Branson, Missouri is one of the top vacation destinations in the country with close to seven million visitors annually. Branson offers attractions and world-class entertainment for all ages, all in the gorgeous setting of the Ozark mountains. The flavor of Branson is wholesome. Shows are available for all ages and families will appreciate live performances in any of the city's 49 state-of-the-art theaters.
Families can enjoy a patriotic revue, listen to a cowboy poet reading, or take in one of the family-friendly variety shows. Magic and comedy share the stage with animals, acrobats, and special effects. Kids will love the dinner show at Dolly Parton's Dixie Stampede restaurant where they'll see horses and stunt riders perform amazing tricks.
By the first week of November most of the shows in Branson gets into the Christmas spirit. Christmas in Branson includes plenty of holiday-themed music, sets, costumes and production numbers.
Silver Dollar City has been named the number one theme park in the world by the International Association of Amusement Parks & Attractions. This 50-acre, 1880s-themed park is set naturally into its surroundings and features more than 100 craftsmen demonstrating their skills. There are festivals going on from April through December including a Bluegrass & BBQ Festival, National Kids' Fest, and a Salute to the Great American Cowboy. The holiday music festival and light parade at Silver Dollar City was named one of the top 10 in the country by USA Today.
But wait, there's more. You can rent a boat and water ski on beautiful Table Rock lake, or spend some quality time in nature at Big Cedar Lodge. Save money for shopping because Branson boasts many outlet centers and the famous Bass Pro sporting goods super store.
A Chicago vacation offers the finest in the arts and amusements. From the top of the Sears tower to the miles of paths along the shores of Lake Michigan, the family is sure to love the windy city.
The kids' favorite among Chicago's world-class museums is sure to be the Chicago Children's Museum at Navy Pier. Kids can experiment with inventions, reconstruct dinosaur bones, play on a make-believe schooner. The Field Museum comes in a close second with it's full size T-Rex and King Tut exhibits. At the Museum of Science and Industry the whole family can walk through a huge, working model of the human heart. Plan a trip to the Adler Planetarium and Astronomy Museum on a Friday for special programs.
The John G. Shedd Aquarium and Oceanarium is the world's largest indoor aquarium. You can even walk through a simulated Amazon and observe the sea life there. The Brookfield Zoo is has been named one of the top ten family-friendly zoos by Child magazine.
Take in the city's amazing architecture, from the 110-story Sears Tower, which is the tallest in North America. Then get down on street level around the Loop to get up close and personal with sculptures by Picasso, Miro, and Chagall among other. If you're lucky you'll also catch a street performance of a group of bucket drummers.
Do not leave the city without sampling the deep-dish pizza. Chicago style pizza is like no other. You may even get kids to eat their spinach when it's piled on one of these culinary works of art!
Jellystone Campground Parks
Anyone who grew up with Yogi and Boo Boo will get a huge kick out of introducing these lovable characters to their kids at a Jellystone campground park. These parks are located throughout the Midwest and have become the favorite destination for many families. In addition to the joys of camping, Jellystone parks offer waterslides, pools, and bike trails. There's also the chance to get involved in sports like volleyball and mini-golf. In the evening, families enjoy quality time around the campfire, or at the movies!
The Warrens, Wisconsin Jellystone Park is one of the finest Resort Camps in the United States with a 50,000 sq. ft. Indoor Water Resort, and different styles of lodging to suit many tastes and budgets. Generally, the parks offer tent camping, RV sites, and cabin rentals.
Parks are franchises, independently owned and operated throughout the Midwest, so you'll want to check out the Jellystone main website and do a little homework on which park is best for you because the amenities will vary. Midwest park locations include Wisconsin, Michigan, Illinois, Indiana, Ohio and Missouri.
Yogi Bear, Cindy Bear, and Boo Boo make daily visits to campers. If you're lucky, you may even get tapped to play Yogi or Cindy!
Wisconsin Dells on the Wisconsin River is known as the waterpark capital of the world. There are several outdoor and indoor waterparks to choose from, as well as more than twenty waterpark resorts!
The indoor waterparks help contribute to the year round family fun at this Midwest vacation destination, but there's more to the Dells. The fall color in the Dells is spectacular and the area has plenty of campgrounds where you can experience the colorful change of season up close.
Cruise boats and the amphibious vehicles called Ducks take you on scenic tours to see the Wisconsin River rock formations. Afterwards, go to the International Crane Foundation, a wildlife preserve where you can see all 15 living species of cranes. There's no other spot on earth where you can see all these birds in one place.
Nearby Baraboo is home to the Circus World Museum, which boasts the world's largest collection of one-of-a-kind antique circus wagons. There are 50 wagons, some in the process of restoration. You can even watch as craftsmen toil away at reviving these treasures of American history.
There are arts-a-plenty in the Dells as well. Landscape photographer, H.H. Bennett is considered among the top 10 of the 19th century. He introduced the world to stop-action photography and you can see some of it at his studio on the Dells' boardwalk. Architecture aficionados can visit the Frank Lloyd Wright's Seth Peterson Cottage, the only home Wright designed that is available for rent to the public.
For pure entertainment, check out the Tommy Bartlett Show, a water ski extravaganza that is one of the longest running live outdoor entertainment shows in the country.
South Dakota: Black Hills, Badlands, and Mount Rushmore
South Dakota is home to amazing natural beauty as well as attractions to please any family. Perhaps the best-known landmark is Mount Rushmore, but there is so much more to see. Families can learn about the history of the Great Plains at various memorials and state parks. Kids and adults alike can explore caves, canyons, and hiking trails.
The Black Hills region of South Dakota is home to five national parks and memorials. The Mount Rushmore National Monument boasts 60-foot faces of George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, Abraham Lincoln, and Theodore Roosevelt, carved into the granite of Mount Rushmore. The monument is best viewed in the light from sunrise to ten o'clock in the morning. You'll want to consult the calendar of events to find out if there are any special programs going on during your visit.
Make time to learn investigate history at the Journey Museum where you'll hear the scientific explanation of fossils and geology as well as the Lakota Sioux mythology of the origins of the Plains. One of the most popular exhibits is a hologram of a Native American woman telling her story in a tepee. Talk about bringing history to life!
Visit the Crazy Horse Memorial, which is expected to be the world's largest mountain carving when it is complete. They even project a laser show onto the five-story stone. Next, head to Custer State Park to see over 1,500 head of buffalo. The first Monday in October they have a buffalo roundup, but you'll need to make your plans many months in advance.
Wind Cave National Park has the fourth-longest cave in America. Explore a bit of its 120 miles of mapped passages. Mammoth skeletons are the main attraction at the indoor Mammoth Site in Hot Springs. From June 1st - August 15th the Junior Paleontologist Excavation lets kids ages 4 to 13 dig for fossil replicas, but space is limited so make reservations for this activity. A drive through the 244,000-acre Badlands National Park gets you a glimpse at bison, pronghorn, and bighorn sheep.