A Destination for All Ages: Branson, Missouri

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A family vacation that can keep three generations happy – is that mission impossible? Not in Branson, Missouri!

With its blend of shows, shopping, natural beauty and clean family fun, Branson will please everyone.

Fun for All

If your family schedules only one Branson destination on the itinerary, Silver Dollar City would be it – plenty of amusement park rides, 40 live shows, more than 100 working artisans, festivals, restaurants, activities and classes, all in a wooded setting. Families can stick together or find their own favorite fun.

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Rides range from thrilling to tame, from the high-flying, multi-looping, 15-story-dropping, 66-mph, mountain-viewing WildFire to the miniature steam train tour of the park. Midwest Living Culinary & Craft School Classes provide entertaining instruction in topics like flaky piecrusts, campfire cooking, breads and farm-to-table cooking. Kids’ activities at two-acre Fireman’s Landing include rides and age-appropriate interactive areas. Firefighter’s Fire Drill, with buckets, pumpers, foam ball cannons and targets, made me wish I had a kid with me so I could play, too!

At the premiere Silver Dollar City attraction, Marvel Cave, no air-conditioning is needed. This wet limestone cave hosts tours every half hour, starting with a long descent down into the Cathedral Room, the largest cave entrance room in the United States. (The tour is moderately strenuous, so it’s not for everyone.)

To please the history buff and entertainment groupie, sail on over to the Titanic Museum along the Branson strip. With more than 400 artifacts and galleries simulating the look and even the feel of the ill-fated ship, the museum provides accessible information for all ages. Step into the space that simulates the frigid air temperature, walk up the recreated grand staircase and view rooms, accommodating passengers from the wealthiest passengers to third class – actually, not so shabby!

Shows

No worries about turning red during Branson shows – your mom won’t be appalled, nor will you have to explain tricky topics to your five-year old. After watching the Dutton Family, the most challenging question you may have to deal with is, “Mom, can I get up at four in the morning to learn the violin like the Duttons did?”

Though the adult Dutton siblings carry most of the high-energy show, displaying their skills on violin, guitar, bass, banjo, mandolin, keyboard and much more, the two-dozen performers include the kiddos, too, all of whom are amazingly accomplished. Songs comes from a variety of genre, interspersed with humor.

The other performances I enjoyed were equally high energy, including humor, magic and music served up with dinner on the Showboat Branson Belle (providing intermission to view the coast of Table Rock Lake during the steamboat’s perfunctory cruise), The Haygoods (another cast of talented siblings) and The Presleys’ Country Jubilee (think Hee-Haw live).

Patriotism provides another common denominator throughout Branson. Before the final song for each show – always a patriotic song – veterans are asked to stand to be honored.

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Outdoor Time

If your gang likes to spend time outside, Branson provides those options, too: golfing, hiking, biking, camping, canoeing, kayaking, horseback riding, fishing, hunting, trap and skeet shooting, spelunking and rock climbing.

Breathtakingly beautiful, Dogwood Canyon Nature Park is a testimony to the power of private entities to “preserve, promote, and protect the natural environment…” Established in 1990 by Johnny Morris, founder of Bass Pro Shops, the 10,000-acre preserve includes bison, elk, and longhorn pastures; a peaceful paved trail along Little Indian Creek through the box canyon; and lots of undeveloped, protected land. Visitors can bike, hike, Segway or take the tram tour.

Dining

Mel’s Hard Luck DinerKeep this place a secret till you’re there, to surprise your family when the talented servers break into song. The food at this 1950s era diner will make you want to break into song, too. The cuisine reflects a down-home diner while respecting modern tastes. Try the jalapeño poppers, Ozark Hillbilly Chili, Smoke Gets in Your Eyes burger, sweet potato bites and, especially, the malted milk shakes. If you dare, get the Climb Every Mountain Ice Cream Avalanche: 12 scoops of ice cream loaded with every sweet topping in the diner.

Level 2 SteakhouseIf you’re looking for high cuisine, creatively prepared with the best of ingredients, step up to Level 2 at Branson Landing: appetizers like pan-seared Ahi tuna; entrées featuring certified Hereford beef, Arkansas chicken breast or lump crab meat served with sides like rich egg noodles and cheese or perfectly steamed asparagus. Save room for dessert!

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Shopping

The diversity of shopping in Branson embraces not only kids and adults, but also souvenir hounds and art fans, loyal-local and chain-store shoppers, the budget minded and the big spender.

Silver Dollar CityAll those working artisans at Silver Dollar City? You can purchase their high-quality products in the park’s retail shops.

Tanger Outlet MallShop more than 65 brand name designer outlets for unbelievable deals.

Grand Village ShopsLaid out in a comfy, cozy outdoor setting, Grand Village Shops presents an enticing collection of small boutiques and food stores, such as Thomas Kinkade Art Gallery, T Charlestons Books and Gifts, Tatman’s Fine Jewelry and Mulberry Mill. Kids, like me, will want their picture taken in the big rocking chair!

Branson LandingThe 95-acre destination in historic downtown Branson along the waterfront hosts more than 100 shops and restaurants, including national names as well as some locals.

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Accommodations 

Wherever your family enjoys settling in, you’ll find it in Branson: resorts, B&Bs, condos, camping, RV parks, marinas and hotels.

We spent our free time at the Hilton Promenade, surrounded by the shops and restaurants of Branson Landing and historic downtown. Runners note: From the Hilton Promenade at Branson Landing, set out along the 1.5-mile riverwalk for an easy flat run or turn west to downtown for some dedicated hill workouts!

The whole family can file the pleasures of Branson away in a fond memory bank of time spent together. Mission possible!

Annie Tobey
Author: Annie Tobey