Spring and summer are the perfect time for vacation. The weather is nice and you can swing some super cheap deals for you and your family. The toughest decision you have to make is deciding where to go. Well, I might be of some help in that department. Each Wednesday throughout this spring and summer, I am going to highlight cities and towns all over the USA that are family friendly and wallet friendly, too.
First up is Branson, Missouri, a little town in the Ozarks that is about 250 miles southwest of St. Louis. Branson was founded by and named after general store owner Reuben Branson in 1882. Since that time it has grown from a one horse hillbilly town to a thriving community that attracts thousands of tourists every year during all four seasons.
While in Branson you obviously need somewhere to stay, and there are many options to choose from. There’s practically a hotel or motel around every corner. My choice out of all of them is the Ozark Mountain Inn, located on “the strip” along the historic 76 Country Boulevard, just minutes from all the action.
The Ozark Mountain Inn is comfortable with a friendly staff. The standard rooms come with central air/heating, a mini fridge for storage, and other standard amenities. The suites have all the standard amenities plus an in-room whirlpool and sofa. All rooms offer a free continental breakfast down in the dining room each morning. I suggest that you get down there early (around 8 a.m.) if you plan on eating there. If you show up any later than 8 a.m., you’ll be lucky if you can get a crust of bread.
Another option for breakfast (or lunch or dinner) is Peppercorn’s Restaurant and Bakery, also on 76 Country Boulevard, just a few blocks from the inn. They offer a buffet full of home-cooked goodness with every meal and a nice, down home atmosphere. You won’t leave hungry…or broke!
Once you are well rested and well fed, you want to get out there and see all the tourist attractions. And Branson is chock full of them. It’s hard to narrow down the list of all the things to see and do there, but I managed to whittle down the list to my three favorite things.
Silver Dollar City
Operating between mid-March and Christmastime every year, Silver Dollar City is the first thing most people think about when it comes to Branson, Missouri. It’s a sprawling 55 acre theme park that opened on May 1, 1960 and offers a peek into late 19th century frontier/hillbilly lifestyle—the Beverly Hillbilly lifestyle. Silver Dollar City is where the Clampetts come from, you know. And the people down in that part of Missouri do talk like them, but the real locals might be a wee bit more civilized.
There are more than 20 rides at Silver Dollar City, including about a half-dozen roller coasters. One of the most popular rides is the Fire in the Hole, an indoor roller coaster that tells the story of the night bald knobbers set fire to and destroyed the old mining town of Marmaros. This story is half fact, half legend. The town was, in fact, destroyed by a massive fire, but the events that led up to the destruction are unclear.
If roller coasters and other rides aren’t your thing, there is plenty more to do there. You can stop by the saloon and see an old-time stage show with music and can-can dancers. Or you can stroll to one of the many crafts attractions. Watch candy makers, blacksmiths, carpenters, glassblowers and more make beautiful and tasty things, and then drop by the connected shops to do some souvenir shopping.
The Titanic Museum
The 100th anniversary of the sinking of the Titanic is tomorrow. If you couldn’t (or didn’t want to) get passage on the sold out anniversary voyage, there is another way for you to have the Titanic experience — you can go to the Titanic museum in Branson, Missouri (there is also one in Pigeon Forge, Tennessee).
The museum is a replica inside and out of the ill-fated ship. When you enter, they give you a little card with a real-life passenger’s name, and you’re known by that name for the tour. You are guided through many rooms that show you exactly what the ship looked like, and the tour includes many artifacts retrieved from the shipwreck, including one of the rare menus.
There is another section close to the end of the tour that has many costumes and props from James Cameron’s motion picture epic Titanic.
At the end of the tour you find out if the passenger you played lived or died on that frigid night in April, and then you go off to the gift shop to do some shopping.
Shepherd of the Hills
Author and minister Howard Bell Wright wrote the Shepherd of the Hills in 1907, and was put to film four times, beginning with a silent in 1919. The best known version was released in 1941 starring John Wayne.
The book masterfully depicts the typical lives, loves, and struggles of Ozark Mountain people in the latter part of the 19th century, but the film, especially the John Wayne version, doesn’t do many of the characters justice.
Branson has an outdoor venue called Old Mill Theater that puts on a live presentation of the drama most nights in March-October each year (they have shows every night in May and June). But the play isn’t the only thing The Shepherd of the Hills has to offer….
Before you go to see the play at night, you should take a tour of the old homestead during the day, which includes the Morgan Community Church, which is similar to the church Howard Bell Wright preached at, a behind-the-scenes tour of the Old Mill Theater, and learn how to make good old mountain moonshine at the Jennings Still.
If you’re in Branson between Memorial and Labor Day, you can take a nice, relaxing horseback ride along the trails in the Ozark Mountains. (Well, it’s relaxing if you’re not the guy who I went on a ride with a couple of years ago; the horse bucked and he fell off and rolled down a mountain…I just had to throw that in there….lol) Anyway, before you saddle up and ride, you give the staff your height, weight, and experience with riding and they set you up with an right horse.
The 30 minute ride is educational and fun for children over the age of 7 and adults. You must also be less than 250 pounds for this guided ride.
Now I think I had better wrap up this long-winded post and turn it over to the readers. What city or state would you pick for your perfect springtime getaway? Please let me know in the comments below! And feel free to share this post with friends and family. The more the merrier!
- Five Places To Anchor Yourself In Titanic History (gadling.com)
- Discover Branson (makingtimeformommy.com)
- Lives Turned Upside Down By Tornado In Branson (fox4kc.com)
- Titanic museum to celebrate disaster’s centenary with descendants of victims and survivors aboard half-size replica of doomed ship (dailymail.co.uk)