As experiences rise to the top of more families’ wish lists, holiday getaways offer a fun and meaningful way to make some lasting memories together. Branson, located just five hours from the Oklahoma City metro in the Ozark Mountains, is no longer a sleepy town once known mostly for country western performers. This destination is now home to a diverse selection of family-friendly attractions and, beginning early each November, the city amps up the excitement as a holiday hot spot where cheerful celebrations mix with old-fashioned charm. There is certainly no shortage of festive activities to enjoy in Branson at Christmastime.
Experience An Old Time Christmas at Silver Dollar City
Silver Dollar City is best known for the park’s Wild West enchantments and high-speed rides. But the park has also received accolades for its annual holiday festival. The festival was named as the best theme park holiday event by USA Today 10Best Readers’ Choice travel awards in 2017. Silver Dollar City received another special honor when the park was named in the top five amusement parks in America this year, also by USA Today’s 10Best.
In addition to their year-round rides and attractions, Silver Dollar City has welcomed guests around the Christmas season with twinkling lights, festive shops and Broadway-style shows for more than two decades. The merriment has grown over the years, and today the park is aglow with more than six million colorful lights, lining walkways and buildings and adorning more than 1,000 Christmas trees including one show-stopping, special-effect laden five-story tree.
Twice each evening, families can enjoy Rudolph’s Holly Jolly Christmas Light Parade, featuring dozens of colorful costumed characters, including Rudolph as Grand Marshall. Joining in the parade is the iconic Bumble the Abominable Snow Monster, towering moose and elf characters, 10-foot candy canes, penguins, marching wooden soldiers and more.
To top off the fun, festival-goers can take in a production of Dickens’ “A Christmas Carol” and “It’s a Wonderful Life,” which is in its final year at the park. Other shows include Tinker Junior’s Toy Shop, a dramatic musical living Nativity and strolling carolers.
A variety of the rides remain open through the holidays as weather permits. More details can be found on the park’s website, including a complete list of weather guidelines for many of the park’s most popular rides.
New this year, Silver Dollar City debuts the all-new Christmas in Midtown Light Spectacular, filling more than an acre with 1.5 million LED lights illuminating walkways and the load station for their new coaster, Time Traveler, that opened earlier this year.
An Old Time Christmas kicks off on Nov. 3 and continues until Dec. 30, with special celebrations planned for both New Year’s Eve and New Year’s Day. Park hours are 1 to 9 p.m. most days, with extended hours on select days, including some Fridays, Saturdays and Thanksgiving weekend. Ticket are $65 for adults, $54 for kids ages 4–11 and kids 3 and under are free.
Take in a live show
Branson is well known for live entertainment and its famous strip is lined with theaters hosting a variety of productions including limited-engagement shows like Samson, touring performances like the Million Dollar Quartet and long-standing Branson staples like The Presleys. Whether your family is looking for something a cappella, high-energy acrobatics or a classic family production, Branson has a wide selection to choose from, many with special Christmas festivities.
On the strip, Christmas comes early to the popular Dolly Parton’s Stampede. Beginning Oct. 25, her annual Christmas extravaganza ushers in elaborate decorations, a live nativity complete with ascending angels, three kings atop camels, playful elves and even an indoor snowfall.
And off the main drag, an 1800s-style showboat, the Branson Belle, welcomes pajama-clad families for Santa’s Pancakes & Pjs Cruise, starting Nov. 10 and continuing until Dec. 23. Cruise aboard the riverboat around Table Rock Lake and enjoy breakfast, kids’ activities and live entertainment.
Show prices vary, and given the destination’s popularity, many of the most popular shows tend to sell out early. Early booking is recommended.
Leave the city lights behind and enjoy Christmas at the Ranch
For most of the year, Sycamore Creek Family Ranch acts as a rustic wedding venue. However, during the holidays, the ranch becomes a jolly holiday retreat. Families start off their evening at the ranch with a festive dinner and a special guest speaker. Afterward, there is a jingle bell hayride with a cup of hot chocolate to keep riders warm. While waiting for a turn on the hayride, attendees can roast s’mores or take part in a scavenger hunt.
