for someone who is 6’3’’ with a size 14 shoe. After struggling to wedge my feet in for a solid ten minutes and holding up a long line of eager kids, I finally got situated. So we sat back, ready to relax and enjoy the ride.
The ride starts off flat and pretty tame…until you reach the first turn. Then you experienced the full ricochet effect of being flung through a series of hairpin turns that make you feel as though you are going to fly right off the track. There are also a few strategically placed, death-defying drops thrown in. Jeannie was screaming for the entirety of the journey and at the end she jokingly said “I thought we were going to die.” The difficulty helping me get on the ride combined with the worry of something happening to me was a little more than she anticipated. Nonetheless, it was a memorable experience and one that we are still laughing about. We even bought the picture.
After that we needed a breather so we stopped for a slushee and played a few carnival games. I won a Duke basketball in a shooting game and I was amused to see a little boy’s jaw drop as I swished three free throws in row from my wheelchair.
Next we tried a couple of the tamer rides, the Carolina Gold Rusher and the Woodstock. Getting onto and off of the rides was the biggest challenge, especially because I barely fit on most of the rides we went on. In contrast, getting to and from the rides was no problem at all. There were elevators where necessary, and the staff was mostly friendly and helpful. I ran into the most trouble getting off of the Whitewater Rapids ride because the seat was wet and slippery. Fortunately a guy in line generously volunteered to help me get back into my chair. The colossal splash that doused us at the end of that ride was probably worth the trouble, especially on that sizzling hot summer day. We ended our adventure by riding Thunder Road, a tall coaster with lots of steep drops. It took some convincing to get Jeannie to agree to it but it ended up being our favorite ride of the afternoon.
Overall, the accessibility of Carowinds was pretty good. Getting to the rides in a wheelchair is super easy. I wish that boarding/disembarking from the rollercoasters could be made easier, perhaps with better trained personnel and special cars designated for disabled guests such as they have at Disney. Nevertheless, I faired pretty well and had an unforgettable day. Looking forward to going back next year and maybe I’ll be able to talk Jeannie into riding the Dale Earnhardt Intimidator!