When the Unexpected Happens, Branson, MO

When booking our hotel for Branson, MO, Ken was shocked at the number of Marriott reward points required to stay for free. Instead of using a huge amount of points, we decided to see what else we could find. We proudly booked the Stone Castle for only $55/night. Wow! A great deal and the kids will love staying in a castle.

While driving into Branson, we stopped at the Visitor’s Center, as we often do. This was a super, extra friendly visitor’s center. As soon as we walked into the building - I was focused on a bathroom for the kids - a nice woman was calling me over eager to help. I should have figured it out right then and there. But, I didn’t. I took the kids to the bathroom, waited for Ken and we started asking about things to do. Our Visitor’s Center guide immediately went into FULL Vulture Mode! She wasn’t a guide and this wasn’t a typical visitor’s center.  She was a salesperson pushing us into buying tickets for one of the few shows she represented and trying to get us to attend a presentation for more free stuff. No Way! We’re too old for that stuff and we have kids and we’re on limited time. We left the vultures and got back on the road.

Traffic. More traffic. And more traffic.

 Traffic allowed us plenty of time to check out the advertisements. This motel's claim-to-fame is written on the roof.

Traffic allowed us plenty of time to check out the advertisements. This motel's claim-to-fame is written on the roof.

My expectation had been that Branson is the “Broadway of the Mid-West” with several shows from which to choose. I understand it’s a great stepping stone for actors and actresses that want to make it to Hollywood or New York City. Ken had no expectation, and we planned two nights here because it was a good pit stop on our way to Texas.

The Castle! The kids were excited to stay in a castle and then we arrived. Ken and I gave each other a knowing look, but the kids were delighted. All they really care about is the pool and they saw two of them. So what did we see that made us wonder if we’d really gotten that great a deal? Tourist buses, a plethora of teenagers, a few adults and several adults smoking right outside the entrance doors. What did we smell? Chlorine. The pool was inside and we were outside, but the smell of the chlorine was strong enough for my eyes to start bleeding anyway. Remember that great deal we got. Well, we already paid. There was little hope of getting our money back. And we’re too cheap to walk away. And what would that teach our kids? That we’re total snobs and can’t handle anything but a Marriott. (Okay, there is a bit of truth to all of this, but we are taking our kids to live in Guatemala so we’d better show some flexibility.) We checked-in. The room had a damp air about it, a slight stench of mustiness, but the carpet was the Pièce de résistance.  It left a black residue on the bottom of our socks and feet. This was likely mold coming through the carpet. Were we really staying her? Yes. Accept reality. Go on.

 Tag making a bridge between the two beds using luggage. I guess it's better than him walking on the floor.

Tag making a bridge between the two beds using luggage. I guess it's better than him walking on the floor.

Leave hotel, find dinner, visit a grocery store, come back and let the kids swim. We can do this.

We woke up in the morning determined to make the most of the town. Nothing was as I had expected. I’d expected a small, cute, preppy town with lots of nice theaters. Instead, it was a big, busy, trashy, traffic congested, gross, dirty town with vultures everywhere. There is also a large religious influence. As Ken put it, “Branson is like Vegas built by Southern Baptist Deacons,” which may help to explain all the tour buses of youth groups wearing bright colored, matching t-shirts.

New attitude. Think of this as a weekend at Seaside, Oregon. A bit dirty, but a ton of fun.

From here on we had a great time. We got tickets to the Amazing Acrobats of Shanghai. Elle’s choice.

 This woman (or man - it's hard to tell) stacked and climbed the chairs one at a time. Someone would hand her a chair when needed.

This woman (or man - it's hard to tell) stacked and climbed the chairs one at a time. Someone would hand her a chair when needed.

 The ten mad-hatters are all juggling multiple hats. 

The ten mad-hatters are all juggling multiple hats. 

 The woman on the bottom climbed on first. Her friend then climbed up with her chair Repeat until there are 5 woman standing on their heads on a stack of chairs.

The woman on the bottom climbed on first. Her friend then climbed up with her chair Repeat until there are 5 woman standing on their heads on a stack of chairs.

 Even  the center second row couldn't keep Tag awake.

Even  the center second row couldn't keep Tag awake.

We stopped at some highly acclaimed frozen custard shack and were not disappointed.

 It was hot! Tag grabbed his ice cream and sat on the ground in the thin shadow of the menu sign. All he has left is his extra sprinkles on the side.

It was hot! Tag grabbed his ice cream and sat on the ground in the thin shadow of the menu sign. All he has left is his extra sprinkles on the side.

We went on the Go-Karts. Elle went with Ken and loved it. Tag, not-so-much. After our first round of the track, Tag claimed, “We’re going again? No!” On the second round, Tag said, “No. I don’t want to do this again.” On the third round, “Promise me we won’t do this anymore. Promise.” Tag and I started off as the second car (behind Ken & Elle), and we were lapped by everyone by the end of the second round. My foot was often on the brake, but I still had fun. Regardless of his pleads to stop, Tag wasn’t completely scared, but he didn’t enjoy it either.

 Elle loved it when Ken went as fast as he could, especially on the downhill part. No helmuts.

Elle loved it when Ken went as fast as he could, especially on the downhill part. No helmuts.

 The Go-Kart Track is behind the kids. We drove up the track and then zoomed two downhill parts. 

The Go-Kart Track is behind the kids. We drove up the track and then zoomed two downhill parts. 

We went on the Bumper Boats and got soaked. In the weeks that have passed, the kids often claim this is one of their favorite memories of the trip.

 My thumb is on the squirt gun part of the boat. We had more fun spraying each other than actually driving the boats. 

My thumb is on the squirt gun part of the boat. We had more fun spraying each other than actually driving the boats. 

Elle and I went to the highly rated Titanic Museum. Upon entering, each of us received a passenger card that told us about one person on the ship. I was a first-class female and Elle was a third-class child. We got to touch an iceberg and dip our hand into Arctic temperature waters. We walked up a replica of the grand staircase (Elle was allowed to walk with me because the usher determined that as a third-class passenger she was likely serving me!), saw replicas of first-, second- and third-class cabins, and heard many tales of the ill-fated sailing. In the end, both of us “lived” and we found our passenger names on the survivor’s board. Other exhibit-goers around us did not live. We’d highly recommend this museum for kids 8-years and older.

Next time we’ll spend our money on an ocean town. But, we will always treasure  the memories gathered here.

Next up…Texas Hill Country.