Whatever the season, festivities, attractions, shows and family fun abound in Branson, Mo.
The Ozark Mountain town, not far from Springfield, Mo., may have started as largely a country music mecca but through the years, it's become a haven for all types of entertainment.
Whether guests are interested in attending a country music production, pop music revue or tribute show, relaxing during a dinner cruise on Showboat Branson Belle or exploring amusement park Silver Dollar City and checking out a few of the many museums, there's plenty to enjoy in the vacation town.
Through the end of December, Branson is aglow and dressed for the holidays during an Ozark Mountain Christmas. From drive-through lighting displays to holiday feasts, parades and Christmas-themed variety revues and musical shows, fun awaits.
Don't miss the Festival of Lights Drive-Through, which is in operation through Dec. 31. Also, at Shepherd of the Hills homestead, enjoy The Trail of Lights and Christmas on the Trail through Dec. 31. As you travel Branson's historic Highway 76 through town, theater buildings, marquees and other businesses feature lights of all shapes, sizes and colors.
Celebrating in Silver Dollar City
The amusement park, now in its 53rd year, is in the middle of its most lavish festival of the year, "An Old-Fashioned Christmas," through Dec. 30.
Silver Dollar City, an 1880s-inspired theme park located on the outskirts of Branson, was established by Chicago natives The Herschend family and was developed around Marvel Cave, which sits on the grounds of the amusement park.
New this year at Silver Dollar City is Outlaw Run, a record-breaking ride, which features the world's first and only double barrel roll on a wood coaster. It's also the only wood coaster to twist upside with three inversions and the steepest drop on a wood coaster, dropping at 81 degrees.
Guests during every season can enjoy various rides and attractions throughout their stay including Tom and Huck's Riverblast, The Sliver Dollar Sing-Along Steam Train, The Living Nativity, assorted food vendors, cooking and craft classes at the park's Midwest Living Culinary and Craft School and much more.
Holiday shows at the park include "It's a Wonderful Life" and "A Dickens' Christmas Carol." For more information, visit silverdollarcity.com.
Music, Music, Music
Music is what pretty much put Branson on the map and travelers will find a show for every taste here. From country to old-time rock and roll, gospel, Americana, pop and other genres, the musical mix is varied at theaters in the Ozark Mountain territory.
Andy Williams's Moon River Theatre annually featured the late legendary Willams' holiday shows. This season, among performers are The Osmonds and The Lennon Sisters entertaining together during a Christmas-themed show, which runs through Dec. 7. In the past, Moon River Theatre has featured a number of performers including Liverpool Legends, starring four musicians hand-picked by Louise Harrison to perform Beatles music; Daniel O'Donnell and more. (andywilliamstheatre.com)
Brotherly harmonies flourish on stage at the Mickey Gilley Theatre where Six performs. The show features the strong vocals of The Knudsen Brothers who perform a range of genres. (thesixshow.com)
Also on the show scene is the "70s Music Celebration Starring Barry Williams," which runs through Dec. 30 at RFD TV The Theater. (70smusiccelebration.com)
Showboat Branson Belle
If you'd like to cruise Branson's Table Lake, opt to take the journey aboard Showboat Branson Belle. The cruise features a dining/show format.
A multi-course meal is on the menu on the showboat. And cruisers interested in dining on Captain's Row on the upper deck will be served a bit more lavish menu featuring various options.
Currently performing on the cruise are the Showmen, a group which stars six male singers including Crown Point's own Steven Parrish and Chicago's Avilla Martin, who has family in the South Suburbs. Violinist, pianist, aerialist and singer Janice Martin also headlines the show. Martin is a graduate of Indiana University and the Julliard School of Music.
"This is my third season with the Showmen," said Avilla Martin, who also toured with the Chicago Children's Choir. Martin said it's a great opportunity performing with the group of guys "who have so many things in common." He called it a "rare gig" and one where he has the chance to do what he loves. "Our show relates to everybody and people have a good time."
Crown Point's Parrish said he's in his 9th season working in Branson where he's performed in various shows. Parrish said he's been interested in entertainment since he was in high school. "I auditioned for a musical as a freshman, and I got involved in the choir," he said. Parrish, a graduate of Indiana University, where he studied vocal performance, was involved with the college's Straight No Chaser group. Parrish his wife and children now have a home in Branson although he still has family in Northwest Indiana.
History buffs visiting Branson may want to enter the massive luxury liner-themed museum which houses the Titanic Museum and exhibit.
Guests tour the replicated interior of the ship and learn about its passengers and the doomed, tragic voyage. During the holiday season, the museum is also decked out for the festivities. There will be visits from the Fantasy Princess through Dec. 29 this season.
Also new this year at the Titanic Branson is an exhibit focusing on the ship's youngest passengers titled "Children's Stories of the Titanic." In addition, while taking the tour and listening to recorded information via headphones, children may also hear their own version of the story specifically geared to the younger set. (titanicbranson.com)
Traveling to Branson:
Southwest Airlines now has scheduled daily flights to Branson. Visit southwest.com for more information.
By car, Branson's about a 10-hour drive from Northwest Indiana and the Chicago area.
To learn more about Branson, its attractions, shows, lodging and more, visit the Branson/Lakes Area Chamber of Commerce and Convention and Visitors Bureau website at bransoncvb.com or explorebranson.com