by Lauren Strait
It feels like yesterday that I was sitting down on the couch, wine in hand, admiring the twinkling lights on our family Christmas tree, yet wondering why all the LEGO pieces on the floor, the broken remote control car and board game pieces in four different rooms have become the modern day “spirit of Christmas.” I wanted to make that change.
I asked my husband about doing something different this year that would true kill two bird with one stone. Together we decided on a destination Christmas trip! He thought it was a great idea, although there were a few conditions. He asked me to make sure that the trip oozed with Christmas spirit, cold weather (since Houston has been so warm these past few years) and enough activities that would suite the interests of all of us while we were there.
I happened to know just the place! Branson, Missouri to be exact. It is the perfect mid-west Ozark town, only a 9-hour drive from Houston, and it happens to rank as one of the number one Christmas towns in America. Here are three reasons you should consider Branson for your destination Christmas this year!
Talented Performing Arts
Branson is home to some of the world’s most musically inclined families with a rich Christian faith. Most well known for their g-rated Vegas style strip of musical performances, it’s guaranteed to entertain every member of the family. I had the pleasure of seeing the Baldknobbers show, which is the very first show that was introduced in Branson in 1960. Aside from the humor and raw vocal talent, I was most impressed to know that all of the current members are second and third generation of the original group.
During the second night of my trip, I had the pleasure of coming aboard the Branson Belle Showboat on Table Rock Lake. Walking aboard took me back in time with the ornate hand railings and décor. Complete with Christmas trees, lights and decorations throughout. The show featured a three-course meal, variety show, and opportunity to sightsee along Table Rock Lake. My favorite part was watching Christopher James put people from the audience on the spot with games and other entertaining activities. My kids would love this kind of thing.
Other historical performances include the Osmond Brothers Show featuring the beautiful Lennon sisters, Pierce Arrow, The Haygoods, Million Dollar Quartet, Moses and more. I happened to see the Moses performance and it was the most breath-taking show I have possibly been to. The stage sets were incredibly exquisite, the music set the tone and having real live animals included made this performance come to life. In all, Branson’s 76 Country Boulevard is home to theaters for miles that are owned by entire performing families that call Branson home. Something you might not guess for a small little town.
Lights and Parades
What I loved most about Branson was their desire to get the holiday season started early. Many of us may find it ludicrous to put up the Christmas tree BEFORE Thanksgiving. Branson starts decking the halls with boughs of holly, tying up bright red ribbons and stringing the lights across the lamp posts and up the trees on November 1.
There is no forgotten corner or bare tree in this town. Talking with some of the locals, they explained that is definitely brightens up the season when you are right smack in the middle of the Christmas spirit coming alive.
Speaking of the Christmas Spirit, The Branson Landing kicks off the holiday season each year with its “Most Wonderful Time of Year” Parade the first Saturday in November. What I enjoyed most was seeing all of the performers from all of the shows in the parade, watching the intricate floats cruise on by and then all of the performers coming together at the end for a free musical performance. You can feel the magic of the people coming together to celebrate as they all gather and support each other. It gave me goose bumps, for I really felt the Spirit of Christmas that morning.
Silver Dollar City
If that isn’t enough lights and parades for you, well then you are in luck! Silver Dollar City is one of the top spots in America to light up the holidays. They showcase a light show featuring more than 5 million dazzling lights, more than 1,000 trees strung with lights, a gigantic Christmas Tree where lights dance to the music and of course a nightly parade with Rudolph and his friends. But that’s not all! Silver Dollar City is home to several theatres where you can catch your favorite Christmas tales. I happened to catch A Christmas Carol and It’s a Wonderful Life. Of all the shows I saw that weekend, these two were on the top of my list!
Throughout the park you can enjoy more than 40 attractions. It’s not your typical theme park though, (which I appreciate), for each attraction showcases an “old time theme.” Whether it be a ride on fire wagon frenzy, where you get to experience what it feels like to ride in an old covered wagon or a float ride on the flooded mine, it’s a great way to teach your kids a little history about how people lived 100 years ago, but also relish in some good old family fun. What I also loved about these rides is that most of them only require kids to be 36 inches! For my tiny humans, this small detail is a winning one!
The festivities don’t stop above ground though, for Silver Dollar City is also home to Marvel Cave, where you can hike through and tour “Devil’s Den” and experience the natural stalagmite and stalactite creations from 500 feet underground. They even managed to include a fun Christmas tree light display while touring through. The tour is about an hour long and requires lots of walking up and down stairs. I would recommend for kids ages 3 and up…although there were a few younger ones with us on our tour!
Since we are on the topic of exploring nature, I can’t forget to tell you about the endless opportunities to connect with nature while in Branson. My favorite outdoor activity was visiting Dogwood Canyon! Johnny Morris, Bass Pro Shop owner, knew what he was doing when he acquired Dogwood Canyon in 1990. His mission is to preserve, promote and protect the natural environment of this 10,000-acre paradise. During our visit, we got to take a wildlife tram tour. It was a magical time as we enjoyed the incredible fall foliage, traveled towering bluffs and waterfalls and stopped at the Glory Hole (a magnificent blue-green pool where some of our largest trout reside).
I was shocked to come up to a sign as we crossed over the Arkansas border and greeted by herds of American bison, elk, whitetail deer and Texas longhorn before winding past the spectacular waterfalls and back to home base. If you are feeling more adventurous, you can rent a bike or Segway to explore the park on your own, try your luck at fishing with special guides or even take a horseback ride. Whatever you choose, you won’t be disappointed. They also have a restaurant on site, educational school house and plans to expand their family activities in 2017. I can’t wait to come back and see what they have come up with.
Ok, so you do think that I was able to check off all of the things my husband was looking for when it came to a destination Christmas? Well, let’s recap. It has the décor and activities that ooze Christmas Spirit. The weather ranges from 30-60 degrees during the late fall and early winter months (which is plenty cold for us). It offers activities that can keep up busy for far longer than we could ever have time for. Branson truly is a magical place for families during Christmas time. You can breathe it in, feel it in your bones, smell it and even taste it. Around each corner is an adventure awaiting that offers good old fashioned fun. I have already booked our 2017 trip and very excited to make memories next Christmas instead of stubbing my toes on more LEGO pieces!
***I received complimentary accommodations in order to provide a review of Branson, MO. The thoughts and opinions of this piece are my own.***