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Old folks like me: Spring Break in Branson

Springcreek on stage performing gospel and bluegrass.

Bodacious and her rainbow trout. It was bigger than she was when she was born!

Bodacious is ready to ride!

The ceiling at Marvel Cave.

Mel's Hard Luck Diner.

The fountain in front of Keeter Center at College of the Ozarks.

Little Son in his Silver Dollar City sweatshirt.

The menu-napkin at Dixie Stampede.

All aboard!

Sure, he'll vacuum at the amusement park but not at home!

She caught a fish this big ... .

For spring break this year, we decided to take a real trip. But where to go, I wondered. Skiing? Glamping? The beach? The possibilities were dazzling. Then The Hubs suggested a few days in Branson. As in Branson, Mo.

“Branson?” I asked, sneering with derision. “That place is for old people!” which hurt his feelings. So, just to prove a point – on both sides – we went to Branson.

All aboard!

All aboard!

Branson is well-known for “family-friendly entertainment” (read old, washed out singers) and its mega amusement park, Silver Dollar City. I don’t know if it’s my age or my multiple sclerosis, but I get motion sickness and I loathe rides. So I was less than thrilled when The Hubs found a special for a two-day pass for the park. Kill. Me. Two things I hate: bad music and roller coasters. Put them together and that’s my version of hell.

We booked tickets for Dolly Parton’s Dixie Stampede and the Butterfly Palace. We also planned to spend a day fishing and lunch at Mel’s Hard Luck Diner. I was relieved when we couldn’t get tickets to see a magic show. The last thing I need is a budding magician at home dumping milk out of hats or trying to saw his sister in half!

Our first morning at Silver Dollar City was perfect amusement park weather for me. Cold and rainy! And which mom decided against packing pants or jackets for her family? That’s right! This mom! So, $75 in commemorative park sweatshirts later, we were ready to hit the rides. Well, I was ready to stand in line and hold everyone’s stuff while they rode. Fortunately for me, Little Son is tall enough to ride almost everything by himself, which meant The Hubs and Bodacious could ride together with Little Son in the adjacent seat. Score! The first ride they chose was the giant carousel swing. Riders swing in a circle, 40 feet up. Bodacious was pumped! Little Son refused to ride until his sister gave him the thumbs up. Three turns later, they were ready to tackle everything!

While they were swinging, I discovered something great at the park, something just for me. Shopping. And lots of it. The park is home to many artists, including a glass blower, a potter, painters and a smithy. There was also a Christmas store, though it had nothing on Miss Cayce’s, and a princess dress up store for little girls.

The Hubs wanted to tour Marvel Cave, the giant cave system that is 500 feet below the ground there. Do you know how you tour the cave? By stairs. Seven hundred and forty stairs to be exact. Holy cow, it was a heckova climb for my night-blind self and my short-legged daughter. I was the very last person out but I made it! I hit my 10,000 steps that day for sure!

Silver Dollar City has a dedicated children’s area, with a tea cup ride, a traditional carousel, and other kiddie rides similar to a carnival. There is a petting zoo, and we loved Cotton, the sweetest miniature horse! After the first day, the kids were done with “baby rides” and live exhibits like the one room schoolhouse. They spent day two riding adult roller coasters while I shopped. One of the coasters went 121 feet into the air before dropping them 81 feet at 48 mph. Barf! They are so brave and adventurous, it is terrifying for me.

Mel's Hard Luck Diner

Mel’s Hard Luck Diner

Mel’s Hard Luck Diner was our late lunch spot that afternoon. It was awful. In every sense of the word. The gimmick there is an authentic diner experience with professional singing waiters. Our waiter did not sing. He was married to a singing waiter and told lame, self-deprecating jokes instead. The food was bad, too. I am pretty sure my homemade chili special was Wolf Brand Chili from a can. The waiters that did sing, well, there’s a reason they’re not in Nashville. We took our obligatory photo, and I’ll probably blow it up and frame it for my kitchen! I also serve Wolf Brand Chili.

On our third day, we went fishing for rainbow trout at the Mountain Springs Trout Park. It was a perfect day for fishing. A very slight breeze, just enough to make the leaves rustle, and warm sunshine. Our guide was terrific, and helped Bodacious wrestle her fish in with a net. It was 8 pounds and 25 inches long, one of the largest catches in the farm’s history! She kept lording it over the rest of us, too. My fish was two and a half pounds and Little Son’s was four pounds. She would sashay on past us and ask, “Can you believe I caught the biggest fish? I can’t! I am the best fisher in our family.” Humble she is not!

That night after a hasty clean-up, we were off to the Dixie Stampede. Now, I am a huge Dolly Parton fan and I was really excited to see the show! I watched “Dolly!” growing up, and I still cry every time I hear “I Will Always Love You.” Every time. And “Jolene” remains one of my favorite songs of all time. The Dixie Stampede show is supposed to be based on memories of Dolly’s Tennessee childhood, community get-togethers with great food and dancing and horses. Let me tell you folks, it was great! It is good old-fashioned spectacle! I loved the trick riders and the big-haired rodeo queens in their fringed outfits. The horses were magnificent. But the most interesting part of the show, in my opinion, was watching the waiters serve a four course “eat with your hands” meal in a matter of minutes! Talk about precision! There were about 1,500 diners that night, and to watch the waiters plate the food was impressive. They just went from seat to seat, popping down the food the way a back jack dealer slings out cards in Vegas.

That night on the way back to our room, we talked about what we thought was the best part of the trip. Little Son loved the roller coasters. Bodacious loved her fish the most and wished she has released it instead of prepped it for dinner. Completing the cave tour was my favorite part because I felt like I accomplished something that would have been much, much harder for me in December before my gastric bypass surgery. At the end of our trip, I was even down two pounds!  The Hubs said his favorite part of Spring Break was being with his family. Smooches and swoons! But I suspect his secret favorite part was me having to admit that Branson was actually a great destination!

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