|The Hilton Convention Center and Hilton Promenade are both just a block away from the Branson Scenic Railway station.|
“Surprising” is how you might describe Branson, MO, particularly to clients who have never been there but think they know what it’s all about. Yes, this family-focused entertainment enclave in the heart of the Ozarks is renowned for its star-studded shows and quirky attractions.
For example, it’s home to crooner Andy Williams’ Moon River Theater and hosts shows by violinist Shoji Tabuchi; humorist Yakov Smirnoff; country, gospel and hillbilly artists; as well as martial arts and acrobatic performers from China.
Dolly Parton’s Dixie Stampede Dinner Show features 32 horses, trick riders, chuck wagons and, this year, “The Return of the Buffalo.” As an eerie mist and orange lighting—symbolic of the setting sun in the old West—blankets the arena floor, a herd of bison dramatically stampedes in and then stands silently engulfed in the mist.
As a result of these stellar shows, Branson has long been a great groups destination, patronized heavily by motorcoach operators bringing seniors to the shows and dining events. But on a recent visit, Travel Agent uncovered a more subtle, upscale side to this southwestern Missouri tourism enclave.
All around, families, young couples and groups of young people were enjoying what downtown has to offer. Lodging isn’t just the $49-a-night variety anymore. There are still plenty of affordable options in Branson, but professionals and younger travelers often head for the deluxe Hiltons of Branson.
Opened a few years ago, the Hilton Promenade and slightly newer Hilton Convention Center a block away are great bases from which to explore the historical downtown area on foot.
Only a block separates the two, so guests of one Hilton can patronize venues of the other. For a romantic dinner or other celebration, send clients to the convention hotel’s high-end Level 2 Steakhouse. One tasty option is the Certified Hereford filet mignon with whiskey sauce and grilled onions, accompanied by a salad of bibb lettuce, strawberries, pineapple, Chevre cheese, toasted coconut, candied walnuts and vanilla vinaigrette. In an unusual twist, a restaurant staffer comes to each table and explains the multiple types of steak knives from which diners can choose.
The nearby Hilton Promenade’s big plus is that it’s immediately adjacent to Branson Landing, a robust dining, shopping and entertainment area with a pedestrian walking street. An Irish pub, seafood house, burger place and steakhouse are among the 10-plus restaurants there. The hotel’s accommodations are spacious and well-appointed. A deluxe standard room boasts a large flat-screen TV, comfortable seating and bedding, and large bathroom with a separate rain forest shower and soaking tub.
Shoppers will appreciate Branson Landing’s 100-plus specialty and mall stores, with such names as Aeropostale, Bath & Body Works, Brookstone, C.J. Banks, Coldwater Creek and Victoria’s Secret. Bass Pro Shops and Belk department store anchor the landing, with Ride The Ducks and day-cruise boats departing from the riverside docks. The culinary-minded should check out Devo, an olive oil and balsamic vinegar shop with more than 60 varieties to taste and have custom bottled and shipped home.
After a day of shopping, clients may enjoy a relaxing dinner on the Branson Scenic Railway, which rolls along 40 miles of track roundtrip from Branson through the Ozark foothills in both Missouri and Arkansas. The train station is just a one-block walk from either Hilton. The cars date to the 1940s and 1950s; top-level dome seating provides panoramic views and some lower level cars have tables and chairs. Dinner train tickets are $55 per person, while regular excursions are $25.25 for adults and $14.75 for kids three to 12.
On another day, clients can just walk out of their hotel lobby and head upward to reach Branson’s historical downtown core. The colorful Dick’s 5 and 10 is celebrating its 50th year in business. The garish store is a must-see, and overflows with party decorations, souvenirs, aviation prints, glassware, collectibles, sundries and complete sections devoted to Elvis and Betty Boop.
Elsewhere downtown, clients will discover gift shops, a vintage clothing store, wine, boutiques and galleries. Travel Agent dropped in to meet famed wildlife artist T. Morgan Crain at his 214 S. Commercial St. gallery, which exhibits paintings and limited edition prints of ducks, eagles, bears and other critters.
Self-taught, Crain is both talented and approachable. His award winning paintings of wild ducks, in particular, are incredibly lifelike. Clients may watch him paint, or strike up a conversation and get a gallery tour.
|Wildlife artist T. Morgan Crain at his gallery in Branson|
If clients are driving around, they might want to check out Branson Mill Craft Village, a few miles away. Depending on the time of their visit, they’ll get a chance to see pottery being thrown, jewelry created or stained glass crafted. Craft and gift shop booths abound, and at certain times, pickers reward guests with a dulcimer or banjo concert.
Newly opened is Titanic, “the world’s largest Titanic museum attraction.” At Silver Dollar City, the area’s hometown theme park, new features include Half Dollar Holler, for children ages 3-7. And a host of new entertainment and production shows are planned for the holiday season.