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The Rescued Animals of The Tiger Sanctuary

For all the animal lovers out there, there’s a wonderful gem of an attraction just 10 miles north of Branson: The National Tiger Sanctuary. A non-for-profit organization trying to teach others about the beautiful creatures in our world, they allow people to go on tour and look at a variety of the big cats they’ve rescued.

I had wanted to visit the sanctuary for awhile and Mother’s Day seemed perfect, it wasn’t too hot and there was an abundant amount of sunshine. There are three tours a day (Wednesday through Sunday), one at 10am, and the others at 1pm and 3pm. After briefly glancing at The National Tiger Sanctuary website and deciding that an after-lunch encounter would be best, we chose the 1pm tour time. There are many different kinds of tours to choose from, ranging from $25 for a basic guided tour, to $125 for a “Behind the Scenes” look at animal care, food preparation, and even the chance to feed the cats yourself!


Let the Tour Begin

Arriving at 12:45pm and choosing the “Feeding Tour” for $35 (this package lets you watch the cats eat), we hung around the porch before our tour started. We noticed there is an indoor room to view videos, and a place for the sanctuary’s rescued dogs and domestic cats to roam and play. A very helpful and knowledgeable tour guide named Skylar led us to the area to view the big cats, and it was an amazing experience!


Encountering the Big Cats!

Our first stop was the panther enclosure, and at first, we couldn’t see anything! Skylar started calling out to “Midnight”, and then a low growl was heard. Suddenly, seemingly out of nowhere, the most beautiful blank panther came into view. She ate, romped, and rolled around for all of us to see!

Next on the list was Merlin the lion. At first, he wasn’t too interested in us or the quartered chicken being offered to him. But when Judy, one of the owners, came by, you could tell Merlin was smitten with her! With large paws, he lumbered right up to the fence. To note, you stand about 3 feet from the animals, separated by 2 fences. It’s great for up-close photos!

Other animals we saw included Nikki and Madison, the white tiger mother-daughter duo and Willie, a large tiger. There was also Mariah and Sierra, two sister tigers along with Tina, who was very vocal! And, last but not least by any means, Banshee: a mountain lion. Two people in our group happened to pick the “You Feed” tour, so we got to see lots of up-close feeding from all the animals. Crunch Crunch! Bones and all!


As Educational as it is Fun

At each stop, Skylar takes time to talk about each animal and how they came to the sanctuary. There is information given about each different species, and questions are loved and encouraged! There is something to note, though, you may not see any of these animals on your visit: only half are on tour each day, giving the other half a day to rest to minimize any stress.

Visit The National Tiger Sanctuary website for pricing, directions, and tour information.


Am I Sacrificing my Fun for the Kids?

Like all parents I often sacrifice my own fun for the sake of my kids, which is what I expected with Buckets N Boards, but not what I got. After all, it’s billed as a comedy percussion show and the brochure shows two young guys in whacky get-ups jumping around, wearing goofy wigs and shoving things up their nose – who wouldn’t think it’s a juvenile show (appealing only to juveniles)?

I’ve been aware of Buckets N Boards, playing at the Clay Cooper Theatre in Branson, for a few years now, but always managed to side-step it for a show I thought would still be fun for the kids, but fun for Mom and Dad, too – I spend a lot of money when I take my family to a show and want as much bang for my buck as I can get. Just a few days ago, over Spring Break, we “sacrificed” and went to Buckets N Boards – all I can say is WOW!


Talent of Matt and Gareth for All Ages

Sure the kids loved it, but so did the adults. The two man show of Matt Levingston and Gareth Severs delivers on every level. Sure it’s sometimes loud (Hello… It’s Percussion), there’s juvenile antics, jumping around, and crazy cornball comedy… And I loved every minute of it. As expected, my 10 year old said Buckets N Boards was the best show we saw over Spring Break, and I must agree, it was pretty exceptional. These two guys have Charisma plus. They are wickedly talented in percussion, comedy, dance, and music (both sing well and play instruments). I think now, having seen the show, I would say it’s not juvenile – it’s innovative!


