Encounter in Williamstown, Ky., does a fine job of
maintaining its motif across its three floors of
displays -- and the gift shop.
Ky. — I’d been on Noah’s Ark all of 20 minutes when
the question that hung over every step was finally put to
me: "Do you believe?"
came from a man with a thin beard named Travis, who wore a
Captain America T-shirt and had an excitable look in his
eye. He was touring the new, five-story Ark Encounter with
his wife and daughters after driving three hours from
stood on the ark’s second floor, in front of a display
about the Garden of Eden, and Travis had just explained to
one of his girls that some people believe the fabled
garden still exists somewhere on the planet. Maybe it’s
in the Bermuda Triangle, he said. Or near the Euphrates
River. Otherwise, it might be suspended somewhere between
heaven and Earth.
spoke with such certainty that I interrupted, asking if I’d
heard right. Travis said yes and repeated the story. Then
he asked, right there, in front of his girls and Adam and
Eve: Do I believe?
meant the question in the big way and the little. Did I
believe the story of Noah’s Ark? That Adam and Eve had
been banished from the Garden of Eden? That it could be in
the Bermuda Triangle? That we are descended from an
all-powerful, all-knowing and mighty God?
offered the most honest, least alienating answer I could:
I don’t quite believe. But I don’t exactly not
was glad he’d asked, because I’d wondered the exact
same thing about nearly everyone at the 510-foot-long,
51-foot-high, $100 million replica of Noah’s Ark that
opened in a rolling Kentucky field in early July.
was the family of five from Columbus, Ohio, in the parking
lot, munching snacks in their van after four hours on the
ark. After eating, they planned to return for another two
or three hours. There were the women leaving the ark as I
prepared to board, stuffed bags from the gift shop
dangling from their hands.
No. 1: "It’s wonderful."
No. 2: "Incredible."
No. 3: "You’ll love it."
I? My skepticism about Noah’s Ark as anything more than
a fable for 5-year-olds made me wonder. It also made me
wonder if the ark resonated with these people precisely
because they did believe that God flooded the world out of
wrath after telling Noah to, well, you know the story.
seemed satisfied with my answer and told me that he hadn’t
heard the voice of God, but that he’d felt it. One of
his daughters begged him to keep moving, but he continued
that he was violently mugged at 19, was once suicidal to
the point of cradling a pistol in his hands on his front
porch and unknowingly drove for a week with an owl lodged
in the bumper of his truck, which he believed was a sign
from above. It was a flurry of talk, and Travis finished
by saying, "If you want to know if God is real, ask
I spent the next several hours wandering Ark Encounter,
and the takeaway was simple: You don’t need to believe
to enjoy it. A (supposed) life-size replica of Noah’s
Ark in an undulating Kentucky field is an undeniable
spectacle, and it must be seen to be believed — sort of
in the way that Stonehenge, Easter Island or an Ikea must
be seen to be believed.
Encounter opened to great fanfare, curiosity and protests.
(Memo to atheists: Why so angry?) It was built by Answers
in Genesis, which describes itself as an "apologetics
ministry, dedicated to enabling Christians to defend their
faith and to proclaim the gospel of Jesus Christ
effectively." It also believes that Earth is 6,000
years old and that Adam and Eve co-existed with dinosaurs.
if you raise an eyebrow at the thought of humans and
dinosaurs sharing real estate — plus that thing about a
6,000-year-old Earth — the ark is a clean and welcoming
space that’s a marvel of design. It’s clearly
profoundly meaningful to those who "believe," as
Travis put it, but to those of us a little less certain,
it can be a fun way to pass a few hours.
ark does a fine job of maintaining its motif across its
three floors of displays. Yes, it really does (sort of)
look like an ark in there. It’s a vast, open space of
blond wood, with long ramps connecting the floors and a
clear view to a skylight in the roof. Bathed in yellowish
light, it’s quite a handsome ark and, in late July,
still had that new ark smell.
