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Universal 25: The Jaws Ride

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The most recent ride to close at Universal Orlando Resort was the iconic Jaws Ride. Jaws opened with Universal Studios Florida on June 7th of 1990. The attraction was an expanded version of the Jaws scene on the Universal Studios Hollywood Studio Tour. The original version of the ride was designed by MCA/Universal Planning and Development and Ride & Show Engineering. Steven Spielberg himself was a creative consultant for the ride.

When the attraction opened in 1990, the ride was deemed to be problematic, which it was. The 1990 version of the ride was much different than the version that closed in 2012. Some of the differences include different boats, different sharks, and a totally different ending! The ride wouldn’t work. Other opening day attractions such as Earthquake and Kongfrontation were able to work through their technical problems, but the Jaws Ride could not. Universal closed the ride in late 1990 and sued Ride & Show Engineering for failing to properly design the ride.

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Universal teamed up with the Oceaneering, Intamin, ITEC Entertainment, and the Totally Fun Company to completely rebuild the ride. The old boats were shipped off to MGM Grand Adventures in Las Vegas to be used on the Backlot River Tour, and brand new boats were brought in for the Jaws Ride. Two major scenes were replaced, the scene where the shark would grab your tour boat and pull it through the water, and the final scene in which your skipper would shoot a grenade into the sharks mouth, causing it to explode. Those two scenes were replaced by the gas dock explosion, and the electrical barge scenes. In their first ever theme park project, Oceaneering provided the animatronics for the new attraction. The ride was successfully reopened by Steven Spielberg, Roy Scheider and Lorraine Gary in 1993.

The Ride

The attraction was like no other. After walking through the town of Amity and walking into boathouses near Amity Harbor, you were brought to the entrance of Captain Jake’s Amity Boat Tours. Guests boarded the tour boats and they were taken on a scenic boat tour of the quaint New England town called Amity. While on the tour, your tour guide was taking you to see the actual locations of shark attacks that occurred during the tragic summer of 1974. The tour guide, also known as the “skipper” reassured you that a shark hasn’t been seen in the area since 1974, and he brought a 40 mm grenade launcher just incase we were to run into one.

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The tour starts in Amity Harbor, as you pass the homes of Chief Brody, and the mayor of Amity; along with many other water-front businesses. The tour boat continues towards a lighthouse, and over the radio you hear a distress call by Amity 3 (another tour boat). Skipper Gordon of Amity 3 is screaming over the radio, calling for help, his screams fade away.. Silence.

Your tour boat rounds the corner, and there you see that Amity 3 has sunk. A fin rises out of the water. You now know what happened to Amity 3. It’s a shark! The great white disappears under the tour boat. Your skipper pulls out his grenade launcher, not realizing it is loaded, and he fires! Bam! The grenade breaches the water surface and water sprays everywhere! He missed the shark! Looking to hide somewhere, the skipper sees a boathouse ahead, you head to it!

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Its dark, your tour guide has his spotlight on. You’re in the boathouse. A sound is heard towards the back of the boathouse. Silence, an eerie silence is in the room as the skipper tries to search for where the sound came from. “BANG!” The silence is broken by a loud crash, the shark is ramming himself into the side of the boathouse. Full throttle! Oh no, the boat won’t drop into gear. The skipper hits the throttle a few more times, finally! It kicks into gear! The skipper rushes us out of the boathouse, while the shark is attempting to attack us.

While pulling out of the boathouse, Chief Brody comes over the radio telling us that he will be there in 10 minutes. Our skipper picks up the radio, and panically responds “10 MINUTES!? WE’LL BE SHARK BAIT IN 10 MINUTES!”. He grabs his grenade launcher, the shark jumps out of the water towards the boat, the skipper fires! He misses, he hit a nearby gas dock! The dock is engulfed in flames! (photo by Nick Chandler)

The skipper doesn’t know what to do. He decided that he’s going to unload everyone at the nearest boat dock, which happens to be a fishing pier next to a high voltage barge. The boat pulls up next to the dock, but its too late! The shark comes lunging at them from out of the water! The skipper fires his grenade launcher! The shark attempts to bite the boat, but he accidentally bites a submerged power cable. The shark disappears. Silence. People on the boat are confused. A roasted shark slowly rises out of the water, it’s dead!

The tour boat pulls away, heading straight back to Amity Harbor. The skipper picks up his radio to contact Chief Brody, he proudly says “Call off the marines… We’re coming home!”. The skipper thanks his guests, and they exit the tour boat back into the village of Amity.

Team Member Memmories 

We had the chance to interview a former Jaws Ride skipper, Bill. Below is what he had to say about the iconic attraction!

Park Pass: Tell us a little about what you did at the Jaws Ride, did you enjoy your job?

Bill: “I was hired at Universal in 1993, and was there nearly two years - all at Jaws, with some periodic work at crowd control in different areas of the park. At the time, I had also been working at Disney for about 4 years in Monorails. Most days, I would work mornings/afternoons at Universal, then would work closing shifts at Disney.

I worked all the basic positions on Jaws - everybody came out of training as a skipper, and rotated between the various load/unload/queue positions when not on a boat. I was also Tower trained (ride control operation) a month or two after starting. Because Jaws had all that water, when first hired, we had to complete a water safety class at a nearby pool, including water rescue, passing a swim test, etc.After that was a day or two of training on being a skipper, practicing the script, and getting coached on putting on the best performance.