Over and Beyond at Intermission

I’m sure I’m not the only parent or grandparent to have been won over. At intermission, both performers made themselves available in the merchandise booth, and intermission ran long so that everyone could get that personal experience with the stars – something I’ve always appreciated in Branson shows. The littlest kids wanted to get an up close experience, older kids wanted to get their own drum sticks and learn to be like them, and the teens and adults just wanted to hang out with two awesomely cool dudes.

My suggestion to readers, especially readers with kids – find a way to see this 2PM show at The Clay Cooper Theater. Buckets N Boards performs out on tour as well, so it is only in Branson in March, June, July and August, and it doesn’t play every day. If you can see them in Branson, or catch one of their shows while touring, do it – you won’t be disappointed.

Yep. Branson Missouri has a beach; Moonshine Beach.

Now if you are like me love to be outside splashing in the water, and don’t want to spend a lot of money, Moonshine Beach is a great attraction to visit while in Branson. This beach is fun for all ages. Whether it is swimming in Table Rock Lake, getting that perfect tan, playing a fun game of sand volleyball, grilling some tasty food for lunch, or having a party in their shaded pavilions, there is something for everyone!

Kids especially love the beach, building sand castles, running around, and swimming! However, never fear, if your child is not the greatest of swimmers, there are life jackets available for use so they can still enjoy the fun.


Sand Volleyball is a Blast

Now being in the younger generation, I really love to swim and play volleyball with my friends, it is something we could do all day! The first thing we do when we get there is find a good spot, kick off the shoes, start the best summer music, and serve the ball! One of the great things about the Branson area is that everyone is so inviting so if you do not have a big group don’t worry. There will be plenty of people already there ready to play!


A Relaxing Experience

Not everyone who goes to the beach is up to being that active. Moonshine however is so spacious that you can have a good time volleying the ball, while others lay out, relax, read books, or just work on their tans. With the warm sand, it also makes a great place to catch up on some sleep!


Shaded Pavilions and BBQ Grills

If you’re not into the sun as much but still want to enjoy a day out with friends and family, there are shaded pavilions where you can stay cool and enjoy the beautiful views! Next to the pavilion, there are community grills so you never have to leave the beach property. You can cook a great lunch and laugh together with family under the covered pavilions!

With volleyball, swimming, a place to cook lunch, and even a good place for an afternoon nap, you can’t go wrong with spending the day at Moonshine beach. Entry is only $5 making it one of the least expensive, fun, all day events in the Branson area.

Vasken’s is a Mediterranean Delicatessen with a decidedly International flavor


McDonalds on Vacation? I’ll Pass!

Let’s face it – You can have lunch at McDonalds or Subway at home. Why not lunch at an eatery unlike one you’ll find just about anywhere else? Vasken’s Deli is different from any delicatessen I’ve ever been to. Although they have common items found in every deli, Vasken’s is a Mediterranean Delicatessen with a decidedly International flavor, and the offerings give evidence to that fact. Gyros, Falafel, Reubens, Humus, Pita Pizzas, Hearty Soups, Fresh Salads, Baklava, and other delectable pastries are what await you at Vasken’s. If you are on a special diet, you might be surprised at the selection of gluten-free and sodium restricted products for sale.


Locals know Best

Since Vasken’s is very popular with Branson locals, weekdays are busy. Give yourself plenty of time to enjoy lunch, because you’ll probably have to wait to place your order, and then wait to get it filled. The upside is that everything is prepared fresh when you order it, and they have a wonderful selection of international foods in their market area to browse through while you wait for your order. You’ll find imported soft drinks, Kalamata olives, Curry Paste, Tahini Sauce, Capers, Olive Oils, Stuffed Grape Leaves, spices, grains, pastas, many types of canned sauces, and kosher items.


Mediterranean Flavor

Among the more popular selections at the deli are the Gyros, Falafel, Reuben sandwiches, and Soups. My personal favorite is the traditional Lamb and Beef Gyro. Instead using just sour cream or some sort of ranch sauce (like many American restaurants), Vasken’s employs a traditional Greek Tzaziki sauce (made with sour cream, garlic, mint, and cucumbers). It’s the bomb! Occasionally I go for a little more heat and get the Firehouse Gyro, which has spicy giardiniera vegetables and tahini sauce added. My wife loves the Reuben sandwich, which is made with very lean corned beef, and is a little less soggy than most restaurants’ version.

