Dixie Stampede story fun to research; show great value for families

9 Mar

On a recent Branson excursion I stopped in to catch the 2011 Dixie Stampede show. Granted, no Dolly Parton to be found, but the show was great and the value impressive.

“BRANSON, Mo. — It wasn’t Shelly Ginhorn’s first time at Dolly Parton’s Dixie Stampede.
“I come a couple of times a year,” the 30-year-old Branson resident said as she ripped the leg off a small roasted chicken. “It’s just fun. They try to make it the best experience for the audience. It’s good food and I don’t mind eating with my fingers.”
A couple of seats down the row, Gretchen Webb clapped and cheered as trick riders circled the 1,100-seat arena on horseback. Dolly Parton's Dixie Stampede
“There’s nothing else like it anywhere,” the former Stampede performer said. “There is so much entertainment and it’s the best value out there. You get a meal and two shows.”
For eight seasons, Webb, 28, entertained crowds riding and dancing in the show, which pays tribute to America ’s Southern and Western culture and traditions. Webb, who is occasionally called back to saddle up and fill in, said she loves the spectacle of the main show and the charm of the Carriage Room preshow.
“I loved working here,” Webb said. “It’s a lot of hard work, but it’s so fun working with the animals. You never know what they are going to do.”
When Brian Louderbaugh, production manager for Branson’s Dixie Stampede, hears that kind of high praise — even from a former employee — he knows his job is done.
“We have a blast,” he said. “I still miss performing, but the great part is working with the young performers and the audience. That is really a reward for me.”

The Final musical number at Branson's Dixie Stampede.

The Final musical number at Branson's Dixie Stampede.

Louderbaugh started at Dixie as a performer in 1995. He learned how to trick ride, worked his way up the ranks and has managed the production for nine seasons. He oversees the animals’ training and care; performers, technical issues and pre-show.
With additional shows scheduled for Branson’s spring break weeks, the 2011 Dixie Stampede show includes a buffalo stampede, a heard of Texas longhorns, a Native American aerial act, 32 riders on horseback, a wagon train, some homespun comedy and a “friendly competition” between The North and The South.
Laced between Dixie’s take on the Antebellum South is a tribute to the grass grazing giants that roamed the American West.
“I feel like (the buffalo) are going to be a big draw for us this year,” Louderbaugh said. “We had them back in ‘04 and it really was big. People don’t usually get to be that close to buffalo.”
While the buffalo impress show goers, the production’s herd of longhorn cattle takes the audience aback, too. The original plan was to put the longhorn out to pasture for the 2011 season. A last minute decision kept the herd in Dixie’s coral.
“They give everybody an idea of what it would have been like back in the Old West,” he said. “I felt like it was a part of the show that we couldn’t afford to take out.”
Lauderbaugh said he’s pleased with the way this seasons “Into the West” musical production number has taken shape. The show features American Indians, cowboys, buffalo and longhorns in a 13-minute number that “really gets the audiences going,” Lauderbaugh said.
“They see the wagon train comes in with whips cracking and trick ropes spinning and fire blowing,” he said. “Add in horses, great performers with a great number, and you are really just going to shoot through the roof.”
While Dixie Stampede has something for the entire family to enjoy, it may appeal to young people most.
“It’s a great chance for kids to come in and act up,” he explained. “Kids can be rowdy and have fun and the parents don’t have to get on to them. That’s what we want and encourage. Kids can be kids. Even adults can be kids.””

The Buffalo thunder through Branson's Dixie Stampede.

Branson’s ‘big’ screen: IMAX offers alternative to traditional shows

1 Mar

I spent a few days in Branson last week, caught a couple of shows and checked out the spring line-up. I’d hoped for a 75-degree day boating on Table Rock and lounging in the sun, but February had another plan. My first morning in town was cold, wet, windy, rainy and 35 degrees — defiantly not pontoon boat and bikini weather.
Looking for a warn, dry and climate controlled attraction in which to while away a few hours, I stopped in at Branson’s IMAX Entertainment Complex, checked out the show schedule and picked up a couple of tickets.
I’d never been to an IMAX theatre and really didn’t know what to expect. The theatre’s offerings surprised me — in a History Channel sort of way — and it was hard to decide what to see. I opted for tickets to “Lewis & Clark: Great Journey West,” and “Hubble: In Deep Space with Astronauts.” All of the IMAX shows run around an hour, so I figured I see “Lewis & Clark,” grab a bite in the complex at McFarlain’s Restaurant and do “Hubble” after lunch.
The theatre’s line up also includes “Ozarks Legacy and Legend,” “Alaska: Spirit of the Wild” and “ Australia: Land beyond Time,” all hour-long, big screen — and, I do mean “big screen” — productions.
The IMAX screen stands six stories tall and 83 feet wide. The theater’s 12,000-watt, 44-speaker, digital sound system shook the theatre’s seats — and my kidneys — at several points during the features. Jim Stafford, Branson’s long-loved funnyman, introduced each movie and put the theatre’s digital sound and lighting system through its paces before each performance began.
My first feature, a National Geographic produced documentary detailed Lewis and Clark ’s two and a half year journey across the untamed American west. It was great. Educational and entertaining, the soaring camera shots and 80-plus foot wide panoramas reminded of the America’s beauty. I wasn’t the only one in the theatre who was wowed.
“We love it,” Daisy Ogden, a Huntsville, Ark. , resident told me after watching the Lewis and Clark feature. “We’ve been season pass holders for years. We come and spend the whole day watching movies.” Dester, Daisy’s husband and a former NASA engineer, chimed in.
“Some of the movies are so patriotic,” he said. “It makes you feel good about being American.”
After talking with the Ogdens a few minutes, I settled in at McFarlain’s Restaurant for a quick bite before “Hubble.”
Soon after I sat down my server brought out a big hunk of cornbread and I ordered lunch. The food at McFarlain’s was outstanding. Not to dwell on the corn bread, but it was the best I’ve every had — Sorry grandma. Fat and happy, I wandered back over to the IMAX theatre just as the “Ozarks Legends and Legacy” show ended. I stopped a couple exiting the show and asked them for a review.
“It is tremendous,” Coleen Savage, a Branson native, told me. “It’s like a movie of steroids. It makes you feel like you are there.”
Thomas, Coleen’s husband, said he loved the Ozarks history and stunning photography, but the technology behind the IMAX experience fascinated him.
“The story is good, but the way it’s shown in special. The technology is amazing,” Thomas said.
The theater also offers first run Hollywood films nightly.
I settled into my seat for a trip into space to learn more about the Hubble Space Telescope. The movie detailed the launch and multiple repairs to NASA’s high tech galactic spyglass and offered a look deep into space and back in time to the beginnings of the universe. The space shuttle crews operated the cameras and documented the Hubble missions.
“It’s phenomenal,” Exie Barber, a vacationer from Ellsworth, Kan., said. “The seating is perfect.”
“It’s very informational,” Pam, his wife, added. “With the rain it’s a good place to spend the day. We come a lot in the winter. When we come to Branson, we always do the IMAX.”

Want to go?
Branson IMAX Entertainment Complex
3562 Shepherd of the Hills Expressway
Call (417) 335-4832 or go to http://www.bransonimax.com
for ticket information and showtimes

‘Big Show’ a sampler of Branson entertainment

1 Mar

I’m excited about Branson’s “Big Show.” So is Cindy Merry.
“People love it,” the longtime entertainment marketer and 35-year Branson resident recently told me. “It’s a great way for people to see some of the new stuff we’re doing in our shows.”
For 16 years, the “Big Show” has highlighted the shows open during Branson’s winter season — dubbed “Hot Winter Fun” — and previews the spring lineup to come. Originally scheduled for earlier this month, producers postponed the 17th annual “Big Show” because of icy conditions.
I was supposed to be in Branson the day the snowpocalypse blew into the area. I’m crazy lucky the show was rescheduled and I didn’t head south. I’d still be buried in a snowdrift along Highway 65, somewhere between Ozark and Walnut Shade.
Set for Wednesday at Dick Clark’s American Bandstand Theater, the showcase offers a sneak peek at more than a dozen Branson shows and personalities welcoming visitors during February and March.
“The ‘Big Show’ became a launching point to say, ‘Here I am, and I’ve got a show,’” Cindy said. “At the same time, it’s a place for local favorites to show off a little and have a little fun.”

