Adventure Awaits in the Ozarks
A few years back my teenage daughter came home from school using the phrase “beyond.” I gathered after it was expressed a few times that it meant “extra,” or “really great.” And then I felt very old. After enough time passes though, those juvenile phrases you think you’re unlikely to ever utter become part of your everyday vocabulary. I’m sure I used the phrase incorrectly more often than not, but she and I did come to an agreement that the town we vacationed in recently fit the idiom perfectly. Branson, Missouri.
Mind you, it sports attractions you might expect to see: zoo, aquarium, family fun parks. But each feature was just the slightest bit extra - 1880’s themed park, or a massive four-story upside-down house at Wonder Works which you can spend hours exploring. A Titanic museum with a real iceberg. Excellent dining, gorgeous and expansive Ozarks views, live shows, wineries, bars, buffets and distilleries. All I can say is it’s beyond worth a trip to see for yourself.
WHERE TO STAY
The Hilton Promenade in Branson Landing (hilton.com) proved to the perfect, picturesque home base for our adventure in the Ozarks - ideally situated in the city’s historic downtown district. Within easy driving distance to the theaters and attractions on the strip, the four-diamond property (and its sister hotel, the Hilton Branson Convention Center, across the street) is located right in the heart of the shopping and dining destination at the edge of Lake Taneycomo.
Our accommodation was superb - an amenity-rich king condo that provided plenty of space for our family of four to spread out. We loved having a kitchen equipped with all the necessities to enjoy a leisurely breakfast on the beautiful balcony overlooking the promenade (bonus! a birds-eye view of the spectacular fountain shows on daily display).
For fine dining, you’d be hard pressed to top Level 2 Steakhouse. Located in the Hilton Branson Convention Center, this award-winning establishment serves up delicious dishes for every palate and an extensive wine list. A meat-and-potatoes man, my husband thoroughly enjoyed his cooked-to-perfection petite filet mignon enhanced with roasted garlic chive butter paired with an iceberg wedge and a fully loaded baked potato.
Other popular entrees include the linguini and clams, pan roasted Atlantic salmon and the Show Me Wagyu Cattle Company Burger with bacon onion marmalade and sharp cheddar cheese.
WHERE TO PLAY
Presleys’ Country Jubilee
My husband, Tim, has been telling me about Branson and specifically about Presleys’ Country Jubilee (presleys.com) for years. He had seen the performance before we were married and it clearly left an impression because he insisted we see the show when we booked our trip to the Ozarks - and having returned, I have to say is a night with the Presleys’ is guaranteed to be a historically good time.
For the last 55 years, the family has been providing legendary performances as the original country music theater in Branson. First in the caves that dot the Missouri Hils, then above ground on a lonely stretch of two-lane asphalt out of town in the Ozarks. What grew up around them along Hwy. 76 decades later, no one could have foretold. And now, among the glittering mecca of country music stars still play the Presleys’. With their unique blend of downhome family atmosphere, this one-of-a-kind mix of country, gospel, bluegrass and hilarious comedy show is a smash hit, and the crowds still come by the thousands to see. The artists are a lineage all to themselves, and the dream just keeps rolling, night after night to the tune of fifteen hundred tapping feet. Underground no more, and dedicated to making memories just as special as the day they began.
It’s about 51 degrees outside here at home as I write this and I am inside, underneath a blanket, wearing a sweatshirt and leggings: reminiscing about the experience I had reaching my hand into 28-degree water, standing on the sloping deck of the historical juggernaut - RMS Titanic. Don’t get me wrong, only a handful of folks have ever visited the actual wreckage of the world’s most legendary shipwreck. But at the living history museum in Branson, you can climb the Grand Staircase and peer into the parlors, cabins, and hallways that housed its ill-fated passengers on that icy journey across the Atlantic in 1912.
Each guest entering the ship receives a boarding pass of an actual Titanic passenger or crew member, and journeys to see private artifacts on display - a collection valued at over $4.5 million. Like the award-winning audio tour on Alcatraz Island, this self-guided tour leads you to discover your fate in the Titanic Memorial Room, descending the famed and sweeping steps of the Grand Staircase, and perhaps feeling the spirit presence of your passenger or crew mate as you experience the splendor and tragedy for yourself.
Beyond the Lens/Flyride
Its curved screen reaches up into the dark above you and boasts a full range digital audio system, but leaning into the experience is the only way to enjoy the 4k laser projectors which give you an immersive image of America’s favorite landmarks at Branson’s Flyride (beyondthelens.com). More than five years in the making, and crafted and produced by the Academy Award-nominated IMAX filmmakers, the experience includes full motion seats that soar, dip, and dive. Accompanied by delicious scents, refreshing wind, misty breezes off of the giant Niagara Falls, and other amazing effects, you don’t want to miss out. If the big screen isn’t what excites you, look no further than the Beyond the Lens experience for endless Insta-worthy photo ops, escape rooms, virtual reality games, classic arcade favorites like Skeeball and even a pop-culture timeline that stretches from the 1960’s to the present.
Anthems of Rock, King’s Castle Theatre
Now that my teens have officially outgrown what we call “kid music,” my husband and I were thrilled to discover that they both have a taste for the classics: The Eagles, The Who, Queen, Elton John. So it was a particular treat to experience the high-energy Anthems of Rock at King’s Castle Theatre. A state-of-the-art sound and lighting system makes the country’s number one tribute show an iconic must-hear (and see!).
Aquarium at the Boardwalk
You tend to see a lot of aquariums when you have kiddos. Some activities tend to lose their color, but others stay fresh no matter how many times they’ve been on repeat. I think the Aquarium at the Boardwalk holds a particularly special place in my heart because of the moon jelly infinity room. There is something so incredibly otherworldly about jellyfish - and putting their amazing bioluminescent bodies on display in an endless space with changing colors that you can control? Beyond, as the kids say these days. I’d be content just hanging out in the infinity room all day watching the jellyfish swim, but don’t miss out on the coral reef, waters tunnel straight into the heart of the aquarium (and a sunken ancient city!), or mermaid palace. Hit the kelp forest for the kids, and finish your day with some hands on experience at the touch pools.
Snowflex at Wolfe Mountain
Technology continues to advance in the most fascinating ways each and every day. Most people are talking about AI right now - in certain metropolitan areas, you can get food delivered via robot. But one of the most incredible innovations in recent years are substitutions for grass and even snow. Like most other activities, Branson’s Snowflex turned the fun up to ten on this technological wonder, and created a snow park out of the high performance polymer composite. Large enough that eight tubes can run the 400-foot slope simultaneously, Snowflex was designed to give “maximum thrills to people of all ages,” and is fun for the entire family, toddler on up. All you need are closed toed shoes and casual athletic attire to enjoy this low maintenance activity. Somehow, it’s even softer than the real thing, just in case you take a tumble. No grooming required either: which begs the question, what will they think up next?