Ark Encounter, located in Williamstown, Kentucky, bills 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 would be out of luck. There are things for visitors to do, but they don’t qualify as thrilling experiences—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 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. These types of "E-Ticket"-like rides are not offered at Ark Encounter, however.
Prior to its opening in 2016, the park announced announced a budget of $86 million for its first phase. A single high-end dark ride can easily cost that much or more; en entire park filled with sophisticated attractions would have required a significantly higher budget.
In 2020, the park debuted A Flood of Reality, a virtual reality experience that more closely resembles an attraction that might be found at a major theme park. At a reported cost of $3 million, it uses VR goggles, custom-designed media, and moving seats to simulate a journey back to biblical times. There is more on A Flood of Reality below.
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 our article, "What is the Difference Between a Theme Park and an Amusement Park?")
So, What Is Ark Encounter?
It’s probably more accurate to refer to Ark Encounter as an attraction, or perhaps an exhibit, than a theme park. It includes "edutainment" exhibits that incorporate entertainment and interactive elements to educate visitors.
The featured attraction and focal point of the park is a "life-sized" version of Noah's Ark (more on that later). From the main entrance, guests reach the ark by taking a bus ride. Because of its theme, animals are on display. There are zip line courses. There are also 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 is 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.
Day passes for the park are priced at $48 with discounts for seniors and children. Combo passes, which include admission to the Creation Museum, are available. More ticket info is available on Ark Encounter’s official site.
That's One Big Ark
The ark that visitors encounter is enormous. Using biblical references, the attraction fashioned 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 is the largest timber-frame structure in the US, according to Ark Encounter officials. It is certainly an impressive engineering and construction feat. Guests are able to climb up the outside of the ark and explore its interior.
Meet Noah Virtually
A Flood of Reality, which opened in 2020, is a separate-ticketed attraction at Ark Encounter that requires an additional fee. Visitors enter the “Truth Traveler” theater, strap on VR headsets, and sit in MX4D Motion EFX seats (the kind of motion simulator seats found at some movie theaters) to experience a simulated adventure alongside Noah as he builds his ark. Sensory enhancements include air blasts and scent cannons. Park founder Ken Ham appears as a hologram in the experience. Although the park recommends that guests be 40 inches tall, the motion of the attraction is not intense and is not what most would consider to be a “thrill ride.”
Inside the Ark
Among the things to see at Ark Encounter are static exhibits of biblical characters, such as Noah and Emzara. The displays are designed to explain and engage visitors in Bible stories.
Among the sculpted animals on display at Ark Encounter are two simosuchus (simosuchuses? simosuchi?). The reptiles are listed among the creatures that made the journey with Noah, but are now extinct. There are also live animals at the attraction to see and pet at the Ararat Ridge Zoo.
Coming in Future Phases
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. Its officials ultimately plan to spend over $150 million in total, including projected expansions. Future attractions will reportedly 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, and an aviary.