The summer of 1993 was a big year for me. It was the year that Steven Spielberg released his masterpiece, “Jurassic Park.” I’ve always had a fairly obsessive personality, but “Jurassic Park” brought it to a new level for me.
As a kid, my bedroom was decked out in JP memorabilia in every direction. To this day, I can sort of figure out when certain life events happened to me based on whether or not it was pre- or post- “Jurassic Park.” A bit pathetic, I’m aware. This deep obsession for the movie had me reading every book about Spielberg I could get my hands on. So just imagine how excited I was when my favorite movie at the time was announced to be getting its very own theme park ride. Little Jeff could hardly handle the excitement.
I first became aware of the ride at least a year before it opened. I was on a Los Angeles vacation with my parents and four siblings, so of course, one of our stops was Universal Studios Hollywood. As a kid interested in showbiz, I loved everything the park had to offer, but one not-yet-open attraction got all of my attention.
I can remember like it was yesterday, heading down to the lower lot and seeing that iconic Jurassic Park gate with a sign across reading “Opening Summer 1996.” I was so excited for this attraction yet so bummed I was missing out on experiencing it. I peeked through every crack in the construction walls and rode up and down the Starway (what Universal calls their lengthy escalators) to see over the walls just to get a sneak peek at whatever JP goodness I might have been able to witness. Alas, it was mostly piles of dirt and construction vehicles, but it captured my interest nonetheless. I knew that I had to convince my family to return to Universal Studios Hollywood soon after this ride was to open.
Luckily, I have a very understanding family who did indeed agree to return some time later in order for me to experience Jurassic Park – The Ride. After they agreed, I then remembered, at that age I was terrified of most theme park rides. Especially ones with a massive and steep drop. What had I gotten myself into?
To ease my fear, I hopped on the internet and researched the heck out of what I should expect when experiencing the ride. Remember, these were the days before YouTube where you couldn’t watch full ride-throughs. My research was simply reading articles and looking at some photos. I wasn’t concerned about spoilers; I just needed to know what to expect. After doing the research, I felt confident that no matter what, I would face my fear and take on the T-Rex and that giant plunge.
The day had arrived. I loaded into my river adventure boat and was full of anticipation as I approached the gate. John Williams’ score swelled and I heard “Time, the ever-flowing river. Come with us now to a time before man, when the river flowed through a new-born world and giants walked the earth. Welcome to Jurassic Park.”
Anyone who has experienced Jurassic Park – The Ride knows the excitement that followed, so I won’t bore you with the details. If you haven’t had a chance to personally experience the attraction, there are many good videos of it on YouTube.
As much as I loved the attraction, there were problems, numerous problems. It is pretty typical for theme park attractions to not be working 100 percent at all times. It’s simply the nature of such complex mechanics, engineering, and the multitude of other pieces it takes to put on the full production. But for a kid who had been obsessing and constantly researching, it was a hard pill to swallow. For those of you who thought my over-analysis of entertainment was a learned skill, this event supports the theory that it’s simply an innate curiosity I seem to have been born with. So what’s a disappointed boy to do? Well, write Universal Studios Hollywood and Steven Spielberg of course.
When I returned home to Massachusetts after my vacation, I did just that. I sat down and wrote letters detailing my Jurassic Park – The Ride experience. I didn’t save that letter, but I remember listing out the problems and even offering suggestions on how to fix certain elements.
Looking back, eyes must have been seriously rolling from the folks who read those letters. Once they got past what I’m sure was annoyance from this young boy, both offices wrote back to me with some surprises. To this day, I still have those letters saved.
Back when I received them, I saved them because I was happy to have felt heard. These days, I save them because I genuinely appreciate the fact that these companies, who had far more important things to worry about, took the time to amuse an obsessive child.
As I opened one of the letters, it read “On behalf of Steven Spielberg.” What?! My young brain had already won. I got a letter on behalf of Steven Spielberg? Amazing! Oh, the joys of being young and so easily delighted. Along with their letters, they sent me a Jurassic Park t-shirt, a Universal Studios Fan Club card, and free tickets for me and my family to return to the Universal parks. Their responses were extremely generous and their kindness is something I’ll never forget.
As the years passed, I’d ridden the Jurassic Park ride many times, and I always loved it. This attraction (and movie) holds a very dear place in my heart. When it was announced that the Jurassic Park ride in Hollywood would be closing to make way for a Jurassic World ride, I had mixed feelings. I was definitely excited for the update but also a bit sad to see the original attraction, that I absolutely obsessed over, was to go away.
I was lucky enough, and felt like it was a full circle moment, to be invited to the grand opening of Jurassic World – The Ride on behalf of Attractions Magazine. It was a night I’ll never forget, and I genuinely love the update to the original attraction. I do wonder though if there is some little boy or girl who will write a letter to Universal and/or Spielberg to share their thoughts on the updated attraction.
• Jeff DePaoli is a producer and voiceover artist living in Los Angeles. He can be heard as the voice of Disney Trivia on Alexa as well as the host of “Dizney Coast to Coast,” the ultimate, unofficial Disney fan podcast. Get your FREE gifts of “America’s Hidden Mickeys,” “On the Rohde Again,” “Theme Park Comfort Kit” and more at DizneyCoastToCoast.com.