Holy Land Experience: Religious theme park bucks ominous trend

On October 6, The Holy Land Experience -- a Christian-inspired theme park in Orlando, Fla. -- was completely overrun by more than 7,000 visitors. Shortly after opening that day, it hit its 1,700-person limit and began turning people away. Meanwhile, nearby highway I-4 was transformed into a parking lot as eager park-goers lined up for admittance. Holy Land employees stationed outside the park's gates, started handing out rain checks and eventually ran out. At least one would-be pilgrim echoed Jesus' parents, plaintively asking "Do you have room for one more?"

One might wonder why so many people desperately sought entrance to a park whose central features are a re-enactment of Jesus' crucifixion, a 1200-square-foot model of Biblical Jerusalem, and a full-sized reproduction of the Great Temple. After all, in Orlando, a park that has no rides, features minimal robotic wizardry and focuses on a series of attractions designed to evoke the Jerusalem of Jesus' day is a fairly tough sell. While one might suspect a mass influx of evangelical vacationers or the sudden conversion of much of central Florida, the truth was far more prosaic: On October 6, the Holy Land Experience offered free admission.