When we took our mini vacation back in July, I was excited. I was looking forward to getting away and visiting the Creation Museum and doing all the other fun little things we had planned. However, the one thing I was most excited about seeing was the Ark Encounter!
I wasn’t quite sure what to expect, but after visiting the Creation Museum, I was curious to see if the Ark would be even more geared towards families and children. Let’s just say I was not disappointed!
Here is an overview of our trip and some tips for visiting the Ark Encounter with young children.
When You Should Go
This was our vacation and the past two days before visiting the Ark Encounter, we had early mornings (which if you know us, you know that we are not morning people). So, we decided to have a leisurely morning and get to the Ark right after lunch.
We arrived around 1:30, and it seemed busy, but it wasn’t packed, which is a plus. I’m not sure about you, but we prefer to visit a place that’s not packed full of people, because we tend to enjoy it so much more. It allows us to give Logan some time to explore things in his own way. When it’s crowded, we have to keep a super close eye on him and keep him right by our side.
Anyway, it was a little funny because we felt like there were a few more people there than we would have preferred. Then a few days after we got home, Shadrach was showing me some pictures on Facebook about how packed it was , and how long the lines were to get in.
So, what we learned is that going on a weekday after lunch is a perfect time as it tends to be crowded on the weekend and holidays.
As soon as we pulled into the parking lot, I was fully expecting to be able to see the ark. However, that is not how they have it set up. In fact, it is amazing the way it’s all arranged. But this does mean you must plan ahead a bit.
Before you leave your car, just be sure to grab anything you think you might need during your visit. Whether it is a stroller, extra clothes, a diaper bag, camera or snacks. The reason I say this is because after you purchase your tickets, you board a bus that takes you on a five-ten minute ride to the ark. So, if you forget something, you must either go without it or take the time to ride the bus there and back, which isn’t horrible, just inconvenient.
Just like the Creation Museum, the Ark Encounter is also free for children 5 and under. Big win in my book! Just remember upon leaving you do have to pay for parking. Also, if you plan to visit both the Creation Museum and the Ark Encounter, it is worth checking out the combo ticket.
Once You Step Off the Bus
When you step off the bus, the view is unbelievably amazing! I had heard the Ark was big, but I didn’t realize how big until I stepped off that bus. Pictures do not do it justice!
One thing I recommend is getting a family picture in front of the Ark. There is a perfect place close to where you get off the bus that you can stand and get a fantastic picture. We did not get one of these amazing family pictures because Logan was boycotting all family pictures during this vacation. 😉 However, if your child (or children) will cooperate, be sure to stop in front of the pond.
One thing I did notice was that EVERYONE seemed to stop to try to get pictures after stepping off the bus. So if it is hectic, try again before you leave. You will have to come the same way to get back on the bus when you’re leaving.
Before You Board the Ark
There is a bit of a walk to get on the ark. So, be prepared. If you need to, there is a place just to the left when you get off the bus where you can rent scooters and strollers. There is a fee for each rental which you can check out here.
When we first arrived, we just walked right past this building but ended up having to make a stop later to rent a stroller. We did not realize how much walking was involved, and we didn’t anticipate Logan getting tired, so we left our stroller in the car. Rather than make the trip back to the parking lot, we ended up renting one. Never mind the fact that Logan sat in it for all of fifteen minutes. I’m just glad that we had this service available to us.
Something to keep in mind about the strollers, they are not the most comfortable. If there is any chance your child will get tired of walking be sure to grab your own.
As we walked to towards the Ark, we were trying to figure out where to go in. I thought for certain that we were going to walk up and enter through the actual door. However, that is not the case. You will walk around to the back side of the ark and find the entrance there. I feel like we wandered around for a few minutes, looking a little lost. I hope this keeps you from looking that way. 😊
Before rushing inside, stop and see the stones outside. These are neat and represent the promise the Board of Directors made to build the Ark to represent how amazing God is and that they are there to share the Gospel of Jesus.
As you begin walking up inside, there are rain and thunderstorm sounds. If you have a child that is afraid of thunder, be sure to prepare them for this ahead of time. Logan isn’t crazy about thunder, but I managed to convince him that thunderstorms are just God and the angels bowling in heaven. It has worked for now, and as we were walking in he gasped and yelled that he could hear God bowling with the angels! 😊
Right before you enter the Ark, you can get a family picture in front of a green screen, which does cause a bit of a bottleneck. Then as you leave through the gift shop, you can purchase the picture. The picture has the ark behind your family. There was a super long line to buy it, so we skipped it. I kind of wish we hadn’t, but waiting in line with an antsy 4-year-old was not happening.
