New attractions at Disney and Universal theme parks take years of development and construction, not to mention millions of dollars, before welcoming visitors.
So, what happens when visitors come off the ride unimpressed?
That may be the charitable description of the reaction to Fast & Furious: Supercharged, the newest attraction at Universal Studios Florida. The ride has been called Universal’s “biggest misstep of the decade” with “cheesy” dialogue, a “flat-out terrible” party scene and “awful” animation in the ride’s signature 360-degree video tunnel, all leading to an abrupt ending. The few bits of praise have been saved for the ride’s queue filled with tricked-out cars one would expect from a “Fast & Furious”-themed attraction.
Whereas Walt Disney World’s newest rides in the Pandora section of Animal Kingdom have seen hours-long waits throughout their first year of operation, Universal’s latest only had a 20-minute wait on the second day it was officially opened — not exactly a huge display of enthusiasm from visitors.
But if Universal fans are expecting a quick change to this multi-million-dollar investment, they’re likely to be disappointed.
“You monitor, and you adjust, you don’t just close the attraction and throw the key away,” said Dennis Speigel, theme park consultant and president of International Theme Park Services. “’Fast & Furious’ is one of their most important franchises. They want that to be a good experience and they want people to enjoy it because they’re going to make a lot more of those films.”
The synergy between Universal’s theme parks and films may be enough to protect the ride from major changes. Combined, the Fast & Furious films have grossed more than $5.1 billion, with the last two (2015’s “Furious 7” and 2017’s “The Fate of the Furious”) breaking the $1 billion mark worldwide. The next installment is set to come out in 2020.
Unlike some of the other major attractions at Universal Orlando, it’s based on a franchise own entirely by Universal, not licensed from another studio, increasing the value for showcasing it in Universal parks.
If most guests truly feel disappointed by the ride, Universal will know about it. Speigel said Universal is likely monitoring guest feedback for Fast & Furious: Supercharged in a number of ways, including eavesdropping on what guests are saying as they exit the ride.
“Timing-wise, you would give it about a month or so of good ridership. Then you evaluate it and see what you need to do,” he said.
Operational issues, not feedback from guests, are typically what cause attractions to close for changes quickly. In one example from Universal’s own history, the original version of Jaws operated only intermittently during the park’s first months in the summer of 1990 before it underwent a nearly three-year-long rebuilding project.
There are instances in theme park lore when guests’ reactions have been negative enough that park operators made noticeable changes. Universal tossed out the original version of Poseidon’s Fury a year after it opened at Islands of Adventure, supposedly due to confusion over the attraction’s story. Even then, however, they opted for the cost-effective fix: the script was changed, and new footage was shot for the climactic battle scene, but many of the attraction’s effects remained untouched.
Disney’s Superstar Limo offers the most extreme example of a new attraction which failed to please guests. Opened in 2001 at Disney’s then-new California Adventure park in Anaheim, the ride was filled with dated Hollywood in-jokes and so disliked by guests that it closed permanently in less than a year.
Not wanting to waste what was still a recently-built attraction completely, Disney repurposed the track layout, ride vehicles and even some of the animatronics were repurposed for the “Monsters, Inc.” ride which opened in the same space in 2006 and still operates today.
Speigel doesn’t think Fast & Furious: Supercharged is eliciting Superstar Limo-level hostility. In fact, he called the ride a “home run.” He shrugged off some of the criticisms about the ride — that it’s too short, lacking in thrills and yet another screen-based attraction for Universal — as the opinion of “geeks” and “bloggers,” not the average Universal guest.
“I kind of wait until the bloggers have blogged out and then see what the reaction is,” he said.
Universal may not be so dismissive of online reviews. The company’s guest services department has replied to criticism about the ride on sites like TripAdvisor. Universal didn’t respond to questions about what kind of feedback it’s collected.
Whether there’s enough backlash to motivate Universal to make real changes — and spend more money — on a newly opened attraction remains to be seen.