Wednesday, January 04, 2012

Am I a Bad Person for Not Missing Jaws at Universal?

Jaws, a rare original attraction at Universal Studios in Orlando, closed down for good this week. The very last boat did its rounds on the night of January 2, and already construction walls are concealing the Amity area for construction on a top secret (cough...more Harry Potter...cough) project.

The closure announcement had people up in arms. "No! You can't do that! Jaws is a classic!" the angry masses shouted while lighting their torches and sharpening their pitchforks. I'm not sure where these rabid fans were when the ride was actually running these past few years. The only lines I ever saw on Jaws were when they were running a limited amount of boats and thus had very little capacity.

Still, it always sounds good to join in on the Cause of the Day, so the angered Protectors of Classic Universal started petitions and peppered the theme park's Facebook page with rants and threats to never darken its gates again (good, that means less wait time for me and the other saner minds). I wonder if they realized it was all wasted bandwidth. Parks plan their new attractions months, or even years, in advance. The Amity makeover was already a done deal long before they announced it, with a ton of money already invested in it. It's just a bit presumptuous to think a theme park's going to say, "Well, hell, no one rides that thing anymore, but we've got a couple dozen people bitching on Facebook. Let's eat the $1 million we already have invested in the new thing and keep Jaws open for the whining minority."

Sure enough, Jaws closed right on schedule on January 2. Personally I hate mob scenes, so I said my own personal goodbye a couple of weeks earlier. I actually like Jaws myself, but not with the passion of the "Oh my God, I'll die if you close it, you're spitting in the face of history," types. It was enjoyable for what it was: Universal's requisite cheesy ride. There must be an unwritten theme park rule that every park has to have a cheesy boat or Jeep ride. Witness Disney's Jungle Cruise and Rhino Rally at Busch Gardens. Those kinds of rides are fun, but they don't inspire deep passion within me.

Honestly, I was much more sad about the closure of the surrounding Amity area. I'm a carnival games addict, and I particularly love the goblet toss. Although luck plays a big role, you can increase your chance of winning with a little knowledge of bounce and backspin. Over the years I've won enough jumbo prizes to prove that; one day at Universal, I even one three big goblet prizes in one day.

Now, alas, the games were disappearing along with Jaws. Since I rode Jaws once every half-dozen visits or so vs. playing the goblets on every visit, it's easy to see what I would miss most.

I decided to make my last visit at night since Jaws has always been much better after dark. Also, visiting after 4 p.m. means that I can use the express line benefit of my Premier Pass. I figured (and was correct) that they'd only be running a few boats, meaning a long wait otherwise.

Of course, my goodbye trip was twofold. It was also a farewell to my beloved goblet game. I went there first to try my luck before taking my last-ever shark spotting cruise. I started off with one tray of balls, and alas I was stone cold. I didn't even manage to win a small prize, let alone a jumbo.

Normally I'd quit there, but since it was my last-ever fling, I decided to buy another tray. This time, I landed a ball in both a red (medium prize) and blue (small prize) cup. Better yet, the blue was only two spots past the lone yellow cup, which is the big winner. Now, if I could only bank a ball off the one in the blue spot, I could end my Universal goblet game run on a high note. I only had a few balls left; my aim was off with the first couple, although one came close. Then, I hit the sweet spot. The ball spun lazily on the rim of the yellow cup before neatly dropping in:

I was rewarded with a big Scooby Doo, and my husband and I headed off to the next order of business: say goodbye to Jaws.

Once thing I've always loved about Jaws isn't the ride itself, but rather the queue video. It's full of cheesy humor like the kids' show host with a shark puppet and a crazy TV appliance salesman who destroys all the (old-fashioned) TVs with a sledgehammer so the accountants will let him lower the prices. That video is the part I'll miss most. I only got to see a bit of it on my last trip, since the express line moves quickly.

Soon enough, Scooby and I were in our seat, and my husband snapped one last photo for posterity:

You can see that the woman on my left is standing up; it's not just because she's getting into the boat. She tried to stand up for the entire ride. I have no idea why, but she popped up and down like a jack in the box. She'd stand. She'd be told to sit down. She'd reluctantly lower herself, then pop right back up again. Honestly, she was more amusing than the shark battle.

Still, it was a night ride, so that made the fire effects all the more impressive. One thing I have to give to Universal Studios is that they love their fire. Probably the best proof of that fact is the flaming ceiling in Revenge of the Mummy, but Jaws still used up a respectable amount of propane.

All too soon the ride was over. We escaped Bruce the shark once again, and this was the last time I'd ever be that close to falling into his clutches. I'll admit, I did feel a bit melancholy walking away from Jaws and Amity in the darkness, knowing that I'd never experience this little bit of classic Universal Studios again.

On the flipside, I was cheered by the fact that I love most of their newer rides. Yes, I know it's a travesty to say it, but Revenge of the Mummy is a hundred times better than Kongfrontation, and look at Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey at Islands of Adventure next door. If the new ride is anything like Harry in terms of technology and awe factor, I'll help them level the Jaws/Amity area myself.

It'll be a long, long time until the new section opens and people can judge whether it's worthy of replacing the classic shark. For now, I'll get my "corn factor" on Jungle Cruise and Rhino Rally.

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