AYO

For Michael, Avery and Nadia Cole, the leads of Voices of Glory, AYO is more than just a catchy name—it has meaning. First, it’s simply a slang term used to greet somebody you know (Hey! How are you?). But second, it is a West African phrase of endearment, meaning “joy and love.”  So, for the Voices of Glory their name is a warm, loving way of welcoming you to their show… and the name fits the experience perfectly. After seeing AYO, it could also mean “Fresh, Dynamic and Unique.”

I sat in my seat, anticipating the show, fifteen minutes until the curtain was set to open when, to my surprise, Nadia Cole, the youngest voice of the trio, welcomed the crowd to the show, introduced herself and invited the audience into a Q&A session. Wait, what just happened? For the entertainment industry, that may have been the most unique and down-to-earth approach I’ve seen—as if they just welcomed all of us into their living room to sit and visit. Nadia shared a little bit about their lives together, their music careers and a little bit about the show. But she couldn’t share everything because the show had yet to begin, so we had to wait to find out what else they had in store!

The opening number was an original rendering of the late Taio Cruz hit, “Dynamite,” with its upbeat and bright sound. It was a perfect selection because the show’s name (“AYO”) just happens to be the memorable line in the song. The energy was high, the harmonies were tight and every hand in the audience was waving in the air to the beat—left, right, left, right.

AYO

Voices of Glory took turns haring their own renditions of classic tunes like “I’ve Got the World on a String,” “Ain’t No Mountain High Enough,” “I Will Always Love You,” and “Cry Me a River.”  They also shared original music that’s on their new album— what a great surprise! The only thing left they needed to have was a little dancing and comedy… but they have that covered too! From the first downbeat to the curtain call, I was awed by the voices, the music, the dancing and the entertainment. I could share so much more about the show but it seems like you’ll need to go experience AYO for yourself!

 

AYO Starring Voices of Glory performs at the Hughes Brothers Theatre, singing everything from Jazz and Gospel to R&B and Soul. More information (including show schedules) can be found here at http://explorebranson.com/shows/listing/746/ayo-starring-voices-of-glory.

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Summer days are starting to dwindle away and the back to school countdown has begun. Branson is your back-to-school headquarters, where you can find everything on your shopping list. Find the perfect outfits and supplies at the area’s outlet malls, shops, boutiques and more.

And on the weekend of Aug. 1-3, you can skip out on paying Missouri sales tax for back-to-school items (local and county taxes still apply). Have extra time shopping at Tanger Outlets during their extended hours for the tax-free holiday, Friday and Saturday 8 a.m. – 10 p.m. and Sunday 9 a.m. – 7 p.m.Tanger-shopping

Need some fashion inspiration for your children? Tanger Outlets kicks of their first KidSTYLE Fashion Camp on August 16 from 10 a.m. – 2 p.m. Local stylists will be there to discuss tips and trends for hair, skin and nails to get your child ready for the year.

Shop at over 100 stores Branson Landing and take a break for lunch or to enjoy the fountain show. The Landing stores are offering great specials, including the following:

  • The Children’s Place – Buy More Save More! Buy 4 or more children’s school uniforms and get 30% off! See store for details.
  • Hollister – Entire store 60% off through the back to school season! See store for full details.
  • Justice – Just for Girls – Spend $50 before tax, now through August 14th and get $60 worth of coupons to spend starting August 15th! See store for full details.
  • Famous Footwear – Buy one get one half off on shoes and backpacks now through September 14th! See store for full details.

When you’re done shopping: Smile… because you’re still in Branson! It’s like a mini vacation!

Fresh water, salt water; lake or ocean—nothing says summer quite like being out on the water.

The Spirit of America anchored in the cove.
Spirit of America anchored in the cove.

I’m walking along the edge of the dock, my steps in time to the melodic refrain of Jimmy Buffet and friends, and I can smell the familiar scent of Coppertone SPF 30.  I can feel the brush of a gentle summer breeze on my skin and, through my shades, enjoy the sights of the blue sky and the beautiful Table Rock Lake.  I give the First Mate my ticket and notice the welcome sign that reads “Naked Feet Only” (that means no shoes).  I’ve found a seat on the deck, and the First Mate unties the boat as Captain Jack steers the boat across the waves, out of the marina, toward the anchor point.  Welcome aboard the 49 passenger sailing catamaran, the Spirit of America, only at the State Park Marina.

