4 cities worth a hol­i­day road trip BRAN­SON

The Wichita Eagle - - Neighbors - BY MELINDA SCHNYDER Ea­gle cor­re­spon­dent

If you’ll be trav­el­ing to see fam­ily for the up­com­ing hol­i­days and would like an ex­cur­sion along the way or if you are plan­ning a week­end get­away to en­joy the sea­son, there are cities in ev­ery di­rec­tion from Wi­chita of­fer­ing events of all sizes from now through the end of the year. Here is a look at this year’s on­go­ing Christ­mas fes­ti­vals and spe­cial events you’ll find in four cities within the re­gion.

What do you do when the lo­cal amuse­ment park con­sis­tently tops the rank­ing of the coun­try’s best theme park hol­i­day event? If you’re Bran­son, you spread the hol­i­day cheer across the city.

Five years ago, a group of Bran­son busi­ness lead­ers formed a non­profit coali­tion to fo­cus on mak­ing Christ­mas spec­tac­u­lar through­out the Ozark city even for vis­i­tors who don’t buy a ticket to Sil­ver Dol­lar

City’s Old Time Christ­mas Fes­ti­val (Nov. 2-Dec. 30), stay at Chateau on the Lake Re­sort and Spa dur­ing its Ozark Moun­tain Christ­mas (Dec. 2-25) or at­tend one of the area’s many shows, which typ­i­cally fea­ture at least half a show worth of hol­i­day mu­sic this time of year.

The group landed on turn­ing Bran­son into

Amer­ica’s Christ­mas Tree City. They chose trees as a way to spark joy be­cause of the area’s nat­u­rally moun­tain­ous ter­rain and the facts that trees are Christ­mas icons and present end­less creative pos­si­bil­i­ties. They en­cour­aged lo­cal groups, or­ga­ni­za­tions and busi­nesses to dec­o­rate trees that could be seen by the public free of charge.

“This was our community’s way of get­ting in­volved to make the whole town feel as won­der­ful as Sil­ver Dol­lar City and the Chateau do at Christ­mas. That first year, we counted about 50 Christ­mas trees through­out the area and I felt that was a pretty good start,” said Ann McDowell, ex­ec­u­tive di­rec­tor of Bran­son Christ­mas Coali­tion, adding that she doesn’t count the thou­sand-plus trees in­side Sil­ver Dol­lar City.

The sec­ond year, the num­ber grew to 150 and McDowell thought they might be on to some­thing. Last year, she doc­u­mented 733 trees in Bran­son and this year the count is at more than 1,500. With so many, she is now con­cen­trat­ing on en­cour­ag­ing vis­i­tors to see Bran­son’s “land­mark tree dis­plays,” which she de­fines as a sin­gle tree at least 20 feet tall, a col­lec­tion of 10 or more trees or a tree us­ing unique ma­te­ri­als, structure or pre­sen­ta­tion.

There are 55 land­mark tree dis­plays, from the tallest, a 52-foot tra­di­tional ev­er­green with more than 1,200 or­na­ments out­side Sight & Sound The­atre to a col­lec­tion of 16 3D trees rang­ing from 4- to 8-feet tall with a syn­chro­nized light dis­play in the Bran­son Land­ing area. Some of the new one-of-a-kind trees in­clude a 20-foot LED danc­ing light tree with glow­ing golden arches at one of the area McDon­ald’s and a 28-foot up­cy­cled star tree made from sal­vaged metal and light pole dis­play fix­tures that is on dis­play near the Ti­tanic Mu­seum At­trac­tion.

Find a com­plete list of

the land­mark trees at Bran­sonChrist­mas.org.

Sil­ver Dol­lar City, four­time win­ner of “Best Theme Park Hol­i­day Event” voted on by USA Today read­ers, con­tin­ues to up its Christ­mas game with a new one-of-a-kind 80-foot-tall, state-of-theart Christ­mas tree. The tree com­bines color, mu­sic, light and an­i­mated im­agery and is the cen­ter­piece of a $1.5 mil­lion Joy on Town Square ad­di­tion to the 1880s theme park’s An Old Time Christ­mas.

The an­nual fes­ti­val also in­cludes a nightly light pa­rade star­ring Ru­dolph the rein­deer, Broad­waystyle mu­si­cal adap­ta­tions of “A Dick­ens’ Christ­mas Carol” and “It’s a Won­der­ful Life” pro­duced ex­clu­sively for the park along with other hol­i­day shows and fam­ily-fo­cused ac­tiv­i­ties. More than 40 rides are run­ning and hol­i­day din­ing and shop­ping are avail­able.

