We’re going to delve a ways back into Universal Studios Orlando’s history, looking at an opening day attraction that was near and dear to my heart. No, I’m not talking about the Murder, She Wrote Mystery Theatre. We’re talking about JAWS.
The basic concept of the Jaws ride is (like many of Universal Orlando’s attractions) based on something that was originally featured in the (overrated) Studio Tram Tour at Universal Studios Hollywood. During the tram tour, guests pass through a small recreation of Amity Island. As the tram gets a little too close to the water, the shark from Jaws pops out at the guests.
It’s a great moment – if you’re on the proper side of the tram – and Universal Orlando wanted to recreate that in their Florida parks. But of course they didn’t have a tram ride to slap it onto, so they instead created an entire themed area.
Amity, as you know, means Friendship. It’s also the fictional location of Peter Benchley’s 1974 novel and Steven Spielberg’s 1975 blockbuster film. I’m assuming you’ve heard of it. If you haven’t seen it, just log off and go watch it. You know what, even if you have seen it, you should go watch it again. It’s pretty much one of the greatest movies ever made (heck, it might even be one of the greatest films).
So anyways, Amity was located between the San Francisco area of the park and the World Expo section. Like the movie, the visual presentation was based on Martha’s Vineyard, Massachusetts during the annual 4th of July Celebration (I guess “annual” is redundant. It’s not like I’m getting paid by the word here).
Amity was intended to feel like a lower-middle class area – the kind of place that really relied on that almighty tourist dollar. The presence of anything like a shark that could hurt tourism really could destroy the entire economy (hence the line in the film about how “24 hours is like three weeks.”).
Of course, the centerpiece of the area was the shark display. While it was a delightful photo op, I do have to question what exactly it was supposed to be. Was it a representation of the actual great white shark from the film, or was it a recreation of the tiger shark that was falsely believed to be the culprit?
The ride had a bit of an understated entrance. It was actually quite easy to totally miss where the queue started (an interesting phenomenon that carried over to the area’s successor – but I’m getting ahead of myself).
So the basic gist of the ride is that guests are taking a scenic boat tour around Amity Island aboard one of Captain Jake’s boats. Captain Jake does of course operate THE BEST (and only) touring fleet in the area. Riders were supposed to be visiting the “actual locations” where the shark attacks occurred, but instead were menaced by a different great white shark.
The wait times were normally pretty manageable for Jaws, as those boats could hold a lot of people (and they tended to load fast since there wasn’t any seat belts or harnesses to worry about).
The queue was laughably long, but it was often utilized as part of a line for Halloween Horror Nights, so at least they got some decent use out of it.
I hate that I don’t have a better picture of this recreation of Mrs. Kintner’s sign. It’s a reminder that sometimes you shouldn’t say “eh, I’ll get the picture next time” because you never know…
So here’s a few of the vessels in Captain Jake’s fleet. There were eight ships total, with seven in rotation when the ride was running heavy. Each ship had space for between 40 and 50 guests. While the boats did follow a particular track, skippers had the ability to stop and go as necessary.
Each of those houses had a purpose – they weren’t just there as a façade. They housed ride mechanisms, control systems, basically stuff that all fed into the operations of the ride. Oh, and I’m pretty sure one of them is filled with leftover Murder, She Wrote Mystery Theatre t-shirts. Can’t believe those things didn’t fly off the shelves.
So look, I don’t have any onride pictures. Believe it or not, there was a time when they were pretty strict about not taking pictures or shooting videos on rides, and we followed the rules. All the action of the ride understandably took place out of the GP’s view, so if you’re looking for pictures of sharks and pyro and all that jazz, I can’t help. I’ll point out that there are many videos out there that go through the entire ride experience, so if you’re completely unfamiliar with how the ride went, I’d recommend checking one of those out.
Jaws was a great ride sometimes, and a shit ride sometimes. Which way the pendulum swung depended solely on your skipper. There were a great many skippers who treated their job with respect and stayed on-point with their presentations. I wish I could bake them all cakes and thank them for their commitment.
Unfortunately, there were also some skippers who seemed to treat the whole thing like they were too good to be there. Their delivery dripped of sarcasm, and they showed no emotional response to what was supposed to be emotional moments. These skippers were assholes. Luckily, we had way more of the good ones than the bad ones, so hopefully that means the crappy ones were routinely busted and booted to a crappier attractions location (maybe Beetlejuice?).
One sure-fire way to guarantee a great show was to ride Jaws at night. We rarely got the opportunity because (honestly) we tended to only spend half-days at Universal. I know that sounds insane, but you have to realize that these parks were VERY different in the pre-Potter era. The only reason we ever rode it at night was because it was sometimes available during Halloween Horror Nights.