Spirit of America sets sail every day at noon and 2:00pm, operating a sailing cruise and a Water World Adventure Cruise, but also a Sunset Celebration Cruise, at dusk.  My ticket is for the 2:00pm, two hour Water World Adventure Cruise… which became pretty obvious when I saw all of the toys we were tugging along with us behind the boat!  Accompanying us are many different water toys/activities: kayaks, a water trampoline, a blob, and a 20+ ft. inflatable water slide.  This has “good time” written all over it.  Fast-forward twenty minutes, and a beautiful cruise across the lake, and we’re dropping the anchor so we can get in the water.  Now the fun begins.  For the next hour we can choose to play, get a nice tan or simply relax.

Passengers and crew enjoying the fun on Spirit of America.
Passengers and crew enjoying the fun on Spirit of America.

I took to the kayak first for a while before hopping back on the boat for a while to relax.  But the giant slide looked too tempting for me not to jump in.  I dove in, swam to the starboard side, and began climbing up the mountain of a slide.  The view from the top was great… but the plunge down to the water was even better.  With five minutes of swimming remaining, Captain Jack sounded the bell (kind of like mom used to do when calling us in for dinner) to notify the passengers and crew it was time to pack up and head back to port.  It didn’t, however, mean that the fun was over.  On the return trip to the dock, passengers finished the expedition hoola-hooping, competing in the limbo, and dancing the YMCA and Macarena among other classics.

From the time my bare feet stepped onto the deck, to the time I put my sandals back on at the dock, the Spirit of America had me sailing on high spirits. One thing is for sure: nothing beats the feeling of warm weather, sunshine, laughter and good times.  Those can be found aboard the Spirit of America.

As I mentioned before, Spirit of America also has a relaxing sail cruise. On the sailing cruise, crewmates and passengers lift the prop and hoist the sails, then kick back and relax for a 90-minute excursion on the pristine Table Rock Lake. The Spirit of America accommodates businesses, groups and other private charters (up to 49 passengers) for virtually any occasion! Contact Captain Jack Edwards for reservations at 417.334.2628, or visit them online at www.StateParkMarina.com.

Happy sailing, friends!

Crystal Bridges

If you’re a lover of art, the next time you’re in Branson you need to schedule a day-trip to Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art in Bentonville, Ark.

The museum opened in 2011 and has quickly become one of the most significant private art collections in the United States. Alice Walton, daughter of Walmart founder Sam Walton, led the multi-year effort to create this world-class museum in Walmart’s hometown of Bentonville. Crystal Bridges is a scenic, two-hour drive from Branson.

The museum itself and the surrounding landscaping is a work of art, designed by renowned architect Moshe Safdie.

Crystal Bridges

The museum’s permanent collection is free to the public thanks to an endowment from the Walton Family Foundation. Crystal Bridges’ collection, valued at more than a half-billion dollars, includes works from practically every significant American artist and ranges from the Colonial and Revolutionary Eras to several 21st Century works.

gallery

rosieNotable pieces in the permanent collection include:

  • Portrait of George Washington by Gilbert Stuart
  • Cupid and Psyche by Benjamin West
  • Rosie the Riveter by Norman Rockwell
  • Green River, Wyoming by Thomas Moran
  • Kindred Spirits by Asher Durand
  • The Reader by Mary Cassatt

The gallery of abstract and modern art includes works from Andy Warhol, Roy Lichtenstein, Mark Rothko and Adolph Gottleib.

Also, an entire gallery is dedicated to the 101-piece Alfred Stieglitz Collection, which was personally curated by Stieglitz’s wife, Georgia O’Keeffe. The collection rotates every two years between Crystal Bridges and Fisk University in Tennessee.

george-washingtonThere is a small admission charge ($8-$10) to view touring collections, which include works on loan from several major world museums, including the Louvre in Paris.

The details:

Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art
600 Museum Way
Bentonville AR, 72712
479-418-5700

The museum is open 6 days a week (closed on Tuesdays) except for Thanskgiving and Christmas. Admission to the grounds and the permanent collection is free. Admission is charged for special events, seminars or to view touring collections.

www.crystalbridges.org

Whether you prefer tours, tasting or simply relaxing in the company of friends, there’s a great experience waiting for you at one of Branson’s wineries.

But thanks to several great options in the Branson area and an already-made travel route, the 10-stop Ozark Mountain Wine Trail,

Couple wine tasting at Stone Hill Winery.
Couple wine tasting at Stone Hill Winery.

there’s no need to settle for just one.