A dozen acts, one stage
I’ve never been to Branson’s “Big Show,” but it sounds like a great opportunity to catch a dozen or so acts, all for the price of a single ticket. That’s value. It’s a chance to check out some shows and decide which shows I want to catch this year.
The League of Branson Theater Owners and Show Producers use funds raised from the “Big Show” to promote Branson entertainment and tourism around the country. Even though raising funds to promote Branson is serious business for Cindy, she said the “Big Show” is nothing but fun.
“People will hear some absolutely amazing music,” she said. “I believe the Hughes Brothers are bringing the entire family, which is about 45 people. We have Pierce Arrow, which is always a crowd favorite and Legends in Concert is going to be showing off some of their new acts, like Aretha Franklin. The Grand Country shows will be there with Grand Jubilee and Comedy Jamboree.”
The fast-paced show is full of surprises, Cindy said.
“It’s a little looser show because we’re not on our own stages,” she said, laughing. “That always leads to interesting things, but the stars still feel really comfortable, like a lot of the people in the audience are their friends and neighbors.”
Cindy assured me that folks who come down for the “Big Show” will get their money’s worth.
“It really moves fast,” she said. “That way you get a lot of stuff packed into about two and a half hours. People look forward to it.”
Baldknobbers’ veteran Bob Leftridge emcees the evening and keeps the show moving.
“Bob is one of the funniest and best guys in town,” she said. “He’s hilarious and he’s a definite Branson favorite.”

Joplin connection
As long as Cindy said she could remember, the “Big Show” has attracted Joplin residents with cabin fever looking to shake the winter blues.
“Since the very beginning, we have always had a big group come from Joplin. They were here from the beginning and come back every single year. They are good neighbors and, as I said, we’ve always had support out of Joplin.”
Talking to Cindy, I realized that Joplin and Branson have something in common: Ozarks hospitality.
“Branson has this amazing small town friendliness that welcomes people,” she said. “One of the lines Jim Stafford uses is ‘It’s Americas ’ favorite hometown,’ which I really like.”
It’s that hometown feel Cindy said keeps visitors coming back to Branson.
“I like the visitors,” she said. “Think about it. They are all here enjoying themselves. It’s not like they are obligated to be here or that it’s a hassle. They are happy to be here and they like us. They like our community, so it makes for a great experience.”

Branson offers plenty of wedding destinations

28 Jan

Lynn Berry wants to make sure Branson isn’t left out when blushing brides-to-be are looking for a place to tie the knot.
“Our mission is to make sure that folks who are planning a destination wedding consider Branson,” said Berry, who manages media relations for the Branson Convention and Visitors Bureau. “For 50 years we’ve been known as a great honeymoon destination, but we do great weddings, too. Having a destination wedding is so popular these days that we wanted to make sure Branson is on everyone’s list.”
Half a century ago, a Branson wedding might have been limited to a simple service performed by a county judge or justice of the peace. A Branson honeymoon may have included a wedding night trout dinner, an early Baldknobbers show and bedding down in a small cabin along the shore of Lake Taneycomo.
You can still experience that kind of Ozarks charm, but times are changing. Today’s couples want more from a destination wedding.
The lovelorn brides and shotgun grooms of yesteryear had limited options getting hitched in the Ozarks. Couples looking for affordable, stylish and unique nuptial locations today have plenty to consider in Branson.
“Oh my gosh, the grand staircase at Titanic is spectacular for a wedding,” Berry bragged of the popular Branson attraction. “It’s a great place to make — or renew — wedding vows. There’s a wonderful view from Big Cedar Lodge, or if you are looking for an elegant service, there is Chateau on the Lake.”
The Branson Hilton, Berry said, has a wonderful view of the “Fire and Water” fountain show which erupts hourly on The Landing. It’s also a great spot to snap post wedding party pictures. Many area hotel resorts offer spa service and will tailor special wedding packages for bridal parties, she said. If you are looking for a wedding location with more of an Ozarks’ flair or a simpler theme, the Branson area offers several options.
“The Wilderness Chapel at Silver Dollar City is so intimate and historic,” Berry said. “We’ve got cute little clapboard churches around the area. There’s one that has been moved from its original location and is now at Shepherd of the Hills. It’s perfect. There is nothing quainter and more romantic than a little clapboard church for a few friends and family to gather in for a wedding.”
If a small church wedding isn’t your thing, how about a floating ceremony? Berry suggested looking into a Lake Taneycomo wedding cruise. You can get married on the water with your closest friends and family on the Landing Princess, a state-of-the-art, 100-foot-long yacht which accommodates up to 125 passengers.
Branson, Berry contends, has something for every couple looking for a memorable spot to swap vows. She said she has watched couples exchange vows wearing camouflage at Bass Pro Shop. A wedding 200 feet in the air, high atop the Shepherd of the Hills Inspiration Tower, would be memorable, or for those looking for a little Vegas flair with out the airfare, Branson is home to half a dozen working Elvis impersonators. Anything is possible.

