Cathi DeckeR INTERVIEW
JURASSIC PARK: THE RIDE PREMIERE ATTENDEE
Jurassic Park: The Ride's original Hollywood incarnation may be gone forever, but that doesn't stop people from remembering what it was like to experience the landmark attraction during the peak of the franchise's cultural impact. While today's guest is not someone involved with the franchise, she was a fan lucky enough to experience an early premiere of the ride before it opened to the public back in 1996. Her connection to the ride is a unique and interesting tale.
Derrick Davis: Back in the summer of 1996, Jurassic Park: The Ride opened at Universal Studios Hollywood in California. What was the hype like back then, and what made you excited about it?
Cathi Decker: I remember being a huge fan of the movie, so when there was a notice on this ride of course I had to be there! I loved Universal Studios, and this was just another reason! It was advertised in all the papers and magazines and there was a lot of hype building up for it. They advertised the steepest drop ever on a water ride!
Derrick: On June 15th there was a celebrity fundraising premiere event, but on June 20th there was an early press premiere before opening the ride publicly. How did you get to attend the press premiere, and what materials did you receive?
Cathi: My husband at the time entered a contest on the Mark & Brian radio show to win tickets to the premiere. He had to do an impersonation of someone from the movie. He was really good at doing impersonations and won! We went down to the radio station to get the letter/invitation at the time. You had to have an original letter.
Derrick: What was the process of attending the event?
Cathi: I remember driving up to Universal Studios and it was really early in the morning, in fact it was still dark outside. I remember wearing some sort of a costume with a Jurassic hat. We were special guests of the Mark & Brian show, so everyone that won the contest was able to attend.
Derrick: What was the event like? What was present around the ride before you got on it?
Cathi: There were maybe 100 of us, again this is really early in the morning. We did get special parking and I remember going in a special side entrance that led directly over to the ride. Mark & Brian had set up their radio show with microphones and speakers and so forth. They were on a platform near the ride.
Derrick: Did you see anyone famous?
Cathi: The only stars I can remember seeing were Mark & Brian. There might have been some other celebrities, but we were too excited about the ride and getting on it!
Derrick: How long did you have to wait in line?
Cathi: We didn’t have to wait in line very long because there were not very many of us. We felt very privileged.
Derrick: What was the ride like the first time you went on it?
Cathi: We knew there was a drop, so we were nervous about it. It really was advertised as one of the steepest, longest drops for a water ride in the world I believe. Everyone was talking about it. So of course we had to sit in the front row, we waited a little extra to get that front row. I remember getting on the ride and going through those big gates for the first time, "Welcome to Jurassic Park", and the music started; I was in tears. We were so happy and it was amazing. It almost seemed too unreal... like how could we have gone right into the movie? It felt very real back then.
Derrick: You mentioned to me before the interview that you had an injury from being on the ride. Can you tell us about that?
Cathi: As the ride slammed down after the drop, I was holding the bar, like they told us to do when we got in, and the bar jammed my fingers in and several broke. As I exited the ride, they started to bruise and swell up. Immediately their team came rushing over and took me into the back. I distinctly remember sitting in their medical area waiting to be looked at. They were very worried I might pursue some legal action so they kept wanting to make sure I was OK. I have a high threshold for pain so it didn’t really bother me, I just wanted to go on the ride again. Also I did not want to spend the day sitting in the medical area. They taped up my fingers and I left to get back in line. From what I remember, they were worried that there was a problem with the bar system and that they needed to do something to fix that system before the general public could ride it, so I’m pretty sure they blocked off the front row on each boat.
Derrick: Wow, that sounds really unpleasant! I'm surprised you handled it so well. Despite that, how long were you at the event? Was there any kind of after-party?
Cathi: The "event" actually ended really early because the park was going to open to the general public. We had to be out of that area I think by 10 or 11 AM. Then we were able to walk around the rest of the park. We loved Universal Studios at the time so I’m sure we stayed very late, I can’t remember all the details; there was not an after-party. We were given some sort of a gift for being there with Mark & Bryan, I think it was a T-shirt.