“The scavenger hunt ends at our 200-year-old sycamore tree,” shared Lisa Button, a representative for the ranch. “A nativity scene, painted by a local artist, will be set up beneath the branches of the tree.”
At the end of the evening, guests gather around the bonfire again to sing Christmas carols. More details, including pricing, can be found on the ranch’s website, www.sycamorecreekfamilyranch.com.
Hop aboard the Polar Express at the Branson Scenic Railway
Oklahomans now have to drive a little farther to board the Polar Express since the famous train ride won’t be making any stops in the Sooner State. Scripted out of the pages of the popular Christmas tale by the same name, the Polar Express departs from the Branson Scenic Railway in historic downtown Branson on an hour trip to the North Pole to pick up Santa. Along the way, guests hear pieces of the motion picture soundtrack and recount the story with hot chocolate, cookies and a special gift from Santa himself. Families are encouraged to wear pajamas, just like the characters in the story. Tickets are on sale now at www.bransontrain.com.
Explore an entire city of lights
Just like many cities in our metro, organizations throughout the Branson area set up cheerful light displays for families to enjoy. Shepherd of the Hills Homestead, open Nov. 1 through Dec. 31, has more than 160 acres of lights, ending at Inspiration Tower where families can view the lights from 230-feet up.
Enjoy another bird’s eye view of Branson’s famed corridor and the Ozark Mountains on the Branson Ferris Wheel. The structure itself puts on a festive synchronized light show. Branson’s Gift of Lights is open to the public Nov. 1 through Jan. 1, with more than 300 all-LED light displays set along a drive-thru excursion.
The Promised Land Zoo also hosts a unique two-mile, drive-thru Christmas light display with a Candyland Village, live reindeer and a living Nativity with live animals to pet and feed.
Not traveling to Branson during the holidays? Here are five anytime-of-year Branson things to do:
Take in Some Adventure
On its quest to be a family-fun destination of choice, Branson has added plenty of heart-pumping attractions. Fly high on the Ejection Seat at Branson Frontier Adventures, zip along the mountainside aboard the Branson Coaster, mimic skydiving in Fritz’s Adventure’s new Aerodium, ‘snow’ tube along Wolfe Mountain and more.
Explore the Strip
Highway 76, better known as the Branson Strip, is the central hub of activity. When the sun goes down, the neon lights turn on! Travelers are sure to find plenty of sights to see and things to do on the strip.
Hunt for Bigfoot
The Ozarks are abuzz with local lore about Bigfoot and Bigfoot on the Strip lets you join their Bigfoot Research Team for an exciting search for the world’s famed hide and seek champion. This off-road adventure takes want-to-be Sasquatch hunters to a rural farm that has had some mysterious happenings! The adventure is a lot of fun as well as quite suspenseful and may not be suitable for younger kids.
After your adventure, continue the fun with a themed arcade, a Yeti Play Zone & Monkey Jump, an 8D action cinema and Bigfoot-themed adventure golf.
Punch your ticket at the Titanic Museum and other unique museums
Branson offers a lengthy list of museums for families to enjoy. Whether you journey aboard the Titanic, chase your favorite stars at the Hollywood Wax Museum, witness the wacky at Ripley’s Believe It or Not Odditorium or find something unique at the World’s Largest Toy Museum, you won’t have to look hard to find something to match your family’s interests.
Take a trip down memory lane at Dick’s Old Time 5 and 10
Open since 1961, this authentic dime store is filled with quirky treasures, vintage toys and one-of-kind gifts. And bonus: It’s located in historic downtown Branson where you can enjoy the variety of restaurants, retails shops and entertainment including a water fountain show at Branson Landing.
About the Author: Born and raised in the Oklahoma City metro and a graduate of the Gaylord College of Journalism at the University of Oklahoma, Lindsay Cuomo has worked for MetroFamily since 2014 covering local stories, people and events. Lindsay is a mom to three school-aged boys and calls Moore, Oklahoma home.