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"Disaster! A Major Motion Picture Ride ... Starring YOU!" debuts at Universal Studios Florida

"Disaster! A Major Motion Picture Ride ... Starring YOU!" debuts at Universal Studios Florida

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For almost 18 years now, "Earthquake -- The Big One" had been entertaining guests at Universal Studios Florida. But as 2008 approached, the folks at Universal Creative felt that they needed to shake things up. Completely reimagine this still-popular-but-obviously-aging theme park attraction.

So the first thing they did was remove virtually every reference to that 1974 Sensurround spectacular that had previously given this USF ride its name & identity. Then Universal Creative folded in a big heaping dose of guest interactivity and goofy good humor. And the end result -- "Disaster! A Major Motion Picture Ride ... Starring YOU!" -- officially opened its doors yesterday at the Universal Orlando Resort.

Things got off to an explosive start at yesterday's grand opening of Universal
Studios Florida's new "Disaster!" attraction. Photo by Max Schilling

Of course, when your brand-new attraction is named "Disaster!," you can't just cut a ribbon and then invite the guests in. Which is why Universal Orlando Resort president Bill Davis grabbed a plunger and literally blew the doors off of this San Francisco Area show building.

And who then should come strolling out, amid all of the smoke and still-falling debris but Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson. Who makes a special surprise appearance in "Disaster!" 's finale.

"The Rock" rolled into O-town yesterday to help open
this reimagined USF attraction.
Photo by Max Schilling

As for the attraction itself, "Disaster! A Major Motion Picture Ride ... Starring YOU!" is a clever reimaging of USF's old "Earthquake -- The Big One" ride. You see, once you enter this redecorated show building, you're now in the realm of the "Master of Mayhem," film director Frank Kinkaid. Frank (winningly played by the ever kooky Christopher Walken) is the low budget auteur behind such famous faux films as "Baboon!," "Fungus" and "Apocageddon."

And Kinkaid ... He now needs your help in order to complete his next B-movie masterpiece, "Mutha Nature." A very troubled production that's about to fall behind schedule and -- worse than that -- go over budget.

Musion technology seamlessly blends the live production assistant (left) and
the previously-recorded Christopher Walken (right). Photo by Max Schilling

Now what's particularly fun about "Disaster!" is that this new USF attraction makes use of Musion Eyeliner technology. Which is -- in effect -- a next generation version of the Pepper's Ghost effect that's used in the "Haunted Mansion" at various Disney theme parks worldwide.

Now I know that the above photograph doesn't really do this amazing new process justice. But trust me, folks. In the finished version of "Disaster! A Major Motion Picture Ride ... Starring YOU!," it really does look as though the pre-recorded Christopher Walken is actually sharing the same space and interacting live with the PA in this part of the pre-show.

USF guests are recruited to make appearances in Disaster Studios' next big release.
Copyright 2008 Universal Orlando Resort. All Rights Reserved

And speaking of the " ... Starring YOU!" part of the show, as the audience moves to the next part of the pre-show, the production assistants then begin selecting guests to take part in the filming of "Mutha Nature." Shooting quick scenes that will then be inserted in the finished film.

Nobody ever said that making a motion picture -- particularly a cheap B-movie -- was glamorous.
Copyright 2008 Universal Orlando Resort. All Rights Reserved

Mind you, everyone gets a shot at stardom once they board that subway train and head out for the set of "Mutha Nature" 's grand finale. Which is where an underground subway station is subjected to the stresses of an 8.0 earthquake.

Once the shooting of this sequence is complete, as the train rolls back toward the off-load area, USF guests are then able to view the trailer for "Mutha Nature." Which features all this footage of them screaming on board that rockin'-and-rollin' train. Not to mention all of those brief insert scenes that were shot in the attraction's pre-show area.

Get ready for your close-up aboard "Disaster! A Major Motion Picture Ride ... Starring YOU!"
Copyright 2008 Universal Orlando Resort. All Rights Reserved

The end result is a USF attraction that folds the very best elements of the previous show in with an all-new (and -- to be honest -- very funny) storyline. The people I rode "Disaster!" with yesterday genuinely seemed to be having a great time on this radically revamped San Francisco Area attraction.

Of course, the opening of "Disaster! A Major Motion Picture Ride ... Starring YOU!" is just the start of a particularly strong year for the Universal Orlando Resort. Coming in March will be the opening of "The Simpsons" attraction, which will replace that theme park's much beloved "Back to the Future -- The Ride."

Springfield's first family arrives in Orlando this March
with the opening of USF's new "The Simpsons Ride."
Copyright 2008 Universal Orlando Resort
/ The Simpsons TM / Twentieth Century Fox Film Corporation.
All Rights Reserved

Then in December of 2009 (just in time for the holidays) comes the Islands of Adventure expansion area that every J.K. Rowling fan is eager to visit, "The Wizarding World of Harry Potter." Which the folks at Universal Orlando Resort really hope will appeal to those WDW guests who have grown tired of the Magic Kingdom's tired assortment of tricks.

But -- for now -- there's Universal Studios Florida's "Disaster! A Major Motion Picture Ride ... Starring YOU!" Where (according to this attraction's catchphrase) "If all goes according to plan, it'll be a total disaster." Be sure and check this new USF ride out the next time you visit the Universal Orlando Resort.

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  • Overall I really enjoyed the update. However, my biggest complaint is how much "direction" guests are given during the still intact earthquake finale. It really takes you out of the moment when the director keeps yapping while you are supposed to feel the immediate doom of a collapsing subway line. But overall, an excellent redo.

  • One of the biggest complaints my wife has with Universal Studios is that the whole park is basically one "Disaster" after another... with an earthquake, a shark, a Terminator, etc.  Something always "goes terribly wrong".  When reading the title of the article, at first I thought they combined all the attractions into one (like the old Hollywood version) and called the whole thing "Disaster".

  • And here at Disney we get yet another computer-projection movie tie-in attraction,  whose graphics will be outdated in 2 years, and a new parade.  Yay.

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