One of Branson’s most well-known destinations for wine lovers is Stone Hill Winery, located just two blocks south of the Highway 76

Branson Strip. With free, hour-long tours, six tasting rooms and availability for groups (there’s even parking for buses) it’s no wonder Stone Hill is one of Branson’s must-visit destinations. Norton (synonymous with Cynthiana, Missouri’s state grape) and Vignoles are among the most popular varietals available at Stone Hill and among several award-winning choices available.

Another must-visit stop in Branson is Mount Pleasant Winery, whose company history in Missouri dates to 1859. The Branson location opened in 2008 and since that time, Mount Pleasant has cemented its popularity, thanks to special offerings like its Wine 101 class and by allowing patrons to bottle their own wines from a massive French oak barrel. Popular selections include the Cabernet Sauvignon and Pink Catawba, a wine noted for its sweet and fruity flavor that’s said to pair well with a variety of desserts.

In the rolling hills northwest of downtown Branson you find Lindwedel Wine Garden, which offers a peaceful countryside setting for

Mount Pleasant Winery
Mount Pleasant Winery

sampling great wines. Lindwedel has a nice selection of made-in-Missouri wines, with regional flavors such as Table Rock Red and Table Rock White, which pay tribute to the one of the area’s beautiful outdoor destinations, Table Rock Lake.

Other Branson locations to visit on your quest for great wines include:

  • Backstage Cafe and Wine Bar, located inside the Branson Hotel, which features wines from around the world.
  • Bear Creek Wine Company, a great destination for groups – and a popular spot for weddings – where you can sip wines at the Hideaway Wine Cellar and stay in the on-site lodge or one of the cabins.
  • Branson’s Macadoodles, whose wine cellar boasts some 4,000 selections, including labels from locations such as South America and New Zealand.

Southwest Missouri, including Branson, are part of the Ozark Mountain American Viticulture Area, which includes parts of Oklahoma and Arkansas. To learn more about the Ozark Mountain AVA, click here. To continue planning your Branson vacation, continue your journey on ExploreBranson.com.

Golf, fishing, barbecue and a good drink are the hallmarks of a great guys’ getaway. Fortunately, Branson offers all four in what just happens to be one of the most beautiful areas of the country.

Top of the Rock Golf Course
Top of the Rock Golf Course

Let’s start with golf: Branson is known throughout the Midwest as one of the region’s premier golf destinations, with world-class

courses and connections to some of golf’s biggest names. For an experience you never will forget, be sure to book at tee time at the Top of the Rock. You’ll be blown away by the setting – the driving range alone is a jaw-dropper – which includes stunning views of Table Rock Lake.

If your idea of outdoor fun includes fly rods or reeling in lunkers, be sure to try your luck on Branson’s lakes: Taneycomo, Table Rock and Bull Shoals. The cool waters of Lake Taneycomo make it an ideal trout fishery, while the clear, quiet waters of Table Rock and Bull Shoals are home to trophy fish you won’t have to lie about.

If you need help finding your way around the area, or just want to have a more successful fishing trip courtesy of someone with local knowledge, connect with area guides and fishing services.

After a day on the links or out on the water, treat yourself by unwinding with a good drink. For a real flavor of the Missouri Ozarks,

Copper Run Distillery
Copper Run Distillery

be sure to visit Copper Run Distillery, the first legal moonshine makers in the region (it’s about 10 minutes north of Branson in Walnut Shade).

On-site, tour the distillery operations and belly up to the bar for a shot of 80 proof or 120 proof moonshine; they also make whiskey and rum. Designate a driver and enjoy large individual samples of all three drinks for $5 each, or try smaller samples on a three-drink flight for $5.

Next, get your belly full at one of Branson’s fabulous barbecue restaurants. Savor slow-cooked ribs at Doc’s Hickory Roadhouse, enjoy a pulled-pork sandwich and a great burger at Danna’s Bar-B-Q & Burger Shop, or take in views of Lake Taneycomo while dining at Famous Dave’s, also noted for ribs, on the Branson Landing.

Once you’re worn out from golf, fishing and enjoying local flavors, head back to your base of operations (that’s guy code for “a place to stay”) for a solid night’s sleep. There are dozens of resorts in Branson ready to meet your group’s needs and to get you ready for another day of fun with the guys.

While these ideas help lay the foundation for your adventure, they represent a sampling of all there is to see and do in Branson. Start planning your road trip with the boys today at ExploreBranson.com.

