When the Museum of the Bible throws open its bronze doors Nov. 17, it will invite the world to engage with the Great Book free.
But not everyone will get in.
Washington's newest museum is expecting capacity crowds for its opening celebration, beginning with a formal dedication Friday and stretching through the weekend. All of the timed tickets for Saturday and Sunday have been distributed, officials said, and most weekend tickets have been snapped up through mid-December. Midweek spots are available as soon as Monday afternoon.
Advance tickets are available free on the museum website. They are not required for entry, but they will take the gamble out of a visit, officials said.
"We're going to do everything we can" to get people in, a museum vice president, Steve Bickley, said. "But we strongly encourage tickets."
The museum, located at 400 Third St. SW, is open Monday through Saturday from 10 a.m. to 7 p.m. and Sunday from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. It will remain open until 9 p.m. on Thursdays through the end of the year. Members and groups can enter starting at 8 a.m.
The museum's extended hours will allow for daily attendance as high as 15,000, Bickley said. Officials don't know how long guests will stay, so that makes it difficult to judge the exact number of visitors it can admit. The museum can hold about 5,000 people at a time, he said.
Officials have sought advice from the National Museum of African American History and Culture, which opened to great fanfare and large crowds last year. The museums are similar in size and can handle about the same number of visitors at one time. Visitors to the newest Smithsonian museum are staying several times longer than a typical, two-hour stay.
Admission to the $500 million, 430,000-square foot facility is free, with a suggested donation of $15 for adults and $10 for children 12 and under.
The museum decided to use free ticketing to control crowds and reduce wait times. The National Museum of African American History and Culture introduced free passes when it opened last year; the Smithsonian museum, which does not charge admission, continues to distribute daily and advance passes online.
Bible museum visitors can obtain tickets from the website, museumofthebible.org. Guests can also reserve admission for special activities, including the Washington Revelations, a Disney-like ride that costs $8 a person, the archaeological exhibit focused on David and Goliath, also $8 and a host of guided tours. Other activities — an interactive, immersive guide through the Hebrew Bible, for example, and a dramatic presentation of the New Testament — are free but require a separate timed ticket for entry.
Bickley said reservations have come from all 50 states, the District and Puerto Rico. So far 1,600 tour groups have booked spots, many for hours before the museum is open to the public.
The museum is offering 27 levels of membership, starting at $60 a year for an individual and $150 or family of six. Memberships, which can be purchased online or at the museum, will guarantee unlimited admission and offer perks like a 10 percent discount at the shop and restaurant. Higher level packages include discounts on the fees for the added attractions and tours.