Universal Studios Florida

San Francisco

Earthquake - The Big One (EXTINCT!)

(June 7, 1990 - November 5, 2007)


History and photos of the extinct Earthquake - The Big One ride in the San Francisco section of Universal Studios Florida.

Universal Studios Florida - San Francisco - Earthquake - The Big One - logo

Opening with the rest of Universal Studios Florida on June 7, 1990, Earthquake - The Big One was a ride that simulated an earthquake that ranked an 8.3 on the Richter Scale.

Universal Studios Florida - San Francisco - Earthquake - 1991 - 01 Universal Studios Florida - San Francisco - Earthquake - 1991 - 02

Like Kongfrontation and Jaws, Earthquake suffered from numerous technical problems when the ride first opened.  It would take a few months before the problems were fixed and Earthquake could operate smoothly for the guests.

Universal Studios Florida - San Francisco - Earthquake - 1998 - 01 Universal Studios Florida - San Francisco - Earthquake - 1998 - 02

Earthquake - The Big One was more than just a subway ride followed by a simulated earthquake.  The experience itself was partially hosted by Charlton Heston, star of the 1974 film Earthquake, and it featured an in-depth look behind-the-scenes of creating a disaster film such as Earthquake.  The attraction also had a section involving members of the audience re-creating some of the stunts in, and inspired by, the movie.  After all of that came the subway ride and earthquake experience.

Earthquake began with guests gathering in a waiting room.  Pictures of earthquake damage, such as the infamous 1906 San Francisco earthquake, were around the room and set the mood for what we were eventually going to experience.  The host for our group then came out and selected volunteers from the audience to participate in the attraction.


After the waiting room the guests would be taken to a smaller preshow room.  A large movie screen came to life and we'd see clips of the earthquake sequence in the movie Earthquake.  Charlton Heston would then come on screen and show us how some of those special effects were created, from building the models to recording the action with high-speed photography and then playing it back slower for a greater effect.  Beneath the movie screen we'd see part of the earthquake-damaged model of Los Angeles that was used in filming Earthquake.

After this room we'd transition to the next room where we'd see members of the audience re-create some of the stunts from Earthquake.  There are a lot of laughs as we watch the people in action and then see some movie magic as footage of the audience volunteers was inserted into the final film.

And then there was the actual ride.


Leaving the audience participation part of Earthquake we'd suddenly be in a San Francisco subway station.  Everybody would take a seat on the Golden Gate Transit subway train, the workers would close the doors, and then we'd be off to the next station.  The dark tunnel connecting the two stations had light and sound effects that made it seem like we were rolling a great distance.

Arriving in San Francisco's Embarcadero Station, things seem quiet but normal.  Moments later there's a small rumbling from underground.  An announcement says that we're experiencing a slight tremor, and that everybody needs to remain calm.  That brief tremor causes some small damage in the subway station.  Suddenly the subway cars begin rocking and rolling as a major earthquake strikes.  It's a miniature roller coaster ride as the trains bounce around the station.  The Embarcadero Station falls apart during the earthquake.  We hear another subway train arriving on the other tracks.  As it pulls into the station it hits a piece of broken track and rolls in our direction, stopping just a couple feet from our train.  Chaos strikes again as part of the ceiling falls and a tanker truck slides down to the train.  The truck ignites in a large fireball.  Just when things couldn't get any worse, a flash flood rushes into the opposite side of the station, threatening to soak the riders and drown us all.

In the end a worker ran out and yelled, "Cut!"  All of the special effects stop.  As our train rolls back to the loading station, we would watch as the Embarcadero Station "repaired" itself and reset for the next group of visitors.  Back at the unloading station, the doors would open and guests would leave the building through the ride's exit.

Universal Studios Florida - San Francisco - Earthquake - 2007 - 01 Universal Studios Florida - San Francisco - Earthquake - 2007 - 02

In 2002, Earthquake - The Big One went through a couple of minor changes.  First, the attraction's name was scaled back to just Earthquake.  And second, the preshow segment with Charlton Heston was changed and Charlton was removed entirely.  Guests were instead shown clips from other Universal movies such as E.T. The Extra-Terrestrial, Dr. Seuss' How the Grinch Stole Christmas, and U-571.

On November 5, 2007, Earthquake closed its doors to be re-themed to a new experience.  The earthquake part of the ride would remain along with the audience participation, but the rest of the experience would be completely different.  The new version called Disaster! A Major Motion Picture Ride . . . Starring YOU opened on January 17, 2008.

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Universal Studios Florida - San Francisco - Earthquake - The Big One:

Earthquake - warning sign:

Earthquake - line queue & loading station:

Earthquake - ride: