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W.E. Nunan’s Specialty Foods

Since I work just up the hill from Downtown Branson and deal with the traffic going to and from the office during the summer months, I very rarely venture across Business 76 during this hectic time of year. Yesterday, right before the busiest weekend in Branson, my husband and I decided to do just that and enter the Forbidden Zone for locals in our search of a Blu-Ray player compatible with our out-dated surround sound system. I’m sure others will identify with this syndrome which I call Nonsensical Thiftitus. Our 5+ year old Blu-Ray player bit the dust and instead of buying a new one, my husband feels the necessity to scour the pawn shops and thrift stores for another one that will work with the speakers that are older than the player, and possibly time, itself. We will continue this fruitless quest until I finally break down and buy a new system. Inevitably, two weeks after this purchase, while searching for another technological antique that has gone haywire, we will come across exactly what we had been looking for.

But I digress. While strolling from Lightning Pawn toward Branson Pawn, we passed W.E. Nunan’s Specialty Foods, whose opening I remembered from a recent Chamber of Commerce announcement and decided to stop and take a look. What we found inside was delightful! There were unique gifts sprinkled throughout the shop but the meat counter drew my attention immediately. All the meats are made and smoked in-house, including boudin, brats, summer sausage and chocolate-covered bacon. We sampled the boudin which packed a little kick but was not too spicy to cover up the great taste. Since we had just planned on picking up a burger or something to take home for dinner, we decide to get a couple apple brats instead. At $1.99 each, you can’t beat the price at any fast food factory. We took home a jar of Apple Salsa too which complimented the brats superbly. Oh, in addition to traditional salsa, they also have pineapple salsa and bacon salsa. Wait, let me say that again with all the respect and emphasis it deserves – BACON SALSA!!!! There are a variety of barbeque sauces, jellies and jams, including a concoction called Frog Jam, which I forgot to ask the owner about but will certainly remember to ask next time I go.

If you’re looking for something a little different to try or to take home to friends, stop in and check out this new Branson business. The prices are definitely affordable, the owners are friendly, the food is good and you can’t go wrong with bacon!

You’ve worked hard all year. You look forward to some fun in the sun with the family. Visions of holes in one on Payne Stewart Golf Course and jet-skiing on Table Rock Lake dance in your head. You brave the drive through the Ozark Hills with the kids doing what kids must do on long trips – fighting about who touched whom. You arrive at your vacation rental, get a good night sleep and wake up, relaxed and ready. You open the door and…RAIN…RAIN…RAIN!!!!

What now, sulk in the condo and watch reruns? The family can’t decide on a show you would all enjoy? Don’t fret. Branson has tons of fun to offer when Mother Nature decides not to cooperate. Here’s just a few…

IMax Theater

Located in the IMax Entertainment Complex with live shows, shopping and food, this theater features six story tall screens showing first run feature films as well as visually amazing IMax feature. There’s even one about the history of the Ozarks with some breathtaking scenery. Even if you can’t be out in the mountains, you can still experience them bigger than life!


The Butterfly Palace and Rainforest Experience

This exotic interactive experience is a hit with kids and adults alike. Hang out in the peaceful aviary watching the butterflies feed. Stick around and you may even be able to release one of the newly hatched butterflies to fly for the very first time. Since it’s a self-guided tour, you can take as much time as you want and hang out as long as you like at The Butterfly Palace.


Titanic Museum

Billed as The World’s Largest Museum Attraction, this interactive museum is filled with artifacts and reproductions of items from the ill-fated luxury liner, including a reproduction of the Grand Staircase. There’s even a scavenger hunt for the kids to participate in to keep them occupied while you browse and read all the interesting trivia scattered throughout the ship. More info can be found on The Titanic Museum Website.


World’s Largest Toy Museum

With over a million toys, you’re sure to find your favorite childhood toy on display at The World’s Largest Toy Museum. What a great way to spend a rainy day, reminiscing and sharing memories of your past with your kids. They may even discover that there was a time when toys didn’t have to be connected to the internet – or even plugged in, for that matter.


Ripley’s Believe It or Not Museum

Spread out over 12,000 square feet, this Odditorium features over 450 items from the Ripley Collection. Ranging from the breathtaking to the macabre, everyone in the family can find something to oooh and aaaah over at Ripley’s Believe It or Not Museum.

Jonah Sailing onto the Stage at Branson’s Sight and Sound Theatre

Avoiding clichés like “it’s a whale of a show”; I’ll simply say that Jonah is the best production that I have seen at Sight and Sound Theatre, and I’ve seen them all. The staging and effects are superb and the musical numbers are the best that I’ve heard at Sight and Sound.


A Show Everyone can Enjoy

I recently saw Jonah with some of my extended family members. We had men, women, and children ranging from 78 to 10 years old. I can honestly say that we all enjoyed the production, but perhaps for different reasons. Though there are obvious embellishments (for character development and to make it more entertaining), the Bible’s story of Jonah and the Whale is lavishly produced not only on the stage, but in the wings, down the aisles, and over the audience’s head. The technical wizardry that it must take to create three dimensional ancient cities, a fleet of boats floating across the stage, and a 50 foot ship caught in a storm at sea is mind boggling (and that’s just in the first half of the show). After intermission, the entire theatre is transformed to an undersea wonderland with schools of exotic fish swimming about, beautiful iridescent jellyfish gracefully floating above, sharks prowling for prey, and of course a giant whale swimming over your head. While I was appreciative of the special effects, the kids were awestruck! After all, this isn’t television or movies, its live theatre.


Much More than Special Effects

In addition to the technical aspects of this production, there are also some stand-out performances by the actors, costumers, and composers. The musical numbers were extremely polished and the performances of those works were well done. The vocals of the actor playing Jonah, the actress playing the Queen of Nineveh, and another female vocalist in Nineveh were inspired. Unlike many productions, the costumes weren’t just the clothes that the actors wore – they really helped to tell the story and show the evolution of the characters.


What Sets Jonah Apart from other Branson Shows?

Sight and Sounds’ productions are fundamentally different from most Branson shows in two ways. First, this is musical theatre – not a music show. There is a story with a plot and lots of character development. Second, Sight and Sound is a Christian, faith-based, company. There is plenty of entertainment at Sight and Sound, but there is also a message. In Jonah the message is about ignoring God’s will, and avoiding unpleasant tasks – or perhaps fleeing from your responsibilities. As always, the message at Sight and Sound can be related to our everyday lives. I believe this is why Biblical stories are so enduring – even though they are historic, the message is timeless.

If you’re thinking this blog post is about education, you will probably have to go somewhere else, because College of the Ozarks, or more popularly called Hard Work U, is not just a place of learning. College of the Ozarks is a work-study college, so none of the students pay tuition; they earn tuition through 15 hours of campus work each week. But never fear, the campus has a lot to offer tourists as well!

Campus Agriculture

After you enter the “gates of opportunity,” I recommend you visit the dairy farm. Students who run the farm get up early every morning and milk the cows around 5 am and then again at 5 pm. If you’re there around those times you’ll learn about the cow milking process. Across from the milking area is the tractor museum. Here you can see all of the equipment they have used over the years and learn a thing or two about farming. The farm is completely open for tours; all you have to do is ask one of the students. Make sure they take you to see the baby calves!

Next to the dairy farm are the greenhouses. Stop and smell the flowers where students grow their prize winning orchids, along with other plants and vegetables. You can purchase the orchids any time, and on Fridays, you can visit the farmers market where vegetables, flowers, meats, and other student made products are available for purchase. Anything that anyone purchases here goes to help students to pay for their education!

The rustic looking building is the mill. The College locally outsources different grains and grinds them right here in the mill. Chock-full of history and artifacts, the mill has a lot of information about the early Ozark period. They also make baskets by hand and linens with the loom. Everything they make is available for purchase, along with some of the meats that the campus raises, butchers, and processes themselves!

On the “sweeter” side of campus you’ll find the fruitcake and jelly kitchen! Here you will see students making the campus famous fruitcakes and apple butter, along with tons of different jellies. Never tried fruitcake? Well you will have an opportunity to here!

Chapel, Point Lookout, and Ralph Foster Museum

Right next to the fruitcake and jelly kitchen is the Williams Memorial Chapel. This architecturally gorgeous building with its stained glass windows makes a great place for worship and weddings. Services are at 11 am every Sunday.

Across from the chapel is the “Point Lookout.” This scenic overlook looks over the lovely Lake Taneycomo, city of Branson, and Ozark Mountains. A beautiful sight to behold in the fall when the leaves are changing colors!

I saved the best for last; The Ralph Foster Museum! This three-story museum has a bit of everything for everyone. Full of artifacts from the college and Ozarks, its highlights include a gun collection and the famous Beverly Hillbilly’s car!

As you can see there is lots to do here! After you spend the afternoon here, don’t forget to visit the Keeter Center for dinner, or just coffee and ice cream.

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.

Cold Weather Won’t Matter

How often does Mother Nature disrupt your vacation plans? Maybe I’m just unlucky, but I’ve never had a vacation with utopia like weather every day. When your inevitable, unseasonably cold or wet vacation day arrives, head over to Castle Rock’s indoor water park for a slippery fun time without breaking the bank.

Before reading on, let this slideshow share my family experience!


The Price is Right

As a parent of twin 8 yr old boys, I am always on the lookout for value attractions. Castle Rock Water Park certainly falls into this category. At $15 per swimmer, a family of 4 can spend the entire day splashing down the slides, floating the lazy river, or swimming laps in the swimming pools. If you’re a parent that prefers to sit out and play lifeguard, your ticket as a non-swimmer will only run $5. Children 2 years and under are free. Don’t let the price fool you though, the park is not only a blast, it’s well maintained, clean, and safe.


