A Branson weekend

This past weekend, Daniel and I traveled up to Branson with my parents. Twice a year we make this pilgrimage. It started a few years ago with the opening of the Hilton Convention Center.

See, prior to this, there wasn’t a huge selection of upscale places to stay. Sure there were a few, but most of the hotels in Branson were places like “Honeysuckle Drive Inn” or “Wagon Wheel Roadside Inn.” However, a few years ago (before the economic downturn), Branson started building some upscale hotels and dining options. This culminated in the Branson Landing shopping center. This area consists of a nice little mall (similar to the promenade) with tons of retail space, restaurants, and activities. Although some of the stores have come and gone (again, economy) great places like Cantina Loredo and Bass Pro still exist.

Branson has slowly changed. In the mid-eighties and nineties, Branson was sort of tragic with its insane traffic, hillbilly reviews, and washed up musical performers. The hillbilly reviews and washed up acts still exist, but Branson has improved its traffic situation and brought in a ton of good shopping and dining. First came the outlet malls, then the upscale retailers, and finally the entire revitalized downtown section.

So anyway, we went up last Friday and it was a nice weekend. I say this because Branson is a nice alternative for those of you who are looking for a fun place to go for a weekend getaway that won’t break the bank. Now, I do realize that Branson has a reputation, and I won’t condone all the tacky. And Branson can still be a bit of a hot mess. However, in these days of tightened wallets, Branson provides a nice place to get away to.

Saturday, we visited Silver Dollar City for its annual world-fest. For a theme park, I actually like Silver Dollar City. It is a four-to-five hour park with lots of smaller rides and shopping. The park also features some roller coasters and larger rides. The star attraction at Silver Dollar City, though, is the scenery. Nestled in the mountains, Silver Dollar City is a gorgeous way to see the Ozarks. The downfall of Silver Dollar City is its hidden agenda. It sort of reminds me of Hobby Lobby with its forced gospel music and Christian overtones at every other turn. I am not opposed to this in any way, however, I hate that it is forced down guests’ throats. The other thing that I hate about Silver Dollar City is the way it showcases its “world-fest” performers. Each country’s performers are supposed to highlight their respective locations. However, it is more like foreign people being forced to sing “I’ll Fly Away” or “Amazing Grace” in heavy accents. Literally, every single show that we saw featured one of these songs sung in English with foreign accent. OFFENSIVE!

Those things aside, Silver Dollar City is a beautiful park with good shopping, crafting, and some nice music. It is also a lot more reasonable than other theme parks of its size. It’s no Disney World, but it’s a great place to go within a few hours of home.

After Silver Dollar City, we hit the outlet malls. The Tanger is our favorite because it features Gap, Banana Republic, Ralph Lauren, and Nike. Outlet malls are sort of hit or miss, but we always have fairly good luck with this one. Branson also has a nice selection of freestanding stores that we have here including Target and TJ MAXX in case you find yourself in need of staples. Another added bonus is that since Branson is a relatively small town, its Target often has items that our location is out of. Since we live close enough, we can often get furniture and other items that our Target can’t seem to keep in stock.

We finished our trip by hitting up some of the antique stores and having lunch at the College of the Ozarks. The School of the Ozarks features a fantastic restaurant that is staffed by its students who are in their work to earn educational credits. It’s a nice concept (that I could have never done).

So if you are strictly looking for culture, Branson might disappoint. However, if you are just looking for a fun escape, drive the two hours and enjoy!

Wayne Bell is a regular contributor for the Fayetteville Flyer. He moved to Fayetteville in 2003 for his Masters Degree and you can almost always catch him at Little Bread Co. or Hammontree’s. For more of Wayne’s contributions, visit his author page.