Branson Attractions Dazzle Student Travel Groups
From theater shows to go-karts, Branson, Missouri, offers student group planners a wealth of itinerary ideas. Here is just a sampling of student-friendly attractions in this Ozarks vacation favorite:
Acrobats of China
Student groups at the New Shanghai Theatre get a taste of Chinese culture in addition to seeing amazing feats of precision, strength and teamwork on stage. The young acrobats from the New Shanghai Circus (ages 14-24) sign autographs in the lobby after the show, and arrangements can be made for them to meet with students for a question-and-answer session, says Susan Weimar, director of sales.
Prior to the performance, there is a short film on Shanghai. Exhibits in the lobby, such as replicas of the terra cotta warriors, add another dimension. The theater also can provide teachers with a China curriculum guide and study sheets prior to the visit.
Student performance groups may take the stage at the New Shanghai Theatre. From March to June, there’s a band or choral group prior to almost every Acrobat of China weekend show, Weimar said. Most of these opportunities are arranged through Branson on Stage Live, which offers a clinic or workshop as well.
Contact: Susan Weimar, 877-212-4462, firstname.lastname@example.org; acrobatsofchina.com.
Track Family Fun Parks
With four Branson locations, Track Family Fun Parks offer student groups a good way to unwind. Go-karts, bumper cars and boats, mini-golf and arcades provide tons of fun. One Track park has the Ozark Mountain Skycoaster, a 100-foot-tall super swing that combines elements of skydiving and hang-gliding. Another has the G-Force, a drag race simulator. Taking advantage of tour and travel group rates, students may opt for an armband that provides an hour, two hours or a whole day of fun.
Julie Wilson, sales and marketing manager, said meal plans for a student group can include a pizza buffet with salad, bread sticks and drink, or a sub combo. A concrete from Andy’s Frozen Custard is a popular add-on.
Contact: Julie Wilson, 417-334-1612, Julie@bransontracks.com; bransontracks.com.
At the New Americana Theatre, the seven Haygood Brothers and their only sister Catherine bring down the house down night after night with powerful a cappella harmonies, energetic dance numbers and virtuoso performances on over 20 different instruments. Now in their 18th year, The Haygoods is rated the #1 Branson show on TripAdvisor.
Joe Modglin, director or sales, said the show appeals to students because “it’s music they can relate to and is more than just the hillbilly music” found in other Branson shows. The brothers’ hot looks, he added, provide “eye candy for all the young ladies.” They’ve been dubbed the “Osmonds of Branson.” Born to one mother and father, the young performers hail from Texas, where the family once lived in a trailer. Each brother and sister plays a defined role in the business, whether it’s in charge of finance, choreography or lighting. The Haygoods are proficient on a multitude of instruments including violin, mandolin, saxophone, guitar, drums, piano and harp.
Before the show, student performance groups can take the stage before a live audience, and the Haygoods give educational clinics to visiting band and choral groups. Topics range from vocals and stage presence to the business side of the music. Also available are behind-the-scenes of the theater, which the Haygoods own.
Contact: Joe Modglin, 417-339-4663, email@example.com, thehaygoods.com or theamericanatheatre.com.
Towering 100 feet above Country Highway 76, this Titanic museum is shaped like the ship herself, built half-scale to the original. Visitors enter through an iceberg and take a self-guided tour designed to give the sensation of being a passenger on the 1912 maiden voyage of the ill-fated ocean liner.
Besides seeing 400 rare artifacts (like a lifejacket and deck chair), students can explore authentically detailed rooms, view the bow section recreated for the 1997 movie Titanic, and sit in a lifeboat and listen to survivors’ stories. Everything on display once belonged to a Titanic passenger or crew member and were either taken off the ship at the time of the sinking or were found floating in the debris field. In the Memorial Room you learn the fate of the passenger whose name appears on your boarding pass.
Contact: Kristy Merritt, 800-381-7670, firstname.lastname@example.org; titanicbranson.com.
The Butterfly Palace and Rainforest Adventure
More than 1,000 tropical butterflies—from Costa Rica, Malaysia, Africa and other distant lands—flutter right before your eyes at the Butterfly Palace and Rainforest Adventure. Imported under strict USDA controls, species (40 to 60 at any one time) range from the common blue morpho to the zebra mosaic. Also in the exhibit are birds—the button quail from China and purple honey creeper, an Amazon native.
The experience includes a 3-D movie about the life of a butterfly, and students can watch a butterfly emerge from a chrysalis in the emergence room. General manager Sarah Bolend said customized tours for school groups include the chance to participate in a butterfly release as students help hatchlings take their first flight inside the aviary
After the butterfly exhibit, groups can see poison dart frogs, African giant black millipedes, emperor scorpions, geckos and other creatures in the Living Rainforest Science Center. Also popular are the Emerald Forest Mirror Maze and Coconut Tree climb in which harnessed climbers scale a 20-foot artificial palm.
Dolly Parton’s Dixie Stampede
Branson’s premier dinner attraction entertains student groups with a rousing arena show featuring equestrian thrills, special effects, pyrotechnics, racing pigs and even a stampede of longhorn steers, plus music, dancing and audience participation. Also included is a hearty four-course feast that includes a whole rotisserie chicken, barbecue pork loin, soup, potatoes, corn on the cob, a buttermilk biscuit and apple turnover.
Student band, choral and dance groups who book the dinner show can perform as the opening act in the Carriage Room, playing to crowds of up to 1,100 seated on all sides and around the balcony. It’s a rare chance for students to perform in the round. Dolly Parton said, “I’m thrilled to welcome student performers to my Dixie Stampede. There is just no experience like playing to a live audience on a real stage. It makes you feel like a star. That was one of my greatest joys as a young person.”
John Richardson, director or sales and marketing, said Dixie Stampede has seen impressive growth in the student market and hosts two to three student groups a week, many of them performance groups. On request, the attraction can arrange a behind-the-scenes tour that provides insight into entertainment management and operations.
Contact: John Richardson, director of sales and marketing, 417-336-7961, email@example.com; dixiestampede.com.
Branson On Stage Live!
This company gives student performance groups from around the country get a chance to be warm-up acts for some of Branson’s biggest stars in their multi-million-dollar theaters. Greg Hoffman, founder of Branson On Stage Live!, said the program welcomes 4,000 to 5,000 students a year. The peak season is March through June, but groups also come during fall and Christmastime. The application process calls for an audition tape and photo of the group in costume or uniform.
Hoffman, a trumpeter for Tony Orlando’s show for seven years, said, “We take over theaters for music education and include all the elements of what it’s like being a professional musician.” A Branson performer or music educator conducts a clinic, which is followed by a dress rehearsal and then a pre-show performance before a live audience at such venues as Legends in Concert, Presley’s Country Jubilee and New Shanghai theaters. At the “Liverpool Legends” Beatles tribute, choir groups have a part in the actual show.
Branson On Stage Live!, in its 16th year, provides packages that include meals and hotel accommodations.
Contact: Greg Hoffman, 417-334-5599, firstname.lastname@example.org; bransononstagelive.com.