Large Water Slides

There are 2 large water slides in the park with a minimum height requirement of 42 inches. Long, concrete, stairways complete with hand railings ascend above the main level to the slide entrances.

For the first slide, you’ll grab a required, inflatable tube before your short hike to the top. The slide itself is completely covered and winds around at a very gradual slope and concludes with a steepening plunge into a large landing pool. Because it is fully enclosed, it’s a dark ride. This one is a personal favorite of my boys. They’ve appropriately named it the “cave slide.”
The second slide doesn’t require an inflatable tube. Compared to the first slide, the slope makes for a slightly faster ride initially with a drop in speed at the conclusion. The overall slide speed is definitely tied to the weight of the rider. If you’re a 6 foot 4 inch adult, you’re gonna build up speed before the final plunge. As an observer, you won’t want to miss the perfect photo/video opportunity behind the thick, splash barrier at the base of the slide (pic in slideshow). Watch out for adults though! Even the splash guard might not fully thwart off their concluding water show.


Kiddie Pool and Slides

Between the two main slides you’ll find an entire area for toddlers. I’m not exactly sure of the water depth, but it can’t be much more than a foot. There are 3 or 4 kiddie slides in the shape of tropical fish, reptiles, and amphibians. I saw children as young as 2 years old (with a parent of course) splashing around. There are also several water falls and a giant, 500 gallon dumping bucket to fully drench your little ones.


Lazy River

There is a giant loft area housing a lazy river. The river is great for both adults and children. You have the choice of swimming tubeless or grabbing a single or double tube for a leisurely float. I must caution adults though; there is an unavoidable waterfall that will soak you each lap. Along with the waterfall, kids will enjoy the unique, mini-bucket dump encountered along the way.


Swimming Pools & Outdoor Area

There are two swimming pools; one outside, one inside. The rectangular, indoor pool has both a shallow and deep end with multiple ladders and steps leading into the shallow end. The pool is handicap accessible by way of a lifting device. You won’t find a diving board, however, so you’ll have to save your twisting, somersaulting, pike dive for the upcoming summer Olympics.

We visited the park in March; therefore, the outdoor area was still closed. As seen in the photo, there is a swimming pool, a kiddie pool, another dump bucket, and 2 kiddie slides. Although there were no lounge chairs out, I suspect there will be once the area opens for the season.


Fuel for the Fire

Kids’ burn energy; lots of it. When its time to drag them away from the slides, you’ll have plenty of food options available to refill their tanks. The restaurant, adjoining the main park with the hotel lobby, has an extensive menu. Pizza, burgers, grilled cheese, pulled pork, and PB&J are just a few of the kids meals you’ll find on the menu. Prices are reasonable too ($10.99 for a 12 inch pizza). You are not restricted to eating in the restaurant. You can bring your meals to one of the many table areas surrounding the water rides so little Johnny can remain barefoot and wet while eating lunch. For early risers, the restaurant also includes a breakfast menu.


Gaming & Gift Shop

One word. Galaga! Wait… 4 words. Galaga and Cruisin USA. Ok. So my age and gaming addiction is showing. I grew up battling the never ending onslaught of galactic bugs and probably spent an entire 401k account on galaga and cruisin USA. I wasn’t a pacman fan, but the popular ms pacman is here too. Along with the aforementioned classics, there’s an air hockey machine, skee ball, a stuffed animal claw machine, and a handful of other arcade games. You won’t find any quarter gouging in this small arcade; 25 and 50 cents a play.


Safety and Lifeguards

Safety is top notch. Even my wife, a recovering helicopter mom, managed to relax while our kids splashed around for hours. There is an entire army of lifeguards on constant patrol. You’ll find them circling the kiddie pools, slides, swimming pools and lazy river. A lifeguard is also camped at the top of each slide policing correct usage of the slides. I also noticed the watchful eye of management ensuring the lifeguards are paying attention. Worth a mention is the chlorine level which is loosely related to safety. As with any public pool, there’s ample chlorine to make your eyes sting. A good thing if you ask me. Nobody wants to spend the remainder of their vacation battling a microscopic bug.

When its time to pack up and leave, you’ll find a rinsing shower right next to a large supply of clean towels. If the kids minded well and didn’t bellyache about leaving, you can grab them an ice cream or chocolate bar from the various vending machines on your way out.

In conclusion, I highly recommend this small, indoor water park to families. It provides enough enjoyment for an entire day. The ticket cost is minimal and the food, video games, and gift shop are priced reasonably.


Location & Lodging

Castle Rock can be found on Green Mountain Drive just off the main Branson Strip (Hwy 76). If you’re looking for lodging close by, check out our Thousand Hills condo rentals located across the street.