Upon the recommendations of some friends of dubious religious leanings, I undertook a field trip to Ark Encounter, a Bible-themed park that is proposed to be built near Cincinnati, Ohio (a convenient 45-minute drive from The Creation Museum). The centerpiece is envisioned to be a “life-sized” ark through which visitors can stroll and learn the wonderful story of how Noah and two of each animal were saved from a vengeful God’s wrath.
Now all scientific explanations aside, I wondered at the profitability such a theme park would have. I had envisioned a big wooden boat, maybe a Taste-E-Freeze stand or two, a T-shirt booth and that’s it. But after getting security clearances from Answers In Genesis (the organization behind both The Creation Museum and Ark Encounter) for myself and two of my intrepid fellow explorers and taking the luxurious Blue Bird Express rail-car to Cincinnati, I learned that the park will be much, MUCH more.
Arrival At The Park
As Pickles and Sprinkles (my traveling cohorts) and I stepped out of the limo at what would soon be the entrance to this holy wonderland, we were crestfallen. THIS was to be a testament to God’s Will, a light to lift up to the great unwashed masses? THIS was to become the crucible for burning away the dross of disbelief of countless sinners?!?
Luckily we were immediately met by a gentleman who went only by the name Jesus (pronounced “Hey-Zeus”), who as it turns out was the groundskeeper / security guard / environmental consultant for the project. Jesus led us to a small but warmly-appointed single-wide trailer inside of which were several easels with artist’s conceptions of how the final park would appear. Passing around a flask of cheap vodka we got down to brass tacks.
The entrance area which had only moments ago clung to our shoes like … well, like mud … had instantly transformed into a wonderland!
The Walled City
Taken directly from the park’s advertising:
The Walled City depicts the pre-Flood lifestyle of the people of Noah’s day. This 14-acre area is the entry point to the facility for all guests and becomes its central gathering point. The Walled City features highly themed shops, restaurants, and venues that bring to life the city and times in which Noah lived, including his house. The Walled City is the first themed area that guests will experience which presents biblical truth as it introduces the Ark and the world-wide Flood. It asks and answers the question “Why the Ark?
Sprinkles just then choked on her Tic-Tac while Pickles vigorously thumped her on the back. I questioned in my mind how that representation was a bit off from what I had seen elsewhere supposedly depicting a typical “Biblical truth” city.
Being merely guests of Jesus’s we bit our tongues as he swayed over to the next easel and whipped back a cloth cover to reveal the next phase of construction – The Ark itself. Based upon the dimensions provided in the Bible (Genesis 6), using the long cubit (which in modern-speak means around 450 feet long and 75 feet wide), the ark will be the largest wooden-framed structure in the US – outside of Harold Camping’s head, I suppose.
Jesus couldn’t answer Pickles’ question of whether visitors would experience another “Biblical Truth”: that of the stench of thousands of terrified, screaming, squawking animals defecating themselves and upon each other while simultaneously trying to devour whatever came within range. He merely looked at her with red-rimmed eyes, sighed, and wobbled over to where he had set the flask.
Seeking to end the silence, I asked Jesus about the next section of Ark Encounter – Noah’s Animals, a sort of petting zoo with “educational” elements incorporated.
Jesus’ bloodshot eyes brightened a bit as he described this section. “The childrens, they get to pets the animals! Nice animals! Good animals! God’s creatures!”
None of us had the heart to tell him what we had glimpsed in that area in the short walk to the trailer – a nasty collection of old shacks, an abandoned convenience store and a group of prostitutes forlornly standing around.
At least Dad would get a chance to properly introduce Junior to the story of the Biblical harlots …
Speaking of critters, the blueprint showed an aviary a short walk down from the petting zoo. I wondered if this was to be a great high-tech bird sanctuary with beautiful species in full flight, majestically spreading their multi-hued wings as they beat out the tempo of Faith in a Higher Being.