1st Level of the Ark
On the first level, you walk into rows upon rows of cages with animal replicas inside of them. There are also lots of animal sounds going on at the same time. The animal pens start out small and get larger as you walk through. There are dinosaurs and all sorts of animals. You may not recognize them exactly because they represent what the animals may have looked like before the flood.
Logan loved this area and went through telling us what he thought each of the animals was. It was a fun little game to play to get him involved and interested.
The majority of the first level is showing how the animals were kept as well as how food and water was stored.
2nd Level of the Ark
Next up is the second of three floors of this massive Ark. There was an area of live animals. The staff members informed us that they don’t keep the live animals in there all the time so be sure to head over and check them out first. So that’s what we did! They block the animals off so you can’t walk right up to them. The staff does walk around with the smaller animals and allow you to touch them. Logan loved this!! I’m pretty sure he would have stayed with the animals the rest of the day.
The second level is also where the exhibits start. There are staff members to help guide you in the direction you should go because there is an order to them as it walks you through the creation and the story of the flood. The exhibits are where things started to feel a little crowded, especially with scooters and people who can stand and read everything. So, if you have young children, you may end up running through the exhibits.
I would advise having your camera/phone ready as you walk through this level because there is A LOT of information to read. If you have a little one with you, like us, there won’t be much time to stop and read everything. So snap pictures of what you want to read so you can go back through it later.
By the time we got halfway through the second floor, we needed a bit of a break. So, we stopped at the end of the ark where they were showing a movie. There are places to sit and rest for a bit. Logan was ready to sit down at this point. Also, if you are in need of a snack, there are a few places on this level you can stop for a little something to eat and drink.
This level also has a little area for kids to play in and explore. It seemed to be one of the busier areas, but Logan enjoyed running through it for a bit. It is a little dark, but that didn’t appear to faze him.
One last quick tip about the second level. There is a great photo opportunity. The HUGE door that you see from the outside is on this level, and you can stand in front of it for a family picture! We, however, did not get any because of our child boycotting family pictures. 😉
3rd Level of the Ark
Now, onto the top level! This is where the living quarters for Noah and his family are. It was my other favorite area. I loved seeing how they may have lived and Logan stopped long enough to look and ask me to read some of the signs to him.
It’s funny because they have wax figures in this section. Logan kept asking me if all the people from Noah’s Ark were still alive. It took me a while to realize that he was talking about these wax figures.😊 There was also fake food in one of the displays, and he was very concerned that the food would be rotten. I had to keep him from reaching out and trying to grab it.
There are more exhibits on this top level. It is all fascinating the way they lay out every aspect of the ark and how it might have functioned. Everything from water, to food, to waste disposal, and how Noah and his family lived on the ark. I did not get to stop and read much of the displays, so be sure to have your phone ready to get pictures of the things you want to read more about if you have small kiddos with you.
Exiting the Ark and the Gift Shop
Once you finish walking through the 3rd floor, you must go all the way back down to the first floor to exit the Ark. This means if there is something you would like to see again, this is your chance. You then exit through the gift shop.
All Logan could talk about before we got to the gift shop was ice cream. Thank goodness there is a small ice cream shop there, along with a fudge shop. So, before we did anything else, we stopped for some ice cream and took a rest on some picnic tables right outside the gift shop. If you notice, we seem to have taken a lot of rests but there is so much walking, and 4-year-old little legs can only handle so much. So, rest stops were necessary.
The gift shop has some great merchandise, and it took us a little while to pick out what we wanted for keepsakes. This is also your chance to purchase the picture you took when you were entering the ark. Just be prepared for a line.
The Ararat Ridge Zoo and a Camel Ride
After the Ark, we headed to the Ararat Ridge Zoo. This was our second petting zoo in two days, and I must say, this one is great. It’s a bit bigger than the Creation Museum. Logan and Shadrach were able to go inside the pens and pet or brush the animals. It was mainly goats that you can brush, which my little guy loved, but there are few other animals in there too, like a giant turtle.
There were other animals you could see as you walked around the different pens. You can’t touch all of them, but some of them were right up close which made it easy to see them. It also looks like the little zoo area will be expanding over time.
Right next to the Ararat Ridge Zoo is a place where you and your kiddos can take a donkey or camel ride. We asked Logan if he wanted to ride one and he decided on the camel. He had no fears about it at all and walked right up and rode that camel like he was a pro. 😊 Later, Shadrach asked why adults couldn’t have a ride and they told he could. He was bummed he missed the opportunity to ride a camel with Logan, but I’m glad that Logan had a chance. (There is an extra fee for riding the donkey and camel. You can check it out here.)
