When I told friends I was going to Branson for the weekend, they all had the same reaction: Why? For one thing, I really like Silver Dollar City, with its open-air music theaters, quaint pioneer village and pristine wooded grounds. For another, Branson holds special family memories from trips decades ago with our small children, who watched in awe as the glass blower, woodcarver and blacksmith plied their trades.     

    Branson and Silver Dollar City have grown up a lot since those early days. Now the main, strip, Highway 76, snakes past garish neon signs announcing shows like the Osmond Family, the Duttons and the Baldknobbers, variety shows with country and/or religious overtones. But along with the explosion of musical theaters has come the attendant attractions, and I don’t know many kids who don’t like water parks, go-karts and bumper boats. Or funnel cakes, kettle corn, sno-cones and cotton candy.

    Silver Dollar City, too, has added to its offerings. Now it has six special ‘festivals,’ starting with the one I saw, WorldFest, five weeks during which visitors can see performers from around the globe dancing, singing and performing acts native to their culture. This year’s headliner is the balancing monks of China, a group of men who do amazing things while balancing on their heads.

    The Irish group Feet of Fire is like an abbreviated Riverdance, and there were dancers from Peru and Argentina, a band from Russia and a steel-drum group from Trinidad. Each tells a little bit about their music and their culture, educating while entertaining during their 30-minute performances. There’s also a new cooking school, where I have been inspired to try my hand at crepe-making (after multiple failures during my early cooking years).

    If you should decide to take the kids to this Ozark playground some weekend, there are enough ‘unusual’ attractions to keep even the most cynical youngster amused. How about The World’s Largest Toy Museum, where Howdy Doody and pop guns share space with the Millennium Falcon and Barbie? Or the Hollywood Stars Wax Museum and Ripley’s Believe It Or Not? For their parents’ generation (or their parents’), there’s a walk down memory lane at the Roy Rogers Dale Evans museum, where the most famous his and hers six-shooters are on display, in multiples, not to mention those sparkly, fringed cowboy (and girl) costumes.

    Adjacent to the Dick Clark Theater, a car museum called 57 Heaven takes you back to the days of drive-ins, neon signs and cars that are all tail fins and chrome. Seventy expertly restored 1957 automobiles represent every nameplate made at the time, including DeSoto, Hudson, Studebaker and Rambler. The glistening beasts are set amid a backdrop of ’57 memorabilia that includes a drive-in movie, a drive-up burger joint, and a ranch house with a pink and turquoise kitchen.

    The Titanic Museum, its sinking-ship facade notwithstanding, is a slick, interactive attraction that opens with a real iceberg you can touch and takes you through various parts of the ship, from the boiler room to John Jacob Astor’s first-class suite. Actual memorabilia, including detailed menus from the fateful voyage and photos of the passengers taken by a young priest who debarked in Ireland, drive home the enormity of the tragedy.

    And if you’re still looking for something to do, there’s nearby Table Rock Lake, boating fishing, swimming or Branson’s Chateau on the Lake, where you can get a first-rate meal at Chateau Grill or just sit on your deck and watch the sun set.  Heck, once you’re on Ozark time, you may even find yourself wishing for an extra day of Branson vacation.