I’ve always enjoyed racing go karts, but never have I experienced a drive quite like this.

Driver in a hot pursuit for 1st place.
Driver in a hot pursuit for 1st place.

Enter the doors of the Xtreme Racing Center of Branson and enter into the world of racing. Upon arriving, I created a profile at one of the check-in kiosks. Profiles can be set up using email, Facebook or Twitter to share race stats with friends. After checking in, I received my confirmation at the counter and then, after a quick safety/instructional video, I was ready to ride! Drivers have the option of renting a GoPro video camera, mounted on the helmet, to record the race—of course I rented it. Here’s where it gets real. I could feel my heart beating faster now because the only thing left to do was get my helmet, sit down, buckle in, and put the pedal to the floorboard.

Immediately the power of the kart forced me into the back of my seat, feeling the force of the acceleration—man, that felt great. The first lap was kind of a warm up, getting the feel for the power of the vehicle, but after that I didn’t dare touch the brake. The track was curvy like a formula track, but that only added to the thrill. Call me the modern day Mario Andretti, or just some guy on a go kart, but I was flying around those corners like my racing career was on the line. Sound fun yet? The race was neck-and-neck but it eventually had to end, just like all good things. The attendant waved the checkered flag to signal the victory and the end of the race (unfortunately,

Drivers race at speeds of 40mph.
Drivers race at speeds of 40mph.

not for me) as we funneled our cars into the “pit road” style loading zone. We were taken inside to receive our race stats, and were officially finished. What a rush!

There are two tracks at the Racing Center, one for kids and one for “adults.” To qualify as an adult, a racer must be 11 years old and at least 52” tall—no driver’s license is needed. Any children who wish to race on the kids track must be 7 years old and reach 48” tall. The adult track has two “heats,” red and green. The red heat is for first-time racers, reaching speeds of 30mph, and the green heat for return drivers, kart speeds up to 40mph!

Xtreme Racing Center is faster than your average racing track. It is extreme. It is exciting. If you want to experience this attraction for yourself, find more information on our website: http://explorebranson.com/attractions/listing/3648/xtreme-racing-center.

 

CAUTION:  Once you get back into your real car, you are no longer driving at the Xtreme Racing Center… real roads have rules. :)

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It’s time to take a break from the daily grind – from the overflowing inbox and demands at work to all the running it takes to get to Big Cedar - Massageballgames, recitals and obligations that require your attention.

It’s time to grab your best friends and enjoy a girls’ getaway. And Branson, Missouri, has all you need to relax and reconnect with your friends.

After you arrive and get settled in Branson, start your relaxing getaway with a trip to one of the area’s spas. You and your friends have several options from which to choose, whether it’s a visit to Cedar Creek Spa at Big Cedar Lodge, Spa Chateau at Chateau on the Lake Resort, or 7 Stones Day Spa in downtown Branson, relaxation is just around the corner.

If your group enjoys shopping, Branson has you covered, too. Check out Branson’s great specialty shops, such as Palate Fine Wines and Provisions. While there, sample wines from around the world (from countries such as Germany and Chile) and pick a bottle to take for the group to enjoy when you unwind for the evening. Of course, there are dozens of other retailers in the area, offering everything from outlet shopping to one-of-a-kind wares found only in Branson.

No trip to Branson is complete without seeing some of the versatile performers and stirring performances for which the “Live Music TM13_013Show Capital of the World” is most well-known. Whether you enjoy pop, gospel or country music, tribute artists, or performance groups, Branson has a show that will keep you and your friends smiling for days.

After a day of relaxation, shopping and fun in Branson, a good night’s sleep will get you refreshed for tomorrow’s activities. There are dozens of resorts in Branson ready to meet your group’s needs. Whether it’s just you and a couple of friends or a big reunion with all your besties, Branson’s resorts offer accommodations and amenities to suit a wide variety of tastes and budgets.

These are just a few ideas to get your creative juices flowing as you and your girlfriends prepare for your Branson getaway. More information and ideas to plan your trip are available at ExploreBranson.com – start building your itinerary today.

The Chinquapin Trail at the Table Rock State Park.
The Chinquapin Trail at the Table Rock State Park.

The Ozark Mountains are beautiful—ask anyone. I have always been fascinated by the landscape of the Branson area, the beautiful lakes and large rolling hills. Last week, during some free time one morning, I decided to get out and enjoy the countryside I live and work in every day. Being out in these hills never gets old, so I decided to take a hike.

