|Outlaw Run is the world’s steepest and second-fastest wooden roller coaster.|
Back in 1991, just under 3 million visitors headed to Branson, but two decades later, both group and individual travel to Branson are chugging along nicely. More than 7.5 million visitors arrived at this southwestern Missouri vacation destination in 2013. First-time visitors will discover eco-activities, world-class shows, shopping, rail and boat attractions, and much more. And visitors who’ve visited Branson in the past will discover much new in 2014.
Silver Dollar City just opened the $10 million Outlaw Run, the world’s steepest and second fastest wooden coaster; it twists upside down three times. The park’s theme this year is “Celebrate America,” so clients can expect old-fashioned, patriotic fun that showcases Ozark heritage, regional crafts, American history and savory favorites, including the park’s famous fried chicken.
From July 19 to August 3, the park’s “Moonlight Madness” festival brings extended hours at more than 30 rides and attractions, a new nightly fireworks finale, science fun, and night-time street dances. “Southern Gospel Picnic” runs from August 22 to September 1, followed by “Country Music Weekend,” September 6-7; “National Harvest and Cowboy Festival” (with a new Wild West show), September 12 – October 25; and “Old Time Christmas,” November 1 – December 30. The latter will sparkle with five million holiday lights, production shows and a parade.
A sister entity, White Water, is a 13-acre tropically themed waterpark. For 2014, the new $1.7 million KaPau Plummet launches riders from two 240-foot water slides. After the floor drops beneath them, riders take a 70-degree plunge followed by a spiraling loop.
Newly opened at the Titanic Museum Attraction is an exhibition gallery dedicated to the eight musicians who played onboard the ill-fated ship. Running through January 2017, the exhibition talks about the musicians’ lives, loves and legacy.
The Branson Auto & Farm Museum has a new locale along Branson’s “Strip.” The interactive museum has one showroom that displays cars and trucks, and another for farm equipment.
|The Titanic Museum Attraction has a new exhibition gallery dedicated to the eight musicians who played onboard the ship.|
Train buffs will likely enjoy the Branson Scenic Railway, a collection of historic passenger cars that roll through the wilderness landscapes of the Ozark Mountains’ foothills on 1.5 hour trips. A dinner train ride serves a four-course candlelight meal on Saturdays through November 1; reservations are required.
Outdoor lovers can enjoy golf as well as fishing, boating, hiking, horseback riding and other eco-options in Branson. For example, Kayak Branson offers guided paddles and has just introduced “stand-up” paddleboards. New for 2014, Parakeet Pete’s Waterfront Zipline offers visitors a ski-lift-like chair ride from Branson Landing across Lake Taneycomo to a Mount Branson observation platform for scenic views and photos, then return across the lake.
Clients seeking a bit calmer lake experience might head out on Big Cedar Lodge’s 62-feet Lady Liberty, a deluxe dinner yacht that cruises on Table Rock Lake. Showboat Branson Belle, a paddlewheeler, offers a two-hour lake cruise; its dinner and show highlights American regional songs and Motown hits. One incredible act onboard is that of Janice Martin, the world’s only violin-playing aerialist.
For shopaholics, Tanger Outlet Mall awaits with more than 65 shops and designer outlets. Historic Downtown Branson has quaint shops as well as the 50-year-old Dick’s Oldtime 5 & 10 with 50,000 different items. Head in simply to view the store’s unusual collections of aviation prints, arrowheads, baseball memorabilia and toy trains.
A free trolley shuttle runs from downtown to Branson Landing, a pedestrian-friendly complex filled with shops and boutiques, eateries and entertainment options. A must-see is the $7.5 million water, fire, light and music spectacle.
On the romance front, Lenni Neimeyer, director of leisure group sales, Branson/Lakes Area Convention and Visitors Bureau says the destination is seeking more wedding and honeymoon business, and that it has many gorgeous natural venues couples will love. The CVB also, at no cost or obligation, will work with agents who wish to inquire about potential arrangements; it will send out the information to its members and the venues will respond directly back to the agent.
As for destination trends, Neimeyer cites increased demand for soft adventure, family group travel, golf outings, faith-based travel by small church groups, culinary diversions (such as cooking classes at Silver Dollar City) and multigenerational travel. She urges agents planning a potential client trip to save time by using the “My Branson Vacation” planning tool at the top of www.explorebranson.com.
Many hotels and tour operators also offer both individual and group vacation packages that include show or attraction tickets, dining, and hotel accommodations. For example, Branson Country Tours will customize packages for travel agents and pay 10-12 percent commission.
Another good resource is the Branson/Lakes Area CVB’s new 2014 Travel Agent Commission Guide, which showcases tourism partners that pay agent commission; go to www.explorebranson.com/groups/travel and scroll to the end of the page. On that same page, you can request a Travel Agent Sales Kit.
Shows, Shows, Shows
Branson has myriad productions that showcase everything from Broadway tunes to country music and rock ‘n’ roll, to magic and comedy. New for 2014:
* Grammy-winning country music star Billy Dean has a show at The Starlite Theatre with his new band, Steel Horses.
* The “Jonah” show at Sight & Sound Theatres brings the familiar Bible story to life.
* Dixie Stampede turns up the heat with five times the pyrotechnics of previous seasons for its “Roman Ride of Fire” trick riding performance.
Find all 2014 shows at www.explorebranson.com/shows.