JAWS: The Ride in Universal Studios Orlando was popular and beloved; just like the films it was based on. However, unlike the films it was based on, it had many problems from the start. Let’s talk about what was great about JAWS: The Ride, and what wasn't.

JAWS: The Ride–History and Such

The first version of JAWS: The Ride opened on June 7, 1990. It was an opening day attraction for Universal Orlando. The other big opening day rides were Kongfrontation and Earthquake: The Big One. Unfortunately, JAWS: The Ride was a disaster. Even more unfortunate, all the opening day attractions were a mess–but that’s a topic for another article. It was somewhat operational on and off until its closure on January 2, 2012. The first version of the attraction was a total flop. The second version was a lot better but still not perfect. The attractions, both starred a 28-foot killer, but mechanical, great white shark. They start out as a boat tour of the movie sets which goes wrong when the shark appears and tries to attack the boat.

Before opening day, Universal Studios hired Steven Spielberg as a creative consultant for their new theme park attractions. This proved to be beneficial because recently opened Disney’s Hollywood Studios recently had stolen most of Universal’s ideas for their Orlando park. Instead, Universal decided to make attractions similar to the mini-attractions they had on their Studio Tour in Hollywood, as well as rides based on their movies. And why not start with a movie that was made by both Universal Studios and Steven Spielberg? Jaws already had a frightening cameo in Hollywood’s Studio Tour as well. It seemed like the perfect fit.

The Disastrous Original Version

Why it was great:

Honestly, there is not much to say about what was great in the original version. That’s why it was open for less than three months. However, there were still some fun elements.

  • The shark actually bit the boat and dragged it 180 degrees.
  • The mechanical sharks had real shark teeth, which would prove to be a nuisance.
  • The ride ended with a scene of the shark exploding. There were foam shark pieces that flew into the air before being filtered back into the air canon. Red dye also filled the water to look like blood.

Why it wasn't:

  • The use of real shark teeth resulted in damage on the boats when the shark would drag it.
  • Some guests thought the exploding shark pieces and blood were that of a real, already deceased shark. They highly disapproved.
  • JAWS was only open for a few hours on opening day because a thunderstorm caused problems. Later, Universal would realize that malfunctions and breakdowns would be common for this attraction.
  • JAWS broke down so much that evacuations occurred almost daily.
  • Rumour has it that the animatronic sharks weren’t properly waterproofed.
  • A father on vacation with his family fell in the water. The skipper and the man’s family pulled him back on the boat before the mechanical shark reached him, which was apparently headed straight toward the guest. His young children were likely traumatized.

The Better–but still not perfect–Second Version

The second version of JAWS: The Ride would not open for another three years. Before that could happen, Universal hired a different ride-development company called Totally Fun Company. They also worked with a few other companies such as Oceaneering International to build the mechanical sharks, and Itamin to make sure the project was done right. This new version of the attraction cost $40 million to build. Combined with the initial $30 million that Universal paid for the first, the overall cost summed up to around $70 million. This makes it one of the most expensive attractions ever made by Universal Studios. The soft opening, or “tech rehearsals” of the ride occurred in 1993. But the official grand opening wasn’t until 1994.

Why it was great:

  • There were two new scenes that replaced some of the old ones. The shark no longer dragged the boat. It also did not explode at the end. Instead, the shark met its demise when it accidentally bites an electrical wire in the water.
  • When the shark bit the cord, passengers on the boat could smell the roasted shark.
  • This version of the ride both saved and shaped Universal Studios Florida into the park it is today.
  • Each row of seats on the boat was taller than the row in front of it, so everyone had a good view of what was going on.
  • Universal claims that they designed the fire scene to make it feel like the guests are actually getting a little burned.
  • The famous quote made by every skipper when finding out that help will arrive in ten minutes is, “Ten minutes? We’ll be shark bait in ten minutes!” It is famous because technically, guests on the boat are already shark bait…that’s the whole point. The line probably should have been something like, “We’ll be shark food in ten minutes.” Nonetheless, the line remained the same throughout the years. I think after a while, the fame of the phrase made it impossible to officially change without an uproar. It’s so popular that the last-ever passengers of the ride shouted it before the skipper himself could do so. You can watch that video here. This scene occurs at timestamp 4:50.

Why it was awful…

  • Guests may have received minor burns on this ride.
  • There was a rumour that reached authorities that the oil and gas used for the attraction were not disposed of properly.
  • The water was drained annually. That was too much for park operations and guests, but not enough to keep everything up-to-date and sanitary.
  • Maintenance costs around $2 million annually for JAWS: The Ride alone.
  • Hurricanes in 2004 meant that the attraction could only be open as “seasonal” from 2005 until 2007.
  • Another 2004 incident: there was a major leak in the hydraulics of the attraction. This made the water “electric green” for a while.
  • At least one duck exploded as a result of swimming too close to the explosion scene. To make matters worse, the deceased duck landed on the lap of a little girl.

Regardless of its flaws, fans were very disappointed when JAWS: The Ride was closed permanently. It was one of the only opening-day attractions left at the time.

Diagon Alley replaced the attraction in Universal Orlando. However, the tram tour at Universal Studios still has its JAWS feature. Universal Japan also still has the full ride. If you can’t travel that far though, there are a few nods to the old ride around the park.

Tributes to JAWS: The Ride

  • The shrunken heads sing “Show Me The Way To Go Home,” from the original film.
  • In the London area, inside the record store window is an album for sale by the Quint Trio. Quint is the name of one of the characters from the movie.
  • The name of this album is called “Here’s To Swimming With Bow-Legged Women,” which is a quote from the film as well.
  • In the San Fransisco Alcatraz food location, you can order “Bruce.” It is a dark blue drink, with just a little bit of red at the top. Bruce is the name of the mechanical shark used in filming the movie. And if you have to ask why there’s a blue liquid with a bit of red on top, do you really not know anything about sharks?!
  • Also in San Fransisco, you can purchase souvenir-pressed pennies with impressions themed after the old attraction.
  • RUMOR: There are pieces of the old shark animatronics buried underneath the fountain across from Grimmauld Place.
  • Of course, the hanging Bruce statue in the Fisherman’s Wharf area.