… or something like that …
Sprinkles screamed “BIRDIES!” and ran to the easel, whipping off the covering to reveal-
Ummm … Okkkkaaaayyyy … it looked like some kid got mad at his K’nex and threw his half-completed roller coaster into the corner of his room. But the Ark Encounter site once again reassures us that:
The Aviary will be a fascinating walk-through attraction, with several viewing platforms inside three types of bird sanctuaries. Each sanctuary will allow guests to get close to the birds in a natural setting. A nearby butterfly emporium will give visitors additional learning experiences.
I wonder what the three types of sanctuaries are – Beautiful Birds, Water Birds and Deadly Birds? What happens if someone leaves the door open between areas? What if all three groups break into the butterfly emporium? I’m sure THAT would be an additional learning experience.
The Children’s Area
Leaving the thought of battling birds and semi-digested butterflies behind, we endeavored to advance the conversation to the next point on the easel – the Children’s Area. Here, we thought, there could be nothing but rainbows and Skittles! Rosy-cheeked children innocently playing in modern, colorful, safety-approved equipment …
… Sprinkles and Pickles let out simultaneous “EEEeeeewwww”s as Jesus glumly unveiled the painting. I thought to myself that this play area looked not unlike a series of anthills belonging to those giant African ants. Fighting down visions of tots battling armies of death-dealing Solenopsis while falling off spindly rope bridges as their parents blithely suck down a Solomon Smoothie, I thought it best to once again consult Encounter’s explanation:
The Children’s Area is in a unique setting next to the zoo and aviary. Highly themed with bridge nets, climbing areas, slides, and zip lines, it has an indoor and outdoor discovery center where children can learn about God’s provision for His creation, and His economy of design.
Zip lines? ZIP LINES?!?
And “economy of design” doesn’t BEGIN to describe this Playground from Hell … we’re talkin’ K-Mart KiddieLand here. Sprinkles began to mutter “Oh, those poor little …” but a look from Pickles quickly stopped her. Jesus had a solitary tear running down his cheek.
We all decided to take a break at this point and vigorously attacked the flask, which was drained dry in a matter of minutes. Pickles volunteered to go and get some more vodka and the rest of us stepped outside into the chill Ohio evening air to catch our breath. This was turning out to be quite an education, though one which I’m sure was the farthest from the planners’ minds.
Jesus was now openly weeping and confessing his suspicions that this project was just “wrong, terribly wrong”. I put it down at least partially to the vast quantities of alcohol imbibed but also suspected that ”In Vino, Veritas”.
The next area on the map was marked as “First-Century Village” and promised some educational experiences:
First-Century Village: this area provides guests with the opportunity to experience a typical village that would have been found in the North Galilee area of Israel, where Jesus conducted the majority of His ministry. It is complete with period-costumed villagers, houses, a synagogue, a sheepfold, an olive press building, watchtowers, terraced farming, and a first-century dining facility. The experience culminates with a visit to the first-century theater where a combined live and video-based show shares why God sent His Son to earth.
I wasn’t quite sure what a “sheepfold” was and wondered what a “first-century dining facility” would look like, but of course my most pressing question, which I expressed to a near-comatose Jesus, was “Would there also be first-century prostitutes hanging around?” Pickles snickered, Sprinkles guffawed but Jesus just glumly stared at me with blood-shot eyes.
There were now only two uncovered sections left on the easel. Jesus was curled-up in a ball in the corner, snoring, so we decided to take the liberty of unveiling these last areas ourselves.
We weren’t disappointed – these were the strangest of the lot, stranger by far as a theme-park exhibit than even the Ark itself.
The Tower Of Babel
First off was the Tower of Babel. That’s right – the infamous Tower. Of course, the REAL one was 300 feet on each side and 300 feet tall. Think two football fields laid at right-angles to each other, and a third one placed vertically. Ignore all the fans and players falling out of the sky. Oh, wait – that’s the whole IDEA of the Tower, isn’t it? Death and destruction to those who don’t Believe? What a WONDERFUL idea for a theme park attraction!
