“Maaaaaan, that smells like hot dogs!!!”
It wasn’t the first time that I rode Jaws the Ride at Universal. It wasn’t even the most memorable. But that’s what made Jaws special, different, unique – because each time you rode it you made a new, completely different experience with its own moments. And that’s what memories are made of readers: Moments.
Jaws may not have been the flashiest ride at any theme park. Yet, it was without a doubt my favorite. While all these new-fangled rides have come along, each with their fancy new wizardry and special effects – none of them have captured the magic that Jaws still had. Sure, you can be wowed by fantastic effects on-screen while you’re whipped through J.K. Rowling’s world in “Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey.” There’s nothing quite like that ride, if you’re a big Potter fan – and the memories that I have of the ride are special because of the fellow Potter fan(s) I rode it with, not because of the ride itself. This is not a disservice to Harry Potter or his ride, or even the plans for another wizarding world expansion to replace Jaws at Universal Studios Florida. Simply the difference between a ride that focuses on amazement of its riders… and a ride that focused on the amusement of its riders.
Which is why the loss of Jaws is so tragic, dearest readers. It’s not just about movie history – or even movie ride history (Because let’s face it, Jaws was the attraction at the original Universal Studios “Back Lot Tour” ride in California… and pretty much started the craze). Jaws – as problematic as it was – made memories for everyone because it amused them. That’s the reason for an amusement park anyway, isn’t it? You didn’t have to be a fan of sharks, of Jaws films, or even of Universal Studios to have a good time on Jaws. Everyone knows the movie’s story, even if they haven’t ever seen the movie. When you got on the ride, everyone was already in on the joke – Of course there’s a silly animatronic shark, and of course it “sunk” the previous tour boat, and of COURSE your tour boat was going to get “attacked” too. The fun of Jaws was never in the details, but in the overall idea: We’re all in this together! It’s silly and fun and OMG JAWS IS GONNA GET US!!! *squeal*
Each time the ride was different. Made so by the talented performers playing your “Amity Tour Guide” boat operators. Sure, they had their script – but they were also encouraged to go with the flow of the varied tourists on the ride with them. The happier the audience – the more engaged, the better the tour guide’s shtick. I was lucky enough to ride Jaws two final times last week before it closed (with my family no less). Those memories are easily my favorites. Our guides were energetic and hysterical, our fellow “tourists” were engaged and having a great time. Jokes were cracked, the Amity Tour Guide responded in kind, and belly-laughs were had by all. There was nary a grin-less face stepping off of our tour boat, despite the knowledge that this would be our last time calling out to Chief Brody and avoiding the wrath of Bruce the Shark.
Universal may be making a smart business move for themselves, by deleting Amity Village and the Jaws ride from its Florida theme park and replacing it with more Harry Potter. It’s a rough economy, theme parks are hurting for tourists, and Harry Potter has brought in tons of money for sister-park Islands of Adventure. It may make fiscal sense and it may even be a good time. But it won’t replace the moments that Jaws was able to create, or the memories that are created from those unique moments. No ride will ever replicate the infinite laughs created by a fellow ‘tourist’ that one day back in 1995 who couldn’t resist describing – loudly – what that electrified, ‘dead’ Jaws smelled like to him. We all laughed heartily, including our guide – and the phrase stuck.
Namaste, you fantastic ride you. Thank you for the fondest memories I’ll ever make at a theme park.*
*unless I can get my ass to Osaka, Japan – where Jaws the Ride (so far) lives on.