We were at the opening of Ark Encounter on July 07. In the next few weeks we will have quite a bit to say about the Ark. This initial post will focus on surprises we encountered in the 48 hours before getting to the Ark, and one big surprise we encountered at the Ark . . . a surprise that may turn out to mean nothing, or may turn out to mean a great deal.

We bought our tickets for opening day of Ark Encounter on January 19. We had tried to buy tickets for the Ken Ham-Bill Nye debate at the Creation Museum, but they sold out in a matter of minutes. We did not want to get shut out again.

Our tickets were very clearly dated — July 7, 2016 — along with the time we could enter the Ark: 9 A.M. When we purchased the tickets we had our choice between purchasing day or evening tickets; we assumed including the time was Ark Encounter’s way of recording that we had purchased day tickets.

Fast forward to the morning of July 5. Our friend Carl Weinberg, historian at Indiana-Bloomington who is finishing up a terrific book on creationism and anti-Communism, informed us that he had just bought an Ark Encounter ticket and would be joining us. We were surprised he could get an opening day ticket, but he said his ticket was undated. He then called the folks at Ark Encounter, who told him his ticket was good for an entire year.

Did this mean opening day would be a first-come, first-served free-for-all? When Carl asked the Ark representative about this, she calmly reported that their plan was to let cars into the parking lot until it was full. When full, it would be shut.

We were alarmed. We became more alarmed when Sue called Ark Encounter on July 6. Instead of getting a human being, she reached a recording which informed her that if she had concerns she could leave her phone number and someone would try to return the call.

The day before the Ark was to open, and a potential visitor could not speak with a customer service representative? It seemed quite possible that Answers in Genesis (AiG) – the parent organization of Ark Encounter – had failed to build the necessary infrastructure to run this over $100 million tourist site.

We agreed to meet Carl at 8 AM, one hour before the Ark was to open.  But as we were driving down I-75 we wondered if we shouldn’t have planned to get there even earlier.

Then we arrived. All was well. Driving into the gigantic parking lot could not have been smoother. Friendly, helpful parking attendants waved us into the appropriate spot and then pointed us to the ticket offices. We walked over and got into one of two fairly long lines of people waiting for the Ark to open. Some were wearing T-shirts with phrases such as “Jesus is my Ark,” “God Created and I Believe,” and “I’ve got Glitter in my Veins, Jesus in my Heart.” Carl showed up a few minutes later, and we stood and chatted while we waited for the Ark to open.

When the Ark opened the lines moved smoothly and fairly rapidly. We produced our tickets, a friendly Ark employee scanned them, and then more helpful attendants ushered us to a waiting shuttle that transported us from the parking lot/ticket office to the Ark. We got off the shuttle. More friendly and helpful workers helped us proceed to the entrance of the Ark. And all of this friendliness and helpfulness and smoothness continued inside the Ark.

In short, there was no chaos. That was a surprise. But that was not the big surprise.

While we were moving through the line at the Ark ticket office we noticed that there were people who were purchasing tickets. We could have waited until July 7 to buy our tickets. But the lines were long, our shuttle bus was full, and so we thought little of it.

As we headed to our shuttle bus at 12:20pm or so – after spending the morning in the Ark and after a brief interview with a Cincinnati television station – we were a bit taken aback by the fact that incoming shuttle buses seemed nearly empty. When we were dropped off at the parking lot, and we walked by the ticket offices, we noticed that there was no one at a ticket window. The offices were open – one ticket seller hailed us, thinking we wanted to buy tickets – but no one was there. Not one person.

We returned after lunch, just to check things out. There were a few – not many – people at ticket windows.

Then we noticed the parking lot. The Ark Encounter parking lot is really a collection of connected parking lots, and they are huge. And a number of these large lots were absolutely empty. And it was opening day.

We have no idea what all this means. We have no idea how many people visited Ark Encounter on opening day, given that – and this is also surprising – we have seen (as of Friday evening, July 8) no attendance numbers. We have no idea how big the crowds will be this weekend.

Our big surprise may mean nothing. It may mean a great deal. We have no idea.

But it seems we understand why they abandoned the idea of selling tickets that were specifically designated for opening day. No need.