Hamners’ Unbelievable Variety: Branson, Baby! – Our 2019 Spring Break (Part 8)

Hamners’ Unbelievable Variety came highly recommended by the online community, so we figured we’d give it a shot.  After all, it sounded perfect for the family.  Magic, acrobatics, singing — something for everyone!

Like with the Amazing Acrobatics of Shanghai, we were a little surprised to find that the show took place on a stage much like any other theater.  However, as time went one, we discovered this is just the way it is in Branson.  All of the shows occur on a traditional stage.

The show started with Johnny Lonestar warming up the crowd.  He and his son performed some lasso tricks that were a lot of fun.  Lonestar had a great sense of humor, brought up an audience member or two for a few tricks with his whip, and included his son who did a great job.

Eventually Dave and Denise Hamner took the stage as well.  Dave performed some cool card and coin tricks and also made his magnificent birds appear out of thin air.  Everything about his opening act was top-notch.  However, it’s obvious that Dave’s best days are behind him.  While his personality shined, his physical movements seemed labored, almost as though he was in pain.  With thousands of physically demanding performances under his belt, it’s likely he’s got quite a few aches and pains built up over time.

We were next astounded by Mariya Serykh’s aerial act.  Serykh performed a silk performance that literally had us mesmerized.  Without the aid of a net, mat, or safety rope, she climbed, twisted, spun, and turned nearly as high as the ceiling.  Best of all?  The silks hung down right in front of the stage near the front row.  A very young woman, Serykh seemed at the top of her game.  She was graceful, fluid, and executed her moves perfectly.

Next, Jeff Brandt took the stage.  Like Hamner, Brandt appeared to be pretty seasoned.  He’s said to be a master imitator of singers, which certainly proved to be the case.  He imitated, among many others, Tina Turner, Neil Diamond, and even — virtually at once — Frank Sinatra, Dean Martin, and Sammy Davis, Jr.!  Brandt definitely knew how to work the crowd and got everyone rocking and rolling.

Anthony Soumiatin soon appeared in the Cyr Wheel.  This is one of those giant hoops that the person hangs onto with their feet and hands as they spin and slide along the stage.  A young man, Soumiatin really did prove a master at this specialty.

Of course, the Hamners are performing magic and illusion acts between all of these other acts as well.  Many of them are grand, impressive tricks with lots of big props, music, and lighting.  The production really is something to see.

Of course, there were a few other performances, too.  There was some singing, a dance, some slapstick comedy, and even a memorial video montage paying tribute to a deceased cast member.  You get your money’s worth with Hamners — that’s for sure!

Dave Hamner then took a moment to invite everyone back to the theater because he’s also an ordained minister and they hold services on Sundays.  This caught me a little by surprise, but, as I soon learned, everyone wears multiple hats in Branson.  I appreciated that he didn’t come on too strong with this offer, especially because it seemed sincere.

Near the end, Hamner and his cast came out and saluted the veterans before performing one last patriotic trick that will blow you mind.

Yes, I’ll admit it — the cheese factor was pretty high throughout most of the show, but it was the good kind of cheese.  Hamner struck me as being in on the joke.  He knows the product he’s offering.  Don’t make any mistake, though, while much of the cast are on the back end of their career, it’s a great time with some truly impressive feats.  Both of my kids had a wonderful experience, and so did my wife and I.  Though I wouldn’t make viewing this show a top priority, I would definitely consider it among my top ten attractions at Branson.  Like I said, it’s nice because it’s got a little bit of something for everyone.

You can visit the Hamners’ Unbelievable Variety website by clicking HERE.

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Mel’s Hard Luck Diner: Branson, Baby! – Our 2019 Spring Break (Part 7)

We needed another meal idea while in Branson, so I yet again ran to Google to search the best reviewed restaurants in the area.

I couldn’t believe it when a placed called Mel’s Hard Luck Diner appeared near the top of the list.  Not exactly an appetizing name, right?  I took a look at the menu and it appeared as though everyone would be able to find something to eat.  The restaurant’s concept also sounded kind of cool — the wait staff will sing to you as you eat!

We agreed to give it a try.  Secretly, though, I felt a little nervous.  Singing and dancing makes me feel really awkward if I’m too close to the action.  I worried that the staff would literally be singing to us.  Looking someone in the eye as they sing directly to you — yikes.

