We've been itching for a family vacation, but we didn't have a lot of budget for the expenditure, so we turned to favorite locations that we could reach in a day's drive from Kansas City. I have so many good memories of visiting Branson as a child that I thought it might be the perfect place to relax for a couple of days. Some of my favorite memories are from days spent at Silver Dollar City. I only remember attending Silver Dollar City's annual Christmas festival once in my childhood, but I knew it would be magical. So, the decision was made - and off we went!
Note: this post is crazy long! If you're just here for the highlights, watch for bold type - you'll find all my best tips for visiting Silver Dollar City with young kids at Christmas!
We planned for it to be a really quick trip (only one night), so that we could save on hotel expenses. Silver Dollar City is currently offering a deal that allows you to enter the park after 7pm, then use the same ticket again for the next day's full admission. Since we wanted to see the park at night and didn't plan to stay long enough the following day for that, this seemed perfect! With that plan in place, we headed off in the afternoon and were happy when both kids took great naps on the way there.
Branson is about a three-and-a-half- to four-hour drive from KC, and by the last leg of our trip we were all done. I'm sure we'll eventually take vacations to far-off destinations, but right now this is about all we can handle. We arrived at the park after 7pm, so we loaded up the stroller and headed straight to the gate. We bought our tickets at a discounted rate from our local Parks and Recreation department and kids ages three and under are free, so our admission cost was not terrible at all!
You can tell that the Christmas spirit is in full swing at Silver Dollar City just by walking up to the park entrance! The holiday festival is something you definitely want to experience at night, so our plan of having the kids take late naps worked out well. We didn't have any serious meltdowns at the park, even though it was way after bedtime!
Both Lincoln and Addie were absolutely mesmerized by the mega tree just inside the park. It features a light show timed to popular Christmas music and even I admit, it was fascinating to watch. The kids didn't make a peep, just watched with super wide eyes.
Watching them? It was magical. Definitely one of those moments that makes you thankful that you have been blessed with the task of being a parent. Even though there are hard days, the sweet little moments make it all worthwhile.
After watching the tree for a long time, we went on a brisk stroll around the park. We visited in mid-November and the crowds were not terrible by any means. The decorations are gorgeous everywhere!
We stayed long enough that evening to let Lincoln explore a little bit and watch the Christmas parade. It was so much fun!
The kids were, again, intrigued by all of the lights and music. We had several parade participants come right up and talk to Lincoln and Addie, which was fun! I especially appreciated that this parade begins with Santa, but the final display is a nativity. Much nicer, in my opinion, as the focus of our Christmas celebration is not Santa Claus.
You would think that the kids would have both been worn out after all of that excitement, but they were still wired. They stayed awake as we drove to our hotel and it took a long time for everyone to settle down and sleep.
The next day, the park opened in the early afternoon. We visited the Hollywood Wax Museum in the morning and fit in a little bit of shopping before we headed back to Silver Dollar City to use our tickets again. Our first stop during daylight hours was the bakery near the front entrance - we all enjoyed a ridiculously large and delicious cinnamon roll.
My top piece of advice for a family adventure like this? Don't forget your baby carrier. To say I was less than pleased when I realized that my Ergo was left in our living room during the chaos of packing up for the trip would be a serious understatement. It would have been a lot better to have the option to carry the kids as needed. Next time, I won't forget.
Since our kids aren't really old enough to ride much, we spent a lot of time just walking around enjoying the view. We did spend some time in Half Dollar Holler, though! Both kids loved Hugo and Mary's Carousel (we were the only four people on it - how fun is that?) and Lincoln ran himself ragged in the Treetop Trail attraction.
|Hugo & Mary's Carousel|
Next we headed to Geyser Gulch, a favorite of mine as a kid. Lincoln is still a little young for the main play area, but he had a great time running around anyway.
Miss Addie was getting fussy, and I was super thrilled when I headed back toward the back of Geyser Gulch and saw this sign:
A nursing station! Maybe these are commonplace at entertainment facilities like Silver Dollar City, but it was the first time I had ever encountered one. It wasn't big or fancy, but it was a nice little building that provided a quiet place to sit down with the baby and regroup. I don't have any issues nursing in public if such a place is not provided, but once a baby is walking, they don't like to be tied down to nurse if they can see what is going on! The quiet space was perfect.
The little building had two rocking chairs, and a fan and window air conditioner unit for summer's heat. It was decorated with a wreath and other Christmas decorations for the holidays! I know I will definitely plan my days at Silver Dollar City around accessing this great little resource in the future.
