The saga of Noah’s Ark arguably remains one of the most well-known stories in all of Scripture. Most of us can vividly recall sitting in Vacation Bible School and hearing for the first time the enchanting tale of this hand-picked man of God, his boat, and the relentless floodwaters. Images of all the animals marching two by two up the boat ramp, one male and one female (Genesis 7:9), still virtually leap out from the pages of our childhood picture books. Transgender issues aside, it should be comforting for us to know that the distinction between the sexes certainly was not lost upon the creator of the universe at that critical historical juncture.
Whether or not we regard the story of Noah to be literal or metaphorical, our fascination with the concept of a ginormous floating vessel carrying the last remnants of humanity remains intriguing to say the least. Surely all of you must have wondered at some point in your life what it was like to actually be on that boat. Well here’s your chance–because I’m headed to the brand spanking new Ark Encounter in nearby Williamstown, and I’m taking you with me.
Not only are we going, but I purchased tickets for opening day. What would cause someone to fork out a $40 admission and $10 parking fee to be one of the first in line to this cheesy attraction, you ask? Other than having no job, too much time on my hands and some extra change in my pocket, I’m not quite sure. Let’s just say I’ve always liked a bit of hokiness sprinkled into my travel adventures. I usually gravitate toward places with beautiful natural scenery, cultural relativity and historical significance, but I also enjoy a dose of Kings Island with my Cayman Islands, a dollop of Dollywood with my Hollywood, and a dash of Pigeon Forge with my Valley Forge.
In order to beat the crowd and the heat, I’m here an hour before the park opens. Already there are hundreds of other cars, many with out-of-state license plates, parked in the expansive asphalt lots just off I-75. The news media is also here in full force. I’m part of this massive group of early bird visitors, queuing our way on to the lead shuttle buses, surreptitiously eyeing each other as we all jockey to become one of the first in line on this maiden voyage.
As the shuttle crests over a steep knoll on the mile long ride, my eyes capture the first close-up glimpse of what some have referred to as the largest timber-framed structure in the world. Rather than the expected “wow” moment, mine is more of a “what-the-heck” moment. I guess I’m a bit disappointed, especially considering the $92 million price tag. Oh sure, it’s big enough (510 feet long, 85 feet wide, 51 feet tall)–but its location in the farming fields of My Old Kentucky Home severely limits its resale value and functionality. The whole set-up just seems somewhat odd.
There’s supposedly more to see here than the boat itself. As I step off the shuttle, I notice that the grounds are well landscaped, surrounded by the usual assortment of budding topiary gardens, kettle corn kiosks, and the obligatory gift shop. Emzara’s Kitchen serves up a mean cheeseburger. The dining area is ringed by realistic life-sized stuffed animals staring at you as you take bites out of their next of kin. The Ararat Ridge Zoo next door (fee not included in Ark Admission) advertises real live animals including Tibetan yaks, kangaroos, and ostriches, while the Screaming Eagle Zip Lines (fee also not included) beckon the truly adventurous and young at heart.
As I make my way past the ticket booths into the boat interior, it’s not as I expected. It’s way too sterile, too institutional–as if it were manufactured by Boeing rather than hand crafted by Noah and Sons. The magnitude of constructing something like this back in the day should stagger the mind. Remember there was no Home Depot to run to if you needed more power tools or you ran out of nails. I know we’re in the bowels of a boat, but it’s also way too dark and gloomy in here. The scent of treated lumber and disinfectant immediately overwhelms my nostrils. I was expecting more of a barnyard smell given all the animals and such but I’m disappointed to learn that there are actually no live animals on board at all–just a few stuffed mammals and simulated lizard looking creatures in crates. Audio wise, I do hear some very realistic bird cackles emanating from the boat speakers. Otherwise, the middle-eastern belly dancing music seems awkwardly inappropriate.
As I move along the different exhibits throughout the three spacious levels, there is no shortage of reading material. The display signage and placards are all colorfully designed, but still somehow remind me of my middle school poster board projects. I learn all about the pre-flood world, about the number and types of creatures brought on board, and about how Noah’s family could have maintained the Ark and cared for up to 7000 animals during the Flood. We get to roam through the family’s magnificent Living Quarters–although the Ark creators admit to invoking plenty of artistic license in their renderings. Through it all, I get the sense they’re trying a bit too hard to convince me of the absolute inerrancy and literalness of the biblical flood account.
Overall this experience has been just a bit too tame for my liking. For 40 bucks a pop, I keep waiting for some sort of earth shattering thrill or spill. I’m not asking for something akin to the death plunge on the Tower of Terror ride at Disney/MGM studios, but shouldn’t the boat at least move a little bit? If the earth is flooding, shouldn’t we get just a little bit wet? Where’s the IMAX movie, or the dudes posing as Ham, Shem, and Japheth roaming the boat in character?
The park brochure claims I could spend a week here, but I’m out in an hour-and-a-half. Upon exiting, I still have many questions about the boat and the fanciful tales surrounding it. This shouldn’t surprise you as I’ll be the first to admit that most biblical stories often defy the very core of my scientific thought processes. However, I’ve learned over time not to let that intellectual uncertainty detract from my faith and the validity of Scripture. Divine inspiration of God’s Word can come to us in many inerrant forms without always having to be literal in nature. Truth is truth whether it can be confirmed by science or not. Noah’s story is just the beginning in a long line of stories that God uses to speak personally to us–telling us how much he loves us and how much he wants us to love one another. If that gets you closer to the gospel truth, then I encourage you to visit the Ark Encounter. It might be the best $50 you’ll ever spend. Otherwise, I’d give Ark Encounter one star. I learned that I’m bored and put off by overpriced museums and would rather spend my money on a good steak dinner.