Updated: Mar 5
For those of you who were lucky enough to visit Universal Studios Orlando between 1993 and 2012, you'll know how truly fantastic the Jaws ride was. It lived up to Universal's marketing ploy of "Ride the Movies!" and put you face to face with one of horrors most iconic monsters as he stalked the waters surrounding Amity Island.
But much like the film, the ride ran in to an endless list of problems and technical issues. These particular problems became so much of an issue that Universal went to court with those responsible for building it. The ride was then demolished, redesigned and rebuilt within 2 years of its grand opening. Kind of ironic when you think about how many problems Spielberg and the crew ran into making the film. Anyway, put your feet up and read on as we look back on one of Universal's most iconic rides.
When the park, and ride, had its grand opening in June 27th 1990 Universal ran into a mess of operating issues with all of its major attractions (Jaws, Kongfrontation & Earthquake: The Big One). Unbelievably their opening was so bad they actually introduced a voucher system for guests to re-visit the park when the attractions were running as they should be. Whilst Universal managed to find ways to fix the issues with its other main attractions, Jaws persisted and rarely performed without any issues. Universal then took the decision to close the ride indefinitely September 1990 for a major change to the entire ride.
The Original Ride
The ride's original concept began from the popularity of Bruce snapping at guests on the Studio Tour at Universal's original theme park in Hollywood. The ride took guests through several different sets on a tram before making its way along the Amity shoreline where the guests would come face to face with the iconic movie monster. The Studio Tour opened in 1976 and Bruce is still attacking guests there to this day.
Universal Studios Florida looked to take concepts from the Studio Tour in Hollywood and turn them into their own rides on a much larger scale. The original ride was designed by MCA/Universal Planning and Development and Ride & Show Engineering Inc. (who were responsible for the Amity segment in Universal Hollywood's Studio Tour). The film's original director Steven Spielberg also worked in conjunction with them as creative consultant.
The original ride was drastically different to the one that most of you will remember. The main differences being appearances and interactions with the shark, the names and types of the boats, the story and the rides big finale. You can check out the video below to see the original ride in all its glory.
Following its opening, the ride experienced extensive and incredibly persistent bugs and technical issues. Most of which were to do with the rides sharks and the special effects used throughout. Effects mis-timing, miscuing or not working at all usually resulted in the experience being more comedic than originally intended.
For example, one encounter with the shark featured him dragging the pontoon boat full of guests across the water. The pontoon boat was used as Universal could simulate to some degree that the boat was sinking, whilst that worked it was the shark that was the major problem here. Sometimes the shark wouldn't work at all or lunge at the boat too late. The misfires also caused poor Bruce to lose some of his teeth in the process. As I said previously this resulted in it being comedic than terrifying, I can't imagine a toothless shark being all that scary.
Anyway, the ride was then closed temporarily in August 1990 to give Universal the chance to properly fix the bugs. During this time they also filed a lawsuit against the rides original design team Ride & Show Engineering Inc. for failing to properly design the ride. Ride & Show Engineering Inc. hit back stating they were rushed and given impossible-to-meet deadlines whilst designing and constructing the ride. The lawsuit was settled with an agreement between both parties and Universal made multiple attempts throughout 1991 and 1992 to refurbish and re-open it. These attempts proved futile and Universal realised there was no saving the ride. They then took the decision to close the ride indefinitely to redesign and rebuild the majority of the ride.
The New Jaws Ride
Universal teamed up with Totally Fun Company, ITEC Entertainment, Intamin and Oceaneering International for the new ride. The idea was each company would be responsible for only certain aspects of the ride as opposed to the ride as a whole. The redesign was near enough an entirely new version of the ride. The new ride featured the story of Jaws as an actual, real-life event that happened in Amity and following it's popularity after Spielberg's 1975 classic, Captain Jake introduced a boat tour that would allow guests to see some of the real-life spots where back in 1975 "that bad old shark Jaws devoured those poor and innocent islanders!"
Guests would board Amity Six for Captain Jake's Amity Boat Tours of Amity Island, complete with their very own skipper. The tour is then suddenly interrupted by a 25 foot monster Great White Shark that is intent on attacking the boat and devouring all those on board. The ride also introduced new boats that wouldn't sink (except Amity Three of course), a new appearance from the shark, a gas dock explosion replaced the boat drag sequence and the finale of the ride was changed to favour the ending of Jaws 2 (biting down on an electrical cable) as opposed to being blown up by the skipper (similar to the ending of Jaws). This is the version of the ride that most people will know, love and remember.
Following the successful re-design and re-build of the ride Universal announced its big return and re-opening to the public. The ride was then officially re-opened by Lorraine Gary, Roy Scheider and Steven Spielberg in Spring 1993. You can see the full video of it below.
