Let’s face it: Everyone loves Christmas, but sometimes all of the shopping, decorating, and baking can be, well, a little too much. A get-together away from home, without having to clean up afterward, might be in order to remind everyone to slow down and enjoy this special time of year. If it’s time for a quick getaway that still has a down-home feel, family-friendly Branson, Missouri, may be just the ticket.
For years I had heard what an amazing place Branson is to visit, but until I took a trip there with my own family last Christmas, I truly had no idea. After enjoying the homespun celebration of the holiday, millions and millions of twinkling lights, over-the-top Christmas trees, and music everywhere, I knew without a doubt that my first visit would definitely not be my last.
Less than one day’s drive for one-third of America’s population, and a short flight from most places in the United States, Branson kicks it up a notch, or should we say volt, from November through New Year’s. Here are 11 reasons the whole family will want to visit this holiday season.
1. Branson’s Christmas Wonderland
Nothing puts people in the holiday spirit more than Christmas music, and in Branson music is everywhere. Want to see theatrical shows without the hustle and bustle of the Big Apple? Branson’s the place. Even the city-slicker cousin will be impressed with the Broadway-style productions and over 100 live shows featuring everything from music to comedy, mystery, to dinner theater.
Branson’s Christmas Wonderland is one of the city’s largest holiday productions, featuring chorus line dancers and favorite classic Christmas tunes. Even the biggest Uncle Scrooge will find something to sing about.
Pro Tip: King’s Castle Theater offers wheelchair, aisle, and no-stair seating, so everyone can enjoy the show.
2. Branson’s Christmas Tree Trail
Starting each November, Branson decks itself out in holiday greenery, decorations, and lights. The nickname America’s Christmas Tree City is a fitting title with over 700 themed trees lining street corners and buildings throughout the city, not to mention over 1,000 more at Silver Dollar City.
Follow the Christmas Tree Trail to must-see trees including “Joy on Town Square” at Silver Dollar City, the 8-story, 80-foot high-res light tree that is the star of the city’s light show, and Branson Landing’s “Animated Giant,” featuring animated LED lights set to music.
Pro Tip: America’s Christmas Tree City Tour Guide has a list of landmark trees — trees that are at least 20 feet tall, are completely unique, or are part of a multi-tree display, complete with addresses.
3. Silver Dollar City
Silver Dollar City is consistently voted one of the country’s best amusement parks because it offers so much more than rides and funnel cakes. With an 1880’s theme, skilled craftsmen, and the Broadway-style A Dickens Christmas Carol,” parents may be the ones begging to stay a little longer while grandparents reminisce about the good ole days watching more than one hundred skilled blacksmiths, glassblowers, woodcarvers, and other craftsmen make everything from leather goods and pottery to homemade candy.
Everyone will enjoy An Old Time Christmas, featuring over 6.5 million lights, and Rudolph’s Holly Jolly Christmas Parade, with the famous reindeer as grand marshall twice nightly. For the young at heart, Silver Dollar City’s Frisco Sing Along Steam Train transports passengers on a melodious journey through the majestic Ozark Mountain countryside.
Pro Tip: Plan to spend an entire day at the park. There is plenty to explore — over 60 attractions including Marvel Cave and Homestead Ridge, not counting the Christmas shows and activities.
4. Presley’s Christmas Jubilee
Despite the bright lights of the theater district, Branson has a decidedly homespun, family atmosphere. Known for performing musical families, like the Presleys, Mabes, and Duttons, the Branson entertainment strip is the hallmark of this entertainment destination.
The Presleys are one of the founding entertainment families and opened the first theater on the Branson entertainment strip. Today they continue to use their special blend of musical talent, comedy, and good, clean fun to captivate audiences at their live shows and on their weekly performances on RFD-TV. During the Christmas season, the Presleys show is divided into two halves — first the regular show, then the special Christmas production.
5. Haygood’s Christmas Extravaganza
Since 1993, the Haygoods, another of Branson’s performing families, have been entertaining Branson crowds with their modern take on the Ozark musical family tradition. The talented family of five brothers and one sister plays more than 20 instruments and has sold over 6 million tickets. They consistently perform for sold-out crowds. Not just another stage show, Haygood’s Christmas Extravaganza features new songs, fire and light special effects, and amazing talent that’s sure to keep everyone on the edge of their seats.
