There’s not many people that can claim that they shot at an animatronic shark, with a fake grenade launcher, “driving” around in circles for a living, but I can. I worked at the now defunct Jaws ride at Universal Orlando for several years during my thirteen year tenure at Universal Orlando, and it was one of the best experiences of my life.
Photo from jaws.fandom.com
I requested to move to Jaws from the ET Adventure because I was seeking “more fun” during the day than just what had become the monotony of working at the ET Adventure. Skippers at the Jaws ride just always seemed so chipper and loved their job. Not to mention that Skippers at the Jaws ride got spiel pay which was extra money hourly to perform in their roles. Luckily, my request to move to the Jaws ride was approved.
The training for the Jaws ride included water safety training at Wet N Wild. Skippers needed to learn to save people from the water and be able to swim a certain distance. I’ll admit that I was a bit nervous that I would not pass this training, but alas, I did.
Training also included how to operate the ride vehicle, learn and practice the script, and learn the other positions at the attraction. The script was not as long as the script I needed to memorize for EarthQuake: The Big One, when I worked there. There was more action and timing included in this script with the use of the grenade launcher and the shark.
I finally got signed off to work on the boat at the Jaws attraction, and I was thrilled to start doing shows. Shows I did, but what came along with being a Jaws skipper was the respect of working at that attraction by guests and other team members alike. Jaws skippers were revered. People were jealous that we worked on that ride. The faded blue Amity Boat Tours shirt and faded men’s jean shorts gave me “street cred.”
Being a Jaws Skipper wasn’t just for the “street cred” or the notoriety; it was for the family feeling of the attraction. I was a seasonal team member, and worked mostly during the summer and around holidays. Whenever I returned, I was greeted as an equal and with friendship. One of our leads at the Jaws ride named Skip always hammered home the point that we were a family. And we were, and in some ways, still are.
Side Note: We sadly lost Skip and his son this year on July 4th in a terrible accident. He was a beloved father of two, a husband, and a treasured part of the Universal Orlando team. See the Orlando Sentinel article here: “Longtime skipper on Universal’s ‘Jaws’ ride killed with teen son in car accident”
I can vividly remember “driving” Amity 6 around the lagoon, entertaining guests every five minutes with the same show. However, the energy of the guests on the boat really drove each show.
I loved when guests would get into the show and scream, laugh, and even shout things related to the show. I feel that it made my performance better when I had a lively boat full of guests. I also loved having to stall when the ride stopped or was backed up with other boats in front of me. We had to stay in character and live in the moment of what was happening for as long as we needed to. t was a great way to stay on your toes and notice all the different and intricate details of the attraction.
I remember opening the Jaws ride the same day that The Wizarding World of Harry Potter opened at Islands of Adventure, and Universal Studios was like a ghost town with the line to get into Islands of Adventure stretching out through Citywalk. I had boats of two people or even one person with helicopters taking in the madness that was that opening day flying over me.
When the ride wasn’t operating for extended periods of time or even for short downtimes, we’d be out front letting guests know that we were temporarily closed. We would dance to the lovely ambiance music that was in the Amity area of Universal Studios or we’d give “dry boat tours” to willing guests. A “dry boat tour” was performed with the assistance of water bottles, a plush shark, fellow skippers, and guests. Doing them was a blast.
Occasionally, after hours managers and team members would be able to give tours in a different style or with a funny script and the Jaws team members would be able to come in after hours to participate in and watch this happen. I remember a team member perform a tour as a wizard from Harry Potter and a manager perform a tour as a mime. Universal Orlando would also host events called the Clickers where they’d give out awards to Attraction Operation team members and different attractions would make videos parodying the ride or show or putting a new spin on the attraction. The Jaws ride usually had one of the best videos.
Rumors spread that Jaws was going to close every couple years. At one point in my tenure at Guest Services at Universal Orlando, Jaws was only operating seasonally due to high maintenance costs. The time came for it to close, though.
We were told it was going to close, and as a seasonal team member, I wouldn’t be on the schedule before it closed. I begged to get a weekend shift just to make sure that I was able to get one more day of tours – one more taste of the Jaws ride (and not of the lagoon water.)
The last day of operation for the Jaws ride was January 2, 2012. I had been in New Jersey for the holidays, but my husband and I drove all night to make sure that I was there for the last day. After all the guests were gone, Skip gave the last boat tour for the team members of the Jaws ride. I was lucky enough to be on the boat for the last time and hear Skip say, “Amity 6 to base, we’re coming home!” We all exited the ride, hugged, cried, and posed for photos in front of the attraction before leaving. We were all sent to different attractions after the ride closed. I went to Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey for a bit until ultimately returning to the ET Adventure.
After the ride closed we were gifted with closing team member shirts and some of us were even lucky enough to get a piece of the attraction. I managed to snag a red, white, and blue buoy from the attraction that still hangs in my classroom.
I have such fond memories of working at the Jaws ride at Universal Orlando. Even though it is closed forever, it will never be forgotten by guests and team members alike. Working there was one of the fondest experiences of my life.
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