January-February 2018 – “Daddy, are we there yet?” My five-year-old and three-year-old whined the question from the back of our van. My one-year-old son did his best impression of them, also wondering how much longer we would be in transit.
We had left our hotel 30 minutes prior and exited Interstate 75 in Williamstown, Kentucky, onto a nondescript road. Trees lined each side and the children assumed we were on a long drive through the country. When the field of pavement that is the parking lot for Answers in Genesis’s Ark Encounter came into view, they knew this was no ordinary drive.
The children bounced with excitement as we loaded onto one of the many shuttle buses for the five-minute trip to the Ark. When the trees lining the road cleared and the full-scale Ark came into view, they realized this was no ordinary theme park.
No ordinary park
“We call both the Creation Museum and the Ark Encounter historical theme parks to emphasize that we are capturing what truly happened thousands of years ago and confirming biblical accounts,” Mark Looy, CCO and co-founder of Answers in Genesis told AFA Journal.
The uniqueness of both attractions has garnered interest from a wide spectrum of national and international visitors. Ken Ham, founder of AiG, told AFAJ, “I was walking through the Creation Museum a few weeks ago and watched as a group of Catholic nuns walked through the exhibits. They were followed by a group of Muslims from Baghdad, then by a group of Hindus, then Orthodox Jews, then Amish families.”
The Creation Museum and Ark Encounter attract such a wide range of visitors due to the creativity, professionalism, and biblical integrity of their exhibits, each of which focuses on the first book of Scripture.
“Genesis is the most attacked book of the Bible,” Looy said. “But we strive to strike a balance that has been called ‘edutainment.’ There is a Wow! factor with the animatronic dinosaurs, and there needs to be. Children aren’t going to be interested in static images with text on a wall. So there is an entertainment aspect. But we also want to teach what the Bible says.”
Designed on purpose
While many parks market themselves as “family-friendly,” few are actually friendly to families of young children, meaning exhibits interest young minds while giving parents something to think about. Beyond that, being friendly to young families requires a design that allows families to walk together. Often, museums are not spacious enough for a family to comfortably walk together, especially if a stroller is part of the caravan.
However, because Noah’s ark was designed to hold every kind of animal, the Ark Encounter certainly accommodates even the largest of families.
“We absolutely designed our attractions for young families,” Looy said. Experiencing the Ark Encounter proves his words to be true. The Ark has a simple and effective design. It encompasses three levels, all connected by ramps running the length of the long boat. But don’t be concerned about all the standing and walking. Each level ends with an area to sit, rest, and watch a film connecting the exhibits on that level.
The layout is open enough to allow children a space to run while parents rest, but is not so open children can run off without being noticed.
While visitors examine life-sized models of Noah, his family, and the animals, they will also stop to contemplate the ingenious food and water systems.
“People with an evolutionary standpoint would not assume people in Noah’s day were very intelligent or able to solve complex problems such as feeding and watering the animals,” Ham said.
“But people before the flood were highly intelligent. They may have had technology we would be jealous of today. They lived for hundreds of years and could have had a Thomas Edison who thought and invented for 100 years before he died.”
Showing the intelligence of ancient man takes a great deal of research, attention to detail, and skill. Each exhibit in the Ark Encounter was built on-site and supervised by AiG personnel.
“It would have cost millions and millions of dollars to contract this work,” Ham said. “But more importantly than that, people who don’t support our message or understand our work would not as be careful about the message as our people.”
Leading the team of builders and craftsmen is Patrick Marsh, the man responsible for the scenic design of the Jaws and King Kong attractions at Universal Studios in Florida.
“Our attractions are the quality of Hollywood,” Ham said. “We are talking about the Bible, and it deserves our best effort. We want Scripture and history to come alive. Secular culture does the same with natural history museums where they sometimes teach what isn’t true. Shouldn’t we make truth come to life here?”
Designed with purpose
AiG desires its attractions to stay with visitors long after they leave the grounds. From children’s books to adult Bible studies, resources abound.
“As we designed the museum and ark,” Looy explained, “part of our mission was to create a resource center so that as people left, they would pick up information to take home with them. This may be Sunday school or homeschool curriculum we publish, or materials for a pastor to develop a series of sermons on apologetics.”
But the reach of the bookstore at the Ark is far greater than just visitors’ homes. “Our fair trade items have become a huge hit among our guests,” Looy said. “They like the idea of buying something attractive and unusual, knowing the person who made that basket, domino set, or purse is being employed and empowered by their purchase.”
Even after visitors leave, they will want to come again quickly. Ham and Looy shared the future plans of the Ark Encounter.
“We will continue expanding our zoo, which is already going through a major expansion right now,” Looy said. “And we have laid out plans for a 2,500 seat auditorium where we can do lectures, animal shows, and special music programs.”
“In addition to the auditorium,” Ham added, “there is going to be a walled city representing the time of Noah and what life might have been like before the flood. After that, the Tower of Babel.”
Building the Tower of Babel in the middle of Kentucky may sound like a crazy idea, but so was building a boat in a desert.
“Our number one purpose is to honor God’s Word and trust God’s sovereignty,” Ham concluded. “No matter how far we go or how many things we build, we will proclaim the gospel boldly. We believe God has blessed and will continue to bless that vision.”
Whenever I visit a theme park, or even eat at a restaurant, I ask employees their advice for getting the best experience. I did the same with Mark Looy and Ken Ham.
“Plan ahead,” Looy said. “Most people think they can do the Creation Museum and Ark Encounter in the same day. Don’t. Take your time and split them into two days. And while most parks close during January and February, we are open year-round.”
And while you are at the Creation Museum, “Do the zip line,” Ham said. “People often ask me why we have these massive zip lines, and I like to tell them it’s because Christians like to have fun too.” – Teddy James