Once again, from the Ark Encounter website itself:
The Tower of Babel: over 100 feet tall, this structure depicts what the Tower may have looked like. Guests enter a highly themed interior and weave along a path that shares the story of man’s efforts to elevate himself, and his abandonment of God (Genesis 11). It also introduces exhibits on the origination of languages and people groups. The path leads to a 500-seat special effects theater presentation of “Who is God?” This will be a spectacular show that undoubtedly will be well received by guests.
Wait, what?!? 100 feet? What a rip-off! What is this, Roadside America? I thought we were preaching God’s Truth here, and you’re giving me this glorified outhouse?!?
Wouldn’t it be cool if they figured out some way to alter your voice when you entered the Tower? Like, if you suddenly started speaking Japanese? Of course, it wouldn’t be so cool if you already SPOKE Japanese, but you know what I mean …
And what’s up with the “Who is God” thing? Is this an IMAX presentation? From Pixar? Will they show trailers first for the latest computer-generated cartoons? Will there be popcorn? So many questions were left unanswered this day …
Anyway, I thought I’d give my idea about a superior Tower to Jesus, so he could get in good with his boss after he sobered-up. My idea would save money and provide far more entertainment value than some stuffy ol’ IMAX movie about God.
See, the kids climb up on the inside while listening to pre-recorded shrieks and moans of The Unsaved, then slide down the spiral slide on the outside to assuage their guilt. Each is given a small booklet with coloring pages such as you’d get on a trip to the dentist to reinforce their faith.
The guy that hands out the booklets could be a student at the local Catholic high-school; pay him minimum wage and he’ll be happy to work on his tan, check out the chicks and deal with the little darlings all day.
By this time, Jesus was snoring loudly, interspersed with gasps and moans, spittle dripping down his sunken cheeks. Sprinkles and Pickles checked his pockets and came up with an inhaler and $28, so we figure the trip wasn’t a TOTAL waste.
But then we all looked at the last easel, still covered, and slowly unveiled it … OH, MY GOD!!!
The Journey Through Biblical History
THE JOURNEY THROUGH BIBLICAL HISTORY !!!
We laughed our butts off at this one! It seemed to be a Pirates of the Caribbean – style ride where you float down a little river in some smelly, moldy boat and watch boring dioramas with cheesy Animatronic characters grinding away, all to the accompaniment of loud, obnoxious music featuring a chorus of whiny little multi-ethnic kids singing about love and hope. We figured we should at least give Ark Encounter the benefit of the doubt and check their official “take” on this …
Journey through Biblical History: guests will take a floating journey down the Nile River, winding through scenes from Old Testament history—experiencing special-effects thrills to help tell the story. Beginning after Noah’s Flood with Abraham, the journey through time depicts: the formation of Israel; Moses and the ten plagues in Egypt; and the parting of the Red Sea.
Meh – that didn’t salve our consciences. The only thing that really got us excited was how they would portray the ten plagues, but since they’d probably be over-budget at this point they’d probably just run a YouTube video on a big-screen TV. That sucks, because I’m sure that if they approached Lucas and Spielberg they’d be only too happy to come up with something really gnarly.
Leaving The Ark
So we packed up, Sprinkles, Pickles and I; grabbed whatever office supplies were in plain view, patted down Jesus one final time to make sure we hadn’t missed anything, and left the proposed Ark Encounter park the way we came – drunk off our butts, stoned like monkeys and in awe of the power of Biblical marketing.
If they do this right, they’ll doubtless gain tons of converts, as well as increase their donation rate. Oh, yeah – they have it set up that you can donate to the building of the Ark. You can pledge to donate a Peg, a Plank or a Beam – at $100, $1,000 or $5,000 respectively. They even offer handy monthly payments! You get nifty perks like being able to look-up the location of your structural member and visit it when you take the kids on family vacation, and a certificate, and your name inscribed inside the Ark, and … gosh, I haven’t seen THIS many advantages of membership since I joined the Hellfire Key Club!