An Old Time Christ­mas runs on se­lect dates through Dec. 30. One-day tick­ets range from $61$71. Visit sil­ver­dol­larcity .com for a full sched­ule.

DEN­VER AREA

Blos­soms of Light at

Den­ver Botanic Gar­dens in the Cheesman Park neigh­bor­hood east of down­town en­ters its third decade as an an­nual hol­i­day tra­di­tion. New to the light and color dis­plays is a 360-de­gree im­mer­sive light ex­pe­ri­ence. The event runs 5 to 9 p.m. on se­lect dates Nov. 29 through Jan. 3. Tick­ets range from $14-$21.

The new­est Mile High Hol­i­days-branded event is hap­pen­ing down­town in Sculp­ture Park at the Den­ver Per­form­ing Arts Com­plex. Start­ing with an of­fi­cial tree light­ing cer­e­mony Nov. 30, this hol­i­day at­trac­tion will fea­ture light­ing dis­plays, en­ter­tain­ment and con­ces­sions through Jan. 31. En­try is free and the cen­ter­piece is

a seven-story tall, 39-foot di­am­e­ter dig­i­tal tree.

What’s be­ing called the Mile High Tree is billed as the tallest pixel LED tech­nol­ogy tree in the coun­try. There will be nightly public light and mu­sic shows and an im­mer­sive in­te­rior view­ing ex­pe­ri­ence within the tree for up to 140 peo­ple at a time. Check MileHighHo­l­i­days.com for a sched­ule.

If you’re look­ing for ac­com­mo­da­tions in a hol­i­day won­der­land, head to the Gay­lord Rock­ies Re­sort in Aurora, about 20 miles east of down­town Den­ver. The mas­sive com­plex is decked out with 3 mil­lion lights and acres of Christ­mas dé­cor and the list of ac­tiv­i­ties is long. Most fes­tiv­i­ties op­er­ate

Nov. 22 through Jan. 4.

High­lights in­clude ice skat­ing, tub­ing and ice bumper cars. There are also hol­i­day-themed es­cape rooms, the Cirque Dreams Hol­i­daze show and Ice, a walk-through at­trac­tion that uses two mil­lion pounds of ice to bring to life scenes from Ru­dolph the Red-Nosed Rein­deer.

KANSAS CITY

Kansas City is full of hol­i­day tra­di­tions, from 90 years of thou­sands of jewel-toned bulbs light­ing up the 15-block Plaza District (start­ing on Nov. 28 this year) to the Kansas City Bal­let’s pro­duc­tion of “The Nutcracker.”

The Nov. 28 Plaza light­ing cer­e­mony in­cludes spe­cial win­dow dis­plays, horse-drawn car­riage rides, car­ol­ers and con­certs.

This year there are 22 per­for­mances of “The

Nutcracker” from Dec. 5-24 at Kansas City’s Kauff­man Cen­ter for the Per­form­ing Arts. All per­for­mances at the Kauff­man Cen­ter are ac­com­pa­nied by the Kansas City Sym­phony, con­ducted by Ra­mona Panseg­rau, Kansas City Bal­let’s mu­sic di­rec­tor.

The bal­let com­pany cre­ated its new ver­sion of the clas­sic fa­vorite in 2016. They took their spec­tac­u­lar sets and cos­tumes and a cast of more than 180 to Wash­ing­ton, D.C., in 2017 and sold out seven shows at the Kennedy Cen­ter. The Wash­ing­ton Post said the pro­duc­tion was “pos­i­tively ooz­ing charm” and com­mended the fresh take on the tra­di­tional story featuring chore­og­ra­phy by Devon Car­ney, Kansas City Bal­let’s artis­tic di­rec­tor.

Tick­ets range from $34

to $184 and can be pur­chased at kcbal­let.org. You’ll also find informatio­n on bal­let spe­cial events: Su­gar Plum Fairy Chil­dren’s Ball Lun­cheon on Dec. 7 and a sen­so­ryfriendly per­for­mance on Dec. 18. New this year is a VIP fam­ily ex­pe­ri­ence on sev­eral dates. This in­cludes pre­mium cen­ter mez­za­nine tick­ets plus ac­cess to a pri­vate re­cep­tion suite be­fore the show and at in­ter­mis­sion, com­pli­men­tary wine, chil­dren’s bev­er­ages, hol­i­day treats and a visit from cast mem­bers dur­ing in­ter­mis­sion.

