Thursday, June 3, 2010

The Great American Road Trip Part II:
Branson, MO

Ah, Branson. It is a town unlike any other. Where else in the world can you visit that proudly boasts an entire musical act about the dogs aboard the Titanic. Yes, you read that right. The promo says there were 10 dogs that sailed the Titanic whose stories have never been told, so they made a musical about it.  Really?! They get people to pay money for this?!

And where else is there an entire show AND restaurant that holds the name "Baldknobber?" Am I the only one that giggles like a 9-year-old when I read that word plastered in 6-foot-tall letters across a billboard?

It is a town of amazing natural beauty that has been filled with cheap hotels and all-you-can-eat buffets that specialize in soft foods. Gorgeous blue skies, and large groups of tourists with hair to match. But there are lots of fun things to do here and many family-friendly forms of entertainment, so we've really enjoyed ourselves.

We arrived late on Tuesday to our hotel--just in time for the free, nightly dessert buffet. We grabbed some cobbler and ice cream and then tucked the kiddos into bed. Our room, although clean, cheap, and very nice, is TINY. Our master bedroom at our old house was larger, and it had only one bed in it! We are piled on top of each other, and I came very close to having an adult version of a meltdown yesterday when I stubbed my toe for the umpteenth time while trying to dig through a suitcase with a toddler hanging on me and a five-year-old jumping from one bed to the other.

Wednesday, we woke up bright and early and headed downstairs for the free breakfast buffet, which was really pretty good. Then we piled back in the van and headed over to Silver Dollar City. After a minor ticket fiasco, which ended with Brad running in the 90 degree heat uphill across the gigantic parking lot and back, we made it into the park. We headed straight for the kiddie ride section, making a short detour past the blacksmith, where Aiden was awed to see the metal worked into a horseshoe. Aiden jumped right into the fun, climbing aboard the spinning teacups and proudly exclaiming to everyone "I didn't throw up!" after he disembarked. Aubrey, however, was unable to ride a single ride in the kiddie section! Despite the fact that she had already ridden the spinning teacups, flying elephants, and every other ride they had at Disney World when she was 9-months-old, she wasn't allowed to ride a single kid ride at Silver Dollar City, most of them the exact same ride as at Disney, because of height restrictions--a child had to be 36 inches to ride any rides, even with a parent. So, after Aiden ran through the selection of rides, we headed off in search of something Aubrey could do.

 Aubrey doing her best model impression between rides.

We soon stumbled upon the Flooded Mine ride, which is a slow-moving boat equipped with laser guns that moves through a cave filled with targets. Talk about a ride made for Aiden!  We rode probably 5 times in a row--since there were no lines that day, we were allowed to just stay in our boat and ride again and again.  Even Aubrey liked this one--she kept fighting us for the gun and yelling "Pow!" Aiden had a blast, and although he could have ridden forever, we finally pried him off to go check out some of the other attractions.

We decided to try the newest ride, River Blast. Basically, you board a raft, fashioned after the the raft that Tom and Huck so famously ventured on, but with one major upgrade--water cannons. Using a crank mechanism, the riders have water cannons that they can pump water through to shoot bystanders along the borders of the ride, who are also equipped with water cannon stations, so they can shoot back.  Well, you are supposed to also shoot at targets along the ride, some of which squirt back, but with multiple little kids (and quite a few big 'kids') squirting you from the sidelines, you quickly forget about the targets and just go for retaliation! We had a great time and even Aubrey could ride this one--she was loving squirting others, but wasn't too keen on getting squirted herself!  We all walked away looking like drowned rats, but it was a welcome reprieve from the 95 degree heat.

After the ride, we went in search of food. We found a stand selling succotash--basically a mixture of veggies and meat cooked in a skillet, and we loaded up. It was absolutely delicious and definitely satisfied my craving for veggies after a day of burgers and fries on Tuesday. The outdoor seating area was full, so we ended up sharing a table with an older couple from Oklahoma. They had 46 great-grandchildren--can you imagine?!  They were sweet to talk with, though, and were so patient with Aiden, listening to all of his tall tales with interest and putting up with several tantrums from Aubrey.

After lunch, we had thought to explore Marvel Cave, the cave inside/under Silver Dollar City, but when we discovered that the tour was at least an hour long, we quickly nixed the idea--we knew Aubrey would never make it at that point in the day. So, after some begging and cajoling from Aiden, we headed back to the Flooded Mine for one more ride. Afterwards, we passed by a big-kid coaster, the Thunderation, and Aiden decided to give it a try. He and daddy rode, even taking the front seat in the car, but when they returned, Aiden looked a little green and complained of a tummy ache, so we decided to call it a day and head back for a nap.

