Confessions of a Branson Groopie

    Over the last several months I have spent some eight weeks in Branson at the behest of my wife who likes to be somewhere else more than at home. Initially I was a bit apprehensive and wondered what in the world will I ever do to maintain my sanity for so long a time living in a 5th wheel in a strange town,but what the heck. If my wife was so set on it I figured it would at least give me some brownie points to go along and keep my grumbling to a minimum. Besides we are retired so I didn’t have any really good argument to allow me to get out of it anyway.

    For years we have purchased season passes to Silver Dollar City and always have a good time there. The “Homestead Pickers”over the years have become like close friends,and there are lots of other shows and things to do in “The City”so I knew it was at least good for one day a week without boredom. I wasn’t sure about the other six. TV where we were parked was rather poor,but I could at least get a good weather channel to help us plan our days. It turned out that we had little time for TV anyway. What I found in Branson was really a very pleasant surprise.

    Since we are members there we stayed in our RV at Treasure Lakes park. Our lodging cost was more than paid for by what we saved in the electric bill at home! Almost every week they had one or more free or reduced price ticket offers for theater shows in the area. Then there were a number of local performers that had free shows at the RV park during our stay. The park includes both indoor and outdoor swimming pools,a lodge area for card playing,a couple dances a week,miniature golf,a Frisbee golf course and lots of wildlife to view. A friend at the park took us to a number of places in town that she liked to shop including thrift shops which I discovered can actually be fun. We enjoyed meals at various buffets around town,were serenaded while we ate at the “Hard Luck Diner”,and enjoyed a number of free shows at the Branson Mall and other locations.

    Almost every day there was a different entertainment opportunity and many of them were either free (for tips/donations) or at very modest cost. The Branson Mall is fantastic. There are free shows going on in the center of the mall from about 10:00am til 9:00pm daily. These performers give great shows for tips and sell their CDs or DVDs as the only admission charge. At many of them I purchased CDs of the music I enjoyed and transferred the songs to my MP3 player to enjoy later. These are not the fabulous productions of the various theater shows,but the talent of these performers is really great. Likewise the servers at “Mels Hard Luck Diner”sing to you between serving tables and taking orders,and these folks are really good!! Food there is reasonable,ample servings,and we never had anything that wasn’t great.

    There are many Theater Shows in Branson costing anywhere from $15 to $50. Just a few of the theater shows we really enjoyed were,“Noah”,“Hamner-Barber Show”,“Buck Trent Show”,and “The Allen Edwards Show”. There were several benefit performances that we also attended that requested only a donation for entrance. These had short performances by a number of the well-known Branson performers such as,Barbara Fairchild,Allen Edwards,Mike Walker,Martin Short,and others. One of the benefit shows we attended was actually a bit over four hours long and all of it was top notch. There were performances from about thirty different entertainers,many of them top name performers in Branson.

    We were treated to some of the finest examples of Rock and Roll,Country,Bluegrass,and Comedy routines around. Elvis,John Denver,and Jerry Lee Lewis make daily appearances around town along with many of the other long gone entertainers via the talents of their modern impersonators. Some of these have improved on the originals,at least in my opinion. Likewise many of the current living music legends are assisted by a small Branson army of imitators that do a great job on their own.

    The local convention center hosts a number of events that sometimes include shows that are open to the general public. A gospel music convention held there last month was a fabulous three day opportunity to view a number of the best gospel musical groups from around the country. There are also several golf courses,lakes,and other attractions to fit most any taste. Family oriented activities such as go carts,boats,and water parks and rides of various types are available to fill the time for kids of all ages.

    The local senior citizen’s group has lunch five days a week and is a good place to visit with other seniors and enjoy an inexpensive luncheon. Branson’s choices of dining spots offers a variety that will match most any hunger. Choices go from the standard fast food places to country buffets to fine dining places. In general,the prices that are quite competitive with most anyplace I have visited. Lodging is readily available and relatively inexpensive throughout town. Whether you are three or eighty three there are fun and exciting things to do there and many of them are at very little actual cost.

    No I am not an employee of the Branson Chamber of Commerce,nor do I have any investment there at all. Just seriously enjoyed the time I spent there and thought I would share my perspective a bit. The folks of the town of Branson treated my wife and I very nicely and I am sure will do the same for you and yours. If you are looking for a fun family get-away,you could do a lot worse than Branson,MO.

    Camp Branson!

    Branson has got to be one of the funest places around.  Just spent two weeks there and looking forward to going back for a couple more after I take a week to get the yard mowed,bills paid,and chores done at home.

    Spent time at Treasure Lakes RV park.  It’s right next to the I-Max Theater and across the street from the Golden Corral.  Unfortunately that location was not the greatest influence on my “figure”.  I tended to blimp out a bit,but it sure was fun.  Treasure Lake has a couple jam sessions a week along with week-end breakfasts at the club house,and indoor swimming pool.  On Friday and Saturday evenings there was a free dance in the lodge.  If you don’t mind sharing the dance floor with a bunch of us “old dudes”it is a great scene.

    There is also fun things for the kids/grandkids if you have some to bring along.  Arcade games,pool tables,mini-golf,frisbee golf,and a number of other activities to keep the kids entertained in the park.  They told us that they will soon have two stocked ponds for the junior anglers as well. There are also ball fields and a large pavilion if you have an organized group event coming up.

    For RV’ers this is an almost ideal park.  There are lots of full hook-up RV sites divided into 4 areas on the park.  Most have 50 amp service available.  Propane is available in the park and they maintain a supply of commonly needed RV supplies if you have a need.  The park is surrounded by wooded areas and you will see deer and turkey crossings marked on the roads.  The signs are for real,in the evenings it is common to see deer and wild turkey wandering around the park.

