This is just too good not to share. We Americans are very good at recreating the rest of the world so we don't have to visit it (witness Las Vegas). I predict this will outsell Disney.
Experiencing an excursion to Holy Land
Theme Park Ranger
August 31, 2007
Where two or more are gathered, and the topic is Holy Land Experience, there are a few standard responses.
"I've always been curious about that place."
"I want to go, but I don't want to give them money."
"I want to go, but I'm afraid I'll burst into flames."
Then there are the easy-target stand-up comedy routines. Do they have a Holy Roller Coaster? Is Christ on the cross six times daily? Is there a rock show called "Jumpin' Jerusalem"?
For the record: No, no, no.
But Holy Land Experience does have similarities to its bigger theme-park brethren. It sports stage shows, miniature re-creations, perky employees (very "Shalom!"-happy), turkey legs and even statuesque greenery. Holy Land bushes spell out "HE IS RISEN" and are within eyeshot of a 7-Eleven. Insert your own "Thank Heaven" joke here. See? It's hard to stop.
The musicals and live presentations feature hard-working performers in multiple roles. The women in the "Moses" musical -- which ends with a remarkable duet by Moses' birth mother and his bulrushes mother -- appear scant moments later in supporting roles in "The Ministry of Jesus."
That's when things become interesting. I semi-smirked when the line "Look, it's Jesus!" was delivered. But sure enough, an actor arrives in his best Johnny Depp 'do.
Jesus is the rock star of Holy Land Experience.
The crowd strains to catch a glimpse and achieve a good camera angle. For the next 15 minutes, it's a mash-up of Jesus' greatest hits of miracles and teachings, including, but not limited to, giving sight to a blind man, preaching about rich men getting into heaven (that camel-through-the-eye-of-a-needle thing) and gathering the little children around him.
"Ministry" is well-staged with the other actors, geared with Janet Jackson-style microphones, around the outdoor venue. This allows Jesus to mingle with his peeps. The man has charisma.
Holy Land Experience distributes an excellent schedule, presented chronologically. It is sprinkled with historical presentations about the Dead Sea Scrolls, the temples of Israel and "inspirational insights." These fall somewhere between lecture and sermon. There is not much overlap in the schedule, and some presentations are one-time only.
It's impossible to distinguish the Christians from the merely curious amid the visitors, but you have the feeling that they're preaching to the choir at Holy Land Experience. Many an "amen" and "hallelujah" come up from the spectators. A contemporary Christian music segment of the "Praise Through the Ages" show rocks the house. A woman behind me in her Sunday-best hat stands up and breaks into harmony. Of course, it stands to reason that today's hits score better than the earlier Gregorian chants.
Other highlights include the Scriptorium, a vast, well-designed display of Bibles through the centuries and ancient artifacts; the Temple Plaza (the white building visible from Interstate 4); and KidVenture, a cute, interactive telling of the story of David and Goliath.
The park closes with "Behold the Lamb," a musical drama that graphically portrays the Crucifixion and ensuing Resurrection. It's emotional and intense -- I worried about my inner child, and the actual children nearby. But cameras were out in full force again.
Holy Land has done a decent job resisting tacky souvenirs. There's shopping to be done, but the bulk of it is along the lines of biblical and inspirational goods. It's mostly reverent, although the Oasis Palms Cafe serves a Paul's Platter along with King David's Desserts.
Best of all: no spontaneous human combustion. Shalom!
Copyright © 2007, Orlando Sentinel