Chronological / Destinations / Missouri / United States

Open Before Christmas: Branson, Mo.

Ten reasons to rip the wrappings off Branson’s Christmas season as it celebrates its 100th birthday:

Crowds flock to Branson's Silver Dollar City to see "It's a Wonderful Life, a new show

  1. Jump-start your Christmas spirit by ogling the kaleidoscope of four million lights showcasing Silver Dollar City’s “An Old Time Christmas.” In Missouri’s scenic Ozark Mountains, Branson’s charming 1880s-style theme park’s centerpiece is a five-story Christmas tree with 350,000 synchronized lights. In addition to the nightly Holiday Light Parade and a new, original production of “It’s a Wonderful Life,” “A Dickens’ Christmas Carol” has a sidesplitting Ghost of Christmas Present (think Dolly Parton and the Energizer Bunny’s love child). Rev up your holiday baking with a culinary class or snag neat gifts as you watch genuine artisans create them. www.silverdollarcity.com
     
  2. Showboat Branson Belle features new "Made in the USA" with aerial violinist

  3. Instead of Santa’s sleigh, hop aboard the festive Showboat Branson Belle at Table Rock Lake for surprisingly delicious menu selections and a buzz-worthy “Made in the USA” variety show. Billed as the world’s only aerial violinist, Janice Martin (a Julliard graduate) sings and plays the piano beautifully. But it is what she does with her body while playing her violin that electrifies you. With the instrument attached to her upper arm, she climbs two long silk panels. Graceful acrobatic movements take her right-side-up, sideways, upside down and into a perfectly balanced split – as she plays beautiful melodies! www.bransontourismcenter.com/shows/info/showboat-branson-belle
     
  4. “Joseph,” the humongus new production at the 2,000-seat Sight and Sound Theatre, is stunning. In a dream sequence, the famous Old Testament character flies out above the audience while the sun, moon and stars bow down to him. Later the vast spectacle of Joseph’s 30-foot high and 300-foot long Egyptian palace surrounds you on three sides. Since the 40-member cast and animals – a camel, horse, llamas, macaws, sheep, goats – frequently enter and exit the aisles, you feel like a participant. www.experiencejoseph.com
     
  5. After all the bright lights and drama, you hanker for reality and excitement. Choose the Branson Zipline and Canopy Tour for a safe, guided eco-adventure. If you crave an adrenaline rush, cinch into a harness for the Ozarks Xplorer Canopy Tour. Walk over a suspension bridge to access the first of multiple platforms. Step off into space and soar over the treetops, getting a bird’s eye view of Wolfe Creek Preserve’s pristine environment below. At the ride’s end, you whiz to the ground in a 100-foot free fall. www.bransonzipline.com
     
  6. Rob Luce gets a thrill on the Branson Zipline & Canopy Tour

  7. Why does Trip Advisor rank “Hard Work University” (College of the Ozarks) #7 of Branson attractions? On the self-guided tour, you can observe students punching the clock at some of the 80 workstations. Since all full-time students work, they pay NO tuition fee. Much of The Keeter Center’s finger-licking fare, including some beef and pork, is grown on campus. Students prep, serve and clean up after meals. The dairy’s ice cream is to-die-for. Score spectacular orchids from the greenhouses’ budding horticulturists and surf the working grist mill for its stone-ground corn meal, handmade baskets and woven textiles. Don’t miss the Tractor Museum and the fragrant Fruitcake and Jelly Kitchen. Baking the famous fruitcakes since the 1930s, students will ship about 20,000 this season! www.cofo.edu
     
  8. Slip on your boogie shoes at the Andy Williams Moon River Theatre for the Cat’s Pajamas show. Brian, Brad, Nate, Nathaniel and Mike sing a capella – but do NOT think barbershop quartet plus one. Their buff bods, high jinks and high-octane singing ratchet up Branson’s sizzle factor. Since Brian creates the percussion sounds backing their songs, you never miss a band. And their repertoire hopscotches through many genres. Astonished when intermission is announced, you feel as if the show had just begun. Costume changes, choreography, intoxicating vocals – this show is top drawer. www.vocalmeow.com
     
  9. One of Hard Work University's Christmas gift suggestions-orchids

  10. Shaped like the ship, the Titanic Museum is celebrating the centennial of the famous ship’s sinking. But visiting this spiffy exhibition is anything but a downer. The maids, ship officers and other staff members attend “Titanic College” to personalize your tour. Quirky factoid: two French roosters – in addition to 10 dogs – were onboard. In their memory, watch the antics of the institution’s mascots – Molly and Carter, Cavalier King Charles Spaniels. Trot up the first class passengers’ Grand Staircase, built with the same dimensions and accouterments as the original. The most expensive component? The era’s chic expensive lino-tile (linoleum) topping the steps. The builders sent back the common Italian marble … www.titanicbranson.com
     
  11. The Pierce Arrow Theater’s production kicks off with a crash and darkness. Jarrett the “janitor” is sent onstage to fix the problem. Soon he’s whipping the crowd into an action-packed “YMCA.” Then the mind-blowing Pierce Arrow vocalist group downloads its mojo. The mix of great singing, a cool band, and the maestro of laughs (pelvis-popping Elvis? Yes!) is a winner. Tim Storms, one of PA’s talented guys, holds two designations in the Guinness Book of World Records: the Lowest Vocal Note by A Male (March 30, 2012) and the Greatest Vocal Range, Male – 10 octaves (Aug. 1, ‘08). www.piercearrowtheater.com
     
  12. Steve Harley at Dick's 5 & 10, showing the nostalgic Big Red Frostie

  13. In historic downtown Branson, pop into Dick’s Oldtime 5 &10 – opened in 1961 – for a funky nostalgia fix. Often Dick’s son Steve Harley leads candy junkies to vintage Christmas sweets, like Washburn thin ribbon candy and to bottle sodas like Frostie Blue Cream and Big Red or Orange Crush. Crammed with a zillion things, the only bare surface is the ceiling, but signs and goodies hang from it. Check out the store’s authentic collections of baseball legends’ signed photos and its framed World War II aviation prints, signed by their aircraft veterans. www.dicksoldtime5and10.com
     
  14. The Haygoods won Branson’s 2011 Entertainers of the Year. Upping the ante, the rowdy brothers and their sister sing, dance and play multiple instruments – from guitar to saxophone to drums. Her specialty? A large electronic harp. Performing together since 1992, the oldest is 34. Country, pop and rock, their exuberant show includes giant “snowballs” spiked into the audience and Santa flying down via jet pack. The show stopper? Brother Michael’s “Mary Did You Know?” In the theater’s lobby are Roy Rogers’ taxidermied horse Trigger and dog Bullet – plus Dale Evans’ horse Buttermilk. Hey, now that’s a vintage combo you can’t get anywhere else. www.thehaygoods.com
     
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