Wondering what to do in Branson? A list of things to try!

Branson, Let's go

If you still haven’t planned your summer vacation — or you’re in desperate need of a long weekend away — here are some highlights from our recent trip to Branson, Mo. We hope this little tour sparks ideas for activities you might want to try with your family!

The Branson CVB invited us to #ExploreBranson {through the ever-fabulous The Women Bloggers group, headed by Stephanie Buckley} and covered the cost of our hotel — the ritzy Hilton Convention Center — and a variety of the city’s most addictive attractions. We were among various bloggers from a number of states who participated with our families. We had a blast!

Knowing that we’d have two 14 year-old girls on the trip (Shannon’s daughter and a friend), Kristiana and Liz of the CVB chose the perfect itinerary for our family vacation. We started out at the Titanic Museum on Day 1 and ended our three-day trip with a ride on the brand new Branson Ferris Wheel.

Even though we’d been to Branson before, we’d never experienced these attractions. That’s the cool thing about the city: there’s so much to do, you probably missed something when you were there last time or you haven’t tried that new thing. They’re always adding cool attractions. Branson has several additions in the works right now and they sound AWESOME.

santas on snapchat

Santas from the city of Branson’s Snapchat account

Fun aside: We were in Branson during a Santa convention. There were over 800 Santas in the city and we kept experiencing Santa sightings. We saw Santas driving by in vehicles, walking into restaurants and walking beside us on the Branson Landing.

Here are a few quick details about each of the attractions we visited during our stay. (At the end of each description, look for quotes from my 14-year-old daughter her friend. The teenagers sum things up nicely!)

Branson, Day 1:

Titanic Museum

As I said on the nwaMotherlode Facebook page, I was in tears multiple times during our tour of the Titanic Museum. One of the crew members, Kevin, eloquently told the story of the band continuing to play as the ship sank. The musicians wanted to keep spirits up, although they knew things were likely hopeless — and they were doomed. None of the band members survived, but their story certainly did. I was so inspired by their bravery in the face of tragedy.

You know what’s super cool? When you’re in line to enter the museum, you receive a card about a person who was actually aboard the Titanic. You don’t learn whether your person survived or perished until the end of your self-guided tour. I was Genevieve Cassebeer and I was one of the lucky women to survive the tragedy. Genevieve died in New York at age 95.

The museum is great for adults who are fascinated by the Titanic because there are so many exhibits to explore, with detailed descriptions of how events unfolded. But teens and younger children will also appreciate the museum because there are so many interactive exhibits.

We were there for two hours, but could have easily spent more time. There was so much to see and the staff was wonderful. They’re able to tell you little details not found in the exhibits.

The Teen’s Take:

“I’ve never seen the movie and this made me not want to see it because I know I’d cry. I really liked that you got to see whether you lived or died at the end.”

“I liked the interactive exhibits and the artifacts. It was really cool to stick my hand in the water and see how cold it was that night and to stand on the deck to see how steep it got when the Titanic was about to sink.”


Visitors are assigned cards about passengers aboard the Titanic

The Haygoods Show 

Honestly, this show blew us away. Again, we had two 14-year-olds with us, so we were a little concerned it might be too folksy for them — or too kiddish. We were so wrong. We really (really!) loved the Haygoods, a group of siblings who can play pretty much any instrument you put in their hands. The youngest, and only sister, could even play the harp like a dream.

The show was a mix of laser lights, great singing, fabulous dance moves and comedic exchanges between the siblings. It’s really high energy. At the end of the show, they bring their mom to say hello. Family-friendly, but edgy is how I’d describe it.

We never thought we’d hear AC/DC on the banjo, but we did. And it was awesome ;)

The shows are on Tuesdays, Thursdays and Saturdays. I can’t imagine trying to muster up that kind of energy every night of the week!

The Teen’s Take:

“10 out of 10, would go again. I want to learn how to play the banjo now.”

“The Haygoods show was fun! Even better than I expected.”