I drove just ten minutes down the road to the Lakeshore and the Chinquapin trails at the Table Rock State Park. After parking at the marina, I picked up a map from inside the main boathouse and took to the trails, starting with the Chinquapin trail. While both trails are located in the same area of the park the difference in scenery was vast, making every moment new and refreshing. The Chinquapin trail is a natural trail that winds through the backwoods, exploring the scenery a little more intimately than the Lakeshore trail, which is paved and runs along the Table Rock shoreline.

The Chinquapin, the less populated of the two trails, is a beautiful nature trail with varying scenery from beginning to end. It starts near the marina and winds up through the woods, across a few creek beds, over a couple bridges, through a small prairie and the campground. The trail was populated with squirrels, turtles and various native birds. About halfway through, I came upon a small outdoor theater where groups can gather to meet. Just minutes after seeing this, I came upon a patch of wild flowers growing just off the trail and soon found myself at the Main Entrance of the park. From here, I crossed over to the Lakeshore trail and finished the hike near the water with a nice leisure walk. The Lakeshore trail winds from the State Park Marina and stretches to the Dewey Short Visitor’s Center, and it’s commonly populated by strolling couples, joggers, cyclists and even dog-walkers.

A Lakeshore Trail bridge at Table Rock Lake.
A Lakeshore Trail bridge at Table Rock Lake.

What are the benefits of hiking? Enjoying the beauty of the Ozarks scenery, promoting good health and exercise and, for many people, just trying something new are a few! If you go hiking, it’s wise to wear a pair of shoes with good ankle support (and maybe even bug spray!). Bottled water is always encouraged.

The Table Rock State Park is home to many other local businesses, services and activities that are perfect for singles, couples, families and groups. You may find that it’s not only the perfect place to take a relaxing walk or hike on one of the many trails, but you can also find a spot to cookout and picnic at the Main Entrance, go parasailing, SkyBoarding, rent a bicycle or a boat for the afternoon or even find a campsite and spend the night in the woods… and so much more. No matter what your outdoor interests, the State Park and the Branson/Tri-Lakes Area have just what you are looking for.

In the late 1800’s, a group of hunters stumbled upon a large hole in the ground while chasing rabbits. Unsure of what to do about their find, they left it alone. It wasn’t until years later that Truman Powell, a local cave expert, became curious and explored what the hunters found. To his great delight, it appeared to be the opening to a cave. With the help of a few friends, Powell was lowered by rope through the cave opening (like Tom Cruise entered the vault in Mission Impossible, I’m sure) with nothing but the glow of a single candle. He knew he had found something incredible and wanted to share his new discovery with anyone willing to come see it, so eventually he upgraded his candles to lanterns, and constructed wooden ladders to provide guided tours of the cave.

The view from just inside the entrance of Talking Rocks Cavern.
The view from just inside the entrance of Talking Rocks Cavern.

This particular cavern was special to Powell because the rocks “spoke” to him in a way that no other cave had… hence the reason for the name “Talking Rocks Cavern.” Although this was not the original name of the cave, the current name was given by the Herschend family, the current owners, in honor of Powell’s love for caving and his legacy.

Today, you and your family can explore Talking Rocks Cavern just like Truman Powell… except for the candle light and the creaky wooden ladders of course. The natural beauty of the cave (including “cave bacon”) mixed with modern sound and lighting technology will leave you amazed at the creation before you. After a brief history lesson of the cave given by the tour guide, guests enter the original cave opening, down a set of stairs to the cave floor. The guide stops every few minutes to explain significant features of the cavern and how it was discovered and developed. And while there are no bats living in the cave, there is a family of cave salamanders that call Talking Rocks their home, and if you’re lucky you just might see them! Each tour runs approximately one hour from beginning to end.

Talking Rocks Cavern also has two great hiking trails on-site with a scenic observation deck and a mini golf course, making it a great way to spend the day. At Talking Rocks Cavern, you and your family can see the natural beauty of Branson inside and out. The cavern is located fifteen minutes west of Branson just off Highway 13. For more information, visit our website http://explorebranson.com/attractions/listing/1142/talking-rocks-cavern.

 

General Cave tips:

  • Caves are wet. Although steps are not slippery, always wear shoes with good traction and support because any stairs or sidewalks may have water on them.
  • Do not touch! Caves are always growing and changing and the oils on our hands can stop the growth of any cave. Only touch formations inside of a cave where permitted by a guide.
  • Every cave is different… so take your camera! And take lots of pictures!