After nursing and a diaper change, Addie was ready for more adventures so we set off to find Daddy and Lincoln.
We tracked them down at a little toddler-sized playground just behind the main Geyser Gulch attraction (accessible from the front entrance - there's a sitting area on the right side of the main path that leads up and behind to this play area). I had no idea this little section was there, but it was perfect! There were no other toddlers playing while we were there, so we had the whole thing to ourselves for the kids to run out some energy.
Lincoln especially loved it. I didn't get many photos of him, because he was just running back and forth continuously. He was so excited.
Addie loved the ladybug ride-on toy.
I liked watching her toddle around in her ruffle-bum pants. And the sweater. And the hat. I have the cutest child on earth.
After they had played themselves silly, we headed to the Grand Exposition to let Lincoln ride some kid-size rides.
We were worried that he might not be tall enough to ride, but he surprised us and was a good inch or two over the "ride with parent" height limit. I overheard that you can visit the Measuring Station to be officially measured and receive a colored wristband indicating your child's height - thus saving the hassle of being measured at each individual ride. Had we been riding everything in the Exposition, I definitely would have opted to do this, but we only ended up doing one ride so it wasn't an issue. I bet next time we go, Lincoln will want to ride everything.
Addie was of course too little, but she enjoyed watching as Lincoln rode the Elephant March.
The first round, he went with Daddy. He was not pleased when the ride ended, so we swapped and I waited in line with him to ride again. Lincoln was having such a fun time and it just warmed my heart to see him so excited!
After our Elephant ride adventure, we hurried over to the Opera House to catch one of the day's performances of A Christmas Carol. We really wanted to see it, but were naturally worried that the kids wouldn't make it through. We got there later than we should have and ended up sitting at the very front behind the orchestra (definitely not the best seats in the house), but we've learned that we can't be as choosy as we once were about theatre now that we have kids.
Miraculously, Lincoln and Addie both made it through the hour-long show. Addie was perfect and actually fell asleep on Andrew partway through. Lincoln was pretty restless, but managed to make it. We'll make it a family tradition - and next time we'll get there early enough for better seats and hopefully they'll enjoy it more.
It was getting to be early evening by the time the show ended, so the lights were starting to really sparkle and shine again. We had hoped to be leaving the park around this time, but we had promised Lincoln a ride on the Christmas train. On the way, we stopped for a photo opp at the Silver Dollar City jail. You can just call us lazy parents because we opted to leave them in the stroller for this photo. Next year, they can get out and go inside the jail.
We reached the train station - and the huge line - just as it was getting dark. We had about a thirty minute wait for the train, which was pretty torturous with kid who had not napped, and were hungry and exhausted. Nevertheless, we made it and got to board the Christmas choo-choo!
The train was covered in Christmas lights and played holiday music that we were encouraged to sing. We traveled all across Silver Dollar City and saw lots of lights and special decorations just for Christmas! Then we went through a tunnel and out into the woods, where the train came to a stop for a special presentation of Grandpa in his rocking chair, reading the Christmas story. Both of the kids were enthralled, even though there was not a lot of action in the show. It was really neat to see a short production actually centered around the birth of Christ and not Santa Claus at Christmastime, without being in a church! It seems that something like that is incredibly rare in our world today.
Once our ride had come to an end, we were starving, so we stopped by Crossroads Pizza for dinner. This restaurant is a quick-serve location that features family-style long tables, as well as a few individual booths. Great for a large group to catch a quick meal - and it was really, really good.
We stopped by the main entrance to snag some hot cocoa (and a giant cookie) and watch the Christmas tree light show again before we left. Since it was after 7pm and we were driving home that night, we opted not to stay to watch the Holiday Light Parade again. We made it back to our van and got the kids in PJs - and they were both asleep before we got to the highway out of Branson.
Overall, it was a whirlwind trip (and some have said we're crazy for attempting it), but it was just what we needed. A little break from reality to just be our little family with no distractions and no worries is worth the time and money, I think. And we all enjoyed the experience so much, we're thinking about buying a season pass for next year. I thought that our kids would not be old enough to validate that idea for several more years, but I was wrong! They had a blast. Lincoln keeps asking to go back and "see Christmas trees." I think visiting Silver Dollar City at Christmas is going to become an annual tradition for our family.
If you made it to the end of this post, you get the best-reader-ever award. Longest post ever.