    Just down the road a piece is Silver Dollar City.  There for one price you can have a day of fun with lots of shows,rides,and entertainment options for the family as well as an evening show that is really great.  Don’t miss the “Homestead Pickers”over at the McAffee homestead.  They have five shows daily and are a great music/comedy attraction.  The more adventurous will find the roller coasters and other rides exciting while we more sedentary folk enjoy the train ride and watch the shows.

    Near Treasure Lake is the Hamner/Barber theater.  We saw their act,and it was absolutely fabulous.  Hamner’s magic acts are nothing short of amazing and Barber’s ventriloquist skills are hard to believe.  Not every one can come out on the stage with the dummy carrying the ventriloquist!   How he does that without ending up collaposing on the floor is beyond me.  In addition to being a great illusionist,Dave Hamner is an ordained minister.  On Sundays the theater is transformed into a church with a regular 10:00 service.  Pastor Dave Hamner trades his illusionist’s costumes weekly for the less flashy garb of a preacher.   We found the service to be uplifting.

    Also had a great time at Buck Trent’s show down at the Branson Grand Country mall.  If you like great banjo picking and are looking for a fun show it is a good choice.  The buffet right in the mall there is a good bet as well.

    There are now more than 100 shows appearing regularly in Branson.  Some are included with various packages.  There are numerous booths around town that offer special show packages and tickets and you can likely find a free offer if you are willing to spend a hour or so in a sales presentation.

    Branson is a hard place to beat for clean family-oriented fun.  No wonder so many entertainers like to locate there.

    Mountain View,AR a fun destination

    Mountian View has been one of our favorite places to visit for years.  It is a sleepy little town near the White River in north central Arkansas.  Some of the things that set it apart as a fun destination are,the Ozark Folk Center state park just north of town and the musicians that gather around the town square on warm evenings.  Add this to the Jimmy Driftwood Barn and several local music shows,several annual festivals,and the quaint surroundings and you have the makings for a great getaway anytime from early Spring through late Fall.  There are a number of other music theaters and “pickin barns”scattered around to add more variety to your stay.

    This is a unique place where you can bring your chair and sit down around the square to good  musical entertainment most any summer evening.  If one group does not play your choice of venue,just move over a ways for another.  Or if you brought your favorite instrument with you,just find a group you feel comfortable with and join in.  Most welcome additional players in their circles and they are not too pickey wheather you bring a guitar,dobro,banjo,dulcimer,flute,fiddle,spoons,bouzouki or whatever.  As long as it is acoustic it is normally welcome.   Electric instruments are a no-no on the Mountain View square.

    There are a number of nice RV parks around and we have visited most of them over the years.   In recent years we have usually stayed at “Fiddler’s Valley”which is within easy walking distance from the square.  The welcoming atmosphere there along with their frequent breakfasts,and musical offerings have made them our favorite.

    The main festivals in Mountain View are the Folk Festival –April 17th –19th and the Bean Fest October 29th –31st.  If you plan to stay in the town for these events you had best have reservations long in advance.  The population of the town may swell from a few thousand friendly souls to 100,000 or more.  Many folks reserve their spots a year in advance.

    On week days there is likely an inexpensive meal available at the senior citizens center,or you can cho0se from a number of local restaurants that offer good Ozark country cookin’that will make you want to go back for more.   Free beans and corn bread are available on Saturday during the bean fest,but there’s so much more fun to be had.

    Fishing on the White River is just a few minutes away from town,or you can just drift down the river if you prefer.  A visit to Blanchard Springs  Caverns just north of town is a great way to spend a hot summer day.  Add that to fishing and hunting in the many streams and the Ozark national forest nearby,horseback riding and hiking trails are readily available.  The Ozark Folk Center has interesting exhibits depicting pioneer life in the Ozarks that makes for a great outing.

    If you decide to make a trip to Mountain View,look around.  You might find us sitting around the square licking one of those great ice cream cones from the shops in town or playing with one of the local groups.  See ya there!

    January Cruise from New Orleans

    Had a great time taking a couple cruises out of New Orleans this month.  Drove to N.O. on Jan 10 and spent the night at LaQuinta Inn in Metairie and then took a taxi to the dock on the 11th.   Went to Deanie’s Seafood in Metairie or dinner the night before the cruise and “Wow”what an experience that was!  They have a seafood platter for 1/2/4 that is fabulous.  Mix of shrimp,catfish,oysters and softshelled crabs that makes me drool just remembering it.

    Spent a wonderful week on NCL’s “Spirit” visiting Casa Maya,Belize,Guatemala,and Cozumel before returning to N.O. on the 18th. Spent another night at LaQuinta and back to the dock on the 19th for another cruise aboard the Carnival Fantasy to Cozumel and Progresso,MX.  LaQuinta allowed us to leave our vehicle there during our cruises which was a great plus.  They were very helpful and we will definitely use them again next time we visit New Orleans.

    The NCL Spirit was a super nice ship and everything was top notch.  Food was great and plentiful as was a variety of activities on board.  We didn’t go ashore in Guatemala and should have,but certainly enjoyed  the other shore visits as well as the on-board activities.  Took a snorkeling excursion to Ambergris Caye where we swam with stingrays and viewed the beautiful tropicals on the reef.  Not quite like scuba diving,but definitely a fun experience anyway.

    The Carnival Fantasy is a bit older ship,but lacked little for age.  Their beds were just about like the comfort of home and on-board activities and food were great.  Had never visited Progresso,MX and the trip ashore down the five mile pier was a neat experience.  Especially enjoyed the Karaoke every night and of course the food.  Surprisingly I only gained 5 lbs which I have since managed to shed.

    I would highly recommend either of these cruise opportunities.  Lots of fun and lots of opportunity to relax in a great atmosphere.