Branson, Mo. has something for everyone

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Tina Calligas

At first glance, Branson, Mo., looks like any other small town in the scenic Ozark Mountains. The downtown area features a main street that is lined with quaint shops like Dick’s Oldtime 5 & 10 and the House of 1000 Clocks.

But take a closer look, and you will find one of the most popular family vacation destinations in the country. Billed as the Live Music Capital of the World, with 100+ shows in 50 theaters, the city also boasts museums, an amusement park, eight championship golf courses, three pristine lakes, shopping and nature trails.

Although many believe Branson’s popularity began with country music, it actually started with a cave. In 1894, Marvel Cavern, which is just outside of the city, was purchased by William Henry Lynch.

This geographic wonder became such a popular destination that in 1960, a theme park called Silver Dollar City was built over and around the cave.

The park includes 60 shops that showcase the talents of master glassblowers, basket weavers, potters, blacksmiths and many other craftsmen. For the young at heart, there are more than 30 thrill rides, live musical performances and shows.

Onstage bonanza

Well known for its musical performances — ranging from pop to rock-and-roll, Broadway to country, and gospel to bluegrass — Branson has also become home to world-class comedy, theater magic, acrobatics and religious-themed entertainment.

Many of the theatres offer several shows a day, so in one day you can be thoroughly entertained by the seemingly ageless Paul Revere and the Raiders, the glamour of the musically talented Shoji Tabuchi, and the side-splitting humor of Yakov Smirnoff.

For good old-fashioned fun, take a dinner cruise on the showboat Branson Belle on beautiful Table Rock Lake. Following a three-course dinner, cruisers are treated to a fast-paced show featuring singing, dancing, and the comedy of Todd Oliver and his talking pets.

Or visit the Sight and Sound Theatre forNoah, the Musical. This spectacular production retells the Old Testament story and includes a 300-foot wrap around stage, elaborate costumes and live and animatronic animals.

Branson’s newest production has an international flair. Chun Yi: The Legend of Kung Fu combines the ancient martial arts with the agility of Cirque-style acrobatics to produce a dazzling spectacle that has impressed audiences around the world, including spectators at the Beijing Olympics. Throughout the Branson area, visitors can find outlet malls, unique galleries focused on arts and crafts, boutique and specialty stores, flea markets and antique shops.

The Lake Taneycomo waterfront in the historic downtown area features Branson Landing, a shopper’s paradise anchored by Bass Pro Shops, with restaurants to suit every palate and a spectacular $7.5 million water fountain that synchronizes light, sound, music and fire.

Larger-than-life museums

Within a few-mile radius, visitors can wonder at Ripley’s Believe It or Not!, honor those who served our country at the Veteran’s Memorial Museum, greet life-like celebrity figures at the Hollywood Wax Museum, and revisit childhood memories at the World’s Largest Antique Toy Museum.

Perhaps the most interesting and entertaining is the Titanic Museum. This interactive experience, housed in a replica of the front of the ill-fated ship, allows visitors tobecome passengers on that tragic voyage.

Be sure to greet Molly and Carter, King Charles Spaniels, who have been added to the museum as mascots to represent the dogs that were onboard the ship when it sank.

Just outside the city you can hike, rock climb, kayak, canoe, fish, bike, horseback ride, water ski, play golf or tennis, or go parasailing.

Where to eat and sleep

Branson dining options include a wide range of American, Italian, Mexican, Thai, Japanese, Chinese and Mediterranean restaurants.
Bleu Olive Mediterranean Grille & Bar is a jewel. This spacious contemporary restaurant features a diverse menu that includes baby octopus tempura, Prince Edward Island mussels, slow-braised Australian lamb shank and Spanish paella.

For those craving a bit of American fare, try Famous Dave’s BBQ Restaurant in Branson’s Landing. Be sure to ask for a table on the patio with views of Lake Taneycomo.

There is no shortage of area accommodations that will appeal to all tastes and pocketbooks. Chief among these is the Branson Hilton Convention Hotel, which is conveniently located downtown and across from Branson’s Landing. The hotel offers a fitness center, indoor and outdoor pools, and a 24-hour business center. Rates start at $179 a night. Call (417) 336-5400 or go to www.hilton.com.

For those looking for a more natural setting, the award-winning Chateau on the Lake is one of the most popular resorts among tourists. Located on Table Rock Lake, it has its own marina, spa, an award winning restaurant, tennis courts, nature trails, pool, movie theater and child daycare. Rates start at $159 a night. Call 1-888-333-LAKE (5253) or go to www.chateauonthelakebranson.com.

AirTran is the only airline that flies to Branson from Baltimore. Round-trip flights start at $320 in mid-November.

For more information about Branson, visit www.explorebranson.com or call 1-800-296-0463.

Tina Calligas is editor of The Best of Times, a newspaper for older adults in Shreveport, La.