4 cities worth a holiday road trip BRANSON
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.
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 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
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.
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.
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.
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.
A nightly parade is part of Silver Dollar City’s An Old Time Christmas.