Another confession — as soon as we walked in I wanted to leave.  Honestly, the place did not look all that nice at first glance.  Getting seated wasn’t a super warm experience, either.  Worst of all, the place was practically empty.  How good could it really be if we were practically the only ones there?

However, our waitress immediately proved very inviting and even play-sang for us a little as my wife and children mentioned that they were looking forward to the music.  I thought, “Oh, they just sing kind of goofy for you as they talk about the food.  I see.”

I was wrong.

At that moment,  the real music started and it all made sense.

The waiters and waitresses actually stroll along the restaurant with a microphone in hand belting out classic hits.  They take turns with one of them singing about every ten minutes.  One woman actually patted customers’ heads and rubbed their chins as she sang, but most were content to simply walk around while showcasing their talent.  Most impressive, though, was a man who actually carried several plates with the microphone tucked under his chin before placing the food in front of his customers while singing exquisitely!

Our competitive juices got flowing a little bit.  When our waitress sang, we made a point to cheer for her as loudly as we could and let the place know we had the best.  Nothing about the setting encouraged us to do so, but no one discouraged us, either.

Seriously, we heard about five different people sing while we were there, and they all had beautiful voices.  Each one of them also had a CD available in the gift shop, which they each made sure to mention at the end of their song.  Hey, who can blame them, right?  I imagine these folks are hoping to get discovered.

All in all, we had a really fun time.  The singing was excellent, our waitress was superb, and the food pleased us all.

Oh, by the way, by the time we left, the place was packed.

Here are some pictures from the Grand Village Shops website. This quaint little shopping center is where the restaurant is located.  You can also visit Mel’s Hard Luck Diner directly HERE.

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Hollywood Wax Museum: Branson, Baby! – Our 2019 Spring Break (Part 6)

Who doesn’t love a good wax museum?

When researching Branson, the Hollywood Wax Museum came up quite a bit as something visitors must do.  My wife and I took our kids, and we all had a ball.

With King Kong and plenty of outdoor attractions, the museum makes a great first impression.  We played around for fifteen minutes before even entering the museum!  Once inside, prepare for some very cool figures.  There’s a wide array of celebrity replicas.  My personal favorites were Zorro, Indiana Jones, and Bill Murray.  My kids loved Captain Jack Sparrow, the Men in Black, and the modern day pop stars section with Katy Perry, P!nk, Taylor Swift, and Justin Bieber.  My wife enjoyed the classic film stars section, as well as the Bradley Cooper figure.

I also personally enjoyed the horror section of the museum which featured old school Universal monsters as well as the Predator, Jason, Freddy, and even Leatherface.  Be warned, though, this area is made up to look a bit like a haunted house.  My six-year-old wanted no part of it, and my ten-year-old moved us along through it pretty quickly.

Some of the figures were more accurate than others, but all of them were extremely well made.  You can get right up next to them, and I was amazed to see intricate details like  tiny hairs on arms and blotches on skin.  They really did look lifelike in a lot of cases.

Most families could easily spend an hour or two in the museum.  We were pleasantly surprised by how many replicas were actually on display — more than we expected!

If you’d like to take a look at the Hollywood Wax Museum in Branson, click HERE.  It’s open 8:00 a.m. to midnight every day, so there’s always time to fit it in!

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Titanic: World’s Largest Museum Attraction: Branson, Baby! – Our 2019 Spring Break (Part 5)

My wife is a huge history fan, so our visit to the Titanic museum in Branson was always a foregone conclusion.  I’ve got some good news for you — there’s something at this impressive attraction for everyone!

We bought our tickets online well ahead of time, but–during spring break, at least–this wasn’t really necessary.  We arrived around 10:00 a.m. and had virtually no wait.  They do like to start groups at the top of the hour, but I don’t believe it’s a strict requirement.  Anyway, our tickets were waiting on us with no problems at all.

The exterior of the museum will astound you.  As you approach, you’ll notice that the front of the Titanic looms above high.  You can look at the picture below to get a sense of the scale.  It’s mammoth.  Of course, they obviously could only replicate about the first quarter of the ship.  That first one-fourth, though … wow!

