On a recent solo trip to Branson, Missouri, a popular destination for leisure tourists in the Ozark Mountains, I was pleasantly surprised by all of the family-friendly attractions, activities and entertainment. I was told that many people have a misguided assumption that Branson is the “Vegas of the East,” but I soon realized that Branson is overall more wholesome and much less glitzy.
There is enough to fill an entire week in Branson, with sites that appeal to all age ranges. Here’s a re-cap of the highlights for younger children, ages 10 and under:
Silver Dollar City, an 1880’s themed park, has more than 40 thrill rides and attractions, as well as live shows and craft demonstrations. For younger children, the best part is Fireman’s Landing, a new themed area with six rides and four play zones. The theme is based around a firefighter volunteer recruitment fair, and the rides are training adventures for recruits in fire spotting, pole sliding, and height and drop training. Specifically for kids up to age 7, Half Dollar Holler is a separate play area with treetop funhouses and climbing nets, box crawls and slides, mini-wave swings and truckloads of sand, with a hand-carved carousel at its center.
You many have seen the Ride the Ducks in other cities like Boston, but here in Branson, these amphibious vehicles offer 90-minute land and water sightseeing tours of Branson and Table Rock Lake or Lake Taneycomo. The vehicles resemble the WWII DUKW military trucks enclosed in a water-tight shell. As you approach the ramp to the water’s edge, the driver picks up speed and plunges in; it’s a thrill! Part of the show are the very charismatic captains; our Captain Smokey led us in songs and passed out “Wacky Quacker” whistles to all the passengers. While we were on the lake, he allowed every kid the chance to drive the slow-moving vehicle around an island. Kids who drive get an honorary captain’s license at the end of the tour.
For more than 50 years, live shows have been a major part of the Branson experience, with performers ranging from singers to comedians to magicians, and even acrobats. While some of the shows are scheduled at night and can run past bedtimes for young kids, the shows themselves are generally appropriate for all ages. A good choice for families is the “IT” show by the Hughes Brothers, since the performers are all part of one family, and their children participate in most of the numbers, which include Broadway, country, patriotic, gospel and rock music. The five Hughes brothers perform with their five wives and all 34 of their children make it out on stage at some point! The oldest teens really show off their talents with drum and violin solos, plus fun dance routines set to mash-ups of current popular hits.
There are many other attractions and shows that I didn’t have time to personally experience, but definitely would if I had the chance to return with my 8-year-old daughter, including the White Water water park, the Butterfly Palace, Branson’s Wild World animal encounter, Branson Scenic Railway rides and the Grand Country Fun Spot. There are also several mini-golf courses around town, with themes like pirates, dinosaurs and outer space.
— Traci L. Suppa
Traci L. Suppa drags her small-town family to see a quirky array of the world’s largest, longest, or tallest things, and blogs about it at Go BIG or Go Home.