Here’s a video that pretty much sums up the Haygoods fun:

Branson, Day 2:

White Water Branson

On a hot summer day, our family is all about a water park! We really enjoyed White Water, especially the Ohana Falls water raft ride. You basically sit in a huge water raft with your peeps and zoom down a big, winding water slide. Expect a few dips! Perfection!

The water park features 2 million gallons of fun rides and attractions, including a HUGE wave pool + a long and winding lazy river (my fave). We felt like we were at the beach.

They also have food and drinks, which I’m all about. Lounging near water while eating yummy food is one of my favorite things, ever. Seriously.

The Teen’s Take:

“Definitely Ohana Falls! The water raft ride was my favorite.”

“Yes, I loved the water raft ride and also the lazy river. Such a fun day!”


Parakeet Pete’s Waterfront Zip Line

OK, truthfully, when I saw the zip line on our family’s itinerary, I thought: “NO WAY, Parakeet Pete. I’m a chicken!” You might say I’m a teensy bit scared of heights and the parakeet takes you high above the Branson Landing, over Lake Taneycomo.

Linda Peterson, one of Parakeet Pete’s wonderful managers, talked me into facing my fears. I bravely boarded the parakeet seat and felt extremely proud of myself when the ride was over.

The theme of our trip suddenly became: Face your fears. Step out of your comfort zone.

I was literally shaking when I stepped off the parakeet seat, but also exhilarated. Linda was there to ask my honest opinion about the ride and I told her truthfully: It was great! I’m so glad I did it!

I felt completely safe on the ride and was pleased to avoid this huge fear: vomiting from a fast-moving, high rise ride into the lake below.

The Teen’s Take:

“It was a really pretty view!”

“That was one of my favorite parts of our whole trip. It was fun with a dash of adrenaline!”

Parakeet Pete's collage

Parakeet Pete’s Zip-n-Sip

You’ve really got to do this. We loved being high above Branson on the Sky Deck listening to music and watching the sun set over Lake Taneycomo. As the evening grew dark (after a gorgeous sunset!), it was fun to watch people zip up to the Sky Deck from Parakeet Pete’s down below to join us. After having a drink (or dinner — sometimes they have events with a whole meal, too) and visiting for a while, you can zip back down the zip line and continue enjoying Branson Landing. That’s why it’s called the Zip-n-Sip!

The lights on the landing and zip line were beautiful and the view from the deck was fabulous. The band (Durango) was also wonderful.

The Teen’s Take:

“If you want to impress your friends, go and take photos up there. It was lit.”

“The scenery from there was beautiful. The lights were pretty hipster.”

panaramic view

Branson, Day 3

The Track Family Fun Parks

There are four family fun parks throughout Branson and we spent some fun time at #4. We rode the bumper cars, played arcade games and rode go-karts on the 4-story track called Heavy Metal High Rise. A BLAST. There’s also a smaller go-kart  track for the littles, which looked like lots of fun.

The Teen’s Take:

“I liked this place a lot. My need for speed was met (on the go-kart track). I got super competitive, even though I’m usually not. I wanted to pass people. #fastandfurious8″

“I liked the arcade and the bumper cars best.”

Heavy Metal High Rise_ride

Heavy Metal High Rise/Photo credit: The Track Family Fun Parks

 The Branson Ferris Wheel

The new Ferris Wheel is at Family Fun Park #4, but I’m pretty sure you can’t miss it. With more than 16k LED lights, this beauty can be seen for miles — and lights up the night. It was originally at the Navy Pier in Chicago, but now it’s at home in Branson. There are light shows several times in the evenings. Side note: Michael Haygood (of the Haygoods, easy on the eyes) helped design the lights for the Ferris Wheel.

The Ferris wheel is 150 feet tall and was actually scarier than the zip line for me, probably because the whole ride is 7 1/2 minutes. I had more time to think about being that high up. However, there was a great view and I felt safe since the gondolas are enclosed.

The Teen’s Take:

“OK, fine, I was too scared to ride it.”

