After 20 years, the ambitious biblical theme park is closed for good.
The dream of a Bible theme park died in Florida last week, after 20 years of innovation and renovation—not to mention cash infusions, cost cuts, and rate hikes—failed to make the Holy Land Experience financially sustainable.
The 15-acre park in was once conceived as Christian competition for Walt Disney World. Evangelical visionaries imagined a family entertainment experience that could pull at least a portion of Orlando’s annual visitors from the mouse’s magic kingdom to the kingdom of God.
But the reenactments of resurrection, theatrical productions, scale miniature model of first-century Jerusalem, animatronic John Wycliffe, and the Trin-i-tee mini golf course were never enough. While the “living biblical museum” attracted attention, controversy, and not a few visitors willing to pay the $17, then $29, and ultimately $50 ticket prices, the Holy Land Experience never made money.
For the last few years of its existence, it had annual operating deficits of about $5 million, with no one willing to step up to cover that as a ministry cost.
Religious anthropologist James Bielo, who studies places that “materialize the Bible,” said the Holy Land Experience was arguably the most famous of the biblical replicas in the US, even though it always struggled to survive.
“The ones that stay on the landscape are kind of the exception,” he said. “Holy Land recreations typically pop up in a kind of visionary fit. Someone gets excited, they pour a lot of resources into it, there’s a big opening, but in five, 10, 20 years, it’s gone.”
Bielo has cataloged about 50 parks that have ceased to exist, including a drive-through Bible garden, a Book of Job park, the Golgotha …