6. Mel’s Hard Luck Diner
Most people agree that the holidays just aren’t the holidays without food, and lots of it, but sometimes Mama needs a break from all of the cooking. Grandma and Grandpa can reclaim their youth at ’50s style Mel’s Hard Luck Diner while singing along with the musical waitresses, many of who perform at local shows nightly.
Even the pickiest eaters won’t go away hungry with entrees like the Smoke Gets in Your Eyes Burger and the Boot Scootin’ Chicken Fried Steak, but it’s the desserts that steal the show. The Build Me Up Banana Cup is a fan favorite, while the Crazy Kringle Cookie is perfect for the holidays.
Pro Tip: Mel’s doesn’t take reservations, but the servers move really fast. Everyone in the party must be present before you’re seated.
7. Sight & Sound Theatre
Mama always says to remember the real meaning of Christmas, right? Branson recognizes and celebrates the origin of the Christian holiday like few other places and is home to one of only two Biblical Sight & Sound Theatres in the country. Their 2,000-seat auditorium features a cast of 50 actors, live animals, and world-class special effects. The seasonal Miracle of Christmas production featuring Mary, Joseph, and the baby Jesus brings the Christmas story to life with dramatic special effects, plus live sheep and camels.
It takes 3 years to bring each immersive production to life on its 300-foot stage in front of a $2 million LED screen made of 1,200 individual panels, the largest of its kind in the world.
Pro Tip: Shows frequently sell out during the holiday season, so buy tickets online early.
8. Titanic Museum
Bask in the Victorian elegance of the doomed ocean liner, decked out in thousands of lights and garland from stem to stern. Titanic Museum, the world’s largest museum attraction, is one-half the size of the original ship and home to over 400 artifacts from the RMS Titanic. The Grand Staircase, built using the original blueprints, becomes even more awe-inspiring during the holiday season as it’s surrounded by spectacular Christmas trees and lights, providing the perfect photo opportunity for the family.
Pro Tip: The entire museum is handicap and wheelchair accessible, including an elevator at the Grand Staircase.
9. Santa’s Pancakes And PJs
Silver Dollar City’s Showboat Branson Belle hosts Santa and his helpers for a morning breakfast cruise on Table Rock Lake. A pre-sold, ticketed event, Santa’s Pancakes and PJs is held on select mornings from December 4 to 23, with children encouraged to wear their jammies as they search the ship for Sugar Plum Fairy Sweet Stops, have their faces painted, and drop their letters to Santa in the Toy Soldier mailbox.
The entire family will make merry with a Christmas sing-a-long and lively stage show while enjoying a hearty breakfast.
Pro Tip: Show times are at 8 a.m. and 11 a.m., but activities begin an hour before cruise time, so be sure to arrive early.
10. Branson’s Adoration Scene
Perhaps Branson’s oldest Christmas tradition is the 28-foot-tall Adoration Scene lit on a mountaintop across Lake Taneycomo following the annual parade and viewed from Branson Landing. Originally sketched out on a napkin in 1949 and rebuilt in 2012, the immense nativity scene is visible along the Branson Landing, providing a simple yet powerful symbol of the area’s Christmas spirit.
Pro Tip: Areas along Commercial Street provide some of the best viewing of the annual Adoration Parade following dusk on the first Nativity lighting of the year.
11. The Trail Of Lights
For those who would rather see the lights from the warmth of their cars, Branson’s Trail of Lights is one of the most popular and longest-running scenic drive-thru light displays. Explore the traditional 2.5-mile loop through the Shepherd of the Hills homestead leading up 230 feet to Inspiration Tower and a spectacular view of the lights below.
Be sure to allow at least 45 minutes to go through the drive-thru displays, plus additional time to enjoy a cup of cocoa for a cause. This popular annual event charges by the carload.
Pro Tips: Tickets can be pre-purchased online, but that doesn’t mean you get to skip the line, so arrive early. Saves $10 by visiting on Sunday through Thursday nights.
Branson welcomes everyone from Ozark natives to first-time visiting families to come on in and stay awhile. Surrounded by the natural beauty of three lakes and the Ozark Mountains, Branson provides the perfect atmosphere to reconnect with the ones you love.