(This story was originally published in January 2011)
Dozens of live musical shows, plenty of affordable restaurants, a variety of lodging choices, tons of outdoor activities and some of the friendliest folks in the U.S. – the ingredients for a perfect vacation. Where to find this mecca? Why Branson, Missouri, of course.
We headed to Branson for a three-day weekend, had one of the best trips ever and left wanting more. That is not something we can often say about a destination.
Branson, a tourist favorite since the 1930s, is located just inside the southwestern edge of Missouri; we drove up in one, long day and saw the USA in our Chevrolet. Branson is located along Lake Taneycomo, a man-made lake in the Ozark Mountains. Guests to the area enjoy many recreational options such as trout fishing, swimming, canoeing, boating and water skiing. Golf is a huge draw here to, with more than a dozen courses in the area.
The city has two focal points: the historic downtown area and Highway 76 where many of the theaters and hotels are located. Be warned – the traffic in Branson can be daunting. At peak times, it can take an hour to get from one end of town to the other. There are, however, simple alternate routes around the congested areas.
Lodging - We checked into the lovely Hilton Promenade at Branson’s Landing. Our expansive balcony from the second floor provided a fantastic view of the Landing, a pedestrian-only, waterfront shopping, dining and entertainment district lined with great shopping, lively restaurants and friendly street vendors. We enjoyed the free, nightly fireworks set to music from our lounge chairs. You can spend hours just exploring the area near the hotel – which also features flat screen TVs, a fitness area and pool, and allows pets!
Soon after 10 p.m., the square is deserted. This is a clean-living town where folks get up early and roll the sidewalks up long before midnight. Branson offers every sort of lodging imaginable – from exclusive, luxury condo rentals to clean but simple hotel rooms. Visitors can find many bargain packages and we saw many signs featuring “Two nights, two breakfasts, two shows for $99.”
Entertainment: We loved each and every second of the six, yes six, shows we saw. There are more than 50 theaters in Branson and more than 100 live shows every day. Pick up a list of the current shows almost anywhere and just choose what sounds good. You can’t go wrong. Our favorite? The four-generation family performing “Presley’s Country Jubilee.” A packed house with a totally fun and entertaining show. No – it was probably the high energy, 50s show “Shake, Rattle and Roll.” Actually, it was the “Hughes Brothers Show” which features 47 members of one family with a heartwarming, fun focus on five handsome brothers. We saw Britney Spears and the Blues Brothers at the “Legends in Concert” and they were fantastic. But come to think of it, Dolly Parton’s “Dixie Stampede” was really our favorite. Larry was chosen to be IN the show and the dinner, included, was great. We even squeezed one last show in, “Broadway, the Star Spangled Celebration,” the morning we left. We loved them all – and would happily return tomorrow and see 10 more.
Fun Stuff: It would take pages to describe all the things there are to do in Branson. They are all family oriented, affordable and convenient. Some of the ones we enjoyed: the Titanic Attraction featuring hundreds of artifacts from the doomed ship, the Branson Auto Museum filled with tons of beautifully restored cars - many for sale, putt putt – both indoor and outdoor, Ride The Ducks, the Hollywood Wax Museum, wineries and the Tanger Outlet Mall. A special kudos goes to Silver Dollar City – a theme park celebrating 50 years in 2011. It was great! Clean, gorgeous landscaping, moderately priced food and beverages and friendly. It is a short drive from downtown and well worth your time and money. There is so much else to do: black light 3D mini-golf, indoor waterparks, bowling, laser tag, arcades, zip lines, museums, a dinosaur museum, Ripley’s Believe It Or Not, caves, dinner cruises on the lake, a butterfly attraction and an IMAX theater.
Dining – Fudge and candy are a BIG deal in Branson. You will not find more choices anywhere! Fudge, fudge, fudge. Every variety, every price, everywhere. Hey – why not live like a spoiled child and sample it all! There are dozens and dozens of restaurants at every price level. Breakfast buffets are especially cheap and plentiful – we saw signs advertising $1.99 meals. Andy Williams’ Moon River Grill was very nice; many dishes are prepared using Williams’ own recipes and he is often seen here when in town. Don’t miss Mel’s Hardluck Diner where the atmosphere shouts the 1950s and the wait staff sing as they take orders and dish up luscious sundaes, onion rings and cheeseburgers. We loved Karen, our gracious waitress who sang “Unforgettable” - perfectly! Season 4 American Idol finalist Matt Kester works and performs here as does his grandmother Bernie. The cook even emerged from the kitchen to sing Johnny Cash’s “Ring of Fire.” This was pure fun.
Attitude – The 7,000 residents of the area are dazzlingly nice. They thrive on the tourists and love visiting with them. The atmosphere all over town is relaxed and charming. A most unusual sight can be seen in Branson – laughing, smiling teenagers! They are in the restaurants and at the shows. Over and over, I was pleased to see whole families laughing at the corny jokes on stage. I saw many teens leaning their heads onto their parents or grandparents’ shoulders or holding hands with them. Not a pair of rolling eyes or sulking faces to be found! There is also a big emphasis on veterans here. At every show, all veterans are asked to stand and be applauded. Veterans have their own parades and are openly catered to. We liked that – a lot.
Eight million visitors come to Branson every year. And I’ll bet most of them want to return! For a complete vacation guide, full list of accommodations, shows, attractions and restaurants, visit www.ExploreBranson.com or call 1-800-214-3661.