by Susan Trollinger
Ark Encounter is about to embark on its second year of operation, this July 7. To attract new visitors as well as to tempt those who have visited before to come again, the creators of Ark Encounter have been designing and building new attractions, which they previewed last winter on the Ark Encounter blog. Earlier this month, we (Bill and Sue) visited Ark Encounter to see what was new. Here are some of the highlights.
We came upon the first addition on our left as we walked toward the ark from the bus drop-off area. It consists of a few small buildings constructed in something of a southwest style. According to the Ark Encounter blog, this is “a pre-Flood village,” and they call it “The West Village.” So far, only one building there is accessible to visitors and that is a small restaurant (no indoor seating) that serves hot dogs, brats, and the like. The other small buildings and a small covered stage are still under construction or behind construction fences.
Other additions outside the ark include the wood ramp that extends from the ground to the ark door (that was incomplete as of our second visit last summer), a good deal of impressive landscaping especially underneath the belly of the ark, and a new approach to food service at Emzarra’s Kitchen.
In the first year, Emzarra’s was organized much like a fast-food restaurant with a long counter at which visitors placed their orders (for burgers, fries, and so forth) and were given their food. The counter has been replaced this year with a buffet. Visitors purchase tickets for the buffet ($12.99 for adults who want to eat one meal in the course of their visit and $19.99 for adults who want to eat two) or for pizza (either by the slice or a whole pizza). On the whole, the fare is standard American—fried chicken, burgers, fried fish, steamed vegetables, mac and cheese, and free-standing salad and dessert bars.
According to the Ark Encounter blog, the additions for 2017 also include an expansion of the petting zoo (or the Ararat Ridge Zoo). We saw nothing to indicate a structural expansion of the zoo, but we did notice that much landscaping has been added along with kangaroos and some animals.
Inside the ark, the spaces at each end of the structure (in the bow and the stern) which were largely empty last year now feature a snack shop, sitting area, and small petting zoo; a “theater” area in which visitors sit on backless benches to watch a movie on flat screens that are suspended from the ceiling (more on the movie in a later post); and a new exhibit (likely the most significant addition) called “Why the Bible Is True.” This exhibit features about 40 placards (depending on how you count large placards and clusters of smaller ones) designed in the style of a graphic novel that tell the story of three college students at a large university who grapple with questions of faith, a secular religion professor, excessive drinking, casual sex, and an automobile accident. More on that later too.
According to the Ark Encounter blog, there is also some new signage and a new video inside the ark too. We did not take note of those additions. There is also talk of a new 800-seat theater to be built adjacent to the ark. While the area just behind the ark is fenced off, we could see no indication of any construction underway.
So, these are the highlights of the additions to Ark Encounter for summer 2017, at least as we saw them on our recent visit. Expectations are high as AiG promised at minimum 1.2 million visitors in the first year (July 7, 2016 to July 6, 2017) with increases each year after that. Will enough new visitors find their way to Ark Encounter along with enough repeat visitors to reach that impressive goal? We shall see.