A newer tra­di­tion in Kansas City of­fers the city’s largest dis­play of lights: 5 mil­lion lights and miles of hol­i­day dé­cor for Win­ter­Fest at Worlds of Fun. Now in its third sea­son, the event has 10 dif­fer­ent themed ar­eas with events and en­ter­tain­ment through­out the theme park.

Each night the fes­ti­val starts with a light­ing of the 70-foot tree. There are rides, live shows, lo­cal ar­ti­san shop­ping, horse­drawn car­riage rides, ice skat­ing and other ac­tiv­i­ties.

Win­ter­Fest op­er­ates se­lect dates from Nov. 23 through Dec. 31, with ex­tended hours on some days. Tick­ets start at $26, though some ac­tiv­i­ties are ad­di­tional. Check world­sof­fun.com/play/ win­ter­fest for a full sched­ule

and dis­counts.

OK­LA­HOMA CITY

Stop in down­town Ok­la­homa City for a unique

take on a Christ­mas light tour. Ride OKC of­fers bi­cy­cle rentals and tours year-round and a spe­cial Hol­i­day Lights Tour at 6 p.m. or 7:30 p.m. on Dec. 7, 13 and 19. The tour costs $20 per per­son; You can bring your own bike or rent a bike for $10 in ad­di­tion to the tour ticket.

The 90-minute tours start and end at Ok­la­homa City’s Hol­i­day Pop Up Shops, which are open se­lect dates from Nov. 29 through Dec. 22. Your ride ticket in­cludes a free hot cho­co­late at Katiebugs Sips & Sweets.

The tour travels through the city’s light dis­plays in Au­to­mo­bile Al­ley, Her­itage Hills and other neigh­bor­hoods in the city’s core. One of the guide bi­cy­cles is equipped with a sound sys­tem, so hol­i­day mu­sic travels with you along the route.

In ad­di­tion to more than 300,00 bulbs light­ing up the down­town dis­tricts, Ok­la­homa City is in its 18th sea­son of or­ga­niz­ing

Down­town in De­cem­ber, which started Nov. 8 and goes through Jan. 11. From out­door ice skat­ing at Myr­iad Botan­i­cal Gar­dens to snow tub­ing at Chick­a­saw Brick­town Ball­park, there are dozens of events and ac­tiv­i­ties listed at down­town­in­de­cem­ber .com.

Out­side of the down­town area, Fron­tier City is bring­ing its Hol­i­day in the Park back for a sec­ond year from 5 to 10 p.m. on se­lect dates be­tween Nov. 29 and Jan. 5. Tick­ets start at $38 per per­son. There are one mil­lion lights through­out the Six Flag­sowned theme park, in­clud­ing a syn­chro­nized mu­sic and light show and snow ma­chines. There’s also rides hol­i­day-themed shows, car­ol­ers and sin­ga­longs, plus sea­sonal food and drink. Find the sched­ule at Fron­tierCity.com.

Cour­tesy photo

The Track Fam­ily Fun Parks has trees at each of its three Bran­son lo­ca­tions. From a 25-foot tree made with more than 500 go-kart tires to a 29-foot tra­di­tional ev­er­green with more than 2,500 LED lights at the Bran­son Fer­ris Wheel, Bran­son is try­ing to trans­form it­self into Amer­ica’s Christ­mas Tree City.

Wi­chita

Win­ter­Fest at Worlds of Fun in­cludes more than 3 mil­lion lights on the Kansas City theme park’s 235 acres. The park also of­fers heated igloos where guests can warm up.

Wi­chita

Ride OKC of­fers a spe­cial edi­tion of its bi­cy­cle tours on three dates in De­cem­ber. The Hol­i­day Lights Tour through Au­to­mo­bile Al­ley and other neigh­bor­hoods in Ok­la­homa City core in­cludes mu­sic, thou­sands of lights and hot cho­co­late.

BOB LIN­DER DIG­I­TAL ME­DIA Cour­tesy of Sil­ver Dol­lar City

A nightly pa­rade is part of Sil­ver Dol­lar City’s An Old Time Christ­mas.

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