Reza’s Edge Of Illusion: Branson, Baby! – Our 2019 Spring Break (Part 14)

When we researched our 2019 Spring Break trip to Branson, everything said Reza was a must.  I’ve never heard of the guy, so after exploring his website and reading a few reviews, I presented him as a possibility to the family.  My wife and kids really like magicians and illusionists, so we figured we’d give him a shot.

We paid him a visit on a weekday in the afternoon.  We could instantly tell that this would be a much different experience than Hamner’s Unbelievable Variety.  The theater seemed newer and there were far more people in the audience.

Reza’s warm-up act came out to get us fired up.  Do you like all the flame puns?  I’m using them because this guy swallowed fire.  He also told us to make a lot of noise–the more noise we made, the longer the show would go.  He said Reza loves a rocking audience.  Well, that got us going.

In fact, the beginning of this experience felt very much like a rock concert, which I think was the objective.

Reza soon appeared and he dazzled us from the start.  His illusions are unique, kinetic, and even felt a little bit dangerous.  He also took several moments to interact with the crowd by calling a few people up or taking questions.

Image seems very important to Reza.  Though he had a dry sense of humor, he was careful to maintain a “cool” persona.  He never got too excited, too loud, or too rushed.  In fact, after every illusion, he kept a blank, almost withdrawn expression upon his face.  After awhile, it got to be kind of funny to me.

Though his performance amazed us and we had a magnificent time watching him, I have to admit I was disappointed when the show ended right on time.  I felt like the audience showed him a lot of love, but apparently not enough to extend the act.

I also appreciated that he stood in the lobby afterward and signed autographs for every single person who wanted to wait in line.  He also allowed pictures on people’s personal cell phones.  (Yes, he also had a professional photographer if you wanted higher quality.)  My oldest, who was 10 at the time, was mesmerized by this man.  Unfortunately, she said he didn’t even make eye-contact with her, nor did he speak to her beyond a quick “hello.”  I realize Reza meets hundreds of people each week, but it would have meant a lot to her if she had gotten a warmer reception.  She still cherishes that autograph, though.

Reza’s Edge of Illusion is a really cool show that’s appropriate for all ages.  If you’re in Branson, I would consider him a must-see.  Enjoy!

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World’s Largest Toy Museum: Branson, Baby! – Our 2019 Spring Break (Part 13)

I’ve had a love affair with toys my entire life.  I’m not exactly sure what they represent to me or why I’m still drawn to them, but I’m always game to check out the toy aisles with my kids!  In fact, before my children were born, I still collected certain toys that aligned with my interest in super heroes and literary characters.

When we were planning our spring break trip to Branson, I saw that they touted the world’s largest toy museum–that was literally the name of the facility!  I’m afraid it’s no exaggeration when I declared to my wife and children that this attraction would be a must-see for us.  My kids thought it sounded cool, my wife had no interest in it at all but decided to humor me, and so we put it on the calendar.

Let me tell you–this is truly the world’s largest toy museum!  It takes up no less than three separate structures.  We first entered a building that housed a great deal of automotive and transportation toys, as well as an expansive train set managed by a local club.  The people in this building were very friendly, especially the older gentleman curating the train set.  Of course, none of us were that into these kinds of exhibits, so we made our way to the next building after a quick jaunt.

The second building we visited housed what we would consider more traditional toys, but some of these toys dated back to the 1800s!  This building had an intricate BB gun collection, as well as many toys depicting the Old West such as the Lone Ranger and Zorro.  Furthermore, this building offered incredible displays featuring the original GI Joes, Barbie, Star Wars, Star Trek, and toy soldiers going back many, many decades.  One side of the building dedicated itself to checkers through the eras, which was frankly amazing.  There was also a section made to replicate actual rooms with toys in them from the 1950s.  These were donated by Paul Harvey and his family.  We talked with several people in this particular building, some of whom were the folks who drove across the country to procure these toys.  They were extremely kind and inviting.

We finally made our way to the last building.  This place housed more modern toys and also contained a gift shop.  I found my super hero toys in this area, so I obviously had a great time.  They also had Happy Meal toy displays which were pretty cool.  Other exhibits included sports toys, Masters of the Universe, Cabbage Patch Dolls, Transformers, and much, much more.  Interestingly enough, an area within this building is devoted to Harold Bell Wright, the author of The Shepard Of the Hills, which is set in the Branson area.

If you’re into toys at all, I highly recommend paying The World’s Largest Toy Museum a visit.  Not quite sure if it’s for you?  They have an extensive gallery for your viewing at this link: https://worldslargesttoymuseum.com/gallery/

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The Butterfly Palace & Rainforest Adventure: Branson, Baby! – Our 2019 Spring Break (Part 12)

While in Branson during Spring Break, we decided to check out The Butterfly Palace and Rainforest Adventure.  As is almost everything in Branson, it proved very easy to find.  When we first arrived, we entered the main doors which fed into a large circular room with a very high-ceiling.  Wide, gradual stairs lined this round room and led to the second floor.  This entrance area also doubled as a tastefully arranged gift shop.

