Nestled in the beautiful Ozark Mountains smack in the buckle of Mid-America’s Bible Belt, Branson, Mo., 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.
Veterans are kings (and queens) — honored at every entertainment extravaganza, including rides like the famous amphibious 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, members of the Greatest Generation, arrive in wheel chairs 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 countrymen they served so well.
If the name “Branson” sounds familiar, you probably associate it with hillbillies and country music. Think again. Broadway tunes, Golden Oldies, gospel and classical music abounds, performed three times daily, along with spectacular staging, live bands and pageants like the current production of "Joseph" at the Sight and Sound Theater.
1. 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.”
2. Along with all-American types, two internationally known entertainers took up residence – Russian comedian, Yakov Smirnoff www.yakov.com/ and Japanese musician, Shoji Tabuchi, whose opulent theater is often called the “Showplace of Branson.”
3. 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 www.legendsinconcert.com/ that brings them back to life.
4. 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 four 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.
5. Branson is NOT just for the senior set. The average age is 48.
6. With a population of just 10,200, Branson welcomes 8,000,000 visitors annually!
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 www.dogwoodcanyon.org/or fishing on Lake Tancycomo.
7. 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.” (www.hughes-brothers.com). 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.
8. Silver Dollar City www.bransonsilverdollarcity.com 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.
9. Don’t miss The Showboat Branson Belle (www.showboatbransonbelle.com) 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.
10. 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, (www.dinebranson.com/…/1844-andy
span>williamsmoon span>rivergrill) complete with fine food and art from his personal collection.
Plan your trip:
· Even with multiple flights daily at two airports – Springfield (www.sgf-branson-airport.com) and Branson (flybranson.com), 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 (www.thousandhills.com.
· Feel free to bring family members in wheelchairs and walkers. Every venue provides ample accommodations and royal treatment.