October 25, 2010

Exploring Branson, Missouri

What would a kitschy town be without Duck Rides?
Branson is famous for its myriad of theater shows, comedies, magicians, and most especially washed up country singers. We had no real particular interest in going there, since I assumed it would just be a town full of kitsch and basically like a mini-Las Vegas, without the casinos. We usually try to stay away from crowds. But, it bills itself as a wholesome family adventure.

Hilina admiring geese on the river along the boardwalk
But, Linda needed to do some school work online and really needed me and Hilina out of her hair for a few hours. It wasn't a good day for a hike because thunderstorms were expected. So, Hilina and I said what the heck, there must be something there to keep us occupied and it is only 10 miles away.

Nice Pedestrian Mall. More towns really need to think about having these.
Well, to my surprise, Branson is really pretty neat. The historic downtown core is very nice. Plus, they have embraced something very European; a long pedestrian shopping district just a block down from downtown and a block up from a nice riverside boardwalk.
Downtown Pedestrian Mall in morning before the crowds arrive
So, Hilina and I first checked out the Bass Pro Shop, which is a flagship store for this pedestrian mall. Then we walked on the riverfront, before migrating up to the mall itself to wander amongst the shops and eat muffins at a cafe. They even had a playground right in the middle of the plaza for the kids.

Pro Bass Shops in Branson
After having our fill, we decided to check out the Butterfly Palace. Now this is where Branson gets tricky. It isn't just this small little downtown like it looks when you approach it from the east, but a massive sprawl of 10+ miles of threaters, strip malls, knick-knack shops, and restaurants. There is a very "Christian" and "patriotic" theme in many places. They have signs calling themselves the "Christian Broadway" with plays with a biblical theme, as well as a "Veterans museum" and "God Bless America" museum.

For all the excellent planning they did downtown, the rest of Branson is very poorly planned. It is like these theaters and shops just popped up wherever randomly they could buy land and some of them are 30 minutes driving or more from downtown. You really have to work your way around with a map to figure out how to get places.
A view across the spawl of outer Branson from the butterfly palace.
Large theaters and music halls can be seen in the distance.
The traffic was horrible by the afternoon, as the hoards began to arrive from all over the south and midwest for the weekend and I was worried Hilina would fall asleep before we even got to the butterflies. Well, we made it, and saw the butterflies. Hilina liked it, but wasn't in awe. She was ready to go in about 20 minutes, which was not what I wanted for the $18 admission price. But, that was before we discovered the rainforest cave maze.
Hilina admiring the butterflies drinking "nectar"

Hilina was going bonkers over this cave! It is a dark maze lined with mirrors. It makes it really tricky to find your way down there and there are times you simply bonk into the mirrors. But, Hilina had such a wonderful time, we must have gone through it over and over some 10-12 times. She just never got tired of it.

Is this the way to go?
She'd even pretend to bonk into the mirror and then tumble to the ground and then would say "boom". We'd play hide and seek and laugh when we tried to count how many of us we could see...

How many Hilina's do you see?
My final analysis is that if you happen to be in the area, Branson is worth the visit. If you are into seeing those shows, then it's probably good place to visit. I really like the setting on the river and the downtown core. But, they need some work on dealing with the heavy traffice and sprawling development that extends miles out there. But, it was definitely worth the day's visit to let Linda get ahead on her school work.

1 comment:

Branson Travel Office said...

Branson's always working on getting the traffic routes better - from the color codes to the improved map systems, but it can always be better :-) Great to hear that you had a good time at the Butterfly Palace, and agree that the maze inside is really fun for kids!