We were immediately greeted warmly by the staff as we bought our entry tickets.  They also offered clear suggestions and instructions regarding the facility.

As we moved to the left, we found a room housing several lizards, turtles, fish, frogs, and even giant cockroaches.  They call this the Science Center and they will, at prescribed times, put on little presentations and allow visitors to hold the creatures.

We next made our way into the Emerald Forest Mirror Maze.  It is exactly what it sounds like and I highly recommend you experience it.  We had an absolute blast navigating our way through it.  Keep those hands out in front of you, though.  It’s very easy to walk right into a mirror!

After that we ascended the steps in order to enjoy the Banyan Tree Adventure.  This small room is set up to replicate the vines of the Banyan Tree.  They are actually green bungee cords, but they are so numerous and thick that it ended up being quite challenging.  Once my kids got the hang of it, though, they were able to fly through them.  This is a small room and will probably take you no more than a minute or two to traverse, but it’s fun.

Finally, we sought the main event — The Butterfly Aviary!  This is a USDA controlled area, so they take your visit very seriously.  You will go through one room and wait for the doors to shut before you access the aviary.  When you decide to leave the aviary, they will ask you to spin around so they can be sure no butterflies escape.  However, there is nothing to stress about.  They are so very friendly and they want you to interact with the butterflies.  In fact, they will offer you little sweet sticks to entice a visit from our winged friends.  My wife and oldest child loved this part of the Palace.  Because the butterflies will land on your head, your back, your shoulders, or anywhere on your body, my youngest wasn’t so cracked up about it.  She didn’t stay in the aviary very long.  We headed back out to the Banyan Tree Adventure.  Also, be aware that this room is rather on the warm side.  If you’re wearing a sweatshirt or jacket, you’ll want to take it off before entering.

Before leaving, we watched a short film about butterfly migration in the Rainforest Theater.  We learned a great deal from this short video, and I would recommend that you give it a watch.  They offer different shows at roughly twenty minute increments, so take a look at the placard to see what appeals to you the most.

If you have little ones, I would consider this a priority visit.  Though it’s not a large facility, it packs quite a punch.  There really is something for everyone at The Butterfly Palace & Rainforest Adventure.

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Are you in need of a new epic series? Try Dr. Nekros, a trilogy that I like to describe as Moonlighting meets The X-Files. Kindle: https://amzn.to/2X3S7vO or NOOK: http://bit.ly/2JTFXm1

Branson Scenic Railway: Branson, Baby! – Our 2019 Spring Break (Part 11)

While in Branson during our spring break, we thought it might be fun to take a train ride on the Branson Scenic Railway.  After looking into it a bit, I particularly liked that a few of the passenger cars had clear, domed roofs which allowed unencumbered views of the scenery.  It sounded like an interesting excursion as it discussed tunnels, bridges, and venturing into Arkansas.

Everyone working at the station proved incredibly friendly, as were the attendants on the train.  Before loading, a conductor offered a few instructions and facts, along with several jokes, as we waited on the platform.  Once he finished, we were welcome to begin boarding.

Seats were not assigned, so we made a point to go directly to one of the domed train cars in order to get a good spot.  At it turned out, there would have been plenty of seating because they have three such cars.

The passenger cars were relics from history, but they had been refurbished and were quite comfortable.  It was fun to think of a time when they proved the primary mode of long-distance travel for people.

At first, we had a great time.  Soon, however, we realized that this scenic tour was not all that … well … scenic.  Perhaps it was simply the time of year, but there really wasn’t all that much to look at in regards to nature.  Furthermore, most of the view included the trash piled up in people’s backyards who live along the railway.  I’m not trying to insult them, but it didn’t make for a pleasurable viewing experience.  There was also a lot of refuse and debris along the rails themselves.

Had the ride only lasted 40 minutes, this may not have been too big of a deal, but the outing actually took almost two hours.  Two long hours.  My children and I grew restless and were ready to get off the train at about the halfway point.

If you have children or are not that into trains, I’d pass on this particular activity while in Branson.  However, if it sounds like you’d enjoy it, you can visit their website to learn more by clicking HERE.

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Dolly Parton’s Stampede: Branson, Baby! – Our 2019 Spring Break (Part 10)

If you’re going to Branson, you have to take part in Dolly Parton’s Stampede, right?

Believe it or not, my wife and I actually enjoyed Stampede in Pigeon Forge, Tennessee, long before our children were born.  Because we had some experience with it, we knew our kids would love the show.

We also knew they’d hate the food …

When you first enter the Branson Stampede building, you’ll have a family photograph taken once submitting your tickets and then everyone is funneled through a gift shop area and into a large room with a bar and a stage–this is called the Carriage Room.  Before too long, live entertainers by the name of the White River Wranglers appear.  They’re a talented group specializing in a mix of country and bluegrass.  They also took a shot at some modern day hits while cracking joke after joke.  My kids thoroughly enjoyed watching them.

Once they finished, we were ushered into the arena.  I have to be honest, this was not a pleasant experience.  Because your section is reserved, you might be better off to stay back until most of the people are through.  They have one set of doors for hundreds of people to siphon through, and we noticed quite a bit of pushing and shoving.