Derrick: What was your favorite memory about the entire experience?
Cathi: So another memory, and again this could be cloudy, but it was that the T-Rex was not put in place yet; she was in pieces I believe on top of the building. When we went on the ride they were still working on her and she hadn’t been placed yet. There was a curtain where now we know she lurches out. Behind it were maintenance workers. As we got up to the part where it was about to drop, the maintenance workers threw back the curtain and they all growled at us and clawed like they were dinosaurs. It wasn’t scary and super silly, and we had no idea what the heck was going on. Later we found out that’s where the T-Rex was to be. My favorite memory would just have to be the whole thing. It seemed like a dream come true to be there when that ride opened.
Derrick: Over the years, the ride received several changes, including re-skins of the dinosaurs and some of the original effects turned off. How did you feel about these changes throughout the years?
Cathi: Of course it seemed like the ride became neglected to a certain degree. I thought that was very unfortunate because there will always be a new surge in the fan base for the Jurassic movies. I still always went on it and loved it, but yeah, when the effects, like the jeep crashing down were not working and the dinosaurs fell to disrepair, it was very sad...
Derrick: In September of 2018, Jurassic Park: The Ride closed to be turned into Jurassic World: The Ride. You were there on its last weekend (as was I). How was it to ride it in its original form one last time?
Cathi: It was very nostalgic to be there... I videotaped that day. I was shaking and didn't capture it very well because I was so emotional. Thank goodness I knew that it wasn't going away for good, but just the fact that something that was so important in my life was going through a complete re-haul was very depressing.
Watch video directly at YouTube
Derrick: In July 2019, Jurassic World: The Ride opened. Have you been on it? If so, what did you think in comparison?
Cathi: Of course I was there waiting for the ride to open as Jurassic World. I remember that they didn't announce an opening date, so groups of us kept a watch on it, waiting for there to be a soft opening... finally it came and we were thrilled. We loved it! It was different, but I didn't care. I was just so happy to be back on a Jurassic ride!! The one part that that I like better in Jurassic World is the fact that the T-Rex ("Rexy") seems to be better positioned. It took 23 years to get her looking really good. When she comes out just before the drop, WOW; heart stopping!!
Derrick: As of 2020, similar versions of Jurassic Park: The Ride still exist at Universal Studios Islands of Adventure in Orlando, Florida and also at Universal Studios Japan. Have you been to either of these versions of the attraction, and if so, what are your thoughts?
Cathi: I have been on Florida's version. It is okay, but not the same as Hollywood's was. It just doesn't have any of the nostalgia or memories for me. I still love it of course, but it is not the same. I would love to go to Japan!
Derrick: If you could create your own Jurassic Park-related attraction that hasn't been made yet, what would it be like?
Cathi: Love the Mosasaurus Show and the Gyrosphere Ride in JW, but if I could create my own JP attraction that hasn't been made yet, it would definitely be the theatre-style "Inside the Hammond Creation Lab" ride at the very beginning of the first movie when they go through the lab. I'd love for them to actually try to recreate that with those seats all facing forward. The guests would load in and go around looking at the "lab" areas and have real actors in the back. And how cool to see Nedry sneaking around in the back! They could do that... they are in Hollywood after all!
Derrick: You may not work for theme parks or the movies, but you do work at the Santa Ana Zoo. What do you do there, and does it ever feel like working at Jurassic Park/World?
Cathi: It feels exactly like Jurassic World actually; my job mirrors Claire to the detail of even wearing heels and trying to get sponsors, ha ha. I'm the Executive Director, in charge of fundraising, getting sponsors, managing the staff... sometimes I even quote her.
To see more from Cathi Decker, check out her "Keena Kindragon" YouTube Channel.
Interview conducted by Derrick Davis. Special photos and items provided by Cathi Decker.
Watch video directly at YouTube
POST-SCRIPT (June 2022)
A portion of this interview was featured in TIME Magazine's Special Edition: "The Story Of Jurassic Park" (page 49)!