On our way out, we enjoyed a street performance featuring love potion.  Aiden asked what love potion was, and when I explained, he got a look of terror on his face and said "Don't let them spray that stuff on me!  I don't want any girl wanting to kiss me!!"  I cracked up--he genuinely was terrified by the prospect.

We headed back to the hotel and enjoyed a leisurely nap--well, all of us except Brad, who crazily decided to go on a run in the heat of the day on the mountain streets! He came back completely wore out, admitting he had bitten off more than he could chew on that run!  This place is quite hilly--you can't even park a stroller anywhere without setting both brakes and staying within arms reach, or you'll find your child taking their own roller coaster ride!

After naps and showers, we headed over to Branson Landing, a shopping center built on the river that overlooks the water. We ate dinner at Joe's Crab Shack, enjoying the patio view and eating our fill of crab and shrimp.  By the end of our meal, we were more tired of cracking shells than we were full, but we had enjoyed our meal--and happy-hour margaritas! Afterwards, the kids played at the playground and then we headed out to walk off our meal in the shopping area. Well, we didn't make it far before we ended up inside Build-a-Bear Workshop. And, sucker that I am, I let the kids make a bear each. After showing them the group of animals they could choose from, also known as the cheap section, Aiden picked out a cute dog and Aubrey picked a bunny. Aubrey found the sound effects section and kept pushing the button for the lion's roar, giggling each time, so she ended up with a bunny that roars! Although Aubrey enjoyed the process somewhat, Aiden absolutely had a blast. He loved picking out a heart to put inside, stuffing the dog and giving it an air bath afterwards. He went to pick out clothing and found a Star Wars jedi outfit for his dog, which he fittingly dubbed "Obi Pup Kenobi." Aubrey's bunny got a cute top and bottom set, which she enjoys pulling off more than anything, and was named "Bella"--which she promptly changed to "Buppa." Both kids have refused to let their new friends out of their sight, so we have spent a lot of time prying them away and promising children that the new friends will be safer in the car.

We headed back to the hotel after Build-a-Bear, grabbing some dessert from the buffet on our way upstairs. We put everyone to bed, even Brad and I tucked in early--but Aubrey wasn't ready to settle in just yet. She kept popping her head up in the pack-n-play, to peer over the edge, saying "Hi!" each time. Brad and I would put on our stern face and tell her to lay down and she would quickly drop back to the bed. But then, a minute later, we would see her little eyes peek over the edge, then she would notice us noticing her and would pop up with a big "Hi!" once again. Even after turning all the lights out and getting quiet, Brad and I trying to fall asleep, we could hear her talking or counting in the bed. She finally fell asleep at 11:30--so you can imagine her mood the next day!

This morning, we headed back to Silver Dollar City for more fun.  We decided to take the cave tour first thing. We left the stroller in the car and opted for the backpack carrier in anticipation of the tour. After having multiple people try to scare us out of going--the cave has over 600 stairs, low passages, takes over an hour, etc. and everyone kept asking us "Are you sure you want to go inside?" we finally headed out on the tour.  As soon as we went inside the cave entrance, Aiden started getting scared.  "I don't want to go.  I'm gonna throw up. My stomach hurts. I'm scared...." But with each Nervous Nelly excuse, I would assure him that it would be fine, marching forward with a confidence I didn't really feel and hoping that Aiden would be fine and I wouldn't have to carry him through! The first 300 steps down into the cave were a bit rough--they played Ozzie Osbourne loudly on speakers, which freaked Aiden out, and then seeing the huge drop to the bottom beside the staircase, which freaked him out even more, it took my best parenting work to get him down the stairs--but we did it! Once we were at the bottom of the sinkhole that starts the cave tour he was fine. Especially when the cave guide turned out the lights. Aiden, who was wearing a glow-stick around his neck that his daddy had given him (we found it in the bottom of the backpack carrier when we were waiting to enter the cave--what a blessing that was!), discovered that he could be a light for the whole tour!  The cave guide told Aiden, "Buddy, if the lights go out, I know you'll be able to get us out of here safely with that light!" Aiden's little chest puffed up with pride.  Every time we would stop at different portions of the cave, Aiden would say proudly, "Here I am! Here's the light guy!" and the cave guide would give him a high five.

