It's a grandparent-grandchild Mecca. In Branson, Missouri, almost every family group seems to include at least one grandparent. Branson offers attractions to appeal to all age groups, and it's less intimidating to many grandparents than major theme parks and other popular destinations.
If you haven't been to Branson in a while, you may be surprised by its updated look and modern amenities.
There's a new convention center, convention center hotel and airport. Branson Landing, a waterfront area that opened in 2006, features upscale dining, shopping and a unique fountain attraction.
The iconic ferris wheel that graced Chicago's Navy Pier for 20 years has been moved to Branson and opened for rides in June 2016. The wheel has been updated with LED lights, and those who don't want to ride can still enjoy a light-and-music show each night.
The Branson area also continues to develop its beautiful natural surroundings. Dogwood Canyon Nature Park is a 10,000-acre preserve featuring stunning Ozark Mountain vistas. Available activities include fishing, biking, hiking and horseback riding. Developed by Bass Pro Shops' Johnny Morris, it is operated by a non-profit foundation with a mission to preserve the natural environment.
Two other major attractions, Fritz's Adventure and the Branson Mountain Adventure Park, are slated to open sometime in 2016.
Why Go to Branson?
Branson's central location means that it is accessible to lots of people who may be thousands of miles from other major destinations. According to the official Branson website, one third of Americans live less than a day's drive away. Although there is an airport in Branson and a larger one in nearby Springfield, many visitors choose to drive their cars or recreational vehicles.
The infamous traffic jams that used to clog Hwy. 76, the "green route" which is the main road through town, have been somewhat alleviated as the town has expanded. Also, town officials have done a good job of publicizing the alternate routes--the red, blue and yellow routes -- and diverting traffic from Hwy. 76. Still, most visitors will want to take at least one cruise down the main street. The grandkids' eyes are guaranteed to sparkle at the variety of attractions along the main road.
Branson also offers lodging choices that range from inexpensive motels to RV parks, resorts and timeshares. Water parks and recreational complexes sometimes have their own lodging, so that you may not have to leave the property to find entertainment. Some may prefer the convenience of this type of property, while others may find them too much of a kid magnet and may prefer lodging in a quieter facility. While fine dining is in short supply in Branson, family dining establishments are everywhere.
Shows in Branson
Best known for its shows, Branson offers entertainment that is more affordable and more family friendly than that offered by, say, Las Vegas. Many facilities offer matinees and 7 p.m. shows to accommodate earlier bedtimes.
Although country music is its staple, variety shows often mix comedy, magic and animal acts to boost kid appeal. Dolly Parton's Dixie Stampede is a unique show that features rodeo-style acts. Seated at long tables around the arena, spectators are served a simple meal delivered by a costumed waitstaff that operates with machine-like efficiency. If you have grandchildren who are horse lovers, a pre-game tour of the open-air stables is a must.
Theme Park Attraction
Silver Dollar City is a theme park with a difference. Thrill rides and similar attractions are located in a site with the look of an 1880s craft village. Grandparents and grandchildren alike will be captivated by the demonstrations of candle-making, glass-blowing and similar crafts — if the grandkids will get off the roller coasters!
You can even sign up for a class offered by the Culinary and Craft School.
Silver Dollar City is located in a hilly, wooded area that's aesthetically pleasing although a little hard on the calf muscles. Alternate pathways that are wheelchair accessible are always available.
More Branson Attractions
Other entertainment options are easy to locate in Branson. You'll find five locations for The Track, go-kart facilities that include the cool-looking elevated wooden tracks. Go-kart tracks often include other attractions, such as bumper boats. Themed miniature golf courses always draw a crowd. Dinosaur-loving grandkids will like Professor Hacker's Dinosaur Canyon.
An unusual diversion that's available in Branson as well as some other cities is "Ride the Ducks." The Ducks are amphibious vehicles, actually military vehicles converted for the tourist trade. The drivers are also tour guides who point out some of the sites around town before splashing into a nearby lake for a short cruise. Riders are given quackers, which leads to a fair amount of hilarity, as long as the quackers aren't too enthusiastic, which can lead to a headache.
Ziplines are a relatively new addition to the Branson landscape, with at least three located within a short drive. These range from the Vigilante zipline, which features a single dizzying descent from the Shepherd of the Hills Inspiration Tower, to the more common models, which include several tower-to-tower zips. Grandparents may be more comfortable on the Vigilante model because there's no spindly tower to climb and because it uses a harness that is more like a seat than the typical zipline rigging. Typically grandchildren must be around 70 lbs. in order to use the ziplines.
There's one more cool thing about Branson. Lots of attractions use senior citizens as staff, making it easy to find advice from a grandparent's point of view. Also, performers are usually happy to sign autographs and pose for pictures. Branson is a very friendly place, as one would expect in the heartland, and it's especially welcoming to grandparents and grandkids.