By Richard Irwin, Correspondent
As a fan of amusement parks, I try to spend time at local parks whenever I travel. My expectations are high, living just down the road from Disneyland, Universal Studios and Knott’s Berry Farm.
So I didn’t know what to expect from Silver Dollar City outside Branson, Missouri. I stopped by for a short visit last year, then promised myself I’d schedule a whole day there this year.
With more than 30 rides and attractions, 12 performance stages and nearly 100 resident craftsmen showing off their talents and wares, there’s much to choose from at Silver Dollar City.
If you’re looking for excitement, try the new $10 million Outlaw Run roller coaster. It was voted best new ride in 2013 by Amusement Today. It’s the only wood coaster to twist riders upside down three times, and it’s one of the steepest, dropping 16 stories in the first drop. Of course, you’ve built up a little speed by then, making it the second fastest wood coaster in the world, reaching 68 miles per hour.
Once on the Outlaw Run was enough for these old bones, so I recovered with some bluegrass music. Silver Dollar City has several festivals every year, and the bluegrass festival is one of the best.
More than 40 bluegrass bands performed on multiple stages throughout the park. Award-winning performers included Rhonda Vincent, who has been described as the “Queen of Bluegrass Music” by the Wall Street Journal.
We watched The Kruger Brothers perform in the beautiful Opera House. These musicians come from Switzerland, and their repertoire ranges from traditional bluegrass to Bach. I hadn’t even known I like bluegrass music. Their haunting melodies brought tears to my eyes and a smile to my heart.
Of course the park offers its own performers throughout the year. Check out the Horsecreek Band for some traditional country, bluegrass, western, and gospel music.
We stopped by the Silver Dollar Saloon for a show, expecting something like the saloon shows at Knott’s Berry Farm and Disneyland. But the saloon girls were kicking up their heels when the show took on a strange twist.
It seems that after a 30-year absence, Carrie Nation had returned. This historic figure, who had lived in the area, doled out her own brand of ax-wielding, vigilante justice to everyone who didn’t live by strict temperance codes. Talk about prohibition. Scary!
Kids will like the new $8 million Fireman’s Landing. This area offers 10 family adventures themed around a community fair from a century ago. Here, children “train” to become volunteer firefighters. As a former volunteer fireman, I got a kick out of the youngest recruits for the Silver Dollar City Fire Brigade. Did you know three out of every four firefighters in the country today are volunteers?
Throughout the park master craftsmen create wonderful works of art. We watched master potter Jeff Walker create bowls and pie plates using his signature red glaze. Other craftsmen include master glass cutter George Stiverson and master glass blower Shawn Watt.
Then there’s the food.
Be sure to stop at Sullivan’s Mill for some of Frank Capp’s sweet cinnamon bread and other freshly baked pastries. Yum! And watch June Ward make candy at Brown’s Candy Factory. Kids will be fascinated by how candy is actually handmade here.
Be sure to save room for breakfast, lunch or dinner in Silver Dollar City. Kids’ meals are only $4.99, including an entree, side, fruit and juice.
We started the day with a hearty breakfast at Molly’s Mill Restaurant. We liked it so much, we went back for lunch.
The park’s first restaurant, Molly’s is one of the few original buildings on Main Street. It has been serving hearty Ozarks meals for more than four decades.
The all you can eat buffet offers fried chicken, catfish, country smothered steak, apple baked beans, tomatoes and zucchini, fried okra and homemade sourdough bread.
This summer, the park is featuring the World-Famous Harlem Globetrotters as part of its Star-Spangled Summer festival through July 19. Visitors will also see some of the nation’s most talented clogging groups on the Gazebo Stage.
Spend the day at Silver Dollar City – you’ll be glad you did.