Branson – What a City!

November 19, 2009

Lu, Yakov, and meLu, Yakov, and me

Last week, my bride and I visited Branson, Missouri for the first time. What a city!

If you recognize that Russian in the above photo you know I’m taking liberty with his famous line – “America! What a country!” Yakov Smirnoff was one of the entertainers we saw during our stay in Branson.

The planning for this trip began several months ago when I received an email listing various destinations where we could stay for under $300 for seven nights. The one place on the list that we had not yet visited was Branson. Since we’d heard some good things about the place, we decided to go there to celebrate our tenth wedding anniversary.

Early on we decided to drive. The “hotel” was a real bargain and we wanted to keep the costs down to a reasonable level. Because Branson is about 600 miles from our home – and not easily accessible via Interstate highways, we opted to take two days to get there and two days to get back. For variety, we decided to go to Branson by way of Paducah, Kentucky, and return on a southerly route through Memphis.

Murals painted on the "Sea" wall

Paducah sits along side the Ohio River where the Ohio is joined by the Tennessee River. Obviously, the town was flooded many times before a series of flood control dams were built. Prior to the construction of the dams, walls were built with flood gates that could be closed as necessary.

Wall with a track for the gateTrack for the steel gate built into the wall.

Passing through the gate in the photo above, we had to walk down hill for quite a while before getting to the water’s edge. The river was a bit high that day, but would have had to rise a great deal (I’d guess roughly thirty feet) before reaching the wall. The wall was about fifteen or twenty feet high. If I was in the neighborhood of a flood that high, I’d begin building my ark!

Besides taking a walk by the river, Lu and I visited the American Quilters Museum. I honestly expected to be totally bored. What a surprise! I was amazed at the art work. The people who created the quilts displayed there would put Betsy Ross to shame.

After a good night’s sleep, we moved on to Branson.

All Aboard!

One of the first things we did in Branson was ride the Scenic Branson Railway. We took the dinner excursion which pulled out of the station at 5:00 PM. We made the reservation in August and never gave a thought to the end of daylight savings time. It was an excellent meal, but we saw little beyond the dark of night as we gazed out the windows.

The next event was the Yakov Smirnoff show.

Yakov singing "From Red to Redneck"

For the uninitiated, Yakov came to American when he was in his early twenties. At the time he could speak no English. Most of his humor deals with his misunderstanding of our language. For instance, he told of driving across the country and being encouraged by signs saying, “Right on! Red”. He also felt very welcome when billboards proclaimed, “America loves Smirnoff”.

The next day we took a ride on a showboat.

My bride waiting to board the Branson Belle

Inside the showboat

The show featured a number of acts, but our favorite was Todd Oliver with his talking dogs.

We saw two other shows while we were there – “The Twelve Irish Tenors” and “Broadway’s Spirit of Christmas”. We were not permitted to take pictures at those theaters.

Earlier I referred to our accommodations as the “hotel”. In truth, it was a condo with a full kitchen, living room, Jacuzzi tub, balcony and much more than we expected.

The "living" area of our condo

To make the entire trip even more enjoyable, I was able to use “points” to get free motel stays in Paducah and Memphis, and Lu won $100 worth of Shell gasoline gift cards. We had also bought gift cards through our church fund raiser for restaurants and grocery stores. Thus, most of the trip was pre-paid! What a vacation!

The motel in Memphis left a lot to be desired. It was along the Mississippi River among a group of deserted warehouses.

Abandoned warehouses in Memphis

There was one other highlight of our trip. While some people might not see it in the same light, we felt honored to have the next picture taken.

Lu, Oliver North, and me

Colonel North was in town for the Veteran’s Day celebration. In fact, Branson, Missouri has an entire week of festivities to honor our veterans. Watching the parade was another highlight for us.

An old fart showing off

When we first told our friends we were going to Branson, many teased us about going there to gamble. Well, it’s a good thing gambling wasn’t our main intention. There are no casinos in Branson.

But there are many great shows, museums, restaurants, amusement parks, and other attractions that make Branson a wonderful place to visit. We were told the average age of visitors is 57, but I assure you there is something to do for people of all ages. As far as I could tell, all the shows are family friendly.

I should also note that I am not being paid for this endorsement, but if the convention and visitors bureau of Branson wants to invite my bride and me back as their guests, we’ll be glad to go!