JOPLIN, Mo. —
I travel a lot during the holidays. Some of it is for work assignments, some is simply for pleasure. Some both -- nothing like a busman's holiday to get a guy out of town for the weekend.
I've been on the road a lot the past several weeks. Destinations included the following: Branson for Andy Williams' memorial service and a weekend of Christmas shows; Tulsa for work-related training; Oklahoma City for a mental health weekend, which was much needed, by the way; and Kansas City for a holiday look around the city, a little shopping and a couple of Christmas shows. I have the spirit of the season.
A strange thing happened to me in Kansas City. So many places I visited there reminded me of Andy Williams and Branson. Each time I walked through the lobby of my downtown K.C. hotel, Andy Williams' Christmas songs were playing. Andy's voice and spirit were everywhere.
The classic Christmas crooner's songs celebrated the season even though it was 70 degrees and sunny. Piano players in restaurants on the plaza were singing Andy's songbook and shoppers hummed his tunes as they treated themselves to retail therapy.
One Kansas City acquaintance, who works in the convention and travel industry, reminded me how difficult it must be for Branson folks to celebrate their first Christmas in more than 20 years without Andy. It is for me. I know it must be for them.
Though Andy is gone, his Christmas spirit and love of family live on. After all, there are trees to light, halls to deck, presents to wrap and stockings to hang. And, don't forget, the shopping -- it is the American way to celebrate. Hello, Tanger Outlet.
Hearing Andy's Christmas soundtrack playing nearly everywhere I went in K.C. kept me in the spirit. Christmas really is "The Most Wonderful Time of the Year," no matter what city you spend it in. I'll write more about my K.C. Christmas excursion in the coming weeks.
I have at least one more Branson weekend in my near future, before my traditional New Year's Eve Branson blowout. Yes, adults out there, Branson is a great place to ring in the new year. But before that there are still dozens of Christmas shows to see, festive lights to enjoy and Yuletide family times to spend together.
Here are a few holiday-themed options for those friends and families who want to wash the humbug away:
The last time I was down Branson way I checked out the Branson Area Festival of Lights after an evening show. Through early January, the 1-mile, lighted Christmas drive-through attraction entertains all ages.
The attraction is easy to find and offers more than 175 Christmas-themed displays. Located off Shepherd of the Hills Expressway and Roark Valley Road, the one-of-a-kind family experience is spectacular and challenges any Christmas light displays I've experienced. I do love me some Christmas lights. The Branson Area Festival of Lights drive-through is open daily from dusk until 11 p.m.
- Silver Dollar City remains a staple for those looking for a little Christmas cheer. With millions of lights, Christmas-themed shows, a multi-story LED Christmas tree and a parade of lights each evening, it is a winter wonderland, even with balmy and unpredictable Ozarks temperatures.
- Feeling adventurous or wanting a grand view of the Ozarks below? Give Shepherd of the Hills' Inspiration Tower a try through December, from atop the Enjoy Christmas on the Trail complete with a traditional chuck wagon meal and free cup of cider or cocoa at Aunt Mollie's Mercantile.
- Branson Landing and the recently reopened Branson Convention Center Hilton are a couple of my favorite holiday stops. The Landing is decorated with blue and silver and has a Christmas tree with Santa's house below. It also offers plenty of shopping and a dozen or so restaurants in which to grab some cheer.
Up the hill from the Landing, the Hilton shows off its refreshed lobby, decked in holiday decor. The merchants of downtown Branson get into the spirit with great shopping, home-style restaurants and several specialty shops offering unique gifts.