In our July 9 blog post, we reported being surprised, really surprised, by how few visitors we saw on Ark Encounter’s opening day (July 7). Apparently, we weren’t the only ones who took notice. Plenty of images are now available online that document the fact that for much of the day there were no lines at ticket windows or the main entrance to the Ark. And the silence regarding attendance numbers on opening day (or any day since, for that matter) on the Ark Encounter and Answers in Genesis websites suggest that there isn’t much to boast about.
But that wasn’t our only surprise on opening day. There were at least three others.
We must say that the enormity of the Ark took us by surprise. Of course, we knew it was big. We’d seen the photos and videos online. But walking up to it and standing beneath it—feeling its enormity was something else. And it did raise that pesky question some Christians (and others) have raised about this project. Does it really make sense to spend $150 million (current projected total sticker price) to build that thing? Just think what might have been done with all that cash and all that wood and all that labor if this ginormous thing had not been built.
Another surprise was the carpentry. We knew from our interviews with the two Amish brothers who were organizing much of the Amish laborers who built the Ark, that these men were going to do this right. But to see it was something else. The smooth lines of the hull, bow, and stern made possible by long boards bent and angled into sweeping curves were impressive, to say the least. Inside, what appear to be enormous hand-hewn tree trunks stretch through a central opening from the ground level all the way to the ceiling at the top of the Ark. Even the bolts that hold together big square beams are beautiful.
Given all this, there was yet one more surprise. Beyond the experience of the Ark’s enormity and impressive carpentry, the whole thing was, well, rather underwhelming.
To be sure, there are some interesting life-size dioramas in the Ark (and we will talk about those in a future blog). But much of what the visitor encounters are fake animal cages, fake sacks of grain, and empty ceramic pots along with many two-dimensional placards displaying a lot of text, some graphics, and/or artistic renderings of Bible scenes.
Moreover, the use of space inside the Ark is surprising. For the most part, the interior is broken into five spaces. There are the mostly empty interiors of the bow and stern on each level. There are the two sets of wide ramps at the center of the structure that run most of the length of the Ark. There is the wide walking area that runs along the back of the Ark and provides access to restrooms. And there is a wide walking area that runs along the front of the Ark. On the exterior wall of that walking area are most of the exhibits set one after the other in a long line. Thus, the visitor passes down that long walkway moving in and out of exhibit after exhibit displaying placards that talk about waste removal, lighting on the Ark, how Noah learned to build a ship, flood geology, an ice age, the Tower of Babel, and ancient technologies.
By comparison, we found the use of space inside the Creation Museum (a mere $27 million project) to be far more engaging than the use of space at Ark Encounter. In the Creation Museum, although visitors are obliged to move along a predetermined path, visitors also lose track of where they are within the structure as they go. And the path curves and winds around in ways that are not easily mapped out in one’s mind.
At the Ark, visitors always know where they are since they are always either walking down a long hall with exhibits lined up on one side, walking up a ramp to the next level, or walking down a long hall with restrooms on one side.
Of course, we have every expectation that the gifted designers at AiG will fill many of these now-empty spaces and empty walkways with content at some point. And maybe some of it will be quite engaging. But for now, we remain surprised at how underwhelming (with the exception of the carpentry and some of the dioramas) the interior is.
Underwhelming, at $40 a ticket. Will folks really want to make a return trip soon? Questions about current attendance might not be the only questions facing Ark Encounter.