“The Ferris wheel gets an A+”

Ferris Wheel

Branson’s new Ferris wheel is 150 feet tall and lights up the night

The Hilton Convention Center

The Hilton is a beautiful hotel and they treated us very well! Great staff, for sure. It’s 12 stories high, so you can’t miss it if you’re near Branson Landing. Speaking of, we loved being so close to the landing which has tons of shopping, restaurants, bars and activities. Than Landing — plus the city’s downtown — are within walking distance to the hotel, so that kept us from jumping in the car a lot.

The Teen’s Take:

“The shower was great and I liked their shampoo and conditioner. They had a refrigerator for my Sprite and a safe for my art tablet. The room was really pretty.”

“The pool areas were great. They have inside and outside pools, plus a hot tub. The view from our window was cool. The bed was really soft and so were the pillows. The bellman was really nice. They had snacks downstairs if you forgot to bring any.”

Feet pic

We loved relaxing on our soft bed at the Hilton in between activities!

Branson, overall experience

Over breakfast at Clocker’s Cafe downtown, I told the Branson CVB ladies, Kristiana and Liz, that they had chosen the perfect itinerary for my family. And my husband and I told them that it surprised us that we had been to the area before but hadn’t enjoyed these attractions. We love that Branson keeps adding new things to do and works hard to make the city a fun destination full of surprises.

We had a wonderful time and can’t wait to go back!

The Teen’s Take:

“My brain hurts from all the adrenaline.”

“I stepped out of my comfort zone on this trip and it was so fun!”

I survived

Back at home, enjoying hot tea in my Parakeet Pete’s mug

Life with Ladybug: The fine art of cat selling

kitty face

By Shannon Magsam

I’ve mentioned that Ladybug and I volunteer in the cat adoption area at the local PetSmart. In other words, we pimp cats.

When people walk by the cages, we shamelessly hold up the kittens or cats for them to see, even stooping so low as to hold up the feline’s furry paw to wave. We’re trying to pull them in, into the room behind the plexiglass where the cats can be petted and played with.

The first rule of cat selling (and fishing): Set the hook.

Once we get them into the room with the cats, we can work the real magic. Well, the cats can. We soundlessly coach them:

orange catBig eyes, big eyes.

Look aggressively cute.

Play with toys like a boss.

Reach out to the victim (um, the person visiting the cat adoption center) through the bars of your kitty prison. That reaching paw really pulls on their heart strings.

And the biggest thing: when the human picks you up, PURR. Purr like your life depends on it, because it does. Nuzzle the person, and make like Puss in Boots from Shrek with the big eyes.

As a PetSmart cat adoption center volunteer, I’ve met some really unique people. Like the guy who said his cat likes to ride the family’s pet tarantula around on his back. (Note: NEVER adopt a cat to this guy. Yep, there’s actually a black list, in case you were wondering.)

I’ve ticked off people who think they should be able to walk up and walk out the sliding glass doors  of PetSmart with a cat. Sorry, but there’s an application to fill out. The cats need homes, but they need good homes where they’ll be safe and cared for.

I’ve also been unwillingly cast into the role of therapist while volunteering. Once an engaged couple came it to look at the kittens and they each fell in love with a different one. The young woman cried at the prospect of not adopting her chosen kitten, but the young man held firm: his kitten would be their choice.

I tried to intervene, asking who got to choose their dog. The guy, as it turns out. I was starting to see a pattern. They ended up adopting the guy’s choice and I resisted the urge to tell his fiancée: “Run now, while you can! If he won’t budge on the issue of pets, imagine what he’ll be like when you two have kids!”

But I was just glad they adopted one of the cats.

kittenThere are SO MANY. Every week there are new whiskery faces to fall in love with. My daughter and I call our volunteer time cat therapy and our blood pressure goes down while we’re there petting the kitties and giving them the love they crave.

Most have sad stories like being left behind when their people moved away, or being found in a dumpster or being trapped under a crumbling trailer, as was one of the kittens we took care of last weekend.

