For a small Ozark town in southwest Missouri, Branson sure attracts scores of top entertainers and thousands of people who go to see their shows. While Branson MO is best known for live entertainment, this town of 11,000 people also has numerous theme parks, fashionista-pleasing shops, family-friendly outdoor activities and a true holiday spirit on display each year around Christmas time.
Celebrating Christmas in Branson MO
As a first-time visitor to Branson (and Missouri in general), I wasn’t sure what to expect. Live entertainment, yes, I’d heard the town of 11,000 people is known for scores of family musical shows.
During my four days in this friendly Ozark town, I got to meet some of the performing families and realized that Branson is a close-knit community that places great value on Christian faith. That was especially evident during this time of year when Branson is festively decorated top to bottom and celebrates the Christmas season with a multitude of musical shows and parades.
It’s certainly a wonderful time of year to visit Branson, especially if you love the holidays (which I do). Branson starts celebrating Christmas in early November and is ranked among America’s top Christmas towns.
Situated in the heart of historic downtown, Branson Landing is a good home base for a family vacation. The promenade overlooks Lake Taneycomo and is a hub for events, including concerts and the annual Most Wonderful Time of the Year parade.
We stayed at the comfortable Hilton Promenade at Branson Landing, which overlooks the lake and is steps from the numerous shops for kids and adults. This time of year, the promenade is festooned with lights, a towering Christmas tree and other decorations. There’s also a small train that travels the length of the promenade in case you have too many packages to carry!
Silver Dollar City
The theme park is open year-round but it transforms into an Old Time Christmas theme park with more than 5 million lights wrapped around shops and theaters, 1,000 decorated Christmas trees and numerous holiday festivities (too many to do in one day) through Dec. 30.
If you love Christmas, this is the place to be.
After a hearty Christmas feast at Molly’s Mill restaurant, we sampled sweets at Brown’s Candy Factory (there’s always room for fudge, right?), and saw two outstanding musicals: “A Dickens’ Christmas Carol,” which has incredible sets, and “It’s a Wonderful Life.”
We also took a one-hour tour through Marvel Cave, situated beneath the theme park. The wet limestone cave is much bigger than I expected and has many steps and cool passageways to navigate. Here, too, are signs of Christmas: lights on the railings leading down into the cave form an outline of a Christmas tree.
Resembling a G-rated Vegas-style strip, Branson’s 76 Country Boulevard is lined with theaters, many owned by performing families who call Branson home. It’s partly what makes Branson’s music scene so unique.
Popular local singers, such as Pierce Arrow, The Million Dollar Quartet and the Baldnobbers say they’re blessed to follow their passion for music while staying in their hometown. Perhaps because of their exposure to music at young ages, Branson’s performing families are very talented, from little ones to grandparents. Deciding which shows to see wasn’t easy for me, but I was assured that there is no wrong choice. Following are my picks.
The Million Dollar Quartet
Not just another tribute band, The Million Dollar Quartet depicts the story of four soon-to-be legends and the one night they jammed together on Dec. 4, 1956. The guys portraying Elvis Presley, Jerry lee Lewis, Carl Perkins and Johnny Cash give an outstanding performance. David Brooks, A.K.A. Jerry Lee Lewis, plays the piano with lightning fast hands – and feet!
The story takes place at the Sun Records’ storefront studio in Memphis. Studio owner Sam Phillips discovered the four upcoming stars, uniting them for an impromptu recording. I chatted with Brad Waters (Perkins), Brooks (Lewis), Tyler Hunter (Elvis) and Cliff Wright (Cash) after the show and they’re so sweet. All four said they’re thrilled for the opportunity to portray these musical icons.
Showboat Branson Belle
Though the showboat seems to attract mostly seniors (at least the evening we were there), the cruise on Table Rock Lake and dinner show is a relaxing way to spend a couple of hours. The four-deck riverboat is festively decorated and there’s time after dinner to walk on the decks to watch the passing scenery and sunset.
During the three-course dinner (with choice of entrée) a comedy show precedes “Celebrate,” a holiday production featuring music, dance, comedy and magic. It’s a good show but young kids may prefer the Santa’s Pancakes & PJS Cruises Dec. 3 – 18. Kids can come dressed in their pajamas for activity stations, entertainment and breakfast.
The Andy Williams Christmas Extravaganza
Branson pays homage to the late Andy Williams with a high energy holiday show starring some original members of the Osmonds and the Lennon Sisters at the Andy Williams Moon River Theatre.
While Donny and Marie aren’t part of the show, their siblings (Merrill, Jay and Jimmy) put on a great show. Ditto for Kathy, Janet, and Mimi Lennon. The somewhat nostalgic show consists of singing, dancing and videos showing the Osmonds’ and Lennons’ early television performances with host Andy Williams.
Hughes Brothers Christmas Show
The five Hughes brothers, their wives and 35 children sing, dance and play musical instruments at their Hughes Brothers Theatre. The wives had to audition before joining the family, jokes Marty Hughes. But seriously, everyone has a role in the show, even the youngest baby who plays Jesus during a nativity scene. The first half of the show flows with holiday music while the second half takes on a religions tone with a nativity scene and reminders about the true meaning of Christmas.
If you’re visiting, check out these free things to do in Branson.