A Tearful Farewell to Jurassic Park – the Ride


On June 21, 1996, Jurassic Park – the Ride opened with much pomp and circumstance. Steven Spielberg and Jeff Goldblum were on hand to light the torches that burn on the gateway, fans crowded around outside and the ride started welcoming guests on its river adventure. For 22 years the Jurassic Park ride was a staple at Universal Studios Hollywood. Even during the park’s resurgence in the last 10 years with Transformers, Simpsons, Harry Potter, Minions, Fast and Furious and other popular recent franchises, Jurassic Park still was an anchor of the bottom lot. And on Monday, it closed. It just closed, and that was it.

In May, Universal announced that the ride would be closed in September to make way for a Jurassic World ride, a “next-generation thrill ride [that] will be a fully reimagined iteration of the ground-breaking adventure, elevating every facet of the experience,” Universal said in its press release. “With the introduction of never-before-seen dinosaurs, enhanced storytelling, lush scenic design, an entirely new color scheme and uncompromised state-of the art technology, the ride will capture elements never experienced within a theme park.”

Photos by Charly SHELTON
Fossils in the rockwork in the café and the gift shop near Jurassic Park – the Ride were an example of the theming of the experience.

I figure it will just be an update of tech, new dinos and new plot for the ride, and I’m fine with that. The ride has seen better days. In the last few years of operation, half of the dinos didn’t move, the rockwork needed some paint, many of the ride elements, like the dropping car, didn’t work – it was time for an update. And Jurassic World is a great franchise; I’m happy to see it reinvigorate the stale ride. But what bothered me is that, unlike the opening, the closing had no pomp, no circumstance, and barely a mention in the park.

I saw one T-shirt that had “The Road to Extinction” and a date of September 2018. But nowhere else was there a sign that the ride’s days were coming to an end. I got to ride it one last time in its last week, and I seemed to be the only one on the boat (other than my friend who rode with me) who knew this was the end. I took copious photos of the drop from off-ride, I walked around the store, I ate lunch in the café looking at the beautiful dinosaur mural one last time, and I cried most of the way through.

It was a surprisingly emotional goodbye for me. This was the first themed experience in which I actually noticed the little touches of theming, for example the fossils in the rockwork. At the ripe old age of 6, I came to visit the ride opening week (if not opening day) and I was floored by the fossils in the rockwork all around the shop and café. I thought they were real, of course, but I remember thinking that it was a nice touch to include real fossils alongside the fake dinosaurs, a good way of tying the theme throughout the land. Cut to 22 years later and reviewing theme parks is my main beat for this paper. I got an archaeology degree and have worked extensively in paleontology. Dinos are meaningful to me, and the only place to see them up close was this ride. So personally, I was upset when no big deal was made for the goodbye party. No last ride events, no Twitter contest, no mention of anything. It just closed. Tower of Terror at Disney’s California Adventure had a whole season of events to say goodbye to that ride, along with a big closing day party for the “last check out.” And that was Tower of Terror, a barely passable mini-clone of an actual good ride from Florida. Yet Jurassic Park – the Ride ends not with a bang, but a whimper.

These rides and experiences at theme parks become part of us. They are well-themed, immersive experiences that we come to identify with a part of our lives, even a part of who we are – a Haunted Mansion fan is different from a Jungle Cruise fan, and we all know it. These rides come into our zeitgeist and become part of it and when they are taken out, it leaves a hole. It’s similar to a friend moving away. If we, as guests, are given time to say good bye, throw a goodbye party and come to terms with it, it makes the loss easier to take. And I’m sure I’ll like the new tenant that moves in – JP’s cousin, Jurassic World – but I still would like to make a fuss and celebrate the friendship we’ve had. I’ll stay in touch with JP online, through the dozens of on-ride videos on YouTube, but it just isn’t the same as going over to your friend’s house to hang out in person.

Goodbye, Jurassic Park – the Ride. Thank you for the many years of fun.