BRANSON, Mo. —
On a recent trip to Branson, I met two couples celebrating special nights. Mike and Judy Oliphant, of Branson, were marking their golden anniversary.
The couple celebrated their 50th year of marriage with a dinner and sightseeing cruise on Lake Taneycomo aboard the Landing Princess. The Princess is a Superliner yacht that’s more than 100 feet long. This jewel of the Ozarks makes daily excursions on the 22-mile-long, limestone-cliff-lined — and trout-filled — lake.
“This is very special,” said Judy, 68. “We thought it would be a really special way to celebrate a 50th anniversary.”
Mike, 72, plays Santa Claus each year on the Branson Landing. I’ve known him for several seasons and was happy to get reacquainted with him during the cruise.
“It’s such a peaceful ride,” he said. “I think anybody would enjoy it for any special occasion.”
His wife of half a century agreed.
“It’s such a smooth ride,” she said. “I thought we would be lumbering along, but it’s so smooth.”
Though false folklore is often bandied about, Lake Taneycomo isn’t a Native American word for “darn cold river.” The lake’s name, Taney-Co-Mo, is simply a derivation of Taney County.
The couple said a night on the lake reminded them of how much they are still in love.
“Oh, yes,” Judy said, laughing. “He’s still a good ‘Yes dear, yes dear,’ man.”
At the table across the dining room on the vessel’s forecastle (that’s a nautical term for the forward portion of the boat), David and Angela Glynn were holding hands, celebrating their one-year anniversary. Their attraction for each other — and the tight grip they kept on each other’s hands — drew me to them to ask a couple questions before the catered dinner was served. I’m not afraid to jump in and interrupt a couple. It’s a curse.
“David had the idea of looking at dinner cruises,” said Angela, 38. “We just kind of went looking on the Internet.”
David, 46, a 22-year veteran of the U.S. Army, chimed in.
“The idea was to find something different we had not done together,” he said. “We felt this would be a great opportunity to see Branson and the Ozarks and experience what is out here.”
Little did they know their one-year anniversary would be celebrated so close to their own backyard in Rolla.
“Angela is from around here and a Mizzou grad, so she’s kind of familiar with this area,” David added. “It’s all new to me, however.”
Clean plate club
Unlike the Oliphants and Glynns, I was onboard the Landing Princess to check out the cruise, eat a little dinner and see what the lake cruise experience was all about. Captain Bubba — no joke, that’s really his name — welcomed passengers aboard at the gangway. The captain has been sailing Ozarks lakes for 25 years and inspired a great deal of confidence. The boat crew was courteous and friendly. Soon after pushing away from the Lake Taneycomo dock, cocktails, nonalcoholic drinks and dinner were served. Just to clarify, this cruise is family-operated and suitable for all ages.
At my table, however, the wine poured. Tables were elegantly set, and the bottles of wine were reasonably priced. We headed up river toward the Branson Landing for a quick fire and water show, then made a quick turn and headed down the lake toward Power Site Dam, one of the country’s oldest electricity-producing dams. It was designed and constructed between 1911 and 1913 and still operates today.
As we passed older lakeside resorts, fishing docks, boats and beautiful homes, I relaxed into the experience. The meal — well-spiced chicken, tender roast beef, crisp green beans, buttered mashed potatoes and dessert — surpassed my expectations.
I was a member of the Landing Princess’s Clean Plate Club that night. The two-hour cruise on the $2.5 million cruiser took us up to Rockaway Beach, which is rumored to have been mobster Al Capone’s Ozarks hideaway and was President Harry Truman’s Southwest Missouri retreat; pretty cool history to note as we plugged along the finger-shaped lake, watching birds and enjoying the Ozarks sunset. The dining staff cleared the tables, delivered dessert, surprised the happy couples with glasses of sparkling wine and toasted their special nights. I thought it was a classy touch.
Soon, the boat took us back to Branson Landing. We decided to grab a night cap at the Paddle Wheel Pub, near where the Princess and her companion vessel, the Lake Queen, a restored old-school paddle-wheeler, dock.
The Paddle Wheel Pub, itself a restored part of Lake Taneycomo’s nautical history, is now a landlocked restaurant and pub. It’s a good spot to watch the water, catch a sunset and sample a little Ozarks moonshine, if that’s your thing. It is — was — mine.