One of America's favorite television moms came out Wednesday to celebrate the cold, wet preview of Paramount's Carowinds' newly expanded Nickelodeon area. The theme park officially opens Saturday.
Meredith Baxter, who played mom Elyse Keaton in the 1980s comedy series "Family Ties," was guest of honor among selected Charlotte-area schoolchildren, Mecklenburg and York County leaders and other VIPs on hand for the preview event.
"Get ready to fly, swoop, laugh and scream with all your favorite Nickelodeon characters," Baxter told the kids, who were hidden under a sea of umbrellas. "Nickelodeon Central is open. Get ready for fun, fun and more fun."
The revamped children's area is part of a multimillion dollar expansion that brought the Nick-themed area from 3 to 15 acres. The new area has five new attractions including the Phantom Flyers, an interactive spinning glider.
"That was awesome," exclaimed Hector Oropeza, 13, of Charlotte after riding Phantom Flyers back-to-back. "I loved making it swing. It's so cool."
Other new rides are The Flying Dutchman's Revenge, miniature pirate ships that twist and turn while sloping up and down; Dora the Explorer's Adventure train ride; and Little Bill's Cruisers, miniature speed boats that sail and glide.
York County Councilman Jeff Updike didn't ride anything, but he had fun watching the kids go nuts over the Nick characters and new attractions. Updike worked in the park in the early '80s and said he's impressed with the updates.
Carowinds is stressing family fun this season, said park spokesman Scott Anderson. "Most of these new attractions are rides kids can enjoy with their parents," Anderson said.
And what better way to celebrate the family than bring in a famous television mom?
Baxter, 57, a mother of five grown children, said she remembers well what it's like being a mom looking for things to do with her family.
"I always liked participating with the kids at the parks," Baxter said. "And you can do that here at Carowinds. You're not just sitting on a bench waiting for the kids to finish."
She said Carowinds is an "immediate grab" for both parents and children.
"There's something for the whole family here," she said.
Other changes for the 2005 season are:
• The former Animation Station and Zoom Zone have been revamped and renamed to reflect the Nickelodeon theme. New ride names include the Fairly Odd Coaster, once the Scooby Doo Ghost Coaster; Lazy Town Sporticopters, last called Chopper Chase; TV Land Road Trip, formerly Road Rally; and Hey Arnold's Taxi Chase, the old Taxi Jam.
• Nick Live is a new interactive family game show modeled after "Double Dare," complete with Nickelodeon trivia, pies in the face, an obstacle course and oozy green slime.
• The entire children's area has been given brighter colors and more open space. The asphalt was ripped out and replaced with brick pavement, and snack stands reflect the new Nickelodeon theme.
• New characters have been added including Diego, from Dora the Explorer.
Carowinds opens at 10 a.m. Saturday and will operate on a weekend-only schedule through May 15, with some exceptions including Good Friday and Easter Monday. For a complete schedule or more information, check out www.carowinds.com