We can’t take all of them home, but we do what we can to visit with people about cat behavior, match-make humans and the cats up for adoption and give the kitties lots and lots of love.

One cat at a time.

One volunteer day at a time.

Now. Who needs a cat?

Life with Ladybug: Front porch romance

front door

By Shannon Magsam, Ladybug’s mama

What is it about my new front porch?

While looking for houses over the summer, I went to a house with a beautiful front porch. I didn’t realize how much I wanted a big front porch until that moment.

I wanted that house. I was in love.

It was a little out of our price range, but we were considering an offer.

Later that day, while I was at Lowe’s for the five hundredth time to buy a gadget to repair or prettify something at my old house, the realtor texted me and said someone had made a good offer on the house and it was basically off the market.

I thought of the front porch and all the pretty windows. My love was gone, snapped up by another woman. She would rock on “my” porch and gaze out “my” windows.

I pouted for a while, then my mama told me there was something even better waiting. And I heard God’s voice, too, saying the same thing. I was at peace.

But, just like someone who has loved and lost again, I didn’t quite give my heart to another house again over the next few weeks. And I looked a LOT. I was a woman on a mission to find “the one”.

And even while I was looking at the other fish in the sea/houses on the Northwest Arkansas market, there was this one house …. I called it “the fantasy house”. I thought it was probably out of our price range. But that front porch? WOW. The fantasy house even had a room just inside the beautiful front door that we could make a “reading room” (a library sounds too stuffy for us).

I would drive by the house and stare at that front porch, imagining big black rockers and red poinsettias flowing down the front steps.

After running the numbers, my husband and I decided making an offer on the house was doable. Eeeeeekkkk. But we couldn’t exceed a certain figure. We didn’t lowball them, but we offered what we could afford. They came back with a figure slightly above, but still within doable.

Are you serious?

That front porch was MINE now?

And I laughed, because I realized God had once again exceeded my expectations. That other front porch was just validation that I wanted a front porch. And then God brought this one to me. It turned out that our new house went on the market the same day our old house did.

The people who lived here before us are fabulous. When our buyer’s financing fell through, the wife broke realtor protocol and called me. She knew how much I loved the house and even after I acknowledged to her “You have to do what you have to do”, she told me: We can wait.

They did indeed wait and happily, our buyer’s financing went to another broker and the sale was saved.

The day we closed, we finally met our sellers. I hugged the wife tightly and she gave me a stack of pretty magazines and a hand-written note welcoming me to the new house.  We have since met up a few times to pass along mail and have plans for a little Christmas get-together.

One of my new neighbors, Whitney, told me the house has a history of nice people living inside. I told her we would try to live up to those standards. :)

Whitney’s comment reminded me that at the beginning of house hunting I prayed our house would go to a good person who would be a good neighbor to all my friends on the street – and that our new house would be a place for gathering old friends – and all the new.

My old house was smallish and I always used that as an excuse not to invite people over, lest we run out of room. In the new house, I told God, I would invite friends over and enjoy.

I feel like that’s why I have a new front porch. To share with friends.

Front porch friends.

And can you believe it’s nice enough to front-porch sit the second week in December?

Come on over, y’all!

Shannon headshot, peach USE THISShannon Magsam is co-founder of nwaMotherlode.com, nwaMomProm.com, and the proud mama of a 13-year-old lady(bug). She’s married to John, a fellow writer and entrepreneur.

Life with Ladybug: Having a teenager can be a drain on your love bank

Life with Ladybug logo

By Shannon Magsam, Ladybug’s mama

If your love language is words of affirmation, you’ll find your love bank might be downright penniless if you have a teenager.

There are often lots of words, but few are affirming.

At least that’s my experience right now.

If you’re the mama to a sweet toddler who says, “Fank you, mommy” or a 7-year-old who sticks to you like glue and hangs on your every mama word, bask in it, ladies.

The warmth of your child’s face beaming up at you will need to be the sun that warms you when frosty teenager days arrive.

iciclesI swear I sometimes see the faint outline of icicles hanging from my 13-year-old’s bedroom door and those icy fangs seem to grow longer as the days creep up to her 14th birthday.

