We heard a lot about the empty streets of Manhattan and Times Square during the pandemic but I’m wondering why we did not hear about the empty streets of places like Branson, population 10,000, that had to have been decimated by the pandemic. This is a town that thrives on tourism and counts on the droves of tourists attending their Broadway-level shows and packing eateries, from delicious steakhouses to 50s themed diners.
Most people think of Branson being a playground for senior citizens, which it is, but families of all ages can enjoy this Ozark destination, its shows filled with talented individuals that can rival Broadway performers.
Because they have such an emphasis on catering to and respecting veterans (Branson has a veterans museum on their main drag), and honoring veterans in most of the shows, Veterans Day and Fourth of July are said to be some of the busiest times in Branson.
The Château on the Lake Resort & Spa sits large and in charge on the side of Table Rock Lake. It’s approximately 15 minutes from any spot that you’re headed in town, and is a beautiful, peaceful setting surrounded by trees and a view of the lake.
The rooms are bountiful with very comfortable bedding and spacious bathrooms. Amenities, if you have time in your schedule, include: a spa (as a guest, you receive complimentary day access to the steam room, dry sauna, indoor hot tub and relaxation lounge), The Sweet Shoppe coffee shop, the Library Lounge bar, the Sassafras theater on the bottom floor showing family oriented movies, and outdoor pool (seasonal).
“Back to the Bee Gees” wIll have you jive talking to the threesome’s disco hits. With a colorful hula hoop themed background, these three guys can hit a falsetto pitch like no other! As with all the tribute shows, they remind you that they are not impersonating but instead honoring the work of these superstars and celebrating the appreciation of their hits. One thing that the Hamner‘s Variety Theater adds to their shows, which really enhances the performance, are screens to the side, showing bits of trivia throughout the performance. Through this, we learned a lot of interesting facts about the Gibbs brothers.
Also at Hamner’s Variety Theater, you can catch the ABBA tribute show, “Thank You for the Music.” Similar in nature to the Bee Gees show, guests enjoy grooving to the Sweden band’s hits from the 60s, 70s and 80s. Any “Mamma Mia” fan will be in an Abba trance for the full show.
50 Years of Kenny Rogers, led by front man Shane V, who happens to be from the Lone Star State, near Tyler, fills you with the smooth tunes from the country crooner. You will enjoy reminiscing to the renditions of hits like “Lady,” “Islands in the Stream”, and going way back to the hit song from Kenny Rogers’ hit movie “Six Pack”.
“Anthems of Rock,” a new show in King’s Castle Theatre, celebrates some of the great hits of the 80s. With an uber-talented ensemble cast of singers and dancers, the performers rock out to the very best from superstars like Elton John, Queen, Pat Benatar and other leather-clad rockers.
Also at the King’s Castle Theatre and with a similar cast of singers and dancers, is the Christmas Wonderland show. With dancing that can rival a Manhattan Rockettes show, and a cast of characters featuring a British Santa, this is a great way to get into the season. As with other theaters, if you purchase tickets to shows at the same theater, you can get heavy discounts with a simple ticket trade-in. This is a great option since there’s about four shows that perform at each theater. A great way to get the most bang for your buck.
Silver Dollar City is a family theme park for kids and adults of all ages. What started with Marvel Cave, a beautiful opening in the earth 500 feet down, the theme park grew around that tourist attraction. With team members dressed in heritage costumes, enjoy great homestyle food (pot roast loaded fries, anyone?), rides and attractions, and even shows, such as their new Coming Home for Christmas show.
Totally Rad E-bikes is one of the most fun ways to see the city of Branson and its surrounding areas. Branson is actually fairly spread out with different pockets of town hosting various tourist attractions. With E-bikes, you can hop on these electric powered bikes, which resemble mopeds, and take a trail system which will allow you to see not only “the strip” but also neighborhoods and various parks systems. On a beautiful day, there is no better use of your time in Branson.
The Polar Express FlyRide at Beyond the Lens has quite a few attractions for kids and teens, but the whole family will enjoy this virtual experience, putting you in the holiday theme. Guests will buckle up for an augmented reality experience going all aboard the Polar Express with Tom Hanks as their guide. In a virtual simulation, you will ride the train through this winter wonderland.
Tucked into an unassuming strip center, Mitsu Neko Fusion Cuisine and Sushi features absolutely delicious egg rolls and fried avocado appetizers, not to mention their fried rice with shrimp still makes my mouth water just thinking about it. We paired this hearty dinner with a Kendall Jackson Chardonnay for pure perfection. We found the spot to be welcoming with great customer service and no long wait, which makes it feel like a jewel in the rough of Branson. Anyone enjoying great Asian food must have this on their itinerary.
Looking to treat yourself to a delicious steakhouse dinner, Level 2 Steakhouse, in the Hilton near Branson Landing shopping area, is a treat for all the senses. With a robust menu full of savory and hearty courses, their prefix dinner menu includes delicacies such as fried calamari, southern fried airline chicken breast or filet mignon, with sides like creamy egg noodles & cheese (chef’s kiss!) and Missouri butter cake for dessert. Pair this feast with a bold red Cabernet or a crisp Chardonnay. Everything from the customer service to the warm and inviting setting, to the delicious food, and even the impressive knife selection for your steak, combine to create a dining experience in and of itself.
Mel’s Hard Luck Diner is a dining experience that is on brand for Branson. In a 50s sock hop themed diner, listening to talented singing waiters, enjoy dishes like a chili burger or patty melt, after you sample their fried green beans dipped in ranch dressing. You won’t find a bar here, like at a lot of places in Branson, but that’s OK because hopefully you will leave room for one of their over-the-top desserts. Nearly gallon-size shakes or ice cream floats big enough for an entire family pop with color from the soda fountain.
Located on the campus of College of the Ozarks, known as “Hard Work U”, this brilliant concept is one to be duplicated. The Keeter Center restaurant, in addition to the historic hotel and other businesses on the campus, are all staffed by college students who are working to pay for their tuition. Sunday brunch features stations covering breakfast, lunch and a dessert bar that rivals a five-star resort. As you are seated and begin to enjoy the lovely pianist, try one of the best lattes ever made, and explore the full buffet before you start to make your selections. After you dine, like with most places in Branson, there’s a gift shop; but with this one, you’re purchasing products that are made by students, such as candles, soup mixes and even fresh ground coffee. Everyone wins here!
Locals will point you to Farmhouse Restaurant, just off Main Street in the heart of downtown. A staple in Branson since 1976, family owned and operated, this is where you can find comfort food in the true southern tradition. Head in for brunch and enjoy plates full of scrambled eggs, chicken fried steak, biscuits and gravy and grits. They don’t take reservations but the line moves quickly and you will not be disappointed with your investment of time in exchange for tasty southern grub.
So as Abba sings, Branson asks you to “Take a Chance on Me.” You’ll be filled with warm fuzzies and treasured memories to last a lifetime.
Cover Photo Courtesy Explore Branson
Marika Flatt, Outstanding Austin Communicator 2021, is the Travel Editor of Texas Lifestyle Magazine. She began her travel writing career in 2002 with Austin Woman Magazine and now writes their “Texas Traveler” section. She can be seen as a contributor on TV shows across Texas, offering travel tips and spent five years as the voice of the “Weekend Trip Tip” on NPR’s Texas Standard.