The Joplin Globe, Joplin, MO

March 16, 2012

Dave Woods: Promoter gives Branson recommendations

By Dave Woods
Digital market development manager

BRANSON Mo. — Cindy Merry has seen the spring break travel season explode during her years in Branson.

“We consider ourselves the other spring break destination,” she told me recently.  “We get a lot of families who come here to experience the diversity of shows and attractions. I think there is something for everyone.”

For more than 20 years, Cindy has advised some of Branson’s most successful entertainers, show producers and theater owners. She’s deeply involved in promoting Branson attractions and shows through the convention and visitors bureau, Branson Show League and area marketing councils.

Cindy knows Branson.

I asked her what shows and attractions she would recommend to families headed to Branson for spring break. She was quick with a high flying recommendation.



Eco-friendly

“The Branson Zipline is an adventure,” she said. “The Canopy Tours at Wolf Creek Preserve were designed to be something just about everybody can participate in. They’ve added the Wolf Creek Photo Safari, a walking tour guided by Safari Dan. People can get a gentle, downhill guided tour and unique views of the zipliners overhead. It’s nice to get out in the pristine Ozarks.”

I harnessed myself up not long ago and took the zipline challenge. It’s a great time and provides a unique opportunity to see Ozarks nature and wildlife from above.

Since opening a couple of seasons ago, Branson Zipline Canopy Tours has added the Ol’ Blue Gemstone Mining attraction. Families and reunion groups will enjoy the new Prospector Pavilion, a place where groups can get together at base camp and enjoy the Ozarks outdoors while friends and family soar on the ziplines above.

The Blue Streak Fast Line, the attraction’s fastest and highest zipline, and Free Fall Express, a take-your-breath-away controlled line drop, are adventure activities for those with a need for speed and a stomach for extreme adventure. Cindy said she has twice  done the Fast Line and Free Fall. Once wasn’t enough for me either.

“Last fall I got to go out with a Boy Scout troop,” she said. “That was really fun. The dads were more nervous than the kids were.”



Longtime favorite

While many families come to Branson in search of outdoors adventure, many come for more traditional activities. For those folks, Cindy said The Jim Stafford Show fits the bill.

“I’ve worked with Jim Stafford as long as he’s been in Branson,” she said. “I call him the No. 1 master of laughter.”

The Jim Stafford show has been a staple of the Branson Strip for more than two decades, but Cindy said there’s always something new to see in his musical variety show.

“There are some songs that you have to do,” she said of Stafford standards, such as “Spiders and Snakes.” “He rotates songs in and out of the show and puts in new bits and, as his kids have grown up, he’s developed quite a lot of talent in them.”

There’s a lot of comedy that’s grown from the onstage interaction with his son and daughter who perform regularly in the show.

Another veteran Branson performer, with whom Cindy has close connections, is Kirby VanBurch, Branson’s signature illusionist.

“Kirby puts enough humor into the show that makes it vastly entertaining for adults as well as the kids,” she said. “With Bambi, ‘The Princess of Magic,’ back in the show, it adds a little pixie dust into the show, which is charming for little girls in the audience.”

He also highlights illusions that include a variety of big cats and other animals. Adults and children alike are wowed, Cindy said, by Kirby’s back stage tours. After each show visitors are taken behind the scenes to meet the tigers and other big cats featured during the magic show.



Cultural experience

One show Cindy said is a great cultural adventure -- and has cultural appeal -- is the Acrobats of China. This year featuring the New Shanghai Circus, the 40-plus cast member show includes jugglers, balancing acrobats, Chinese lion and dragon characters.

At any moment, Cindy said, the audience will see many different acts on stage at one time.

“The unicyclists are a featured this year,” she said. “They are unique and there is an ariel Butterfly Love Ballet that is really beautiful.”

The Acrobats of China Theatre was designated an international cultural site by the Chinese Acrobatic Society because of the outreach its performers have done in the Midwest, she said.

Cindy told me that since the Feb. 29 storm that damaged several theaters along the historic Strip, they have seen an outpouring of recovery support and assistance.

“While efforts and cleanup is absolutely necessary,” the Branson marketer said. “The message we want to get out is that we want our visitors to come to Branson and have an absolutely wonderful experience. The show always goes on in Branson.”