Hughes Brothers Christmas Show nice end to the season

2 Dec

I spent some time last week in Branson and picked up the last Christmas show of the season. Here goes:

BRANSON, Mo. — Jason Hughes and his four performing brothers come by their love of music and entertaining naturally.
“My dad was a great singer and played the accordion and guitar by ear, and my mother was quite an accomplished clarinetist,” the 39-year-old father of seven said. “My mother and father loved to sing and play. They didn’t do it for a living; they just really enjoyed it a lot.”
As children, the Hughes brothers’ parents encouraged their boys to learn musical instruments, unafraid of a percussive clan.
“They kept a box full of rhythm instruments in the closet and would pass them out to all of us when we were just little,” he said. “We would play the (wooden) block and the triangle. It was a noisy household.”
In the Hughes family, they learned to love entertaining at an early age.
“People would ask us to sing for this or that,” Hughes said. “Somebody would see us singing together and ask us to do something else.”
Eventually, Mom and Dad Hughes stepped off stage and moved behind the scenes, leaving the performing to their talented boys. That was 30 years ago.
Today, the five performing brothers, their wives, dozens of kids and four adopted siblings — more than 40 in all and growing all of the time — bill them selves as “ America ’s Largest Performing Family.” The fertile Branson brood entertains visitors at The Hughes Brothers Theater through Dec. 18 with a special Christmas show and the promise of another new offering next year.

Small breaks
“When we were kids, it was just one gig after another gig. It just got bigger all of the time,” he said. “We stepped up to the opportunities. I don’t think we ever did have a big break. It was just a series of steps and smaller breaks.”
Small steps or not, the boy band from Taylorsville, Utah, got its break. It led them to Branson.
“People were always telling us we should go to Branson,” Hughes said. “We didn’t know much about Branson, but people told us we would be the perfect show.”
The Hughes family won a talent contest in Las Vegas and earned a recording contract in Nashville. They decided to give Branson a look — and an audition — along the way.
They liked what they saw. The Hughes Brothers landed a gig at Silver Dollar City. Soon, Merle Osmond liked what he saw and offered the guys a chance to fill in for his family when the Osmond Brothers were out of town. One gig led to another and, eventually, they landed in their own theater and produced their own shows.
“Then our wives started to perform with us and then we added more variety in the show as kids joined in,” Hughes said. “To us it was just the logical thing that they would be involved. I don’t know that we actually ever made that conscious decision. It just happened.”

Family affair
It all started when Hughes’ brother Marty’s 2-year-old daughter jumped up on the stage one day at Silver Dollar City while her dad and uncles were performing.
“She started to wiggle and dance to the music the audience went nuts,” the proud uncle said. “She knew that it was for her and then she did it every day.”
Hughes laughed when asked if he knew their kids steal the show.
“There’s no doubt,” he said. “When we first started it wasn’t what we expected. It was kind like what happened with us and our parents.”
The family, he said, has always been quick to nurture the talents of their kids.
“We’ve always see the possibilities when they present themselves. It’s funny, as we watch the kids grow and they show an interest we encourage them to pursue it and get lessons. We try to find experts to give them instructions so they can progress and so we can find a way to incorporate them into the show.”
Today, nearly 30 singing and dancing third-generation Hughes are involved in the family show and business.

