The Holy Land Experience, Orlando, Florida
“We get accused of being a little too Catholic,” Jane from The Holy Land Experience Guest Services confesses to me as we enter the pearly gates (okay, so maybe it’s just a turnstile).
As a former altar boy, Vice-President of the Corpus Christi Youth Committee, and – are you ready for this – one-time Secretary/Treasurer of an outfit called the Legion of Mary, I thought, “I’ll be the judge of that.” You can take the boy out of the church, but — try as I might — it’s a heck of a lot harder to take the church out of the boy.
And now as a self-proclaimed kitsch hound, on a self-appointed quest for quirkiness, I find myself genuflecting before the high altar of oddities.
The Holy Grail of Hokey, this is The Holy Land Experience.
The Best Little Biblical Theme Park This Side of Galilee
I must admit to having little idea about the holy goings-on alongside Orlando’s I-4 . So before I made my pilgrimage to the promised land, I wanted to know what I was getting myself into, and more practically, what I should wear.
Should I dress for church or Splash Mountain?
I’m pretty certain sandals are okay.
Let It Be Written
So I did what many a troubled soul does when finding themselves in need of guidance – I turned to the internet. Specifically, I relied on some divine passages from the books of TripAdvisor and Yelp to lead me.
Devotees trumpeted the praises, while detractors proclaimed a litany of cons.
A reading from the Letter of David to the Yelp-ians objects to “…the extensive use of sequins that seems to dominate many of the current cast’s wardrobe.” On the same page, an epistle according to Christin preaches, “This place was amazing. We had such a wonderful time. The actors were more than just actors but individuals who actually ministered through there performance. This is a must do.”
What’s a lapsed Catholic to believe?
So I dug a little deeper. Here’s a sampling of what others had to say:
- Tim of the Wisconsinites implores, “…may the tables of these money changers be turned over for good. Don’t waste your money, don’t cheapen your faith — stay away from this sham.”
- “I eat a very clean diet (as directed by God), but was informed I could not bring any outside food or drinks.” — Jeff P. via Yelp
- “We were pleasantly surprised that parking was free. That was the highlight of our day.” – We_Are_M from TripAdvisor
- “Even the camels had sequins. My children who are home schooled and as well taught the word of our Lord daily through the Bible and living our faith, questioned the authenticity of the display and how it played in religious history.” — Jackie5LilRascals from TripAdvisor (She does however go on to say ”…save your money for SEA WORLD, where at least you can marvel at God’s creation for the entire day.” so perhaps we should take her comments with a grain of Lot’s wife.)
- “Spooky, spooky, spooky place.” — Drew C. via Yelp
It’s like they’re speaking in tongues.
What a Trend We Have in Jesus
Many of the comments though spoke more about the nature of the commenter than the nature of the park.
So I turned to the Gospel according to the Trinity Broadcasting Network (TBN) – the current owners of The Holy Land Experience — for intel. Here’s what their website had to say about its humble beginnings.
“The Holy Land Experience was born in the heart of a Jewish believer named Marvin Rosenthal. In 1989 he came to Orlando, purchased property on the I-4 corridor to world famous theme parks, and began to put his vision to work. God had given him a two-fold purpose: to proclaim the Gospel to as many people as possible; and to help believers have a better understanding of the Judaistic roots out of which Christianity grew. Toward that end, the Holy Land Experience was born. The park opened February 5, 2001. It exceeded every expectation.”
Although informative, I’m still no closer to resolving the hemline debate. (In the end, I opted for shorts.)
But perhaps the best advice came from the cheery sounding Ivan Blossoms on TripAdvisor:
“…be able to lay aside your purist tendencies and just go with the flow.”
Judge not lest thou be judged? Hmmm. That’s got a nice ring to it. I wonder if it’ll catch on.
In any case, I can’t wait to show you what’s inside.
This is Part One of a two-part series on The Holy Land Experience. Stay tuned for Part Two!
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Note: My trip to Orlando was part of the Aeroplan Welcome Aboard Event.