I’m a little concerned that they might extend to the bottom of the door, which will make it really difficult for me to deliver fresh-from-the-dryer clothes to her dresser drawers or slip in the door to scratch her back at night before bed.

Luckily, there are few sunny moments to keep the temperature just above freezing at our house.

That said, my teenager did something yesterday that made my love bank account FAT.

We were leaving the library and she saw a mom taking pictures of her (I suppose) husband with their two kids. They were both  laughing and being silly.

“Relationship GOALS,” she intoned.

“Relationship GOLD?” I asked, perplexed.

“No, mom, relationship GOALS. Like, you have career goals. But this is relationship goals,” she said.

Ohhh, as in that couple you can look up to and aspire to be like in your own relationships. Got it.

Then, she added: “You and dad could be relationship goals.”

“Well, wow. Thanks. That was sweet of you to say. That. Thanks,” I stuttered, the words falling out in fragments through my smiling lips.

Icicles melt, birds sing.


Words of affirmation? Check. Big fat check in the love bank.

Shannon headshot, peach USE THISShannon Magsam is co-founder of nwaMotherlode.com, nwaMomProm.com, and the proud mama of a 13-year-old lady(bug). She’s married to John, a fellow writer and entrepreneur.

Life with Ladybug: How to be happier in your marriage

wedding pic 15 years

By Shannon Magsam, Ladybug’s mama and John’s wife

We got a question from a mom recently (she sent it to the anonymous panel of our husbands who answer questions for our Motherlode feature, Inside His Head) about how to deal with being bored with her husband.

She sincerely seemed to want to make things better, but seemed to be in a rut (and, honestly, maybe a little depressed).

Since my husband and I just celebrated our 15th anniversary, the question made me think back to whether I’d ever been bored in my marriage. We’ve experienced some lulls, sure, but the ultimate answer is no. I think that’s because we’re both committed to making it a priority. BOTH of us (not just the wife. That’s me.).

We’ve made some dumb marriage mistakes, but we usually corrected the wheel so we could get back on the road to a happy life, happy wife (and husband. That’s John.).

Here are 15 tried-and-true tips I’ve discovered to help make you happier in marriage:

Shannon in Paris (Nevada)1. Have inside jokes. You know how you loved having little, intimate inside jokes — that only you two really seemed to get (thus, “inside”) — when you were first dating or married? Don’t stop.

There’s always something new to joke about. Most recently our little inside joke has been: “We’ll always have Paris”.

Just today my husband sent me a picture of the “Eiffel Tower” outside our hotel in Vegas.

Paris (France) is on my bucket list, but our budget only got us as far as Paris Las Vegas to celebrate our 15th anniversary.

2. Speaking of Vegas, make future plans for trips together. We can get so caught up in the day-to-day “can you take the dog to the vet” and “will you make the kids’ lunches” minutiae, that things can get a little stale.

If you can’t afford a big vacation, that’s OK. Just plan SOMETHING fun that you’re both excited about. It’s good to have something you’re looking forward to together.

Our trip to Vegas really wasn’t terribly expensive. We took an Allegiant flight out of XNA (you can only leave on Thursdays or Sundays) and we didn’t go to all-the-expensive shows (we just splurged on one and it was even less expensive than some of the other Cirque Shows. We highly recommend La Reve.)

We had great food at Gordon Ramsay Steak at our hotel the first night, some delicious sushi at Koi Restaurant & Lounge at Planet Hollywood and we loved breakfast at the little French bakery downstairs at Paris (among other awesome food). We ate A LOT, but luckily we also walked A LOT.

steps in vegasMost of those 30,894 steps that day were spent walking hand-in-hand. BONUS!

3. Decorate your bedroom, don’t make it a junkroom. Put pictures up from your wedding day and other memorable times you’ve spent together. When you’re ticked off, your mood will soften when you’re transported back in time to those happy days.