‘Warm and fuzzy’
The first half of the family’s Christmas show, Hughes said, “is probably the quintessential Christmas show most people will see. We sing all of the great traditional Christmas songs as a family, which Christmas is all about. Some of the songs we sing in the Christmas show we sang when we first started singing together as brothers.”
Hughes said that he and his brother have been singing “Jolly Old St. Nicholas” together for more than 25 years.
“It gives you that all warm and fuzzy Christmas feeling,” he said.
During the second half of the show, the theme turns more spiritual.
“Santa narrates the story of the true meaning of Christmas, with the symbols that Christmas represents,” he said. “In the end, Christmas is about Christ. People always tell us after the show that, ‘We are so glad that you put Christ back into Christmas.’ I think if you take Christ out of Christmas all you end up with is ‘Mas.’”

Never too old — or young — for Branson

30 Nov

I don’t spend enough time with my grandparents.
I guess I never have. Now 85, Orville and Reba — Mama and Papa to us and countless other kids around our old Miami Okla. , neighborhood — spent a big part of their lives raising my three younger brothers and me.
Like many kids, I left the safety and support of Mama and Papa’s place and headed off to college and then the military. Soon it had been 15 years since I was home. I missed a lot of birthdays, Thanksgiving dinners and Christmas mornings. My bad.
A couple of weeks ago I had the chance to head down to Branson for a working weekend and decided to ask the grandparents to tag along. When I work in Branson the days are long and fast paced. Checking out a couple or three shows in a single day is common. I move fast and talk to a lot of tourists along the way looking for a fun story or an interesting character’s tale to tell.
Mama jumped at the chance for a Branson weekend. My Pop agreed and Darren, my brother, and niece Abby hoped onboard, too.
Made me proud
The grandparents and I arrived on the Branson Landing in time for a Taneycomo cruise on the Lake Queen, a paddlewheel themed tour boat. We grabbed a table on the observation deck and settled in for the cruise. As the tour guide, Capt. Dave, guided us around the lake, he told jokes and related some Taneycomo history to his passengers. The scenery was impressive and the weather was beautiful. Pop looked comfortable and was enjoying the pace of the day. I could tell, however, my Mama had other ideas. She, like me, loves to be on the go. Setting around looking at lakeshore and wildlife wasn’t her idea of a good time. Near the end of the tour, Capt. Dave announced a hula-hoop contest and Mama was in. While her best hula-hooping days may be behind her, that didn’t stop 85-year-old from getting up in front of the crowd and making me proud. A 10-year-old boy from Louisiana won the prize, but Mama won the hearts of the crowd. We grabbed a quick lunch after the cruise and checked into our lodging for the night. After a quick rest we headed off the Showboat Branson Belle. The GPs had never been aboard the floating dinner theater before and it was a nice way to spend the night. The Christmas show entertained and I loved being out on Table Rock Lake at night. The temp had dropped and a little rain was blowing, so Pop and I took a fast tour of the decks and went back inside for the show. Todd Oliver’s talking dogs made us all laugh, Papa thought the dinner was great and the Christmas show was uplifting.
