November 21, 2007 Edition

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Branson goes all
out for Christmas

Amber Adams
Staff Writer

On Nov. 8-11 my friend Lisa and I enjoyed a media kick-off in Branson for Christmas in the Ozarks. We attended several shows, visited famous landmarks and enjoyed a two-hour cruise on Table Rock Lake.

The Branson area offers 52 theaters and more than 100 shows. Breakfast shows, matinees and evening performances round out a full day of great entertainment. Country, pop, swing, rock n' roll, gospel, classical and Broadway-style music and productions join comedy and magic shows to provide visitors a wide array of entertainment choices.

During our stay we saw a variety of shows including Presleys' Christmas Jubilee. Presleys', which prides itself as "Branson's original show on the strip," has a wonderful Christmas show. It has a blend of Christmas favorites, contemporary and traditional country and Southern gospel. The show was entertaining and the perfect way to kickoff our weekend in Branson.

We also attended a morning performance by Yakov Smirnoff, a Russian immigrant whose comedy centers around his journey to becoming an American. Smirnoff landed in America in 1977 with his parents and less than $100 in his pocket. He became an American citizen on July 4, 1986, when he was sworn in by Chief Justice Warren Burger, at the Statue of Liberty. He has hosted over three million visitors at his theater in Branson since opening in 1992. His show had us laughing out loud and is entertaining for young and old alike.

Lisa and I attended an afternoon show at Dick Clark's American Bandstand Theater. The performances there were great as well, but didn't compare to the atmosphere of the restaurant. We had arrived early for the show and spent two hours at a table enjoying the music and videos of American Bandstand re-runs. The food was delicious, the staff was friendly and the restaurant manager introduced himself to us and gave us a little history of the building including the theater, Club '57, and the museum, '57 Heaven. As much as I love a good show, nothing beats great service.

Later that evening we had the pleasure of taking a two-hour dinner cruise on Table Rock Lake aboard the Showboat Branson Belle, an 1890s style paddle-wheeler. We enjoyed a three-course meal and Broadway-style entertainment. The cruise was a memorable event, with breathtaking shoreline views from the Belle's three decks and the brilliant lights of the boat reflecting off the still waters of the lake. The Showboat Branson Belle, which is America's largest ship built on a land-locked lake, is not inexpensive, but the experience is priceless.

My favorite part of the trip was Saturday afternoon when we headed to An Old Time Christmas at Silver Dollar City. The scenery in the few miles between Branson and Silver Dollar City was beautiful. Some of the views from the mountains ~ hillsides covered in blazing oranges, reds and yellows ~ were awe-inspiring.

When we arrived, I was impressed by the old-fashioned buildings and decorations, but thought it would be like most other theme parks. As we made our way down Main Street to the Opera House Theater I began to see the difference. The streets were lined with old time gift shops, whittlers and people playing mountain music.

"A Dickens' Christmas Carol" was the highlight of the trip for me. I have always loved the classic story, and the cast truly brought the magic of it to life. This original musical adaptation of the famous classic by Charles Dickens features astounding special effects, stunning Victorian scenery and exquisite period costuming. The production showcases a talented cast of 14 actors, accompanied by a live band, in an inspiring story of redemption and hope.

When the performance was over, we enjoyed a traditional Christmas dinner at Reunion Hall. We stayed for the lighting of the five-story special effects Christmas tree, which serves as the grand centerpiece as it twinkles and dances in unison with over 450,000 lights adorning the surrounding buildings and trees.

The Branson Area Festival of Lights Drive-Through is the centerpiece of the area's Christmas celebration. The journey, which begins with a magical one-mile drive along a path illuminated with more than 120 displays, will delight children and adults alike. Conveniently located off Shepherd of the Hills Expressway and Roark Valley Road, this one-of-a-kind family experience is spectacular.

Also in the Branson/Lakes area, families can view lighting displays at the Enchanted Forest on Indian Point Road and the Trail of Lights at Shepherd of the Hills.

In four days, we couldn't begin to do and see everything on my list for the holiday season. Whether yours is a family of two or a family of five, I would definitely recommend an Ozark Mountain Christmas.

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