After the Refurbishment
The ride went on to thrill and scare thousands of guests since its grand re-opening in 1993 and went on to become somewhat of a fan favourite. However, it still ran into various issues over the years. Following the horrendous hurricanes that hit Central Florida in 2004, Universal was forced to close the ride January 2005 amid rising petrol prices. Of course the ride used a considerable amount due to the various pyrotechnical effects used throughout the ride as well as the tour boats.
The ride re-opened December 2005 but was listed as seasonal meaning it was only open on the parks busier periods and days. Several new refurbishments were made throughout the closure and the ride was then refurbished annually from 2008-2011. Luckily the seasonal operations of the ride only lasted until February 2007, it was fully re-opened for year round operations after Universal received numerous complaints from guests.
The Ride's Closure
Fast forward to 2nd December 2011 and much to fans dismay, Universal Orlando made the shock announcement that the ride would be closing forever.
Universal Orlando Resort announced the ride would be closing permanently January 2nd 2012 along with the entire Amity Island themed area of Universal Studios Florida. It was to be closed and demolished to make way for the new and exciting second phase of The Wizarding World of Harry Potter. The announcement was met with severe backlash from fans worldwide. For me personally, it felt as if they didn't give anyone par locals enough time to make the trip back there to experience the ride for the very last time. I would've loved to have gone back to experience it one last time! Giving fans one month was a pretty low blow by Universal if you ask me.
It is what it is unfortunately, but The Wizarding World of Harry Potter will always be slightly tainted (for me) for that reason alone. The only BIG remnants left from Amity are the hanging shark photo op and the Amity Island Lobster Co. building. There are various Jaws Easter Eggs hidden throughout the Harry Potter section of the park that replaced Amity though.
Photo - @adventuresofbigkids
Amity Six took its final voyage at Universal Studios Florida January 2nd 2012 with skipper Michael. By the next morning, Amity Island was walled off and demolition had begun. You can see the final voyage video below.
Jaws Finds a New Home at Universal Studios Japan
For those of you who would still love to experience this incredible ride, it now resides at Universal Studios Japan. The ride is said to be pretty much the same as its Orlando counterpart. It opened March 31st 2001 and is still a fan favourite amongst the guests that have had the pleasure of experiencing it.
As much as I love Universal Orlando, I honestly don't think I'll ever forgive them for demolishing this ride. As great as the Harry Potter stuff is, it's not Jaws. For me, it'll never even be in the same league.
Will it find new home in Universal's new Orlando park- Epic Universe? My guess is probably not, it would be incredible for Jaws to make a triumphant return to Florida like King Kong has managed to do in Islands of Adventure but I'm not betting on it. Although the film celebrated its 45th Anniversary this year, there hasn't been a fresh entry in the franchise since 1987's horrendously bad Jaws: The Revenge and it doesn't look like we'll be getting one anytime soon (luckily). Kong on the other hand was rebooted with Jackson's 2005 smash hit film, has gone on to have a sequel with 2017's Kong: Skull Island and there are plans to feature him facing off against Godzilla in the near future.
Part of me is more hopeful that the Universal Monsters will feature more in Epic Universe though, with the various Monsters films/reboots currently in development Universal would be stupid not to capitalise on them. I'll be keeping my fingers crossed anyway!
If you want to know more about the Jaws ride, I would recommend buying and reading Adventures in Amity: Tales From The Jaws Ride book by Dustin McNeill. I got hold of a copy last year and as an avid fan I loved it. This book goes into a lot more detail than I have in this article, a must for any Jaws fan to be honest.
In closing, for me, there was nothing better than this ride. And as I've said above I don't think I'll ever forgive Universal for demolishing this. Considering the film is still incredibly popular even 45 years on, I think Universal could've handled the fans and the rides closure a lot better!
I'll always hold fond memories of this ride and I can still recite it pretty much word for word (always wanted to work on it when I was younger), but I'll be honest I feel Universal has strayed too far away its original "Ride the Movies!" ploy. As fantastic as the rides are nowadays I find them relying on digital screens and simulators far too much.
The Skull Island: Reign of Kong ride in Islands of Adventure for example is nowhere near as great as it could be. Far too reliant on simulation and digital screens, don't get me wrong its great fun but the best part of that ride is the real-life set and truly breathtaking animatronic life-size Kong featured at the end of the ride. There's just not enough of that there for me anymore!
As for what the future holds, I'm incredibly excited at the thought of new rides opening at Epic Universe. Fingers crossed Universal aim to go back to their roots more and start putting fans back in the movies.
As for what Universal was, the Universal Horror Make-Up Show and E.T. Adventure are the only remaining original attractions from the parks disastrous opening day. Part of me always hopes they'll remain but I felt the same about Jaws. I guess only time will tell.