Well here I was, all prepared to share about the Steamboat Museum outside Kansas City for my letter S (The Arabia sank in 1856 and was rediscovered 132 years later—now visitors can see its preserved cargo. which would have been taken by pioneers heading west on the various national trails). It all would have been very educational I assure you, but it was the week before Labor Day and another homeschooling family offered to take us as their guests to Silver Dollar City, another S destination. How was I to say no?
Outside the glare of neon signs, the roar of go cart tracks, and the miles of slow moving traffic that is Branson is one of the finest theme parks in the country. It opened in 1960 with little more than a blacksmith shop, a general store, an ice cream parlor and a few other buildings that served as the background for the staged gunfights performed by costumed staff. As a promotional gimmick, change for purchases was given in real silver dollars! (They no longer do this, in case you’re wondering). When tourists spent their silver dollars back home, they often shared where the money had come from—word of mouth advertising.
SDC’s popularity took another giant leap when the Beverly Hillbillies show filmed five episodes on site in 1969. The ice cream parlor became a hotel and several craftsmen like the blacksmith Shad Heller appeared in the shows. Shad became the “face” of Silver Dollar City, appearing on all the billboards, etc. I know there’s a picture somewhere of me getting to meet him at his forge during my first visit (I was only three).
There’s something for everyone at SDC! Are you into coasters? They’ve got five now, including Outlaw Run—named best new ride of 2013 and winner on the Travel Channel’s Insane Coaster War. My Schnickelfritz had been chomping at the bit to get on this ride since we saw it being built in 2012. That’s him with his hands up in the air in the front row while I’m taking pictures from the safety of the exit ramp. Notice how empty the cars are? That’s the advantage of homeschooling –we visit when the parks are empty! (It wasn’t really empty, but most visitors were there for the Southern Gospel Picnic and not interested in thrill rides).
When you’re through twisting, turning, and inverting and it’s safe to eat again check out some of the stick to your ribs grub. In case you can’t read the sign, these giant skillets are used for succotash (corn, yellow squash, okra, peppers, onion, and chicken). Another concoction is green beans, carrots, redskin potatoes, and ham. It’s not your typical theme park food, it’s home cookin’. You can also find barbecue and corn on the cob roasted on the grill.
My favorite thing to do is visit all the craft shops. They don’t just sell cast iron and hand blown glass, they make it on site! They generally explain what they’re doing and they’re happy to take questions when it’s safe for them to be distracted. You can find people working with wood, leather, iron, pottery, glass, and candy all over the park. There’s even a lathe making baseball bats. If you’re really into crafts you may want to come during the Harvest Festival in the fall when they bring in an additional 125 craftsmen.
If it’s really hot outside or if you’re into spelunking you’ll want to be sure and tour Marvel Cave (it was the original tourist attraction back in the 1800’s). For an hour you’ll be walking through the 54-60 degree cave, the temperature actually goes up the deeper you descend and this is the deepest tour cave in the state. If you’re trying to earn the Missouri Cave Patch, this can count as one of your five caves. We had a great guide. During the descent of all those stairs in the Cathedral Room entrance, speakers were playing the soundtrack from Batman—talk about your perfect set-ups. Eventually a youngster would ask about Batman and the guide would say “No, this is Marvel Cave, Batman is DC Comics.”
Fair warning, it can be strenuous—lot’s of steps up and down, the guides spell out what will be expected of you in plenty of detail so don’t say you weren’t warned. And before you can even get in line you’ll have to stoop through an opening that represents the tightest squeeze in the cave, just four feet high, for a length of about seven feet. It is do-able, though. We had an older lady with two prosthetic legs on our tour and she made it.
Silver Dollar City hosts six special festivals throughout the year:
- World-Fest April 5th - May 4th featuring performers and food from around the world
- Bluegrass & BBQ May 8th –June 1st Think ribs and down home music
- Star Spangled Summer June 7th – July 20th This may just be a new name for Kids Fest
- Southern Gospel Picnic Aug. 22nd - Sept.1st You can purchase a fried chicken dinner and listen to God honoring music all day.
- National Harvest Festival Sept. 12th - Oct. 25th The craftsmen arrive in droves
- An Old Time Christmas Nov. 1st - Dec. 30th Five million lights –‘nuff said.
Homeschool weekend falls during the Harvest Fest. They’ve got special activities for kids of all ages (for an additional fee). Even if you can’t come that weekend Silver Dollar City has a special rate for homeschoolers. The normal daily admission rate is $59 (12 and up) and $49 (4-11). Homeschoolers can get a TWO-day ticket for $47 (12+) and $37 (4-11) with the code 3703.
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