As soon as you walk in, you are greeted by curators wearing authentic clothing.  You also get to see a replica of an actual propeller hanging above your head.  While it’s obviously not authentic, the size is correct, and it is breathtaking.

The museum offers listening devices that allow you to hear audio pertaining to specific areas of the museum.  They have two versions.  One is aimed at adults.  The other is meant for children.  The museum even designates which channels are for adults and which are for kids.  It’s a small, though much appreciated, feature.  Both of my daughters were happy to listen to the kid-friendly snippets.

Once you enter the first exhibit, you’re met with an enormous model of the vessel about the size of a couch.  The detail is amazing and you could probably spend an hour alone studying it.

Once you leave this exhibit, you’ll encounter a speaker walking you through the Titanic’s doomed journey.  Our presenter, a retired teacher, was excellent.  Though he probably gives the same talk dozens of times a day, he showed wonderful enthusiasm and really made it fun to experience.

I won’t run through every single exhibit with you, but they have plenty for the entire family to enjoy.  For the grown-up history buffs, prepare yourselves for actual recovered artifacts like paperwork, cutlery, life vests, furniture, a replica of the grand staircase, vintage clothing, and that’s just to name a few.

For the more tactile patrons, the museum offers an actual wheel that you can spin, a deck replicating both the temperature and night of the awful accident, a vat of water with a timer for you to stick your hand in that mimic’s the temperature the survivors would have had to endure, three different portions of the deck at different pitches for you to experience what the sinking would have felt like, and so much more!

Furthermore, you will be given a ticket stub when you enter with the name of an actual passenger on the Titanic and their biography up to the night of the tragedy.  As you exit the museum, you’ll get to discover if your person survived or not.

Though the Titanic museum is extremely educational and offers a lot of really fun, physical things to do, it’s also quite sobering as the full impact of the travesty settles upon you.

If you’re traveling to Branson, I would consider this a “must-do” event.

You can visit the Titanic museum by clicking HERE.

 

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Jackie B. Goode’s Uptown Cafe: Branson, Baby! – Our 2019 Spring Break (Part 4)

During our first full day at Branson, we were faced with figuring out where to go for lunch.  Like with Florentina’s the night before, I simply ran a quick Google search and Jackie B. Goode’s popped right up near the top of the list.  Because we were totally unfamiliar with the area, we decided just to go for it.

We walked up and immediately loved the decor.  As you can see from the picture below, they have a fun yellow taxi cab right out front and their facade makes for a pretty cool view from the street.

As we entered, we saw a big, open room definitely decked out in 50s style.  It felt a little bit like walking through a time portal.  Jackie B. Goode’s is named for Jack Goode, a man who sacrificed his life for America during Vietnam.  You’ll see lots of memorabilia on the walls honoring his memory.

Though it was 11:30 a.m. on a Sunday morning, there wasn’t much of a crowd.  We were seated immediately.  We noticed that the staff, while very friendly, were also pretty experienced.  As a result, the service wasn’t very fast or energetic, but it was done correctly and with a smile.

I ordered a fried chicken sandwich.  I’ve never had one before, so I figured why not?  I also ordered a root beer float.  The root beer float proved to be one of the best I’ve ever had.  The fried chicken sandwich was also very good.  It was exactly what it sounds like — a fried chicken breast on a bun.

My wife ordered fish and chips.  She said it was okay but nothing particularly special.  She told me that it compared to what you would get at a lot of fast-food places.  However, she raved about her chocolate malt.

My daughters seemed to enjoy their grilled cheese, and they certainly loved the chocolate brownie ice cream sundae dessert that they shared.  I took a few bites myself — delicious!

A stage existed off to one side of the restaurant.  Jackie B. Goode’s apparently has live musicians performing most of the time.  No one played while we ate there, but we did notice a woman walk in and start setting up as we were finishing our meal.  They also had a jar placed near the cashier notifying patrons that the musical acts were not paid, but they would appreciate any tips.

We had a good time at Jackie B. Goode’s and, for the most part, liked our food well enough.  I’d have no problem recommending it to someone looking for a bite.  Our only small complaint is that Jackie B. Goode’s has a breakfast buffet from 7:30 to 11:00 a.m.  We didn’t intend to make the buffet, but my wife was positioned as such that she had to watch the workers clean the buffet up throughout her entire lunch.  She didn’t find it very appetizing.

