The Holy Grail of Hokey: Inside The Holy Land Experience (Part One)

Posted by - May 14, 2012 | Category: Escapes, North America, United States

The Holy Land Experience, Orlando, Florida 

The Holy Land Experience, Orlando, Florida -- sign at main entrance

“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). 

Jane from Guest Services --- The Holy Land Experience, Orlando, Florida

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

Angel statues, The Holy Land Experience, Orlando, Florida

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.

Water display in shape of a cross -- The Holy Land Experience, Orlando, Florida

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?

Wax Disciples at the Last Supper -- The Holy Land Experience -- Orlando, Florida -- Aeroplan Welcome Aboard Event

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.

ATM at Holy Land Experience, Orlando, Florida

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.)

Statue of a Roman soldier guarding the Scriptorium -- the Holy Land Experience, Orlando, Florida

 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. 

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47 comments - add one
  1. Ahh, such a tease! I’ve been waiting for your posts about this, and so far I’m not disappointed. 🙂 I love how you wrote this so…. biblically. The latent Lutheran in me smiles upon you!

  2. Wow, not the greatest reviews by others… Can’t say I’m shocked. Looking forward to seeing if the inside fairs any better…

  3. I remember watching an episode of The Simpsons where Ned Flanders builds a biblical theme park. Never thought there was such a thing in real life. Can’t wait to find out what the rest of Holy Land was like.

    1. The Holy Land Experience opened in February of 2001, and the “I’m Going to Praiseland” episode on the Simpsons aired in May 2001 — I like that they are right on top of things like this! 🙂

  4. Not sure which is worse, what they say or what the reviews say 🙂 I might have to side with Cole here, but good that someone is checking it out and telling the rest of us if it is what they promise 😉

  5. Don’t knock kitsch & theme park re-creations. We’re told time and time again that places like Pompeii and the Acropolis are “real”… but, in truth, they too are Disneyland by another name. (Archeologists take MASSIVE artistic license, but don’t necessarily put that out there.)

    Looking forward to entering these pearly gates with your next post!

  6. Wowow I can’t believe my Italian Catholic self wasn’t dragged here by my parents as a kid — they must not have known about it!

  7. Ok, you are REALLY the king of quirky. I have lived in the Tampa area for nine years and have never heard of this. I have to say it is a pretty unusual park.

  8. I’ve got to say – kudos for the approach you took to writing this. Very creative reviews as well. I am all for things holy but this seems a bit cheesy to me.

  9. OK now I gotta dog around for part 2 I was using your magic 8 ball lady and stumbled on this. I remember going to Florida one year on a road trip (my husband is nuts he likes to drive) anyway there were all these strange places along the road much along the lines of this. I am of the mind, while in Rome, go see the giant ball of string and Worlds Largest chair and would have squealed to pull over to see something like this. Noow I aam compelled to find the other part, pardon me for leaving I am a seeker of the Holy Land now.


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