Vasken’s Deli is located at 3200 Gretna Road, near The Factory Shoppes at Branson Meadows. Being off of the strip, means it is easy to get to and parking is ample. If you would like to preview the their offerings, then take a look at the Vaskin’s menu. If you’d like to avoid the crowds, here are a few suggestions. Be there at 11am – the real crowds don’t start until about 11:30am. Go on Saturday, since many Branson locals go there during their lunch hour, Saturdays are a little less busy. Place a carry-out order – they start taking phone orders at 10am to start picking up at 11am, and there is a convenient front case and register to pick up the carry-out orders. Vasken’s Deli has limited hours of operation. The deli is only open from 11am to 6pm, and is closed Sundays. Therefore, Vasken’s is the perfect lunch stop while you are in Branson.

Food is essential for life, and it’s essential for having a good vacation. Good food with family and friends can lead to some of the most memorable moments a group can share. When you’re away from home and out of your element, you want to be sure to spend money on something enjoyable. Thankfully, Branson has plenty of delicious options to offer for many hungry travelers. From steaks to seafood, there is a lot of culinary finesse in this wonderful town.

But, I’m not here to talk about those dishes. While steak is nice and fish is wonderful, there is a group of people who have no interest in those things. Almost a year ago, I made the choice to stop eating meat, and that meant I had to use prior knowledge of this town to find restaurants that I could enjoy. And, thankfully, Branson steps up to the plate and bats marvelously. For vegetarians coming to the area, don’t worry, because this is my mission for today: to guide you to the tastiest meat-free options Branson has to offer! Don’t fret, because there are plenty.


Thai Thai Cuisine right Off the Branson Strip

Something every vegetarian learns quickly is that stepping out of their own cultural norm can sometimes be necessary to find good eating options. If you’ve never tried Thai food, now is a great time to give it a shot! Make a trip to Thai Thai Cuisine, located right off the Branson Strip, and get ready for a flavor explosion! One of the best parts of Thai Thai is almost all their dishes have an option of adding meat or tofu, which removes the sometimes awkward “special instructions” process of ordering. Their ingredients are superb and fresh, making every dish a wonderful experience. For those that like a kick of robust flavor, try the Phad Thai. With peanuts and a tangy sauce, it’s a great dish that’s super filling, with or without meat! If you’d rather go a more subtle, mellow route, the Phad Woon Sen is a great pick! At Thai Thai, there’s something everyone can enjoy, vegetarians and meat lovers alike.


Vasken’s Deli for Mediterranean

And now, a trip to a very different part of the culinary world: the Mediterranean! Vasken’s Deli is a precious gem, hidden away off of Gretna road, that serves all kind of yummy deli sandwiches and wraps. They have lots of great vegetarian friendly options, my favorite being their falafel. Their homemade tahini is absolutely delicious and the perfect condiment for the wrap… or practically anything else! It’s just that good! There are many other options for veggies, including hummus sandwiches and meat-free paninis. If you have a sweet tooth, Vasken’s also sells many pastries and sweets, so make sure to give them a look. See our In depth Vaskin’s Review for more information!


Dobyn’s Dining Room at the Keeter Center

If you want a super classy dining experience, head on over to Dobyn’s Dining Room at the Keeter Center. A part of College of the Ozarks, there’s a very special quality to this restaurant: almost all their ingredients are straight from the campus, grown and collected by students of the college. If it’s not directly from the campus, it’s outsourced locally. So, not only are you eating deliciously healthy and fresh meals, you’re helping a business that prides themselves in a smaller carbon footprint and supporting local businesses. Their options are plentiful for vegetarians, but I have one recommendation that stands above the rest: the Vegetable Garden Sandwich. Truly one of the best sandwiches I’ve had, the eggplant and red peppers are so flavorful and are complemented perfectly by the provolone and portabella mushrooms. After taking one bite, it was hard to keep my jaw from dropping at such amazing flavor! Just writing about it makes me want to order another one right now. There’s one thing to know about eating at the Keeter Center, though, and that’s that reservations are highly recommended. You can reserve online at

Sometimes finding food you can enjoy in a place you’re not familiar with can be difficult, especially when you’ve cut out an entire food group! But, it’s not impossible, and locals like me will always be around to help! Now it’s time to make your own memories of Branson, but make sure to load up on tasty meals before you do… You’ll need energy for your fantastic vacation, after all!


