By Senior Airman Regina Agoha
19th Airlift Wing Public Affairs
Visiting Branson, Mo., was not on my list of things to do for my off-duty time, but a stroke of good luck at this year’s Family Fun Fest Easter Egg hunt helped change my mind.
My one-year old daughter found the “golden ticket” – a weekend get-away at this small city nestled in the Ozark Mountains. The getaway included a paid two-night stay at a hotel of my choice, two tickets to Ripley’s Believe it or Not and two tickets to Silver Dollar City.
At first, I had my reservations because I was “too young” for Branson; I had heard opinions suggesting it was for “old people”. But always wanting to give things an honest chance, I, my husband and daughter packed the car, and hit the open road with an open mind.
Watching the sun set through the beauty of the trees, rocks and rivers of the Ozarks made the three-and-a-half hour drive seem like a 30 minute ride. Once I got to Branson, driving to the hotel on the city’s main strip, the bright colors, flashing lights and neon signs made me think of a slower paced, family friendly version of Vegas.
The next morning, we decided to make our first stop at the Ripley’s Believe it or Not Odditorium. Being a fan of the TV show, I was excited to learn of more interesting stories. The yellow, 10,000 sq. ft. building, which was purposely constructed in a way where the building looks like the after effects of an earthquake can be seen from miles away.
Don’t let the façade fool you; it is a fitting welcome to this earth-shattering shrine to the strange and bizarre.
Even if you’re not a lover of the unexplained, you’ll find something at Ripley’s Believe It or Not to enjoy. As we toured the Odditorium, we saw displays like the wax model of Robert Wadlow, the tallest man in the world, standing at 8’11”, 440 lbs. and wearing size 37AA shoes. Also hanging on the wall on display, is Liu Ch’ung, who was born with double pupils in each eye, believe it or not.
After taking pictures and freaking my one year-old out with the human lizard man wax statue, that was completely green and had a split tongue, we ended our tour with a stop at the gift shop. There we met a very nice Brandon Ely, Ripley’s store manager.
“This Odditorium was built in 1994 and is one of the biggest tourist attractions in Branson,” he said. “We’re open seven days a week, 365 days a year. Active military and their immediate families get in half price.”
Because there are so many family friendly establishments in this one particular area, we decided to take a walk. Right down the road is the Titanic Museum, which is the town’s largest museum attraction. The two-story museum, which was opened in 2006, is shaped like the Titanic itself. The museum holds 400 pre-discovery artifacts in 20 galleries.
During our walk, we came across Starvin’ Marvin’s, which is a great place to stop and grab a delicious homecooked style meal. It was around lunch time, and we were hungry; we decided to check it out.
While there, we truly experienced the Midwestern hospitality as well as enjoyed an affordable lunch buffet for $8.99 plus a 10 percent military discount. Any seat to the right side of the buffet table offers a view of mother nature at its best with rocky hills in sight.
At the end of our meal, we met Lisa Neal, a Shepherd of the Hills representative. She gave us a map of the area and informed us on what was going on in the area during the time of our stay. She said there’s something to do for everyone in Missouri.
“I’ve been here for 20 years, and this place is great for families to visit,” she said. “It’s a very family oriented town. It doesn’t promote much alcohol and gambling. There’s over 100 live shows and a million attractions. I would definitely encourage people to come visit.”
If you see Neal when you go, she may invite you to visit the Shepherd of the Hills, which is also open year round. Home to the highest point in Southwest Mo., Inspiration Tower. If you take a trip to the top of the 230-foot tower, you can see the Ozark Hills, all of Branson and even the Arkansas ridge of the hills.
My husband and I put on our adventurous hats and took part in an extremely high flying, 60 second zip line ride, the Vigilante Extreme ZipRider, which is typically $30 per person. From the observation deck, we boarded one of four seated zip lines that sent us sailing over the 160-acre park at speeds up to 50 mph.
Feeling a sense of accomplishment, we headed to Branson’s Silver Dollar City theme park, which wrapped our trip. There is a 13-acre White Water theme park, Showboat dinner cruise and a Wilderness log cabin with RVs and camping area.
Because we had our little one, we made this part of the trip about her. We did merry-go-rounds and the theatrical train ride that gave us a tour of the park and also introduced us to the Outlaw Run, which features the world’s first and only double barrel roll on a wood coaster, with a 720-degree double barrel roll. This ride is the only wood coaster to twist upside down three times. It’s the world’s steepest wood coaster with a drop of 162 feet at 81 degrees, and it is the second fastest wood coaster in the world, reaching 68 mph.
At the end of my trip, we reached our own conclusion. Not only was this place fun, but it was family friendly, filled with different activities, and we’d like to one day go again to visit places we weren’t able to this time.
The options abound for military and their families looking for some fun outside of Arkansas, without having to take leave, since Branson is well within the six-hour limit for the “local area.” Fill your gas tank, grab some family or friends, put in your favorite traveling CD and enjoy the scenery as you head to Branson for your next get away.