The Ark Encounter has taken the travel industry by storm. Since opening in July 2016, it has quickly become one of the most popular attractions in the group travel sector. Hundreds of faith-inspired tour groups have made the journey to Williamstown, Kentucky to witness the replica of Noah’s Ark. If you are thinking about planning a visit, we talked with Eddie Lutz, Sales and Promotions Representative for the Ark to learn about the success behind the Ark Encounter and how groups of all types are enjoying this mega-attraction.
What is the Ark Encounter?
The Ark Encounter is the largest timber-frame structure in the world and is a full-scale replica of Noah’s Ark built to the biblical specifications: 510 feet long, 85 feet wide and 51 feet high. Inside are world-class exhibits showing how Noah and his family might have lived, how he might have cared for the animals and so much more. It’s based in Williamstown, Kentucky.
Who’s the brainchild behind this?
The parent ministry for both the Ark Encounter and the (nearby) Creation Museum is the ministry of Answers in Genesis. Founder Ken Ham is really the brainchild behind both attractions. Originally from Australia, he has been in America for about 30 years teaching and proclaiming the authority of God’s work from the very first verse, speaking through books, DVDs and now the Ark Encounter and the Creation Museum.
What is the distance between the Creation Museum and the Ark Encounter?
There is about 40 miles between the two attractions. The Creation Museum is actually located in the Northern Kentucky area near the Cincinnati Airport. It is only seven miles from the airport. The Ark Encounter is 40 miles south down I-75 and right off the exit. I-75 is the second most traveled north-south highway in America.
What went into building the Ark Encounter?
The Ark Encounter opened on July 7, 2016 and obviously involved a lot of preparation and work that went into launching the project. It was under construction for less than two years; the first piece of wood went on 13 months before it’s completion. It opened on time and it’s been amazing to see how many people were actually involved in the process of design, certainly building it, from volunteers to contractors to employees. One of the neat things about that is that we actually had a very large Amish construction crew primarily from northern Indiana that came down and were a big part of the construction of the Ark. They would actually build on the ground what was called a “half-bench,”which is at the ribs of the ship. By the time it was done it would weigh an excess of 25,000 pounds. The crane would grab it, move it into place – it was fascinating.
What were your visitor projections going in and how have they changed since you’ve opened?
The projections from the study that we had done was that we would run anywhere from 1.4 to 2.2 million annually and that has not changed.
Talk about the experience for groups at the Ark Encounter. What do you do uniquely for tours that are coming in?
Most of our guests when they come will pool into the parking lot and they will either purchase tickets at the door or they may have done that online, and then they will board a shuttle bus and take the one-mile ride from the modern world into Noah’s world. Groups, on the other hand, bypass the whole process. So when a tour bus comes in to the Ark Encounter, they are actually going to ride on through that shuttle road. We greet them on the bus, check them in on the bus, and then remain on that bus and escort them all the way into the park up to the traffic circle right in front. The great thing is that the tour buses really go to the front of the line.
What awaits them on the inside?
There are three levels to the Ark and it’s a self-guided tour. There are no guided tours, but there certainly are guest services to answer questions. We tell tour operators to give themselves a good five, six hours to do it right. There’s so much to see and do not only in the Ark but on the grounds as well, but they give themselves a good amount of time to do it right.
Do you find that the groups will combine this with the Creation Museum within one day, or is that more of a two-day experience?
Most will do it as a two-day experience. We do have some tour operators that will try to do both in one, but one of the things we found during the opening of the Ark Encounter is that between the two attractions, we have become a destination (not just a stopover).
What tips do you provide for groups when they are visiting?
Build your tour around the two attractions. The Ark Encounter sits between Greater Cincinnati and Lexington and within two hours there are so many things to see and do in the area. From the Underground Railroad Freedom Center to the Lexington horse parks, there are a lot of attractions in the area. We recommend that they book their hotel rooms way in advance because the hotels fill up. One thing that’s really nice, especially at the Ark Encounter, is we have a restaurant next door. It’s called Emzara’s Kitchen and it’s a two-story, 1,500-seat restaurant.
Another neat thing for them – located at the Ark Encounter we actually have our zoo as well, so guests enjoy the animals in the zoo and sometimes we bring them on into the Ark, so it’s a very good experience. On the second deck, on the bow into the ship, we have an animal encounter area where you can go and pet the animals.
What is your typical group profile?
It truly is for all ages and all kinds of people, but that said, obviously we get a lot of senior groups and church buses from all over. It’s a good mixture of both believers and non-believers on tours.
What’s next for the Ark Encounter? What are you working on?
We just opened a brand-new exhibit – how the Bible is true. It’s the very last exhibit on the Ark, and it’s very different than the rest of the exhibits, as it’s a much more modern storyboard with three college students who are really talking about the accuracy of the Bible. It’s very distinct prophecies that have come true precisely as they were prophesied. But then it also looks at some of the objections like manuscripts as a video. In there it deals with how many manuscripts we have for all the scriptures that we don’t even question. But then in the midst of that, in the midst of the storyboard, there’s also a little bit of a tragedy — and etched in fight of these three and ultimately it leads to the present in a powerful way. Around Memorial Day, as you approach the Ark, there will be a village that will contain a blacksmith’s shop, job — various animal — and area — as you approach –. Those are things — next expansion.
What’s the best way to make a group reservation?
The best way is to call the ministry at 888-582-4253, extension 355. We do have group rates for the Ark Encounter. The adult rate would be $34, senior rate $20 and child rate (5-12) 24.