Here’s To Swimmin’ With Bow Legged Women!

Welcome back to our story of how the greatest movie of all time (don’t argue!) – Jaws – was responsible for one of the greatest theme park experiences of all time.  A theme park story with a secret, hidden history.  A drama-laden tale of technological woe.

In Part I we explored how the movie led to a showcase on the Universal Studios backlot tour and how studio ambition pushed them to go further.

In Part II we detailed how this effort was ultimately doomed and look at the reasons why, while detailing how the original ride was very, very different from what many of you know and love today. Now come with us as we tell the story of the desperate fight to right a wrong.

All Change!  And Lawyer Up!

It was a desperate time.  Universal Studios Florida had suffered serious technical issues since its opening and the press were having a field day.  One-by-one the marquee rides were re-worked and issues were solved to bring them back on-line.

However, the sheer technical ambition of Jaws, coupled with the challenges inherent in a water-based boat ride, meant it was never reliable enough in the long term.  And with a 2,700 guest-an-hour Premium attraction out of action the park suffered across the board.  It was clear changes were needed.  Universal decided to spend big bucks to fix the ride.

At the end of the season signs went up all over the ride building and the ride was shuttered.  The signed said “Coming 1992”.  1992 came and went.  The ride stayed shuttered.  The signs were removed and never replaced.

The entire Amity section of the park now resembled the deserted, dying Amity of John Hancock’s original vision for Jaws 2.

Universal went to town with lawyers and sued Ride & Show Engineering.  The lawsuit citing poor workmanship, defective design, and missed deadlines.

Universal’s case alleged that Ride & Show engineering used non-waterproof parts on the attraction.  The consistent failure of these parts was the main factor in ride unreliability and engineering issues.  The suit would eventually be settled out of court the following April.

Universal deployed engineers in the hope that a new team might be able to fix the design flaws.  This had worked with Kongfrontation and Earthquake.  A thorough assessment by an outside party had very bad news for Universal.

It turned out that a design and engineering review had deemed the ride totally unusable and the design was judged as completely flawed.

The Jaws ride’s issues were so severe that the best course of action was to start over. Keeping only the most basic structural framework of the lagoon and theming, Universal set to work.  They ripped out millions of dollars worth of sharks, boats, tracks, and other equipment.  The ride was completely gutted.

A New Dimension In Terror

Universal took a completely different approach with the rebuild.  When their own native engineering team confirmed this task was beyond even them, they gave the monumental task of rebuilding Jaws to multiple world-class companies.  Each selected company was a specialist in their own field.

For the sharks, they hired advanced robotic systems manufacturer Eastport International.  This company had experience of working in the water with robotic mechanisms.  In turn, Eastport was acquired by a specialist sub-aquatic engineering company Oceaneering International who added another layer of expertise.

For the underwater track, they turned to a specialist coaster manufacturer with a track record in water rides called Intamin Amusement Rides.

For the boats, they hired Regal Marine Industries.

They tied the whole thing together with a ride system designed and built by specialist control experts ITEC Entertainment.  ITEC and Universal have already worked together on several other theme park projects.

This was a world-class lineup of true specialists brought together with a single mission – get this ride back online and reliable in one year.

Construction started in late 1992 for an opening sometime in 1993. Universal declined to publicly set a firm reopening date in the interest of ensuring ride reliability.  They had learned every lesson the hard way.

The reworked ride was less technical than the first, and significantly less complex.  This was an effort to guarantee smooth and reliable operation.

Jaws began technical rehearsals in August 1993.  The reviews were stellar!  More than half-a-million park-goers experienced the attraction during this soft opening period including, according to the Orlando-Sentinel Steven Spielberg himself.

He returned in secret with his children and told Universal his kids “…went crazy for it.”

The ride officially re-opened to the public on Friday, October 1, 1993, with a ceremony that included Spielberg and the original film’s stars.

Outside sources estimate Universal had spent US$70 million on the ride and the rework.  In 1990’s dollars that would have bought them a whole new Jaws movie, including marketing budget!

Just When You Thought It Was Safe To Go Back In The Water

Hoping to avoid the pitfalls of the 1990 version, the redesigned Jaws ride would include several new scenes and was significantly less technically complex than the ride it was replacing.

Out went the shark rocking, circling and biting the boat, eventually spinning it.  In came a nice big explosion.

Out went a complicated meat machine finale, in its place was a Jaws 2 based power-cable ending.

Out was the mid-Jaws setting with Quint arguing reality.  In was a post-Jaws tourist trip around historical sites that is about to be rudely interrupted.  What remained was how central the skill and enthusiasm of your boat skipper was to the entire experience.

Why not experience this for yourself:

So this is the ride that millions of us have experienced.  Surely this was a happy ending?  Well, not entirely…

TO BE CONTINUED…

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