On a chilly November morning, a massive Christmas wreath decorated the entrance to Silver Dollar City in Branson, Mo. Inside a cozy bakery, we sampled gigantic cinnamon rolls, piping hot from brick ovens.
Our holiday lunch included crispy fried chicken and mashed sweet potatoes bathed in melted marshmallow. Later that afternoon, we visited more than 100 woodcarvers, weavers, and other artisans. A performance of It’s a Wonderful Life incorporated song and dance, while a Broadway-style musical version of A Dickens’ Christmas Carol featured elaborate sets, flying spirits, and pyrotechnics.
And that was only the beginning of our performance-filled holiday visit to this festive destination.
For more than five decades, live shows have been a staple of a Branson vacation. In recent years, USA Today, the A&E Network, and the Wall Street Journal were among national media to recognize Branson as an outstanding holiday vacation destination.
It’s no wonder. The Ozark Mountain Christmas holiday season, from Nov. 1 through Dec. 31, has been a beloved local tradition for nearly 30 years. And newer traditions, including the Most Wonderful Time of Year Parade on Nov. 4 at Branson Landing, just add to all the festive fun.
More than 100 live shows make Branson a popular entertainment destination. Holiday-themed shows in Branson include An Andy Williams Christmas with the Lennon Sisters and Osmonds at the Andy Williams Performing Arts Center and Theatre. Delighting audiences for decades, violin virtuoso Shoji Tabuchi pairs musical selections with over-the-top Christmas decorations, drumming toy soldiers, and dancing penguins at his theater.
Add to this mix Dublin’s Irish Tenors plus the popular Christmas Wonderland show at King’s Castle and Legends in Concert Branson at Dick Clark’s American Bandstand Theatre (there’s a good chance you’ll hear the Elvis tribute artist sing “Blue Christmas”).
Legendary Silver Dollar City
During Silver Dollar City’s An Old Time Christmas®, one of the nation’s top holiday celebrations, the entire park becomes a Christmas wonderland. The festival this year will be Nov. 4–Dec. 30.
After dark, a five-story Christmas tree resplendent in lights and special effects joins more than 1,000 smaller trees. Every building sparkles. Approximately 200,000 LED lights decorate floats during the Holly Jolly Christmas Light Parade, which includes a glowing Rudolph and, of course, Santa in his sleigh. New for 2017, the park added Christmas in Midtown, bringing the number of lights to 6.5 million within Silver Dollar City.
Herschend Family Entertainment opened the 1880s-themed Silver Dollar City in 1960. Today, it includes 12 stage venues, 12 restaurants, 60 shops, and dozens of rides. Look for a record-setting roller coaster, Time Traveler, to debut in spring 2018.
The company also operates Showboat Branson Belle on Table Rock Lake. Throughout the season, evening Celebrate Christmas cruises feature Christmas favorites from classic to contemporary, and weekend morning Santa’s Pancakes & PJs cruises offer holiday fun for kids. During our sunset dinner cruise, pine garlands and trees created a festive environment, and we savored pecan-crusted trout, pork chops, and Golden Brittle Lemon-Berry Torte.
Branson’s shops also twinkle for the season as they beckon shoppers inside to browse a nearly unlimited selection of gifts.
Grand Village Shoppes, home to Missouri’s largest Christmas store, exudes seasonal cheer with its 14-foot tree. At Kringles Christmas Shop, six jam-packed rooms display Christmas items and collectibles. Ornaments fill more than 100 themed designer-decorated trees, too. Browse everything from Christmas décor to cowboy hats at family-owned Dickens Gift Shoppe, operating since 1967.
Purchase gourmet foods at Mulberry Mill and fresh baked goods at Sugar Leaf Bakery and Café.
Boutique and name brand shopping options abound. Find handmade items and edible gifts at Branson Craft Mall. You’ll find designer deals at Tanger Outlets and The Shoppes at Branson Meadows, while Branson Landing on Lake Taneycomo features more than 100 specialty stores and restaurants.
Light the night
Branson’s Gift of Lights is among the area’s newer Christmas illumination festivals. Fueled by bright LEDs, this drive-through display features traditional and whimsical holiday themes, from dusk to 11 p.m., Nov. 1–Jan. 1.
Branson Ferris Wheel’s Electric Christmas–A Music & Light Spectacular features the 150-foot-tall wheel that once graced Chicago’s Navy Pier and glows with 16,000 LED lights at night. A giant decorated tree sits nearby.
Speaking of trees, holiday trees shine everywhere in Branson. Admire the Christmas tree made from 235 lifejackets and 2,800 lights at Ride the Ducks, a sightseeing tour offered year-round. There are several upside-down trees at Ripley’s Believe It or Not! See a 40-foot tree with nearly 2,000 lights at The Track Family Fun Park #4. Visitors also can see enormous, fully decorated trees at Dolly Parton’s Dixie Stampede dinner theater and Presley’s Country Jubilee (celebrating 50 years in 2017).
Where to eat and sleep
The choices, as expected, are plentiful in Branson. Families might consider Grand Country Waterpark Resort on state Highway 76 (The Strip). Festively decorated for the season, the Grand Country Inn (AAA Two Diamonds) and Grand Country Buffet (AAA One Diamond) are part of this family-friendly resort. For upscale amenities, choose Chateau on the Lake (AAA Four Diamonds).
In the Grand Village Shoppes, Mel’s Hard Luck Diner serves breakfast, lunch, and dinner with a song. The wait staff, cooks, and cashiers are professional singers, musicians, and songwriters. Maybe you’ll get a Christmas favorite with your country-fried steak.
Branson during the holiday season simply is magical.
Lisa Waterman Gray is a contributor from Overland Park, Kan.
BEFORE YOU GO
For more details, contact the Branson/Lakes Area Convention and Visitors Bureau, (800) 296-0463 or explorebranson.com/Christmas.
To visit Branson, first stop by your nearest AAA service office for maps, reservations, and TourBook® guides. Visit AAA.com/travel for a TripTik® Travel Planner.