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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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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