There is really so much to do in Branson and I was there for two months. I gravitated toward the more nature-oriented adventures but I did do a few “touristy” things.
The following are briefly reviewed here:
Abba Tribute Show
Branson Landing and Historic Downtown Branson
The show I wanted to attend most when I arrived was the Abba Tribute Thank You For The Memories Show at the Hamner’s Variety Theater. This was a daytime show and I got discount tickets ($20) through Groupon. I had seen two shows while in Myrtle Beach but I was really disappointed with the show in Branson. It was definitely not the quality that it could have been, especially for being such a popular show.
The Abba tribute show has been on stage at the Hamner Theater since 2012. The four singers who performed are also the performers for the Beach Boys show at the same theater and there was no shyness in advertising the other show as well as promoting merchandise for sale during the show. This was a two hour show with about 15 minutes of memorable songs. I was not impressed with the singing quality but maybe they were having an off day.
Singing aside, the lighting and the costumes were fun to watch. Certainly not broadway professional but pleasant. During the first or second song, I was actually wondering if they were lip syncing because one of the male singers looked like he was just mumbling but when the women had their solos, I could tell it was live because the sound quality was ear-piercing. Someone needs to tell them that increased loudness does not correlate to increased talent. The jokes and the choreography were worn and mundane and the audience seemed bored. Part of that might be because more than half of the songs were ones that only the most die-hard Abba fan would have heard before. If you are listening to a song you haven’t heard before, the singing has to be really extraordinary to catch your attention and they fell really short in that venue. I think the show would have been much more interesting if they focused on the Abba hits and then incorporated other popular dance hits of the same era with fun costume changes.
The Butterfly Palace and Rainforest Adventure was made for kids. I love science and animals and thought it would be fun even going alone but the ones that were having the best experience while I was there were the children. There was even a school bus pulling up in the parking lot as I was leaving. I went on a rainy Monday morning and by the time I left a little after noon, it was already getting quite crowded, which surprised me for a Monday. I would say the steep driveway into the palace and the parking lot are not suitable for RVs.
The downstairs of the palace building consists of a large gift shop and this is where you also buy your admission ticket, $20 with a $2.00 senior discount. I thought it was pricey for what they offered but when in Branson, do as the tourists do. Activities include a 3D movie theater, mirror maze, science center, banyan tree adventure, and the butterfly aviary. I ended up only visiting the butterfly aviary and science center and wandered through the gift shop for awhile. The movie theater shows a short feature every hour but the one that had just started when I arrived had a sign that said “theater full” and I didn’t wait for the next showing. I didn’t take a look at the mirror maze but the banyan tree adventure is an indoor playground of sorts for the more athletic children in the group.
You could spend quite a bit of time in the butterfly aviary as it’s a tranquil experience just to watch and soak up the atmosphere. There are free nectar bottles provided although they needed to be refilled when I had arrived. There were children everywhere trying to entice butterflies of all sizes or standing stock still trying not to scare the ones they were feeding. And of course, there were parents and grandparents everywhere with the phones and the cameras out. At scheduled times during the day, there are butterfly release events as well within the aviary.
The science center is a small room of various rainforest reptiles, amphibians, and fish in tanks with descriptive signs. Several times a day there is a hands-on reptile show for the children. My favorite are the dumpy frogs but I feel like they missed out on a most iconic Costa Rican animal by not having any tarantulas.
Before leaving, I did find two small items I wanted to buy but after waiting for a very long time in line to pay, I decided to put them back and maybe visit another time. When you pay and receive your wristband, it’s good for three days, which might come in handy if you want to come back at a less crowded time or if you have children that really enjoyed it and want to come back.
The Titanic Museum in Branson is one of several across the U.S. Tickets are about $30 for adults and half that for children. There are discounts for ordering online and I purchased a Groupon ticket for $22.00. They don’t allow pictures or videos inside and I would recommend taking a sweater or jacket because some of the exhibits realistically recreate the ambiance, including standing on an outside deck with icebergs in the distance.
This is an educational experience for both adults and children but also fun. You could go through and just enjoy the hands-on exhibits or you could take your time and read and listen to the descriptions for each exhibit. They got me hooked when they give each person arriving a boarding pass with the name of an actual passenger or crew member and you have to wait till the end of the self-guiding tour to see if your person made it or not. I was given the name of a young woman who worked on the ship and she did make it. Yay!
I took about an hour to go through but you could easily spend 2 or 3 times that time. Every room and exhibit onboard was well crafted, including a to-scale Grand Staircase that you take to the second floor of exhibits. I so wanted to take pictures! Among the new things I learned was that there was a kennel on board that housed about 10 pedigreed dogs that were traveling with their owners. Three of the dogs made it because they were little lap dogs and were with their owners at the time and not in the kennel.
There is a gift shop at the end of the tour that you pass through as you exit. I also spent some time in here at there was a number of interesting things to look at.
Branson Landing is a large walkway along Lake Taneycomo that features shops, restaurants, a lighted fountain show hourly, and hotels. I visited 4 or 5 times and took my dogs for walks a few of those times. There are 3 adjoining large parking lots at the south end of the landing and more parking lots at the north end. There is also parking to the west by the scenic train. They allow plenty of parking for busses or RVs.
Some things you could do while here:
- Bass Pro Shop
- Don’t 4get About Me — dog treats
- Orchid Massage
- Waxy O’Shea’s Irish Pub
- Paula Deen’s Kitchen Restaurant
Historic downtown Branson is just across Main Street from Branson Landing and you can easily walk. There is also a free parking lot behind the famous Dick’s 5 & 10 souvenir shop. There is a free museum on the history of Branson and that is reviewed in the Museums post. If you’re willing to wait in line, Farmhouse Restaurant is a popular place to eat.
The Scenic Railway Depot is also here with their own parking lot between the historic shops and Branson Landing. You can buy your tickets online or at the depot. There is one adult price with no senior discount but there is a military discount. I forgot to bring my discount coupon and my ticket was $31.95. I showed up about 45 minutes before departure and I was ticket #88. Boarding is by ticket number. None of the seats are reserved but I still managed to get a seat by myself in a group of four seats. You can’t bring any food, beverages, tobacco or vape products, or weapons on the train and they search packages as you board. There is a cash only snack bar on the weekday train.
If you want to sit in the dome car, you should plan on purchasing tickets ahead of time as those fill up fast. Departures are at 11:00 and 2:00 p.m. for the regular ride. There is also a dinner train on weekends only. The car I was in was about half full and was built in the 1940s, with other cars from the 1950s and up. They have all been restored but still retain that shabby chic vibe. Some of the windows were a little clouded over so be sure and pick a seat with a good window and the car I was in had reclining seats.
There is a 40 mile route either south to Arkansas or north but you don’t know which route you’ll be on until you board as the engineer makes a final decision based on factors like traffic and weather. I enjoyed the southern route on this 90 minute round trip as we passed a lot of geology and wildflowers along the way. This route also passes over several tall (200 feet, in one instance) trestles and through two tunnels. There is a pleasant and entertaining narration along the way, filled in with 40s and 50s music such as Chattanooga Choo Choo. I was able to switch sides from west to east on the way back as there were a number of empty seat choices. However, if you aren’t able to change seats once you board, most of the sites that the narrator pointed out were on the east side of the train (left side as you board).
Places you can explore downtown: