Nestled in the rugged Ozark Mountains in the buckle of mid-America’s Bible Belt, Branson, Missouri serves up a heaping helping of Las Vegas-style entertainment (without a hint of raunchiness), seasons it with a plethora of outdoor activities, and adds generous portions of red, white and blue.
If you think “Branson” is all about hillbillies and country music, think again. Broadway, Golden Oldies, gospel and classically trained musicians perform three times a day, along with spectacular staging, live bands, and pageants like the current production of Joseph at the Sight and Sound Theater.
Veterans are kings (and queens) — honored at every entertainment extravaganza and even on rides like the famous amphibious Branson Ducks that traverse land and lake. Richly thanked for their service to America via discounts at hotels, outdoor venues and theaters, World War II vets and members of the Greatest Generation arrive in wheelchairs and on walkers. The youngest vets from the Gulf Wars bring pretty young wives and wee children. But none seem prouder to stand at attention, hand-over-heart, than our Viet Nam vets who were once sadly ignored by the country they served so well.
- Instead of a planned city bent on creating a town for live music, Branson grew organically with a series of unrelated events. The Baldnobbers – whose show continues to this day — opened their doors in 1959 to entertain locals and visitors to the Ozarks. Next came The Beverly Hillbillies, a popular television show that piqued the public’s interest in life in the Ozarks. But it wasn’t until 1991 when “60 Minutes” aired a segment on Branson that the sleepy town sprung to life. Top entertainers like Dick Clark, Andy Williams, The Lennon Sisters and Dolly Parton opened enormous theaters, which in turn, attracted hotel chains and eateries. And with them, came tourists from around the globe who flocked to the “live music capital of the entire universe.”
- Along with all-American types, two internationally known entertainers took up residence – Russian comedian, Yakov Smirnoff and Japanese musician, Shoji Tabuchi, whose opulent theater is often called the Showplace of Branson.
- Longing to hear Elvis croon Blue Hawaii, or Marilyn Monroe whisper-sing Diamonds are a Girls Best Friend? Then don’t miss Legends in Concert that brings them back to life.
- Who knew that one of the largest museums commemorating the Titanic is “moored” in Branson? Walk up the grand staircase, glimpse into a tiny third-class cabin for poor souls and compare it to the well-appointed first-class stateroom. Peer at the table wear used all too briefly by ill-fated passengers, and watch a fascinating documentary about recovering the artifacts.
- Branson is NOT just for the senior set. The average age of visitors is 48. With a population of just 10,200, Branson welcomes 8 million visitors annually! For active visitors, there’s plenty to do in the great outdoors like ziplining through the Wolfe Mountain canopy, biking, Segwaying, hiking at the Dogwood Canyon Nature Park or fishing on Lake Tancycomo.
- Family comes first in Branson and not a single show is “off limits” to kids. They may not catch all the jokes, but they also won’t hear any four-letter words or ogle risqué costumes. The best of the best is the Hughes Brothers’ show, “it.” (. With a total of more than 50 performers — five brothers, their wives and children (including one family of seven and another of 13) ranging in age from two months to late teens, they rock the stage with music and dancing.
- Silver Dollar City is so well designed and landscaped, it’s easy to forget you’re in a theme park. Every venue and restaurant takes you back in time as you stroll among the costumed employees. You can experience thrilling rides like the giant pendulum swing that travels seven stories skyward at 45 mph. Gasp at the natural beauty of the wet limestone Marvel Cave some 300 feet below the earth’s surface and watch expert crafters create lye soap, candles, leather goods and blacksmithing — just the way they did in centuries past.
- Don’t miss The Showboat Branson Belle that treats passengers to a leisurely cruise on Table Rock Lake, feeds them royally, and entertains with a professional Vegas-style variety show featuring a Julliard-trained violinist who flies through the air (while playing) as gracefully as a Cirque du Soleil artist. Don’t fret about where you’ll find live entertainment, lay down your head or find a good meal. There are 69,000 theater seats (more than on Broadway), 28,000 hotel/motel or condos rooms plus campgrounds, and restaurants to fit every pocket book and palate. Highlights include Andy Williams Moon River Grill, complete with fine food and art from his personal collection.
IF YOU GO:
- Even with multiple flights daily at two airports – Springfield and Branson, you’ll need a car. Cabs are scarce and the walk between venues can be prohibitive.
- The Leap Day 2012 tornado whipped through several hotels rendering them uninhabitable, so make reservations before you go.
- Families can find reasonable condos a’plenty with two, three or even four bedrooms like The Majestic at Table Rock Lake.
- Feel free to bring family members in wheelchairs and walkers. Every venue provides ample accommodations and royal treatment
Freelance journalist and author Mickey Goodman is president of the SE chapter of The American Society of Journalists and Authors and a national board member of that organization; she is also a member of the Atlanta Press Club. With holocaust survivor Eva Friedlander, Mickey is the author of Nine Lives of a Marriage. She also blogs about grandparent travel at Travelgram. This article previously appeared on DivineCaroline.com.