By Dave Woods
BRANSON, Mo. —
When I head to Branson, I seldom have kids in tow. Occasionally I get to take along a niece or nephew — or my grandmother — for a weekend of riding roller coasters. We may spend an afternoon at a water park or hit the go-cart tracks for some high-speed fun. Wild Woody, anyone?
But more often than not, it’s just me working on an assignment. I see shows and talk to Ozarks visitors. It’s easy to see why Branson appeals to families of all types. There’s no place better for a family vacation than the Midwest’s Music City.
But I think people pigeonhole Branson a bit. While it’s a great value for families, it’s also a great value for couples, groups of adults and friends looking to escape for a kid-free weekend. They can play a little golf, hang out on a lake or just relax in one of the area’s spas.
Whether you head to Branson and leave the kids at home or just sneak out for a night on the town while the grandparents baby-sit, Branson offers a lot of options. Not that the kids wouldn’t have a good time out late with their parents: Branson has restaurants that offer karaoke and lakeside patio dining, as well as late-night shows.
Families are all different, so to each their own, right?
On a recent trip to Branson I was reminded of the variety of options offered to grown-ups looking for a few hours of adult vacation time. Here are a few ideas for those who are looking for a quick trip out of town and a good time without the kids in tow.
Sing for your supper
For years I made the Moon River Grill at Andy Williams’ complex my base when I was in Branson. It was always a nice, centrally located place to grab a bite, collect my thoughts and grab a beverage between shows. Moon River Grill is gone, but the restaurant that now occupies that location on the strip fills the same need for me: Shorty Small’s Barbecue and Ribs opened this spring, and it’s a great place to grab a solid American meal. It’s also a good spot for adults after dark. Hungry? Try the deep-fried chicken livers and white gravy. I love ’em. It’s more than a meal for around $10.
I recently caught Liverpool Legends at Moon River Theatre and dropped in at Shorty’s for a little karaoke and a bite after the Beatles tribute show. Shorty’s was star-studded. Karaoke in Branson isn’t like the amateur singing you hear in most local venues. As I sat watching the singers, I realized the level of vocal talent assembled at Shorty’s. There were Liverpool Legends singing pop standards, Redneck and Irish Tenors joining the musical party and cast members from the No. 1 Hits of the Sixties show nailing karaoke favorites. It was a fun party but not a drunken melee. A table full of kids watched as their parents crooned Sinatra songs.
My favorite singer was a 9-year-old girl. She was fearless, and the crowd went wild as she let loose her big voice. A family from St. Louis serenaded the crowd with Motown favorites. Everyday folks are as welcome here as the local celebrities.
Brian Skinner, lead singer of Cat’s Pajamas Vocal Band, which performs at Moon River Theatre, spins the karaoke — also knows in Branson as “Skinner-oke” — and keeps the show going. By the way, it’s free.
I also recently stopped in at Blue Man Grill. I hadn’t been there before, but I enjoyed the live music and friendly crew behind the bar, and I’ll go back. The second-floor bar offers a nice view of the busy Branson strip. Skye Bar and Grille, near the Titanic Museum Attraction, is relatively new and gets hopping a little late for my tastes, but I’m told it’s a good spot for the 30 and younger crowd.
Looking for a late-night show? Check out Branson Country USA. The one-hour, live country showcase at Grand Country Music Hall is a tradition for me. Every Friday night at 10:30 p.m., the cast takes the stage and plays an hour of country music, which is recorded live for later broadcast on radio stations around the country. The show’s loyal fans, The Wild Bunch, cheer, holler and clog. It’s one of Branson’s best bets. Tickets for adults are less than $17.
Branson Landing in historic downtown is always a good time for dinner, drinks and entertainment. Ernie Biggs Piano Bar offers affordable pub grub and shows packed with talented — and often irreverent — piano players. Audience members can sing along to pop favorites. I spent my last New Year’s Eve there and had a great time. Any weekend night on the landing is fun.
Want to get your Irish on? Check out Waxy O’Shea’s Irish Pub. The landing bar and grill offers live music on the weekends and a wide selection of traditional Irish dishes. Cover charges are minimal.
In the mood for a quiet dinner on Lake Taneycomo? Cantina Laredo might be your spot. If margaritas are your thing, Cantina is just what the doctor ordered. With dozens of brands of tequilas and frozen specialty drinks, it’s a good spot to settle in, enjoy a beverage and watch the fire and water show on the landing. Most entrees are under $15, and Sunday brunch is a great bet. It’s just a great place to get huevos rancheros and a cold beer.
Affordable accommodations abound in Branson, even at the height of tourist season. I have a couple of favorites: If you’ve got the kids along, try Welk Resort. The complex includes Splash-a-torium, a large indoor water park. Splash is a great baby sitter. Ask when you are making reservations about baby-sitting services and organized activities for kids.
Looking for centrally located lodging? Check out Radisson Branson or the Grand Plaza. Both have good pool areas, restaurants and a lounge on site. Radisson’s basement sports bar is always a busy spot, and Grand Plaza’s recently remodeled top-floor cocktail lounge offers a top-shelf view of the Ozark mountains at sunset. Check out ExploreBranson.com for lodging, show and attraction information.