Holy Land Experience theme park: Crucifixion, even on Christmas

The new Noah’s Ark theme park planned in Kentucky may be making headlines these days, but it’s not the only U.S. park with a religious theme.

Central figures on the Orlando, Florida, theme park scene include Mickey Mouse, Shamu, Harry Potter, and Jesus Christ.

Just a few miles from Hogwart’s Castle at Universal Orlando Resort lies the Holy Land Experience, a 15-acre theme park firmly rooted in Christianity, at least the Trinity Broadcasting Network’s brand.

But the entertainment here doesn’t come from thrill rides, it comes from shows based on Bible stories, including live re-enactments of the crucifixion of Jesus Christ, twice daily, even on Christmas.

Bill Briggs has an interesting look at the park – and its controversial history – today on MSNBC.com. The park opened in 2001 by fundamentalist Rev. Marvin Rosenthal, who intended it as a place to convert Jews to Christianity. It changed hands numerous times and was eventually taken over by Christian TV network TBN in 2007.

Briggs reports that park officials say it is now filled to its 2,000-guest capacity nearly every day and operates in the black. It’s popularity has prompted TBN to begin exploring the idea of opening licensing a second Holy Land Experience theme park in Seoul, South Korea.

Ark Encounter theme park plans unveiled

The “Creationist” theme park long-rumored to be built in Kentucky is one step closer to reality.

Kentucky Gov. Steve Beshear announced the plans for the new theme park on Wednesday, along with tax incentives the state of Kentucky will provide to the tune of $37 million.

Ark Encounter’s centerpiece will be a 500-foot long wooden ark, modeled after the Biblical Noah’s ark. The park’s organizers – the same folks behind the Creation Museum – say that Noah’s Ark is the source of much fascination to the general public, and the plans for Ark Encounter should answer many people’s questions about the building of the ark.

They point to a 2009 CBS News survey in which 43 percent of people responding said that Noah’s Ark is the archeological discovery they would most like to see made next.

The park will also include sections based on other Bible stories, such as:

  • The Walled City, a shopping and food complex
  • Noah’s Animals, with a petting zoo and live animal shows
  • The Tower of Babel, a 100-foot tall building with exhibits and a theater
  • Journey Through History, a “trip through the events of the Bible”
  • First-Century Village, a model of a First-Century town in the Middle East

Ark Encounter is planned for an 800-acre site off Interstate 75 in northern Kentucky, near Cincinnatti, Ohio. The park is being built by a private, for-profit company. A fundraising campaign is underway to build the ark itself.

The plan is not without controversy. Groups that advocate for the separation of church and state are protesting the state of Kentucky’s plan for tax incentives. Beshear says the motivation behind the incentives is jobs, not Jesus.

“The people of Kentucky didn’t elect me governor to debate religion,” Beshear told the Lexington Herald-Leader. “They elected me governor to create jobs.

Ark Encounter is expected to create 900 full- and part-time jobs and draw 1.6 million visitors in its first year of operation. The theme park is expected to open in 2014.