By Regina Lynch-Hudson
City Smarts Branson, Mo., is a great vacation destination that hosts roughly 8 million visitors each year. This town of 7,500, located on the White River in southwest Missouri, has become a major entertainment epicenter, producing more than 100 live shows in 50 theatres; fishing and boating on three pristine lakes (the White River got dammed up 50 years ago); and a 55-acre internationally acclaimed Silver Dollar City theme park that keeps the Ozark Mountains culture alive. The main business corridor is on “The Strip”— MO Hwy. 76 — which runs east and west through the surrounding mélange of “Neon and Nature.”
Branson is also home to three outlet centers; the Historic Downtown Branson shopping district filled with quaint shops, cafes and flea markets; and Branson Landing, the $420 million lakefront development downtown which blends shopping, dining, $7.5 million water and fire fountains, marinas, nightlife and the new Branson Convention Center and Hilton Hotel. Other exciting developments include the TITANIC — the world’s largest museum attraction; Silver Dollar City’s Culinary and Crafts School; John Daly’s Murder Rock Golf Course at Branson Creek and the Branson Car Museum’s world-class collection of vintage automobiles
Martin Niboh moved to Branson 10 years ago following a brief stint in Spokane, Wash., and after teaching at the Center for Nuclear Research in Kent, Ohio. He was intrigued with the work-study program at the College of the Ozarks, and the fact that students could study for free while working for the institution. Niboh founded the Torchbearer Foundation to change the future of Africa in a manner that transforms individuals from the inside out and develops communities from the bottom up. In addition to teaching physics and math at the College of the Ozarks, he treks to Africa every year to fuel his grassroots movement. With supporters in Branson that help with day-to-day running of the foundation and fundraising he gives the location a “thumbs up.” www.thetorchbearer.org
The Branson Gray Line is the best way to travel when in town. Branson Gray Line owns Branson Yellow Cab, Branson Checker Cab, Branson City Cab, Limo Branson and American Flat Rate Shuttle. There are no bus or rail public transportation services in Branson.
Survival Kit: Pack opera glasses to see Tinkerbell flit around the stage in Peter Pan at the Mansion Theatre; and be sure to bring along Mr. Audubon’s bird books as the Ozarks are one of the premiere flyways in America.
Catching ZZZs: The Hilton Branson Convention Center Hotel, alongside the new Branson Convention Center, has been designated as a “Four Diamond” lodging establishment by AAA. Located within walking distance of Historic Downtown Branson and the sprawling new Branson Landing shopping and entertainment district, the 294 rooms and suites offer guests a chance to experience the amenities of a metropolitan hotel in the heart of small town America. The hotel has a sophisticated, urban-meets-nature aesthetic that’s reflected in the hotel’s lobby, a warm and inviting space that features a three-sided stone fireplace, natural wood accents, cozy, custom-designed seating areas and a stunning grand staircase that elevates guests to the hotel’s second floor in style. www.bransonconvention.com
The Power Lunch:Trofi at the Hilton Branson Convention Center Hotel is the ultimate power lunch location. Chef Nathan Read whips up inventive lunches that offer starters, mezethes, antipasti and tapas. A fireplace and a fountain create intimate seating areas ideal for gatherings before your meal or immediately following one. 417.336.5400, 200 East Main Street
Cultural Chow: Bleu Olive, in historic downtown Branson, presents the exciting flavors of the Mediterranean. The chefs’ passion for the Mediterranean is reflected in the freshness of the food and the use of many herbs is typical of Greece, Spain, France and Italy. An extensive wine list and a variety of wines by the glass complement the dining experience. The fish plaki, spanakopita and other traditional regional items will delight. www.bleuolive.com
Cyber Site: Dino’s 24 Karrot Cake Café is owned by the pianist and entertainer, Dino Kartsonakis. A few years ago, he went into the kitchen and cooked up a heavenly carrot cake. Today, you can access the world from Dino’s 24 Karrot Cake Café with a heavenly piece of cake and a great cup of coffee. www.24karrot.com
Networkin’: Networking is traditionally done during intermission at many of the more than 100 live shows in Branson. You’ll enjoy everything from Irish step-dancing at Branson Variety Theater’s “Spirit of the Dance,” an evening of laughter at the Jim Stafford Theatre, or be amazed by the internationally acclaimed illusionists, Kirby and Bambi Van Burch. You’ll certainly have a rockin’ good time at Dick Clark’s American Bandstand Theater.
To De-Stress: The elegant, full-service AAA Four-Diamond Chateau on the Lake Resort and Spa is the perfect place to unwind and be reinvigorated. The $6 million, 14,000-square-foot spa features 10 luxurious treatment rooms; customized body treatments; a soothing infinity tub that is filled from the ceiling; an opulent outdoor Roman bath situated beneath a waterfall overlooking scenic Table Rock Lake; a lake-view movement therapy studio for Yoga; and a unique barber spa. www.chateauonthelake.com
Footloose & Fancy-free: Branson is truly the live music show capital of the world. There is music from nearly every era and style performed daily both by rising young entertainers and legendary stars.
Flight Time: The Branson Airport (BKG), the first privately financed and operated commercial service airport in the U.S., offers low-cost non-stop service on AirTran Airways twice daily from Atlanta. AirTran Airways offers daily, non-stop flights to more than 56 major U.S. cities. 1.800.AIR.TRAN,www.airtran.com
Someone Helpful: Branson/Lakes Area Chamber of Commerce/CVB, 1.800.BRANSON or ExploreBranson.com .
Thanks to our friends at Branson/Lakes Area Chamber of Commerce/CVB and other tourist venues for providing us with facts, figures and fun information for this article.