Memories
I remember moments from Branson trips early in my life. Me, a brother or three, my Mama, a cooler full of bologna sandwiches, a couple gallons of Kool-Aid and enough Pringles to feed a small army packed into Pop’s Galaxy 500 and off to Branson we went. And, by Branson, I mean Silver Dollar City. That, to me — us, was Branson.
I don’t remember bumper-to-bumper traffic or long lines at rides. I remember “Fire in the Hole.” A Silver Dollar City day trip was often our big summer vacation. We loved it. I still do. It runs in the family. My grandma loves a Branson excursion, just like me. I’m sure it was a hassle for my grandparents, hauling us deep into the Ozarks. For the Woods boys, it was a big, darn deal. Times have changed, we’re all older, but Fire in the Hole still makes us smile. Fiiirrrreeee in the hooooole!
The next morning was cold and wet. My brother and niece arrived overnight and were rearing to get their Branson vacation going.
Silver Dollar City was on the agenda for the day. Pop opted out of a long day being dragged up and down steep hills and camped out at the condo. The playoffs were on and I’m sure he enjoyed some time to himself. The last time my clan made it to SDC for a day of rides and shopping, Mama decided she wasn’t going to let her young great granddaughter have all of the fun. She drew a lot of attention from the crowd standing in line at Powder Keg, the park’s twisting and turning roller coaster, when she buckled herself into the ride as casually as if she was strapping on her seat belt and driving to bingo. After the octogenarian’s thrill ride several 30-something women ran over and gave her a big hug of admiration. No roller coasters at SDC for Mama this time, but Sunday held a surprise for all of us.
It is always fun to see my Mama and my niece interact. They both are full of energy and I’m not sure which one is more difficult to keep up with. As I watched the pair of Woods girls — one 85 and the other 12 — scour the shops and run the park it became clear to me: Your never to old or young for Silver Dollar City .
After an 8-hour day, a holiday buffet and the parks grand tree lighting ceremony, it was time to grab some barbecue takeout and settle in for the night.
My inspiration
Sunday morning was sunny and warm, so we headed over to Shepherd of the Hills and. I picked up some tickets for the new Vigilante Ziprider. I asked Pop if he wanted to take the half-mile ride from atop Inspiration Tower strapped into a canvas seat. “Hell no,” was his quick answer. It’s been more than 57 years since he leapt out of an U.S. Army aircraft into the Battle of the Bulge and survived. I suspect that satisfied his appetite for thrill seeking. Mama took a few seconds to consider her decision, but my niece and brother were in.
“I’ll do it,” Mama said, unsure what she was getting into. We hopped in the elevator and ascended 170 feet to the Ziprider’s staging area, where they weighed in and waited for their turn. As Pop and me watched three generations of woods slide down the cable to the landing pad below, we both laughed. After the crew returned to the parking area below Inspiration Tower I asked mama what she thought of the ride. “It was OK,” she said. My niece — on the other hand — couldn’t stop talking about the ride. I suppose after raising four grandsons it takes a little more than a 170 foot drop at 45 miles an hours to get you too excited.

