A giant ark, a Bible wax museum and prayer: How religious people take their beliefs on vacation

Religious Americans do not leave their beliefs at home when they go on vacation. 

In fact, many incorporate them into their relaxation and exploration time, adding religion-based activities and tourism sites to their travel itineraries.

JoAnna and Jeff Gavlik’s Christian beliefs are what motivated them to bring their family across the country in September for an immersive experience at the Ark Encounter, a replica of the biblical ship that stands at 515 feet long, 85 feet wide and 51 feet high in northern Kentucky. 

“It’s important for me for my children to see the size of the ark and see how possible it was for the animals to go on the ark,” said JoAnna Gavlik, who lives in Selma, Oregon. “I know that there’s a God, and I want them to understand that what he wrote is true.” 

An ark of biblical proportions in Kentucky 

Answers in Genesis, a ministry that believes in a literal interpretation of the Bible, opened the Noah’s Ark-themed attraction about two years ago.

The Ark Encounter supports the ministry’s belief in the biblical flood account and lays out explanations for visitors on how all the animals fit on the ship as well as how Noah and his family survived the flood. 

It is a sister attraction to the Creation Museum, which lays out the ministry’s views of how the Earth was created just thousands of years ago.

Patrick Kanewske, the director of media and ministry relations for Answers in Genesis, thinks those beliefs are what draw people to the attractions.

“We don’t make any apologies for what we present here,” Kanewske said. “I think having the theme consistent all the way through here and the Creation Museum, folks really appreciate that.” 

In its first two years, Kanewske said the Ark Encounter has drawn more than 2 million visitors. They come by way of personal vehicles as well as tour buses to take in the massive structure in rural Kentucky and enjoy the site’s additional attractions, including a petting zoo and dining options. 

Faith-based group travel in the US 

Beyond the family vacation, faith-based groups are traveling together, too. Churches make trips a part of their outreach, said Brian Jewell, executive editor of Going On Faith, a publication on faith-based travel read by more than 7,000 travel planners for churches and religious organizations. 

“Faith-based groups at their core have a mission of community building and inclusion,” Jewell said. “A lot of churches and people who are involved in church outreach have found that there’s some fellowship and community building that can happen on a trip that is not going to happen in a Sunday school classroom.”  

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