The trek through was beautiful, but a little stressful for Brad and I. Many times, I would have Aiden in front of me, holding my hand, while I walked backwards and directed Brad through, telling him how much he had to bend/stoop/crawl to keep Aubrey, who sits slightly higher than Brad's head in her carrier, from smacking her head on a rock. There is a 7-foot-long stretch that is only 4 feet tall and 3 feet wide, which was really interesting to get through--Brad had to duck walk with the pack on his back, while I duck walked backwards in front of him. We had the whole tour rooting for us, though, and helping us get through the passageways. They probably thought we were a little crazy, too, but they helped us along and all cheered for us as we completed each section. When we reached the cable train that takes you out the last hundred yards, after having climbed about 300 steps uphill, we all laughed as we noticed steam rising off of Brad's head in the cool cave. It had been hard work but it was so worth it--the cave is absolutely beautiful inside, water cascading down falls, stalagmites rising up from the cave floor and stalactites hanging in gorgeous formations from the walls and ceilings. And the best part--watching Aiden fill with pride after having conquered his fears. As we walked out of the cave, he proudly exclaimed, "Mama, I made it! And I didn't throw up!"

After the cave tour, we headed over to, where else, River Blast. We had a great, albeit wet, time. After a quick lunch, we then found Geyser Gulch, a giant play area for the kids. They have a foam ball fort, where kids can use air guns to shoot foam balls at each other. There are giant vacuum hoses to suck up the balls from the floor and other contraptions that suck in the balls and shoot them back out. There are water cannons to shoot out onto targets on the river, there's a sprayground for the kids to run through, and a giant tree house filled with slides and tunnels and all kids of fun things to explore. Aiden and Aubrey had so much fun playing--we had to drag them away to head back to the hotel for our naps.

 Aubrey amazed by the ball fort--her mouth was open so wide, I was afraid a ball would fly in there!

After a quick nap and wardrobe change, we headed to Dolly Parton's Dixie Stampede, a dinner show featuring singing, dancing, trick riding and other entertainment. When I booked the tickets, I hoped the kids would enjoy the show, but it turned out so much better than I had hoped. When we arrived, we walked past the horse stables to meet the performers before the show. Aiden found it particularly hilarious and gross when one horse, whose backside was facing us, decided to raise its tail and poop about 2 feet from where Aiden was standing.  After the show, he wanted to go back to visit that horse--he said he was his favorite!

Inside, we had our picture taken as a family, and although it was ridiculously expensive, we ended up buying it, since it turned out very cute. Then we headed to the pre-show, where Aiden and Aubrey munched on popcorn and oohed and aahed over the juggler who performed. There were some pretty amazing stunts, so even Brad and I enjoyed the show.  Aiden was especially awed--he kept asking daddy, his own resident superhero, "Can YOU do that, Daddy?" and when Brad replied that he couldn't, Aiden was even more impressed. 

Then we headed inside for the main event. Aiden was thrilled to discover that there is no silverware at the Dixie Stampede and that he would be allowed to eat with his hands. He cracked me up the whole meal--he would grab the entire, whole roasted chicken and pick it up to gnaw on it--he looked like a little cave man. There were trick riders and ropers, fire breathers and a woman who flew like a bird on a cable. There were racing pigs and miniature ponies, kids chasing chickens and men riding stick horses.  We laughed and had a great time. The entire premise of the evening is that the two sides of the arena, the North and the South, are competing against one another.  We were on the side of the South, and Aiden hooted and stamped and hollered with the best of them.  But in the end, when the North beat the South, Aiden actually cried, he was so disappointed that we lost. His little heart was broken--can you tell that boy was born in the South? I'm really dreading when he learns of the Civil War in American History class one day!

After the show, we decided to head back to Branson Landing to see the fountains. Every half-hour, they have a fountain show that features music, choreographed fountains and pyrotechnics.  We noticed that there was a Cantina Laredo restaurant whose patio overlooked the fountains, so Brad and I decided to head over, grab a margarita for us and dessert for the kids while we watched. But Aiden, who was still in a funk over the South's loss, had other ideas and was quite vocal at expressing his disagreement with our plan.  Our relaxing time we were hoping for turned into a huge, miserable battle.

On our way out, we let the kids ride the kiddie quarter rides at the playground. Aiden and Aubrey had a blast and quite a few other kids also enjoyed some rides. The kids were exhausted by this time, so we headed back to the hotel.

Tomorrow, we will load up and head toward St. Louis after breakfast.  Branson has been exhausting and a little weird, but we've had a great time.


Becky said...

The pic of Aub looking at the ball pit is the BEST! I love it! Be safe!

eleventhirtysix images said...

I'm so totally jealous. This is the best trip EVER!!!!

The Lashers said...

As I'm scrolling through the pictures Breckin is sitting here going "Ha-be, Eee, Ha-be, Eee" with a huge smile on his face. I think he's going to miss his friends.

Want to hear more about the Pack?

Check out A Belly in Bloom, a page devoted to Angela's pregnancy with Aubrey. You can see belly pics, sonograms, and learn more about how Aubrey (formerly known as "The Bean") came to be the lovely little girl she is! You can also find Angela's favorite recipes and newest food experiments at Cooking with the Parker Pack.