This week's homeschool field trip took us to Orlando's Holy Land Experience... and "experience" it was. I want to be careful here lest I sound blasphemous, but never before have I treaded so closely to a line while meandering through this Bible themed tourist attraction. Here's what I mean...
We waited outside the main entrance which was modeled after the Damascus and Jaffa Gates of Jerusalem. This was pretty neat.
Once inside we made our first stop the restroom. This photo was taken inside the Ladies Room. Strange, but okaaay. I was puzzled by the chairs and not sure if the intention was to make us feel like queens or to be a preview of restrooms in heaven? See... I'm close to the line.
Inside the "Jerusalem Street Market" there were vendors dressed up in beautiful costumes. I really don't know if they were authentic or not. The women actually looked a little more Hindu than Israeli to me. Either way we proceeded on to find this...
I don't know what to say. It's a Tammy Faye Bakker full life-size cardboard cutout... and my husband posing with her. The kids, who naturally don't know who she is, inquired if she was someone from the Jersey Shore show. We laughed and moved on before anyone could see the expressions on our faces.
Next up was a rock structure which Kat started climbing on and asked to have her picture taken. She did not notice what was behind her nor did I as I was just 'taking the picture'. Once the photo was snapped and I looked more closely to see that it was a whipping post similar to what Jesus might have endured. Understanding the gravity, I felt bad for taking such a frivolous shot.
Moving on quickly... we entered the Temple Plaza which featured a replica of the Temple of Jerusalem during the reign of Harod, 66 A.D. It was majestic for sure and really quite amazing to think that it might have looked similar in those days.
Inside the temple is a room housing some replicas which were truly fascinating. Here's one of the Ark of the Covenant. This room afforded many historical conversations.
Just when we started to get excited about the content of this field trip, we then wondered into a room of wax figures which were bedazzled, bejeweled, and basically over-the-top decked out. They were posed to depict several of the stories of Jesus.
On one hand they were beautiful... like pieces of art. On the other hand, there was something "over-the-top" about the whole thing. Here's James checking it out.
The wax figure room (as many of the other areas) always ends in a gift shop. The kids and I were drawn to the merchandise and started browsing around. After a few minutes of surveying the room, it became apparent that there might be something wrong. I'm not saying there was, I'm just saying that I didn't feel right about the "branding" of Jesus merchandise. Bedazzled cross shirts and handbags, pens, pencils, magnets, hats... anything you want with either the Holy Land logo or something 'religious' on it. I know it's the world we live in... and in some ways I really liked the stuff, but in others it just felt like it cheapened the experience. Inside the shop were these chairs. Again, is this what shopping will be like in heaven?
Also inside the shop was a miniature replica of Jerusalem. This was an excellent display allowing us to get a real feel for the layout, size, and scope of the city. I had always wondered in my mind what they meant by inner and outer walls. This display really helped us understand how the city was organized. From there we headed out the door and happened upon this scene...
This is a full water fountain show set to a very loud rendition of the Hallelujah Chorus blaring from the speakers above. If you are wondering what it is in front of Kat, it's a life size cardboard cutout of Jesus walking on water. Yup. Jesus. Cardboard. Water. If you think that might be a bit tacky, you should know that we saw the real Jesus (well, a man dressed up as Jesus) walking along the path complete with people following him and a young child walking by his side. If you could suspend reality there's something inside that stirs you up and makes you wish you could join them. But being a practical person, I know this is just an actor playing a part and for some reason it kind of creeps me out seeing him followed as if he really is Jesus.
It's hard to see in this picture, but the people on the left are listening to him give the Sermon on the Mount speech.
Our next (and final) stop was the Scriptorium. This was worth the price of admission! It is a narrated 55 minute long tour explaining how we got the Bible. It included authentic and ancient artifacts from around the world. We saw tablets, scrolls, and very old bibles. There were a few wax animated figures such as Tyndale, Wycliffe, and Gutenberg, but most of the focus was on the texts themselves. We really appreciated the historical significance of the works on display and learned a lot about the history of the Bible. I would highly recommend this exhibit to anyone. (Cameras and Video are not allowed in the Scriptorium or else I would have taken plenty!)
The Holy Land Experience offers many live shows and performances which we did not take advantage of. I'm sure you would need an entire day or two to see everything. After a few hours we felt like we had had our fill so we headed to the parking to devour our P.B. & J sandwiches we packed for lunch.
As to my overall impression... like I said... it was a fine line between being respectful of the seriousness of what was being portrayed and being in awe of the authenticity in some areas, and yet also poking fun at the hokeyness [a new word I just made up] of mass marketed Jesus merchandise, cardboard cutouts, bedazzled costumes, and a real-life person walking around as Jesus. I kind of wish they would have stuck to a more historical "real" feel to the whole thing.
Bottom line, I'm glad we went. We learned a lot. We had a great time, but no... we won't be going back. Once in a lifetime is probably enough for this attraction.