"My stomach was up here one minute," said 11-year-old Ryan Horner, as he pointed to his neck, "and down here the next," pointing to his knees. "I felt like I was going to fly right out of my seat.
"It's very, very, very fast," said Ryan, who came from Huntersville, N.C., on opening weekend to ride the Intimidator.
He's right. The coaster travels at speeds up to 80 miles an hour. It climbs 232 feet at the start and then quickly enters a 211-foot drop.
"These were the longest drops anywhere -- Universal Studios, anywhere in Orlando, anywhere," she said.
Danielle Michaud was celebrating her 12th birthday at Carowinds with her parents and three friends opening weekend. The four middle-schoolers from Spartanburg couldn't wait to get on the Intimidator. "This is better than any present," Danielle said as she walked off the ride, still reeling from the dips and the speed. "That's worth a million dollars right there."
Her friends, Robyn Henderson, Ruhi Patel ad Zainab Dossaji, agreed.
"It really did take your breath away," Robyn said.
"It was intimidating," Ruhi chimed in with a laugh.
They all nodded and started talking at once, reliving the 3-minute ride and planning to go back for a second trip.
For those not so sure about the speed and the stomach-plunging drops of the Intimidator, Carowinds offers plenty of other options.
Also worth exploring is Planet Snoopy, a Peanuts-themed 12-acre kids' area packed with rides and attractions. You can ride the Woodstock Express roller coaster -- way tamer than the Intimidator, but a blast for the younger set. You'll even get your picture taken as the coaster hits the first drop. Or take a trip on Lucy's Crabbie Cabbie or the Woodstock Gliders. You can catch some of the gang strolling around the park. Linus, Charlie Brown, Snoopy and Lucy are happy to accept a hug or a high five, and pose for a photograph.
Along with the new, there are some new looks for the old. The Carolina Cyclone roller coaster opened in 1980, and it was the first in the world to take riders upside down four times. (It has two loops and a double corkscrew.) It got a new look with three new colors -- blue, red and orange. It may not make your stomach lurch for as long as the Intimidator, but the thrill is definitely still there.
And speaking of the Intimidator, it was the talk of the park, with people making comparisons between it and every other roller coaster. Carowinds has 13 of them, including the Carolina Cobra (it goes forward AND backward), the Afterburn, the Vortex (a stand-up coaster), the Nighthawk and the Hurler (enough said).
Brian Adams, a 13-year-old from Mooresville, N.C., said he was truly scared at the top of the first climb on the Intimidator: "Everything looked really small from up there."
And how was his stomach after the ride? "Oh, my stomach's fine -- now."
His dad, Ty Adams, came to Carowinds on opening weekend just to ride the newest roller coaster. Did he think Dale Earnhardt would be happy with the coaster that bears his nickname?
"He'd be impressed," Adams said. "I know it."
WHERE: Carowinds is in Fort Mill, SC, just off I-77 at Exit 90, on the border of North and South Carolina. It's about 80 miles from Columbia and 15 miles from Uptown Charlotte.
COST: The gate price for a regular single day ticket is $49.99, and a two-day ticket is $54.99. After 4 p.m. the price drops to $22.99. But check out the park's website (www.carowinds.com) for print-at-home ticket discounts.
WHAT ELSE? Boomerang Bay water park, a 20-acre water area with a wave pool, lazy river and 11 water slides, opens for the season May 29.
PARENT TIP: You can bring your own stroller or rent one at the park. The in-park Baby Care Center in Planet Snoopy offers a quiet spot to feed or change infants. There are also several diaper changing area in restrooms throughout the park.
MORE INFORMATION: www.carowinds.com