After finishing Logan’s Camel ride, we were ready for some dinner. There are a few options for food, like Emzara’s Kitchen, a Pizza place, and Zofar’s Flatbread Sandwiches. We opted for Emzara’s Kitchen because we wanted to sit on the second level of the patio and enjoy the view.
Emzara’s Kitchen is a buffet and kids 5 and under eat free! That’s a huge deal! Most of the food was very kid friendly, and all of us could find something to eat. They mention on the website that the buffet changes daily.
I’ll be honest, I didn’t love the food, but I did enjoy the view of the Ark and surrounding area while we ate dinner. I want to add that because of the time of day we chose to go, there were not many people eating. We had the entire patio to ourselves, which after the busy day of walking around, it was kind of nice to have some quiet time to sit and relax.
You can check out all the dining options here.
A few quick things I want to mention is that the Ark Encounter also offers Extreme Zip Lines, just like the Creation Museum did. Because of mine and Shadrach’s healthy fear of heights, we opted not to do this. However, if you like a little thrill and your kids are old enough, this might be just the thing for your family. I can only imagine how amazing the view of the Ark would be while ziplining. You can check out the prices and details here.
There is also a place, close to the Ararat Ridge Zoo that kids can dig for fossils. Due to time, we did not let Logan stop and do this. It does look like a fun place for kids. You can find more information about it here.
Leaving the Ark Encounter
When I was planning our trip, one of the things I saw on the website that I decided I wanted to see was the rainbow lights on the ark at night. So, part of our reason for going in the afternoon was to stay until closing in hopes of seeing this. However, nature had a different idea and our beautiful sunny day quickly turned chilly, windy, and stormy. Shortly after dinner, a storm started rolling in. So, we took that as our cue and headed for the bus.
However, I was able to get in a few amazing pictures of the ark because there was no one around, seeing as how everyone else was making their way to the bus in hopes of getting to their cars before the rain started. I couldn’t have asked for a better more fitting setting for the Ark. Storm clouds were perfect, and I was able to see a little bit of the rainbow lights since it started getting dark.
My Top 12 Tips for Visiting the Ark Encounter
Here are my top twelve tips for visiting the Ark Encounter, especially if you have young children. However, these tips are still helpful even if you don’t.
- If possible, visit on a weekday and wait until the afternoon to go. The best time seems to be after lunch.
- Before you leave your car, make sure you have everything you need, like a stroller, camera, wallet, and diaper bag. There is a 5 to 10-minute bus ride to get to the ark from the parking lot which can be inconvenient if you need to go back to your car.
- If your child is 5 or under, there is a lot of walking, so consider whether they will be able to handle a day full of walking. If not, bring your stroller or know that you can rent one.
- Rainy days could be hard to navigate with small children. There is a lot of time spent walking outdoors, especially just to get inside of the ark. However, I could see a rainy Saturday as a great opportunity to visit with fewer people if the weekend is the only time you have to go.
- Two places I recommend stopping to get a family picture are in front of the pond, with the ark behind you in the distance, and on the second level inside the ark, in front of “the door.” 😊
- Be on the lookout for the pop-up petting zoo on the second level. They bring different animals there that you will not see in the Ararat Ridge Zoo.
- Be sure to have your phone/camera ready to get pictures of signs and displays that you may not have time to stop and read, especially if you are chasing after your kiddos. This will allow you to read them at your leisure.
- If your child is afraid of thunderstorms, don’t forget to prepare them of the thunder sounds as you enter the Ark.
- The view from the second story patio of Ezmara’s Kitchen is amazing and worth stopping to eat lunch or dinner there. Plus, kids 5 and under eat FREE.
- If you are going to visit the Creation Museum and the Ark Encounter at the same time, consider combo tickets because it will save you some money. Also, kids 5 and under are FREE at both places.
- Seeing the rainbow lights after dark is a must, if possible.
- Most of all, just go into the day with no expectations and have fun! Let your kids look at things at their own pace.
More to Come…
Well, there you have it! A great place to take your family and spend the day. Logan loved the Ark Encounter as much as I did. In fact, it’s been a few months, and he is still talking about it. Keep in mind that they will be adding to the Ark Encounter experience. I can’t wait to see what is coming and visit again!
I hope that this will help you prepare for a trip with your family so that you have the best time possible. If you have visited the Ark Encounter with your kids, do you have any tips? Or if you have never been, are you planning to go? I’d love to hear from you!
*Our visit to the Ark Encounter was sponsored in exchange for a review. As always, all opinions are our own. For more information, please see our disclosure.