The Weird History of Florida’s Christian Theme Park

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Holy Land theater with sign

Credit: Holy Land Experience

Did you know that Florida was once home to a $130 million Christian theme Park?

Well, it isn’t anymore, as demolition continues on the site. However, anyone that grew up living in or visiting Orlando, Florida may recognize the massive structures on the side of the highway that were part of the Holy Land Experience. The Park was both a theme park and a nonprofit organization, where Guests could not only participate in Bible studies and church services but explore a recreation of the ancient city of Jerusalem.

Jesus with a group of tourists at the Holy Land Experience
Credit: Holy Land Experience

There were even entertainment offerings, including an actor portraying Jesus that would perform in daily recreations of the crucifixion. This aspect in particular was met with a lot of controversy from Christians and non-Christians alike, but the entire Park also garnered ire for seemingly profiting off of Christianity. It advertised itself as a living biblical museum and was owned by the Trinity Broadcasting Network when it purchased the Park from its original owners in 2007.

The Park officially closed in February 2020 after several years of a sharp decline in revenue, and the property was sold to AdventHealth in August 2021. AdventHealth is planning to turn the area into a new hospital, and demolition started late last month.

Front entrance of the Holy Land Experience in the sun
Credit: Holy Land Experience

But what other strange secrets did the Holy Land Experience hold?

The Park was met with controversy as soon as it opened in 2001, with the Jewish Defense League accusing the Park of proselytizing Jews to Christianity. It also garnered dissension for applying for tax exemption status soon after its opening, as although it was registered as a theme park, it was also considered to be a church. Orange County denied it initially, but a judge ruled in favor of the Park in 2005 because of its mission of spreading the word of God, which is not for profit and, therefore, allows it to benefit from a tax exemption. This forgave the Park $300,000 annually in property taxes.

When the Trinity Broadcasting Network purchased the Park in 2007, it introduced new live entertainment, retail, and restaurants, including the 2,000-seat Church of All Nations auditorium. The facility featured live presentations and reenactments of the passion and crucifixion of Jesus Christ and the depiction of the resurrection and ascension of Jesus to heaven. Live tapings of TBN’s flagship TV show, Praise the Lord, were also taped in the facility, in addition to concerts and church services.

The Holy Land Experience
Credit: Abandoned Atlas

Although the site will soon be completely gone, it’s unlikely that Floridians will forget this strange theme park any time soon.

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