And seriously, clear the clutter. It’s not the least bit romantic to see a huge pile of unfolded laundry on the chair in the corner — or a stack of old boxes that you need to take to Goodwill. A clean bedroom will also make you more relaxed for when it’s time to sleeeeeeep.

4. Shut your pie hole. Promise yourself you’ll never say something that crosses the line. In particular, never harm each with knowledge that they’ve told you in confidence. Just don’t do it. If you use information likes this, you will be considered totally untrustworthy. They won’t tell you anything really important for fear you’ll use it against them in the next argument.

5. Name — and meet — each other’s needs. Be aware of each other’s needs and reassess whether you’re meeting them for each other. Talk about stuff. Neither party should assume the other knows what you need at any given moment. I’m a big fan of saying what I need (in a nice way, not in a bossy, you suck kind of way).

money26. Don’t lie about money. Money issues can make or break a marriage. It’s a huge issue. It’s one of the top reasons for marriage trouble, as most of us know. Don’t lie about purchases. In high school, I was always surprised when one of my friend’s moms would keep everything from a day’s shopping trip in the trunk and walk in the front door and act like we couldn’t find a thing to buy. Ahem.

7. FLIRT. Don’t be so serious all the time. Even the most shy and quiet among us flirted when we were first dating. And wasn’t it fun? Didn’t it liven things up? Well, it still has a place in marriage.

8. Bear each other’s burdens. Listen and I mean listen, when he tells you something he’s sad or mad or glad about. You know how I love research, and research says how we handle these everyday interactions can make or break a marriage. Don’t just say Mmmhmmmm and barely look up from your iPad when he tries to tell you something that happened at work. Same goes for the guys, of course.

9. Go to bed at the same time. Even if we haven’t had a chance to touch all day, when we go to bed together and we’re too exhausted to even talk, I always put my head in the crook of his arm. Or I reach out and we hold hands. If we’re not too exhausted to talk, it’s the best time to catch up without a million distractions flying toward us.

10. Pray for each other. We’re praying sorts and we often ask each other to pray when something’s happening at work, a relationship is strained or if we need help with something as a couple. And sometimes when you ask your spouse what you could pray about for them, you find out something that’s weighing heavy on their mind.

11. Make his favorite meal while wearing lingerie. OK, so not really, but you get the picture: Do something kind for your spouse. Especially kind. Over-the-top kind, on occasion. This is not really about who does the cooking in the family, it’s about feeding his soul. If he likes a certain food, make (or buy) it for him. The point is to occasionally go above and beyond to show each other you’re paying attention to what they like. And no, I don’t think it should just be the wife making these grand gestures. (My husband would adore the above example, though.)

12. Notice. No, go further than just noticing. Make a point of saying you noticed and appreciate whatever he/she did.

Here’s a good example: my husband recently took my car to the car wash and used the vacuum. He didn’t just hit the high spots, though. He vacuumed every nook and cranny. Then he bought some Armour All and shined up my interior. I was so excited the next time I got into my car. It looked so CLEAN. The next time we all went together somewhere, I told him how much I loved getting into a clean car, how much it changed my mood for the good, and that it was like he had given me three dozen roses, just by cleaning out my car.

It really was. Clean car nirvana.

13. Don’t be a smotherer. When we first got married, I was a little stingy with my man. I liked to have him around all the time. But I also loved it when he encouraged me to do things with my friends and was always generous about it. He taught me to be generous, too. Everybody needs a little space and absence does make the heart grow fonder. Take time for yourself and your friends, then you’ll enjoy each other’s company even more.

14. Always say hello and goodbye. I think this goes along with noticing each other. It’s saying you matter enough to say hello when you come home and goodbye when you’re leaving. If you kiss when you do it will give you extra marriage mojo. It’s about being intentional.

15. Have his/her back. Seriously, who should have your back more than your husband or wife? Don’t throw your spouse under the bus to friends and family even when it’s tempting.

vegas palm trees

Vegas, baby!

Any happy marriage tips you’d add? Fire away in comments!