Ark Encounter is just a life-size replica of that fable
for 5-year-olds, it’s fun. The first steps inside
immerse a visitor in the entire premise: Rows of bamboo
cages emit chirps, squawks and murmurs from across the
animal kingdom, mixed with a recording of the low crash of
waves. The rumble is so deep, you feel it in your feet.
at other turns, Ark Encounter takes itself too seriously.
Soon after that sense of being on an ark full of animals
in a flooded world, we reach cages of life-size beasts.
The first is a black bear beside the words, "How did
Noah keep the polar bears cool?"
answer: "Skeptics often mock the concept of the Ark
and its animals, so they develop questions designed to
make the Ark look foolish. However, when one thinks about
the Ark from a biblical perspective, the skeptics’
questions end up looking foolish. … We know that polar
bears can produce offspring with grizzlies and other brown
bears, and brown bears can interbreed with black bears.
Thus, the various bears of the world belong to the same
kind. The two bears on the Ark were the ancestors of the
many bears in the world today, including polar
gets to believe and support what they want here in
America. But, as a visitor, I have a difficult time
bankrolling such nonscience, especially considering the
price: $40 per adult ($75 for two days), plus a surprise
$10 parking fee that didn’t seem all that Christian in
the middle of a Kentucky field with endless parking.
opportunities to spend money on the ark are plentiful,
with one restaurant, another on the way, the gift shop, a
not-so-subtle push toward a visit to the ark’s sister
attraction — the Creation Museum, roughly 40 miles north
— and a zip line that costs $59. There’s also a snack
kiosk where Gatorade, bottled Starbucks drinks, pretzels
and chips are sold.
don’t think there was Gatorade or chips on the actual
ark," I said to an usher.
there was, it would have been a whole lot cheaper!"
least a few shekels," I said.
got to figure since 4,000 years before Christ, with what
inflation has been."
Right. The world is 6,000 years old.
ark amounts to a hit-and-miss array of exhibits and
experiences, sometimes with a surprising undercurrent of
anger and darkness. The world’s first 1,650 years are
told mostly in poster board displays: the Garden of Eden
("God creates the perfect world"), humanity’s
fall from grace ("Man’s rebellion corrupts
creation") and then some stuff about how humans are
"corrupt" and "wicked" and
"vile." Even children’s books are in the
crosshairs, with a display dedicated to the
"deception" in such books: "Fairy tale ark
stories often focus on cute animals on a fun boat ride.
But the Flood account is about the righteous and holy God
judging an exceedingly sinful world with a cataclysmic
Flood while showing mercy to Noah’s family and the
animals." Take that, third-graders!
these agnostic eyes, most stirring were the explanations
of how the ark would have functioned. How did Noah and
crew feed all those animals? Dump all that animal waste?
Ventilate the ship? Gather fresh water? Let in light? Ark
Encounter gives us answers in poster and video form, and
they involve intricate systems that seem plausible enough.
The ark is otherwise a fairly exhaustive look at what life
would have been like on it: woodworking, blacksmithing and
feeding the animals (plus at least one dinosaur because,
presumably, Answers in Genesis couldn’t resist).
the fourth floor, Noah and company relax in their rather
plush living quarters. It’s also where I spied uniformed
Answers in Genesis security guards wearing guns on their
hips. Guns? On Noah’s Ark? Really?
well, that’s the world we live in," an usher said.
then, the announcement came that the ark would be closing
soon. I’d been there more than three hours. Forty days
and 40 nights would have been a bit much, but I could have
used at least an hour more.
Encounter (www.arkencounter.com) is in Williamstown, Ky.,
about 40 miles south of Cincinnati. Tickets cost $40 for
adults up to age 59, $31 for adults 60 and older, $28 for
children 5-12 and free for children younger than 5.
Parking fee is $10. Note that the closest hotels have been
selling out since Ark Encounter opened in July, so
reservations are a good idea.