Since 1996, “Jurassic Park —The Ride” has been one of the most popular and iconic rides at Universal Studios Hollywood.
Based on the 1993 Steven Spielberg film of the same name, “Jurassic Park – The Ride” went into production before the film had completed production. The water ride takes you on a river through Jurassic Park to see the peaceful plant-eating dinosaurs before things go awry, and guests get some unexpected close encounters with the fierce carnivores of the park.
In many ways, “The Ride” was just as innovative and groundbreaking for theme park rides as the film was for movie special effects. While the film made history with its unforgettable CGI dinosaurs, the ride featured cutting-edge, life-size animatronic dinosaurs using the latest in robotics technology and engineering, and was at the time the largest water drop in theme park history.
But, sadly, Jurassic Park’s reign is coming to an end, as it will finally close its gates Sept. 3 in order to begin its transformation into the new “Jurassic World — The Ride,” set to open in 2019, after running tirelessly for visitors across the globe for the past 22 years. After hearing this, I knew I had to make a trip to experience the world of Jurassic Park (as opposed to the park of Jurassic World) one last time.
Arriving at Universal Studios first thing in the morning, I made a beeline straight to the lower lot of the park where the ride was waiting for me. The iconic gates to Jurassic Park, a near-perfect recreation of the gates from the film down to the lit flames adoring it, welcomed me into the ride. Before I knew it I was seated in the river raft, barely able to contain my excitement as it climbed the track, simultaneously transporting me back in time two decades, and roughly 100 million years ago.
“Time, the ever-flowing river…” spoke the ride’s narration as we rode down the stream, banking a left before we truly entered the ride proper, “Welcome to Jurassic Park!” Passing through the gate, we were greeted by two long-necked Ultrasauruses, their necks towering over us.
The ride was just as exciting as I remembered as a child, especially now that I’ve grown brave enough to not hide my head in my parents’ shoulders during the more intense parts, giving us a glimpse of the majesty and excitement of the time of the dinosaurs. Though even I must admit, at times the machinery has begun to show its age; the welcoming gates didn’t slowly open to reveal the dinosaurs as I recalled as a child and were instead wide open. The splashes didn’t drench everyone head-to-toe quite to the degree they used to. But still, the experience was just as thrilling as I remember, especially the final 84-foot drop.
In my opinion, the greatest part of the attraction — and one of my favorite parts of Universal Studios as a whole — is the way it immerses you in the world of the movie. Jurassic Park has the benefit of being a movie about a theme park, and the entire area around it is directly modeled after the theme park from the film. “It’s the little things,” my compatriot said, biting down on a cookie in the shape of the Jurassic World logo as we appreciated the area surrounding Jurassic Park. “The beauty is in the details.”
The line queue has video footage informing you of the dinosaurs you’ll see in the park, the building housing the interior of the ride is marked “Jurassic Park Environmental Control,” and even the gift shop and cafe feel like they could actually be part of the real Jurassic Park. The walls are adorned with dinosaur illustrations reminiscent of the art of Charles R. Knight, whose late 1800’s and early 1900’s illustrations set off a dinosaur craze, not unlike how Jurassic Park did at the turn of the 21st century.
In many ways, “Jurassic Park — The Ride” is itself a living-fossil. A good number of the attractions at the park employ motion simulators or 3D screen attractions, as opposed to the animatronics and physical tracks that made up the majority of rides during Jurassic Park’s creation. And while some of the rides, like “Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey,” employ a mix of screens and physical constructions Jurassic Park might be the last ride in the park remaining that uses physical effects without screens. Even the CRT television screens in line are unmistakably of their time, broadcasting footage that would be right at home in a high school science class, played off an ancient VCR.
This isn’t to say that all the other rides at the park aren’t just as impressive, but there’s something that can’t be replicated without that physical element, when you can actually see something within arm’s reach of you, actually moving.
The entire area surrounding Jurassic Park is slated to change during the conversion to Jurassic World, and without a doubt some things will be lost. Some things are irreplaceable, like the queue footage of the late Sir Richard Attenborough portraying the character of Dr. John Hammond for the film, and some must be modernized to match the feeling of the 2015 film. And while I have high hopes that the new attraction will show the same level of care and appreciation that the original had, the original deserves to be experienced before it goes the way of the dromaeosaurus.
After a long day of visiting the rest of the park — experiencing much of it for the first time — and getting to re-experience some old favorites like Water World, I managed to squeeze in one last ride of Jurassic Park before the park closed. And as luck would have it, as the narrator invited us into “a time before man… when giants walked the earth!” the gates opened just as I remembered as a child.
And seeing this world of wonder before me, music swelling, dimly lit in the evening light, suddenly the magic was back. Whether it was the effect of the dark of night, or that I knew that this may be the last time I get to experience a part of entertainment history, it all felt real. Just as real as it did to me all those years ago. And yes, I did get drenched the second time around.
“Jurassic Park — The Ride” will go extinct on Sept. 3. The new “Jurassic World — The Ride” is set to open sometime in 2019.