JOPLIN, Mo. —
I started planning my New Year's Eve agenda this week. Me and mine have spent the past several years in Branson, ringing in the new year.
While many may prefer the hubbub of a big-city experience or staying home and avoiding "all of the Idiots," as my grandmother says, I love to welcome in the new year in Branson.
It's a fun combination of big city and Mayberry's midnight blowout. It provides a little something for everyone. If you are looking for a quiet weekend with the one you love or a couple of days -- and nights -- tossing back the holiday cheer, Branson offers it all.
I was reminded of a few things during my search:
- Three things contribute to Branson's New Year's Eve appeal: Great lodging and dining packages, fun in-house NYE parties and fantastic specialty attractions. Just when you may have thought Branson entertainers are ready to close it down, cut town and hit the road to tour warmer climes, many stick around a few more weeks to welcome in the new year. Some make Branson their full-time gig. And even in February, Branson's indoor water parks offer a great escape.
- There are fewer shows open once you get past mid-December. Many of the shows sunset their Christmas performances, close for their season and move on to touring shows or nab a short vacation.
- Accommodations of all prices open up, traffic around town thins out and holiday vacation package specials abound. For anyone who complains that traffic on the strip keeps them from coming to Branson, there is no excuse this time of year. Branson isn't a ghost town after mid-December -- there's a lot to do and see between the closing of the Christmas season and the beginning of "Hot Winter Fun," Branson's February through April prelude to tourist season.
- Branson's selection of restaurants has expanded during the past several years. Many locally owned boutique eateries offer high-end fare and casual concepts. National chain food places and fast casual spots provide a variety of solid, tested menus and service. Take a chance on something you can't get back home.
- Visitors can still hit the lakes, bicycle, hike or zip line around the Ozarks. Many are simply looking for a low-impact, family-filled and restful escape. Not your style? How about a party-hard, "What happens in Branson goes on Facebook" kind of weekend? Branson offers both options. Branson's no Sin City, I assure you, but you can get a good stiff drink and a fun night out with friends. Quick taxi response helps a lot, and some lodging provide shuttle services.
- There are many options around the Joplin area to keep folks entertained. But sometimes a guy just needs to get away. Branson has been my family's NYE destination for many years.
- Any time friends -- in many cases, Globe readers -- reach out to me for Branson advice, they get the same answer: Check out ExploreBranson.com. There are many websites from which you can book rooms, take condo tours and find half-off deals, but the Branson Convention and Visitor Bureau's website presents an unbiased introduction to the city and its entertainment opportunities. Create an itinerary by date in the "My Branson Vacation" engine and everything the Midwest's music city has to offer during your Ozarks stay will appear.
- Some show recommendations: If you haven't seen Arkansas-proud Paul Harris and the Cleverlys, his bluegrass band of brothers, now is the time. Check out their show schedule. Six celebrity impersonators at Legends in Concert will entertain New Year's Eve crowds. Clay Copper's New Year's Eve show is a winner, I hear -- he is a funny guy any time of the year. Veteran entertainer Jim Stafford's NYE show is said to be one of the funniest shows around town. Kirby Van Burch delivers an illusion and magic show, and Silver Dollar City is open for guests through end of the year.
- For lodging there are great deals in all price ranges. From $39 per night, you can get motel accommodations, which are advertised on marquees along the strip. There are also mid-range options, including nationally known chain accommodations, such as the Radisson and regionally owned Grand Plaza.
Looking for luxury? The Hilton at the Landing is a good bet. Big Cedar Lodge was recently noted as a foremost U.S. family destination, and Chateau on the Lake ain't shabby, either.
My reservations are made, my agenda is set, and I'm ready to welcome in the new year in Branson in style.