The Haygoods Offer a Unique Rock & Roll Perspective.


Michael Haygood was an internet sensation with his Iron Man video. Though it wasn’t in the sold-out show that my family saw last week there were plenty of other songs that were simply amazing, and it may give you an idea of what I mean about The Haygoods rocking.

The sibling group of, Timothy, Patrick, Dominic, Michael, Matthew, and Catherine Haygood have been honing their talents in Branson since they were very small children. Being originally from Texas, the family’s roots are in the tight harmonies of country music, which you can hear in some of their numbers. However, The Haygoods add their own perspective. For instance, John Denver’s “Country Roads” is definitely country, but I’ve never heard it mashed up with The Eagles’ version of “Seven Bridges Road” (which was pure genius). Having said that, you wouldn’t expect them to have a rock or pop sound, but believe me – they do!

With many live shows there’s a band playing behind the stars of the show, but with The Haygoods all you have is a drummer and The Haygoods. Each member of the family plays a variety of instruments (20 in all). Timothy and his Banjo added some comedic elements to the show, and it was nice to see Catherine playing the Harp (an uncommon instrument in Branson). I’ve always enjoyed listening to the Saxophone and Dominic Haygood did a very righteous rendition of ‘Unchained Melody’. I could hear his passion for the instrument in his performance and he had our sold-out crowd on the edge of our seats.

My family, like many, spans a broad age range. Though my 10-year-old really liked the show, my 21-year-old thought “it was the bomb” (which stands for great in his vernacular). My wife and I enjoyed the show immensely, and we loved the fact that we didn’t waste our time and/or money taking the kids to something they would later say was lame. Parents of teens will know what I mean.

The Haygoods will be at the Clay Cooper Theatre for the 2014 and 2015 season in Branson. Since they don’t perform every day, and are wickedly popular, I would recommend making reservations early. My family was in the next-to-last row on the main floor and felt fortunate because a lot of people were turned away at the box office.

Clay Cooper’s Country Express Music Show

My family and I have seen the show several times, and just got another chance last week. The biggest strength of Clay’s show is its lack of weaknesses. The show has so much variety that I know I’ll leave something out, but there’s country music (of course), modern ballet, rope twirling, impersonations, clogging, whip cracking, gospel music, outrageous comedy, rock and roll, gun slinging, and pop music.

Simply put, if you don’t like an element of the show, it doesn’t matter because you’ll probably like the next one. No one performs the country standards like Clay – he does them all justice, but adds his own unique spin. Matt Gumm, in addition to being a talented singer and musician, is one the funniest guys on stage. He also deserves kudos for his impersonations of Joe Cocker, Michael Jackson, and several others.

Although Clay Cooper’s Country Express is just as professional as all the Branson shows are, I think it hits the audience on a much more personal level. When we leave the show we know we’ve been entertained, but we also feel like we made some new friends. This is partly because, unlike a lot of performers, Clay takes time to get to know people in the audience and have fun with them. By doing so he involves us all in the show. Some could say that he has fun at their expense, but it’s harmless and heart-warming.

Among my favorite parts of the show are the gospel numbers. R.P. Harrell, in addition to being an accomplished musician and musical director, has one of the most soulful voices in Branson. His gospel singing leaves me with goose bumps, and surprisingly my kids like it too. Though I’m not much of a dance person, my wife and daughter think it’s one of the best things about the show. As I said before – there’s something for everyone.

If you like a lot of variety in entertainment, or better yet, like me you have kids ranging from tweenager to young adult, this is a great show to see. By the way, Grandma and Grandpa liked it too. Clay Cooper’s Country Express is one of many shows offered at the Clay Cooper Theatre right in the middle of the strip in Branson. Be sure and check their schedule so you don’t miss a great show. If you’re looking for a deal, they have a special where adults get $7.00 off any of the other shows offered at the theatre just by showing their Clay Cooper ticket stubs.