Branson, Missouri 5

Something Old, Something New

The drive from Springfield to Branson, Missouri, is pretty and peaceful, with rolling green hills, redbud trees, and miles of limestone walls resembling castles without windows.

Residents say it’s one of the rockiest places in the country, and they joke that “it takes a stick of dynamite to plant a tree.”

This beautiful part of Missouri didn’t attract farming, but lakes, golf courses, music and clean family entertainment are a constant draw.

Millions of tourists visit Branson every year, and some hope things will stay the same, while others welcome change. They will see a bit of both as the Branson scene evolves with venues that appeal to a younger generation.

A new light show is adding color to the entertainment center. In 2016, the former Chicago Navy Pier Ferris Wheel was firmly established in Branson, with piers as far down as 23 feet into solid rock.

Shepherd of the Hills, the historic homestead and outdoor drama attraction instrumental in drawing crowds for 57 years, closed in May.

It’s too soon to tell what will happen with the much-loved venue.

Ayo starring Voices of Glory adds youth and diversity to the music scene at the Starlite Theatre. Their energetic, uplifting performance features the Cole siblings, who gained national recognition on “America’s Got Talent.”

For those who remember Yakov, he has left the building, and the Acrobats of China featuring New Shanghai Circus fill the stage with brilliant colors, music and spectacular acrobatic feats using poles, hoops and bicycles.

It’s a fun, fascinating show from start to finish, with a collective breath of relief from the audience when the daring bicyclists complete their performance.

Branson is a good place to be hungry. Try Mel’s Hard Luck Diner, where professional singers deliver songs and platters of burgers and the best onion rings ever in the 1950s-themed restaurant.

Take your dining experience up a few notches at Level 2 Steakhouse, located on the second floor of the Hilton Branson Convention Center Hotel, where steaks are the specialty.

A variety of transportation choices offer varying views of Branson.

The Ozark Zephyr takes passengers through tunnels and over trestles through excursions on the Branson Scenic Railway.

“Chattanooga Choo Choo” and other music from the era sets the mood aboard the vintage train cars.

The water is crystal clear on Table Rock Lake, where the showboat Branson Belle takes passengers on a dinner and entertainment cruise.

The meal is tasty, and the entertainment is family-friendly.

Or Ride the Ducks, and listen to tater jokes. The amphibious vehicle goes from land to water, has a driver and a guide (tater), who gives information on the vehicle’s WWII history and the Ozark area.

Silver Dollar City

Spend the day at Silver Dollar City and celebrate The Year of Food & Crafts. More than 200 new food items will be presented throughout the season, starting with maple bacon fritters.

Barrels of flowers add color to the hilly, winding walkways in the theme park, where American craftsmanship and history is honored and appreciated.

Blacksmiths, candy makers, potters and glass blowers demonstrate and sell their creations. And answer the usual “how did you do this” questions.

“Start with 3 pounds of onions,” Debbie Dance Uhrig, cookbook author and food consultant, instructed her class at the Midwest Living Culinary & Craft School at Silver Dollar City.

The onions went into a French onion soup that Uhrig demonstrated and served at the class, accompanied by a Strawberry poppyseed salad.

Don’t miss the Titanic Museum, a permanent interactive attraction with stories of the 2,208 passengers and crew aboard the doomed ship, depicted through 400 artifacts, and 20 galleries.

Plunge your hand into the icy water in an exhibit demonstrating the 27-degree temperature of the North Atlantic on the April night of 1912.

Make the voyage real by taking the identity of an actual passenger on the Titanic on your boarding pass as you enter the museum, and upon leaving determine their fate on the Memorial Room Wall.

From museums to ziplines, a Branson vacation can keep you going night and day.