The Holy Land Experience — An entirely different kind of theme park
The Holy Land Experience is a re-creation of biblical-era Israel by way of evangelical Christianity. Don’t expect a Jehovah Coaster or Red Sea Flume, though—this park is only for thrills of the spiritual kind. The Holy Land Experience has more in common with passive attractions like Gatorland than with places like Walt Disney World or Universal Studios. The park is currently owned by Trinity Broadcasting Network, which beams evangelical TV programs it films here to the entire world.
At 15 acres, this park is tiny by local standards. It’s packed with a half dozen exhibits and re-creations of structures dating from 1450 BC to the first century AD, elaborately crafted by the same company that built parts of Walt Disney World and Universal’s Islands of Adventure. The theming and detail are meticulous and impressive. Costumed performers roam the park and interact with guests, sometimes assembling for performances or impromptu congregations.
The Holy Land Experience contains many large models of items from Jesus’ time, including Herod’s temple, Qumran Caves (where the Dead Sea Scrolls were discovered), and the bell tower at the Church of Nativity in Israel. Gardens are scattered throughout the park, allowing guests a place to pray or rest. The gardens, though not large, do include re-creations of the Gardens of Eden and Gethsemane. The Holy Land Experience also does a spectacular job decorating the park exterior and parking lot with Christmas lights, which can be admired on winter nights without paying admission.
Three highlights to discover at The Holy Land Experience
Calvary’s Garden Tomb
Visitors wind their way along a highly attenuated version of the Via Dolorosa (“way of suffering”), which Jesus walked on his way to Calvary to be crucified. Within a few paces, you end up in a garden with Jesus’ tomb as its centerpiece, the door stone rolled away to reveal its emptiness.
The Calvary Garden Tomb is the re-creation of Christ’s empty tomb and the setting for dramatic and historical presentations. This is an especially similar re-creation of the Garden Tomb in Israel—serene and poignant. Plan to pause here while passing through to another attraction.
The Jerusalem Model AD 66
This replica of ancient Jerusalem is touted as “the world’s largest indoor model of first-century Jerusalem.” The 25-foot-wide model is meant to represent Jerusalem circa AD 66, including the Temple of Jerusalem as rebuilt by Herod while the Romans ruled the city. You can examine the model on your own, but a guided lecture is much more informative because there are no plaques to reveal what is represented.
The lecture covers what everything in the model is, the history of the era, where Jesus went during the last week of his life, and more. This headliner has only a few scheduled presentations, so be sure to consult the daily schedule to fit a visit into your plans. Try to make it to the first presentation of the morning to ensure touring flexibility later in the day.
In seven dioramas, handsomely created figures portray the life, death, and Resurrection of Jesus. These statues, reportedly almost a century old, were brought to the park in 2012 from a display in Tennessee.
Christus Gardens is actually a small indoor venue. It is not well marked, so look for the entrance on your left after you’ve passed the Temple Plaza in front of the Temple of Herod, and before you reach the Church of All Nations.
You can find a complete review of the park, its exhibits, shows and re-creations in Beyond Disney: The Unofficial Guide to SeaWorld, Universal Orlando, & the Best of Central Florida by Bob Sehlinger and Seth Kubersky.
Pictures courtesy of Seth Kubersky