Written by Kevin Baxter
Published: June 7, 2004 at 12:20 AM
In the park's early years, the late 60s, Universal was little more than a tram ride. But what a tram ride! As the Studios grew more and more popular, Universal was forced to create more entertainment. And to keep the behind-the-scenes theme, most of that entertainment took the form of shows. Special effects shows, sound effects shows, blue screen shows, stunt shows... Universal was a true original and was usually included in any vacation to Southern California.
Space problems made it difficult to add actual rides to the mix, so different types of movement were limited to parts of the tram ride. Still, there wasn't much to "rides" like the collapsing bridge or King Kong's attack or the topsy-turvy tunnel. Earthquake, built in 1989, was still a part of the tram ride, but it is considered to be Universal's first ride. It was a smash at the time, but it was later came rides that put Universal on the map: Back to the Future and Jurassic Park.
Including the now-defunct ET, Universal Studios Hollywood has never had a lot of rides. And it has done well without them. Until lately. The park had been suffering for years before a boffo year in 2002, followed again by a down year. Many critics say the park has too many shows. Considering 2003, a down year, came when yet another show opened - Shrek 4-D - maybe many critics are right. Suddenly USH's show-heavy attraction list was no longer working. Counting the upcoming Revenge of the Mummy, USH has three rides plus the Studio Tour tram. The park has seven shows and a walkthrough. Is that too many?
Let's compare it to other parks that have had periodic attendance problems and have also been accused of being too show-heavy. Disney/MGM Studios has four rides, not counting their far-less-exciting tram tour, and one of those rides is the ever-so-slow Great Movie Ride. This Studios has one walkthrough and a massive nine shows with another one upcoming! Animal Kingdom has four rides also, not counting the kiddiecentric Dumbo clone, and one is just a mouse coaster. This park has only five shows, but many walkthroughs. For California Adventure we have a little problem. There are actually eight non-kiddie rides, though among those eight are four carny inclusions like the Sun Wheel, the Maliboomer and the totally useless Golden Zephyr. Everyone treats the park like it only has four rides - Tower of Terror, California Screamin', Soarin' over California, Grizzly River Run - but we'll give a half point to Mulholland Madness. On top of this we get six shows, a walkthrough and two pathetic tours. (We'll ignore the Seaworlds, since those parks are about the animals, even though even they have all been adding rides also.)
So four, which is basically the number of rides all these parks have, is clearly not enough. But why should it matter how many rides there are? I have, for quite some time, declared all over this site that rides aren't important. Let me add something to that: Rides aren't important IF the non-rides are high-quality attractions. Terminator 2: 3-D and Festival of the Lion King are perfect examples. But EVERY park relies on Annual Passes now, and too many shows can definitely keep many locals from buying these Passes. The two shows I mentioned have high revisit rates. Does USH's Spider-Man Rocks? Does Disney/MGM's MuppetVision? AK's Pocahontas and her Forest Friends? So, yes, rides and their rerideability are very important to a park's continued success. Hey, even the hugely popular ogre couldn't help USH last year.
So how many rides is enough? Universal Studios Florida, which is also very show-heavy, has seven rides, and it gets its share of complaints. Islands of Adventure has eight rides, if you ignore Storm Force, Flying Unicorn, or nine if you feel generous to include Dr Doom and, according to this site, it seems to be doing its job. So seven might actually be the magic number for these parks.
AK is getting Expedition Everest, which brings its total up to 4 1/2 (I still can't get past the crappy mouse coaster). And more shows and walkthroughs are clearly not going to do the job here. So this one should be easy, since this park won't necessarily need to close anything to open up a ride. A new land could take care of two of these needed rides, so Disney needs to get to work here.
Disney/MGM is a little tougher since it has some attractions that would need to close to open those three rides, and then there is the further problem of a place to put them. This is one of the worst planned parks, so this isn't going to be easy.
Back to USH, and all we are doing is continuing the space problems that have always plagued the park. Some things must close. And the rides that replace them must not be too large or too loud.
So what should be taken out of each park? What should be added?
That's my two cents. Gimme yours!