After that, though, everything went very well.

We were quickly seated in the front row.  I bought our tickets online and early in order to guarantee this spot.  I wanted my daughters to have a great view.

Our server immediately introduced himself while establishing the fact that he had a fun sense of humor.  He was truly a delight throughout the show.  I don’t think the man ever stopped moving.

Soon enough, both the food and the show started.  I’ll begin by talking about the food …

Be aware that there is not any silverware or utensils of any sort.  You’re also not ordering anything–you pretty much take what you’re given.  (I believe you can choose a vegetarian or a gluten-free option when ordering tickets.)  You’ll first have a cup of soup, then a plate with a chicken, a pork loin, corn on the cob, half of a potato, and a biscuit.  At the end they will give you a dessert which is basically an apple fritter.  I thoroughly enjoyed my entire meal.  My daughters … not so much.  Fortunately, our server gave us take-home bags, so my wife and I had delicious leftovers the next day.

The show is very impressive as well.  Of course, they have all kinds of horses racing across the course.  Some of the horses perform tricks with some of the riders executing stunts.  At one point they even had bison milling around, which was very cool.  I can’t claim to see bison all that often.  There are also lots of fireballs, flashes of light, fog, and music.  It’s pretty much nonstop action with some magic, some comedy, and even live singing.  We were most certainly entertained, and though my kids didn’t like the food, they loved the show.

I could not have been happier with our seats, but be aware: if you sit in the front row, you run the risk of sand getting kicked up on you.  Those horse are moving fast, and when they change direction it only stands to reason that they are going to displace a bit of sand.  I actually had some land on my plate at one point.  It wasn’t a big deal.  I wiped it off the food and kept eating.  Luckily it was just me–my wife and daughters didn’t have to deal with it.  The little girl sitting on my other side did, though, but she handled it like a champ.  She just cleaned her meat and then kept eating, too.  I liked that kid.

If you’ve never been to Dolly Parton’s Stampede, I highly recommend it.  It’s definitely something everyone should experience at least once.

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Silver Dollar City: Branson, Baby! – Our 2019 Spring Break (Part 9)

A trip to Branson could never be complete without visiting Silver Dollar City!

Frankly, I didn’t really care that much if we made it to this theme park or not.  While it certainly looked fun, nothing can compare to Disney World in my mind.  I figured it would be a pale imitation.

We got off on kind of the wrong foot with Silver Dollar City.  We didn’t arrive as early as we wanted, and so we found ourselves in a very long line to enter.  I think we waited in line about an hour to get our tickets.  At least, it felt like an hour.  Because they closed at 6:00 p.m., we only had about seven hours once we were in.  This sounds like a lot, but trust me–it wasn’t.

As is the case with any theme park, it took a bit of studying a map to get oriented.  Once we felt confident in our bearings, we started strolling along.

We visited a taffy making shop right off the bat and got a few samples.  This was a very popular place with my daughters.  We next visited a candy making shop, which was even MORE of a hit!  After that, we made our way to a glassblower’s area.  It was very cool to watch these craftsmen.

Then something wildly unexpected occurred.  We happened across a roller coaster called Thunderation.  My wife wants no part of roller coasters, nor do either of my children.  Or at least, that’s what I thought.  My oldest, who was ten at the time, agreed to go on it with me.  She picked quite a coaster for her first go!  Though she was a little nervous, she showed incredible bravery and LOVED it.  Personally, I felt elated to finally have a roller coaster buddy!

We waited quite a while in line for Thunderation, probably about 20 minutes.  As the day wore on, these wait times got longer and longer for other rides.  There’s no fast passes at Silver Dollar City!  (At least, not that I know of.)

My wife and youngest daughter traveled to an area with tamer rides for little ones which they very much enjoyed.  There really is a ride for everyone at Silver Dollar City.

I won’t go into great detail, but my oldest and I also enjoyed a very intense roller coaster called Powder Keg.  We then convinced my youngest daughter to ride a very small roller coaster called the Grand Exposition Coaster, which she absolutely adored.  As a complete family, we enjoyed The Flooded Mine–my youngest daughter hated this one because of the escaped prisoner mannequins, but the rest of us got a kick out of it.  We did a ton more rides, most of which were aimed at a younger crowd.  Make no mistake, however, there are plenty of big rides like what you would find at Disney or Six Flags.  Some looked too extreme even for me!  You can find a complete list of all rides HERE.

Silver Dollar City had a lot more to offer than just rides, though.  There were restaurants galore, live singing, functioning craftsmen demonstrations, and plenty of gift shops.  My wife particularly enjoyed a little homestead area made to replicate life in the 1800s.

All in all, we had an absolute blast.  I would not hesitate to go back to Silver Dollar City.  In fact, we plan to go back someday soon because we didn’t have enough time to take it all in!  One day simply wasn’t enough for us.  Believe it or not, my youngest daughter said she liked it better than Disney World.  She was six when we went, so we didn’t come down too hard on her, but we did tell her to slow her roll.  That’s just crazy talk.

You can visit the Silver Dollar City website by clicking HERE.

 

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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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