It’s only been 5 year since the Jaws ride at Universal Studios Florida has been closed, but for many of us fans it feels a lot longer. They told us it was to “make room for an exciting, NEW, experience” would be replacing the ride which had a 22 year run opening in the summer of 1990, but for many of us you can’t fill that ache in our hearts.
Oh and by the way, that new and exciting ride was the second phase of their Harry Potter attraction, Diagon Alley. I understand their choice. It attracts far more people and ushers in the younger crowd, not to mention the endless merchandising opportunities, but some things you just don’t mess with. So let’s reminisce about the ride to one of our favorite movies, shall we?
So, ironically enough, just like the movie Jaws the ride had many malfunctions of its own. It went over budget, the shark malfunctioned, and the timing was all off; but we’ll get to that later.
The ride many of us remember, including myself, was not the original Jaws ride the Florida theme park had created. The original version of the ride cost Universal Studios $30 million dollars! Unfortunately it had so many technical problems they closed it to rebuild shortly after its grand opening. It seems like the curse of Bruce the shark didn’t stay in the waters of Martha’s Vineyard where the 1975 classic was filmed but also haunted the man made lagoon of Orlando as well.
The original concept was for tourists to board smaller, less sea-worthy boats than the 48 person tour boat we know today, and in on particular section of the lagoon Jaws would grab a boat with his teeth! After getting a hold of the vessel the shark would then swim around the lagoon with the boat in its, well, jaws, at 20 feet per second.
Sure, it sounds good on paper, but a former MCA executive who remained anonymous claimed “Jaws was an engineering nightmare…” When Jaws took hold of a boat pontoon with his REAL shark teeth glued into his mouth he would actually rip it; that was not part of the script. Other times he would lay dormant on the bottom of the lagoon when he was supposed to lunge, in true Bruce the shark fashion. One of the bigger problems was getting the shark up to speed to lunge since the water created drag which slowed him down.
Footage of the original Jaws ride.
As its original big finale the skipper on the boat tour would fire a grenade into the killer shark’s mouth just as it submerged back underneath the water and BOOM! Tiny bits of shark meat and “blood” would be shot ten feet into the air! Well, as good as this all sounds, it did not happen that way.
Getting the timing of the boats and the shark to match proved difficult. If the shark was off his timing then a horrifying experience would turn into a hysterical one, with Jaws just splashing around nowhere near the boats. With technical problems adding up every day Universal finally decided to close the attraction a mere two and a half months after its ribbon cutting ceremony. It wasn’t until three years later until Jaws would resurface for his revenge.
In the newer version of the ride the small vessels, Jaws grabbing a boat and dragging it around the lagoon, as well as the exploding shark finale with raining down shark flesh and blood were all scrapped. Instead they took more elements from the first and second installments of the series and integrated them into the new script. For a “wow factor” fire would be added to the finale with underwater natural gas lines.
While the official opening was in 1993, it wasn’t until early 1994 that the ride was open on a daily basis to the public. The crew at Universal learned from their mistakes and took the extra time to conduct test runs, rehearsals, and iron out the kinks. This time when the ride was re-opened to the public Steven Spielberg was accompanied by the film’s stars Roy Scheider and Lorraine Gary; a proper ribbon cutting ceremony if you ask me.
The new ride consisted of you boarding a 48 person capacity tour boat to view the scenic sights of the Amity harbor as you are told of the shark attack of 1974 and visit the sites of the attack. You would see landmarks from the original movie such as Chief Martin Brody’s house as well as Mayor Larry Vaughn’s. Suddenly a distress call comes over the boat’s radio from another tour guide which turns into screams and then dead air. When your boat rounds the corner you see what’s left of the tour boat as it sinks beneath the water. That’s is when you see the dorsal fin of a great white skim across the water.
The fin passes beneath your boat, rocking it. After firing the grenade launcher a few times and missing each time the skipper decides to take shelter in a boathouse and wait for back up by Chief Brody. The shark then begins ramming itself into the boathouse and eventually breaks through the wall and breaches out of the water into full view of the tourists for the first time.
The skipper speeds away but the shark is in pursuit and again lunges out of the water at the boat.
When the skipper fires another grenade it again misses the shark, this time hitting a nearby gas tank at Bridewell’s Gas Dock which explodes and comes too close for comfort for the passengers, but they escape the flames.
Just as the boat tries to pull up to an old fishing pier by a high voltage barge to unload the passengers to safety the fin reappears and is heading straight for the boat. Jaws emerges going in for the kill but instead of getting a bite of the passengers it gets a mouthful of a submerged power cable from the neighboring barge and is electrocuted. Once the resulting poof of smoke clears the charred remains of the shark appears trying to make one final attempt at attack the boat, but finally the skipper’s last shot from his gun finds it mark killing the great white shark.
Despite the initial success of the ride and its steady success thereafter attendance began to drop off for both Universal Studios Florida as well as their second park Island of Adventure in the early 2000s. The tide then changed in 2010 when the Wizarding World of Harry Potter opened in 2010 in their Island of Adventure Park. Attendance soared and Universal execs saw dollar signs. However, the dollars seemed to be flowing much more freely in their second park. Universal Studios Florida was falling 20% below what its brother park was bringing in, so the inevitable happened. In 2011 it was announced Jaws would be closing to “make room for an exciting, NEW, experience” we all now know is the second Harry Potter attraction which opened in 2014, Diagon Alley.
For those of you who haven’t experienced the thrill of being chased by a giant man eating shark you can binge on the countless videos on youtube. And for those of you who really need to experience the ride for yourself to complete your life’s existence, or for those of you diehards who wish to relive it again, the same exact ride has been built in Universal Studios Japan!
Much like the movie, the Jaws attraction gained a cult classic status in the memories of the visitors who were lucky enough to experience the ride. Living up to Universal’s slogan of the 1990’s “Ride the Movies” it certainly made you feel like you were a part of Amity and the shark that hunted its waters, and it is an experience I will never forget; deepened by nostalgia and my love for a shark that never wanted to cooperate when it’s supposed to.
The ride as we knew it after the re-haul.