If anyone ever talks to me about movies for more than ten minutes, it’s highly likely that I will bring up Steven Spielberg’s Jurassic Park. It’s my absolute favorite movie and thus, Universal’s Jurassic Park: The Ride means a great deal to me, which is why it’s very sad to see the attraction leave the park. But my relationship to the ride is one more akin to Captain Ahab and his elusive white whale. In the 22 years that the ride had been open, I had never had the opportunity to go to Universal Studios to check it out myself. But I obsessed over it for more than two decades. With the ride closing for good, I finally took my chance to say both hello and goodbye to it on the attraction’s final weekend.
Upon hearing the news that Universal Studios would be closing Jurassic Park: The Ride following Labor Day weekend, in favor of a Jurassic World ride that will open next year, I began to hatch a plan to make my way to California to finally cross this off of my bucket list. I’m not one to live with regrets if it can be avoided. Had I not actually done this before the ride went extinct, it would have always bothered me. It’s easy to make excuses to not do things. Life gets in the way. But when there is a clear deadline and an end point, it’s amazing how quickly one can make something happen. Life finds a way, as it were.
Many people have a favorite movie. But few of those movies have something in the real world that you can actually experience. I’ll (probably) never be able to travel back in time and see what it’s like to actually be amongst the dinosaurs. Nor will I be a ridiculously wealthy billionaire that can make a crazy, ill-advised dino-themed Disneyland. Jurassic Park: The Ride always represented a way to experience one of my favorite things in the real world. Armed with the knowledge that my first time experiencing this ride would also be my last time experiencing it only added a lot more meaning and weight to the situation.
22 years of build-up with something that started in one’s youth comes with the risk of not living up to expectations. No doubt, that was something that ran through my mind when I made my way past the theme park entrance. Then I saw the rotating Universal Studios globe that I had seen so many times over the years, be it in other people’s photos or in other forms of media, yet never actually saw for myself. Upon passing this landmark, I was filled with pure glee and excitement. This was really happening. There is no way it couldn’t be as awesome as eight-year-old me wanted it to be. Eight-year-old me was right.
The small group I was with decided it would be wise to tackle Jurassic Park first, as it was sure to be ridiculously popular, given that we were there on the last Saturday it was ever going to be open. This decision was certainly not motivated by years worth of pent-up eagerness. Coming down that escalator and seeing the sign, hearing the music, seeing the sights I had always imagined. Hearing people scream as the green and yellow raft barrelled down the drop at the end of the ride. It’s a rush I imagine many people achieve with expensive drugs I can neither afford, nor do I have the desire to try.
One might think that waiting in line for 45 minutes once getting to the ride would be the longest wait of my life. On the contrary, it was incredible getting to take everything in. Seeing that this is truly a thing frozen in time in the most beautiful of ways. Much like the amber atop John Hammond’s cane. Nothing has been updated since it opened in 1996. Old TV monitors, old content playing on said monitors produced specifically for the ride. It was glorious. Truth be told, this was some of my favorite stuff, as a hardcore JP fan. There’s the interesting dino facts these actors were spewing. I found the poop problem particularly interesting and loved that the compys were brought in to eat the copious amounts of dino poop. There was also something delightful about seeing Richard Attenborough explain what a carnivore is. It was like John Hammond really was getting to share his dream with the world without the problems that inevitably accompany such a dream.
Looking around the line to observe who was in it was fascinating and gratifying as well. There were people of all ages, shapes sizes and from places all over the world. People who speak languages I don’t speak and live in places I may never see had smiles on their faces and were also here to do the same thing I was about to do. These are people I might not otherwise ever interact with, but our mutual affection for Jurassic Park brought us to this shared experience.
After a wait that shockingly zoomed by, it was finally my turn. Seeing the boat pull up that I would be getting into was the definition of surreal. It may seem silly, but this was about as close to accomplishing a life-long dream as I’ve ever had. What can I say? I’m quite capable of enjoying the little things. As soon as the ride began, I was certain there would be no path to disappointment.
This attraction, in many ways, coming from someone with much less personal attachment, could stand to use an update, from a purely practical standpoint. Sure, the dinosaurs look like animatronics from two decades ago and yeah, a lot of this stuff shows its age. But i dare anyone who puts together that Jurassic World ride to craft it with as much love for the thing it’s based upon. I was literally living inside of my favorite movie for about five, purely blissful minutes. While other people were screaming as things inevitably start to go wrong, I had a smile painted on my face that nearly hurt. I was really looking at the electrified fences that were supposed to keep us safe. I was really looking at the velociraptor paddock that clearly couldn’t contain the ferocity living inside of it. I was really looking at Rexy. Hey, look! The Barbasol can!
At the peak of my excitement, it felt as though it could all be downhill from there for the rest of my years in the best of ways. I mean, does everyone experience joy such as this within a lifetime? I certainly hope so. If not, I feel incredibly lucky to have experienced that joy for myself. Going down the giant drop at the end was purely cathartic. It’s a feeling that, if I did my best to try and describe, I would fail miserably. And it’s my job to convey things to people through the use of the written word.
Perhaps a friend of mine put it best when he saw my cheesy and painfully typical photo from the drop at the end of the ride online when he said, “I will never, even if I live to be a million, be as happy as you are in this pic.” I did the ride three more times that day and, though there is something particularly special about that first go-around, the feeling never faded.
And thus, I said a long-overdue hello and a bittersweet farewell to Jurassic Park: The Ride. It was shut down as of today to make room for the future. Alas, we must make room for change. Upcoming generations may not revel in the delights of this attraction as much as I did. As much as it should be sad knowing I’ll never get to do this again, going into this adventure with the knowledge that I will be amongst the last people to ever enjoy the attraction and knowing that this is the one and only time I’ll ever do it made me soak up every ounce of joy like a sponge. Universal Studios can’t cater to man children like me forever. But I’m happy they did just long enough for me to make this memory.