Whatever the case, I absolutely suggest you at least pop in for a root beer float, a chocolate malt, and a brownie ice cream sundae.

If you’d like to visit the Jackie B. Goode’s website, click HERE.

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Amazing Acrobats of Shanghai: Branson, Baby! – Our 2019 Spring Break (Part 3)

We heard Branson offered a lot in regards to shows, so I started doing some research online and that certainly proved to be the case.  Our family really does enjoy seeing shows of all kinds.  When we go to Disney World, we like the musical acts and comedy skits every bit as much as the rides.  With that in mind, we figured Branson would be a hit.

I’m afraid my search for Branson shows did not utilize a terribly complex system.  I pretty much just searched “top rated Branson shows.”  A long list came up with The Amazing Acrobats of Shanghai near the top.  After reading up on them and investigating their website, I figured this was something we would all enjoy.

Booking the tickets proved to be snap.  I just called the box office and spoke to a very nice person.  When you search these shows at Branson, you have all kinds of vendors available for the booking.  I’m not familiar with the area and didn’t know who was who, so I felt most comfortable calling the box office of each show directly.  I didn’t want to engage a third party for fear of being bamboozled or paying extra in handling fees.

Our first show occurred in the Grand Shanghai Theater.  While I’m glad I booked our tickets over the telephone because it resulted in front row seats, it wasn’t necessary.  I could have bought the tickets on site.  The theater had plenty of seating.

Speaking of the theater, I was surprised that it was very … well, like a traditional stage theater.  The Grand Shanghai had one level’s worth of seats with a standard raised stage at the front.  The acrobats just hauled out whatever they needed for a particular act between curtain closings.

As for the show itself, the young performers thrilled us during the entire two hours of the production.  We saw hat jugglers, plate spinners, aerial acts of all sorts, people balancing umbrellas, pots, and tables on their toes, contortionists, a quick change magician, and much, much more!

Most amazing of all?  We didn’t see one mistake.  Not one.  Though none of the acrobats looked over twenty-five years old to me, they were all experts.  These weren’t one-skill set performers, either.  The majority of them participated in nearly all of the acts!

If you’re planning a visit to Branson, I completely recommend you pay The Amazing Acrobats of Shanghai a visit.  Their expertise, precision, and talent will astound you.

Take a look at their website HERE.

Below are a just a few of the pictures taken by my wife.  Check them out!

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Florentina’s Ristorante Italiano: Branson, Baby! – Our 2019 Spring Break (Part 2)

We arrived at our lodge on a Saturday during the late evening.  The rain fell heavily and had been doing so for hours.  We were road weary and, simply put, wanted  a warm, delicious meal.

A quick Internet search suggested that Florentina’s Ristorante Italiano was our likely best choice, so, after unpacking, we headed back out.  Luckily, Florentina’s awaited literally around the corner from Willow Ridge Lodge.

I’ll be honest — when we first arrived, I wanted to leave.  People stood around everywhere waiting for a table.  We were told it would be twenty to thirty minutes before we could be seated, which further prompted me to get out of there.  However, my wife correctly reasoned that it would take twenty to thirty minutes to get back in the car, find a new restaurant, get out, go in, etc.  She figured we might as well stay put.

I’m so glad she talked me into staying.

Florentina’s Ristorante Italiano served the best meal of our entire week in Branson.  Seriously, if you can only go out once for dinner while in the area, make Florentina’s Ristorante Italiano your top choice.

Our waiter was nice, the ambiance was fine, but the food … the food was delicious.  My wife and I both ordered Paulo’s Favorites, which was a dish comprised of lasagna, spaghetti with Italian sausage, and fettucini alfredo.  (Keep in mind that we’d been in the car for six and a half hours — we were hungry!)  The fettucini and spaghetti tasted great, but the lasagna … holy cow.  It was the best I’ve ever had.  When you visit this restaurant, don’t even think about it, just order the lasagna.

If you’d like to check out the Florentina’s Ristorante Italiano  menu, click HERE.  You can also visit their website by clicking HERE.

If you ever pay them a visit, let me know what you thought of your meal!

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  (Did you enjoy this article?  Check out Scott William Foley’s Dr. Nekros e-book series HERE