Is Noah's "Ark Encounter" a Theme Park?

  • 01 of 05

    The Kentucky Attraction Features a Facsimile of Noah's Ark

    Rendering of Ark Encounter park in Kentucky.
    ••• Ark Encounter

    Scheduled to open on July 7, 2016 in Williamstown, Kentucky, Ark Encounter  is billing itself as a "theme park." Is that accurate? Well, it depends.

    If you are expecting a park filled with roller coasters, spinning flat rides, a Ferris wheel, and other mechanical rides that you might find at a Six Flags park, you're out of luck. There will be things for visitors to do, but none of them would likely qualify as a thrilling experience -- at least not in the sense of what traditional amusement parks offer.

    If you are expecting spectacular themed dark rides, such as the ones featured at major destination theme parks like Disneyland or Universal Studios Florida, again, you'd probably find that's not the case. An elaborate boat-based attraction, such as Pirates of the Caribbean, could be a compelling way to tell the story of Noah's Ark. And media-based attractions could immerse visitors in other biblical stories. They are not likely, however.

    Prior to opening, Ark Encounter has not revealed many...MORE details about exactly what it will offer, but based on the information it has shared, it doesn't appear that the bible-themed park will be presenting any "E-Ticket"-like rides. For one thing, it has announced a budget of $86 million for the first phase of the park. A single high-end dark ride can easily cost that much or more; en entire park filled with sophisticated attractions would require a significantly higher budget.

    Of course, there is no legal definition as to what constitutes a theme park, and Ark Encounter is certainly free to use the term. Its press materials state that it is not an amusement park. (If you are curious about the distinction, read my article, "What is the Difference Between a Theme Park and an Amusement Park?")

    So, What Can Be Expected?

    The Ark Encounter folks say that their park will include live performances, live special events, and "edutainment" exhibits that will incorporate entertainment to educate visitors. The featured attraction and focal point of the park will be a "life-sized" version of Noah's Ark (more on that later). From the main entrance, guests will reach the ark by walking either clockwise or counter-clockwise on a promenade around a large lagoon. Because of its theme, animals will be on display. There will also be shops and places to dine.

    The group behind Ark Encounter is Answers in Genesis, a biblical ministry organization that operates the Creation Museum. Also located in Kentucky, the museum offers bible-based exhibits. Answers in Genesis President Ken Ham is perhaps most famous for engaging in a highly popular evolution-creation debate with Bill Nye (aka "The Science Guy"). In tone and presentation, Ark Encounter will probably be similar to The Holy Land Experience in Orlando, another attraction that calls itself a theme park, but doesn't conform to the typical conventions of the genre.

    When it opens, day passes for the park will be priced at $40 with discounts for seniors (60+) and children (5 to 12). Children under 5 will be free. There will be an additional fee for parking.

    Next: A lot of cubits

    Continue to 2 of 5 below.
  • 02 of 05

    That's One Big Ark

    Rendering of Noah's Ark at Ark Encounter park.
    ••• Ark Encounter

    The ark that visitors will encounter will be enormous. Using biblical references, the park is constructing a full-scale facsimile of the animal-filled vessel. At 300 cubits long (510 feet), 50 cubits wide (85 feet), and 30 cubits tall (51 feet), the ark will be the largest timber-frame structure in the US, according to park officials. Guests will be able to climb up the outside of the ark and explore its interior.

    Next: What else is planned for the park?

    Continue to 3 of 5 below.
  • 03 of 05

    Coming in Future Phases

    Future phases of Ark Encounter park.
    ••• Ark Encounter

    According to Genesis, it may have only taken six days to create the world (and another 40 days and nights for Noah to endure the rain), but Ark Encounter will take longer than that to build out. The park is describing the July 2016 opening as the first phase. It ultimately plans to spend over $150 million in total, including projected expansions. Future attractions will include the Tower of Babel (which probably won't be a drop tower ride, although that could be a great idea), a first-century village, interpretations of biblical events such as the parting of the Red Sea, an aviary, and a petting zoo.

    Next: Peek into the ark

    Continue to 4 of 5 below.
  • 04 of 05

    Inside the Ark

    Inside the ark at Ark Encounter.
    ••• Ark Encounter

    Here's a peek at the inside of the reconstructed ark under construction at the park.

    Next: No unicorn

    Continue to 5 of 5 below.
  • 05 of 05

    Animals, Two-by-Two

    Simosuchus at Ark Encounter
    ••• Ark Encounter

    Among the animals on display at Ark Encounter will be two simosuchus (simosuchuses? simosuchi?). The reptiles are listed among the creatures that made the journey with Noah, but are now extinct.

    Ark Encounter official site