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Universal Studios Florida – San Francisco/Amity: Jaws

Rating: * * * *
Type: Water ride
Time: 5 minutes
Our Take: A scare-fest for kids of all ages

Note: Jaws is scheduled to close Jan. 2, 2012.

Welcome aboard, as Captain Jake takes you on a sightseeing tour of peaceful Amity harbor. As the waiting line snakes toward the dock, you get your first inkling that something might be amiss. Television monitors broadcast an appropriately hokey local news show about the strange doings in Amity, complete with interviews with the real Sheriff Brody (who complains that Arnold Schwarzenegger would have been a much better choice than Roy Scheider to play him in the movie).

The conceit, of course, is that you are in the real town of Amity and that the blockbuster film Jaws was not fiction but fact-based. One not unwelcome by-product of the film is that the sleepy town is now a major tourist draw, allowing Captain Jake to make a good living as the best — make that the only — sightseeing company offering visitors tours of the island.

This is a water ride and, as you are informed several times before embarking, you will get wet. Some people just don’t seem to believe it. One of the extra added amusements of this ride is watching fastidious tourists take out a tissue and carefully wipe off the damp seats before sitting down. Don’t bother. There’s a lot more where that came from. If you come to the park in the winter, when temperatures can be on the cool side, you might want to consider protecting yourself with a cheap plastic poncho.

As your tour boat is about to leave the dock, your friendly but cocky guide shows off a grenade launcher for effect. He tells us that, since the great white was killed way back in ’74, Amity’s been pretty peaceful. He points out Sheriff Brody’s house on the left and then heads out of the harbor.

This being a Universal ride, it doesn’t take long for things to go ominously amiss. A crackling, fragmented radio transmission from Amity 3, a returning tour boat, is a clear signal that danger lies ahead, but the guide assures us nothing’s wrong. A turn around a rocky promontory reveals the other tour boat shattered and sinking on our left. A huge dorsal fin breaks the surface, we feel a slight bump as Jaws passes beneath us, and the thrills begin.

The best seats in the house. Where you sit can make a difference on this ride. Inveterate thrill seekers will not be satisfied with anything but the outside seat, whichever side it’s on. On balance, the left side offers the most thrills, especially the furnace blast of a gas depot explosion. The right side has the best view of Jaws’ entrance into the boathouse. Probably the best seat is the far left of row five. Since Jaws rises from the water a few times, those on one side of the boat will have a slightly obstructed view of his appearances on the other side. The obvious solution is to take this ride more than once. Early risers, who get to the park before the gates open, can usually cycle through the ride several times before the lines become too daunting. Jaws is even better after dusk when additional fire effects are turned on.

While there is a certain shock value to be derived from the element of surprise and the fire effects can be intense, this ride is not truly scary. At least for most grown-ups. Little ones may disagree. The shark, while a masterpiece of clever engineering, always betrays its latex and aluminum origins, at least close-up. As a result, much of your enjoyment will depend on the acting talents of your guide. Still, this doesn’t detract from the fun, especially the first few times. As you take your third, fourth, and fifth turns around the harbor, you’ll probably find yourself deriving equal enjoyment by looking behind you to see shattered sets automatically reconstructing themselves in preparation for the next boatload of happily terrified tourists.

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Universal Orlando 2011


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