Working at Jaws was a lot of fun, and quite different from my work at Disney. It was a different vibe, but we had a great team at Jaws.Working as a skipper in the Florida heat could be pretty exhausting. Skippers would rotate through the various dock positions, and would be in a boat for an hour at a time. Working the Tower position gave you the opportunity to sit, and enjoy some cooler air. If the ride went down, however, the Tower operator had to communicate with maintenance and all the skippers about what was going on, and coordinate things.”

Park Pass: We all know that the ride has lots of technical issues, did any tech fail while you were giving a tour?

Bill: “Various sharks (or fins for the partial sharks) failed semi-regularly. There was cover material to use in case a fin or shark wasn’t working. Generally, you just would act like you had glimpsed the shark briefly. The grenade effects were usually going off regardless. Playing off a missing shark or two wasn’t bad. Playing off 3 or more missing sharks was difficult. You could see the guests wondering where the sharks were, or wondering why they didn’t see more.Various boathouse effects would be out periodically, but it didn’t affect my tours much.

The worst thing that could happen was for the ride to stop completely. Usually, either a computer/sensor issue. When a skipper was out on a boat, and things stopped moving, you could play it off for a minute or so. There was cover material for such events. After a couple of minutes, or when the guests seemed to be tired of the skipper’s cover material, the skipper would go to the last resort of apologizing, and offer Jaws facts and trivia. That was not a fun position to be in for very long.

There was one particular day that was pretty bad. We were told the park was open, and would have guests any minute now. Six of the seven sharks weren’t working, and the supervisor told us to open. The morning crew took a stand, and we said we would not operate the ride with only one of the sharks operating (the one working shark was Fin 2, before the boathouse). Eventually, we were convinced to open, and the supervisor agreed to hang out at unload to handle any unhappy guests. He only stayed a few minutes though, and we were open.We did the best we could, but it’s hard to put on a great show/tour with only one shark effect working.”

Park Pass: How often would celebrities come to the attraction? Did you ever have one on your boat?

Bill: “Celebrities occasionally found their way through Universal, but I only encountered a few at Universal. I gave a tour to John Stamos once, but my “claim to fame” for celebrity tours was when the Hawaiian Tropic models came by to do some filming for a tv special. When they decided to put them on my boat, every skipper wanted to give me an early break, and take my boat for me. Every supervisor in the park suddenly showed up at unload. It was funny to see everybody suddenly giving us so much attention. The models rode several times around on my boat while a camera guy shot some footage of them enjoying the ride. That was a lot of fun.”

Park Pass: What was your favorite part of the ride, and why?

Bill: “The boathouse was a lot of fun. Lots of effects, it was dark, and the shark effect surprised a lot of people. Another part I liked was behind the gas dock. In the first year or two after the ride re-opened following the redesign, one of the rotation positions was manning the gas equipment controls in one of the buildings overlooking the gas dock explosion scene. It was a chance to go on the island, get away from the crowds, and watch the boats and effects. The ride op was basically there to watch the gas scene, and e-stop everything if there was any sort of issue with the gas/flames. Never saw anything unusual happen there (outside of the flame effects not working occasionally).”

Park Pass: Do you have any funny stories? Or some special team member memories?

Bill: “Aside from the ones mentioned, getting to walk around the ride area when it was drained for maintenance was really cool. They kept those of us who agreed to clean the ride very busy. We scrubbed down every boat, and there was lots of pressure hoses, squeegees, and brooms working on removing debris, and hydraulic fluid/oil from the lagoon floor. It was pretty physical work, but seeing the ride like that, and all the sharks raised up was worth it.

I used to do some off-script improv announcements for guests waiting to board the ride, embellishing on getting wet, and swearing that nobody ever sees a shark around here. It was silly, but was part of having a good time on the ride. Jaws usually provided some crowd control for the western stunt show next door, so occasionally I would get sent over there and be inside watching the show once the guests were seated, or outside killing time, and advising guests when the next show was taking place. I memorized that western show very quickly, but it was usually fun to watch as a break from the ride.”

Bill also said “We didn’t have many skippers that mailed it in. Everybody really wanted to give their best performance, and give the guests a great show during the ride. Jumping around, reacting to the sharks, and firing off the grenade launcher never got old.”

You can follow Bill on Instagram @MrCoaster1.

Call Off The Marines.. We’re Coming Home!

The attraction’s queue was in three different buildings and could hold up to 1000 guests, it was often used for Halloween Horror Nights. The ride track was around 1,140 feet long, and the attraction used 2,000 of electrical wires throughout the attraction.

On December 2nd of 2011, Universal Orlando announced that the Jaws Ride and the whole themed land of Amity would permanently close on January 2nd, 2012. No replacement was announced at the time. Fans were devastated. The ride closed for good on January 2nd, and the last tour ever was given by Skipper Michael at 9:00pm. Amity 6 called off the marines for the final time, and they were going home, for good.

The following day the attraction and all of Amity was behind grey construction walls, and it was completely demolished in the following weeks. Jaws and the town of Amity were later replaced by the Wizarding World Of Harry Potter: Diagon Alley in summer of 2014.

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