Dave Woods is new media manager for The Joplin Globe

Christmas cruising in Branson

30 Nov

I always have a packed schedule when I head to Branson for a holiday weekend. It’s easy to pack in several shows during your stay, spending much of your time inside dark theaters listening to Christmas carols and watching holiday dance numbers.
Don’t get me wrong: I love Branson’s holiday shows, but think many people forget about the other activities available that don’t involve singing, dancing or Christmas carols. On my last Branson getaway I decided to check out a few fall activities, which would keep me outside in the brisk, Ozarks’ air.
I started my weekend by hopping aboard the Lake Queen, an old-time stern wheeler that takes visitors on daily cruises on Lake Taneycomo. Built in 1913, the lake is the oldest man-made lake west of the Mississippi and offers more than 108 miles of scenic shoreline.  I pulled up a chair on the open air observation deck and settled in for the cruise.
The guide for my lake excursion, Capt. Dave Taplin, a former oysterman, fisherman and self-described “Yankee in the bible belt,” navigates the 100 foot long Queen around the former White River. He tells stories and bad jokes and relates the area’s rich history along the way. He has a great gig.
During the paddlewheeler’s evening cruise you can see the Christmas lights that decorate the bluff above Taneycomo, the lights strung around The Branson Landing and the Fire and Water Show syncronized to holiday music.
“People ask me, ‘Don’t you ever get bored doing this every day?,’” he told me, turning the Queen’s helm over to Brendon McLaughlin, a 10-year-old tourist from West Monroe, La. “I always say,’ Does your office look like this?’ You can’t beat this. All the critters and the birds and the scenery. The people love this cruise.”
It’s easy to understand why the cruises are popular. During my 90 minutes on the water, I spotted nesting eagles, blue heron fishing for lunch and a handful of other wildlife wandering the shore.
I wasn’t the only one wowed by the Queen.
Brendon, who — under Capt. Dave’s watchful eye — steered the ship for the better part of the cruise, was thrilled he was able to drive the Lake Queen again.
“It isn’t my first time,” he said, smiling. “I got to drive last year when we were here. None of my friends ever got to drive a ship. I hoped I would get to do it again.”
Brendon’s excitement is typical of those Capt. Dave lets take the wheel.
“I let ‘em drive anytime,” Dave said. “A lot of the time I get kids with disabilities. It’s like the thrill of their lives, adults, too. I’ve never seen a kid that didn’t like it. It’s great fun for everybody.”
Maybe next time Dave will let me drive. Go to http://www.bransonlandingcruises.com for ticket prices and cruise information.
Showboatin’
On Friday night I boarded a Christmas cruise of another kind.
The Showboat Branson Belle, a 278-foot-long, 3-million-pound vessel built specifically to cruise Table Rock Lake, accommodates up to 720 guests in its floating theater. My cruise was an 8 p.m. dinner cruise and included a singing and dancing Christmas show with Todd Oliver and his talking dogs.
The Showboat celebrated its15th year sailing the 50-year-old lake in 2010. The show was nice, Oliver’s dogs funny and the dinner top -notch.
Next season Oliver moves his comedic canines to the Jim Stafford Theater, so a comedy cruise will be added to the Showboat’s line up and the entire menu will be new.
It’s kind of scary — but, pretty cool — cruising the lake at night. During intermission Showboat passengers are invited to go topside to the covered observation deck and check out the shoreline dotted with Christmas lights. It was a peaceful way to spend a few minutes, watching and listening to the paddle wheel churn up the lake.
“I’ve never seen anything like this,” Jim Jell, a passenger, said as he stood on the Showboat’s stern. “I was in the Navy, so it’s interesting to see how the crew works. It’s a neat way to see a show. I’m glad we got to see the guy with the talking dogs before he left. That’s funny.”
Jim’s wife, Mary, loved the dinner cruise, too.
“I love the band,” she  said. “They really know how to do it.  The dancers are good. The Christmas singing is so nice. I was really surprised the food was so good. That’s a lot of work to feed all us that fast.”
On a typical day the Showboat’s galley crew turns out more than 3,000 three-course meals. Dinner and a show on the Branson Belle will set you back around $58 plus tax, but prices vary depending on the showtime and the menu you select.
Titanic
Are you a history buff? Satisfy your hankering for maritime history with a Christmas cruise aboard the Titanic.
OK, it’s not really a cruise. You never leave land when you crusie aboard this Titanic, but who would want to go through the same experience the passengers of the ill-fated steam ship did when it sank mid-ocean in April of 1912?
The Titanic Museum Attraction sits anchored at 3235 West Highway 76 in Branson. You can’t miss it. I’ve been aboard the giant liner several times and there’s always something new to see or some new event to check out.
The newest additions to the Titanic’s crew are Molly and Carter, a pair of king Charles spaniels who greet guests on the ship’s gangway every day at noon. The two cute canines pay tribute to the dogs that — like 1,517 other passengers — lost their lives when the “unsinkable” ship sank in the ice cold waters of the Atlantic.
During the holidays the Titanic’s Grand Staircase is decked with Christmas garland, the giant ship’s rails are lined with lights and Santa and his team of reindeer welcome guests aboard Fridays and Saturdays through Dec. 11.
More into movies than history? Titanic features an exhibit dedicated to the James Cameron movie that brought the doomed White Star liner to life for millions of moviegoers. The exhibit features costumes from the film and displays a Heart of the Ocean necklace made famous by the film.
More than 400 personal and private artifacts — salvaged from the ocean floor — are displayed in 20 rooms inside the museum, each telling a different story. A family 4-pack of tickets runs $53.87 plus tax.
Merry Christmas and happy holidays.

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