Aboard the Branson Belle

Where: Showboat Branson Belle, Branson, MO

Who: Dad, Mom, Son #6

When: June 30, 2014

Branson is part of the first leg of our 2014 family mega-trip. We left home on June 28 and drove to Searcy, AR, where we dropped off Sons #1-5 with Jason’s parents for a stint at a Christian day camp. (Actually, Sons #4-5 are too young for camp, but they get to play with a cousin for a few days at Oma and Opa’s house, something that is almost as fun.) We then brought Son #6 (9 mo.) up to Branson for a few days to relax.

Having bought into the Wyndham network back in March, we have some timeshare points to burn, so we reserved four nights in a studio in a development called the Falls. It’s a tiny place, but it feels spacious enough without Sons #1-5.

If you’ve never been to Branson (we haven’t come here in more than 10 years), be aware that you’re not allowed to leave without going to some shows. We are taking the opportunity while dragging only one kid to see some entertainment.

Our first excursion was a dinner cruise on the Showboat Branson Belle.

DSC_0850According to the video presentation we viewed on board, the Branson Belle was built in the early 1990s. The owners are the same family who run Silver Dollar City and several other area attractions. Fun facts about the riverboat: the tiller is solid teak (over 600 pounds), and when the boat was first launched from the dry dock, they used about a bazillion banana peels to grease the slide into the lake. It sails for dinner cruises up to three times per day and can hold 700 passengers, not counting the crew.

During the break between dinner and the show, we took the opportunity to go up to the top deck of the ship and enjoy the view of Table Rock Lake, formed by the damming of the White River in the 1960s.

Our waitress was very helpful in getting Son #6 situated with a high chair and kiddy food. We grown-ups got pot roast and chicken along with snap peas, mashed potatoes, and a sweet roll. Dessert was some kind of raspberry torte.

During the meal, a magician/comedian kept everyone entertained. The illusions were nothing special (I think I saw the sleight of hand once or twice), but he was quite funny. The competent 5-man house band (sax, piano, guitar, bass, drums) also played several instrumental numbers, mostly from the Dixieland and Big Band eras. Unfortunately, we had to endure the most over-played song in the entire genre (“In the Mood”), but the rest of it was great.

The show proper was titled “Made in the USA.” It consisted of musical numbers from two different acts interspersed with a couple more magic tricks. Most of the songs were either patriotic numbers or named for American cities, e.g. “Kansas City.” The two acts (both of which got backup from the house band) were a 5-man vocal ensemble and a female violinist/pianist/singer named Janice Martin. The vocal ensemble was surprisingly good, although they did use some extra reverb to cover up their mistakes. (I told Vickie afterwards that if I were up there dancing around the way those guys were, I’d be off pitch a lot more than they were. Seriously, the choreography in their Motown medley left me exhausted, and I was sitting still the whole time.)DSC_0865

For sheer novelty, though, Janice Martin stole the show. The emcee introduced her as the world’s only “aerial violinist,” and near the end of the set she did an act on silks reminiscent of Cirque de Soleil, except that she punctuated her acrobatic moves with riffs on her violin, which was strapped to her. At one point she played Eddie Van Halen’s guitar solo from “Jump” while hanging upside down. It was definitely the sort of thing you don’t see every day. (Ms. Martin has recently published a children’s book about overcoming her childhood fear of heights. The title is How I Learned to Fly.)

If you enjoy food, shows, riverboats, or any combination thereof, we’d recommend the dinner cruise on the Branson Belle. With the discounts available from the concierge at our resort, we paid around $45-50 per adult ticket, so it wasn’t cheap, but any show in Branson will set you back at least $30-35, and this one came with dinner and scenery.


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