“Jesus is coming to Branson in 2021 — and we can all use a little Jesus!”
Lenni Neimeyer is ecstatic about the latest debut in Branson, Missouri, where she serves as director of leisure group sales at the Branson/Lakes Area Convention and Visitors Bureau. After a difficult year that severely restricted visitation to this tourism hotspot, things are looking up for Branson, and groups looking for travel opportunities will find abundant reasons to visit.
At the top of the list is the show that has Neimeyer so excited: “Jesus,” a large-scale musical now playing at Branson’s Sight and Sound Theatre.
“I just can’t stop talking about it,” Neimeyer said. “It’s just incredible. It’s truly a show that appeals to folks of all ages. They have sold out dates already.”
With more than 2,000 seats, Sight and Sound Theatre in Branson is one of the country’s largest faith-based theaters. The company is known for producing original musicals that tell epic biblical stories with original scripts and scores, elaborate sets and Broadway-caliber performances. After many years in operation, the theater is finally staging the story of Jesus, which makes this show a natural activity for church groups visiting the city.
Live performance has long been a hallmark of Branson, which during the 20th century, built its reputation on variety shows and musical revues. Today, the city is home to more than 100 different shows, giving groups a wide range of options such as music, comedy, magic and acrobatics.
Though the pandemic briefly paused the fun, performances have been resuming in Branson since last summer, and some new shows have joined the lineup of choices. Neimeyer said groups will especially enjoy “Nashville Roadhouse Live,” a high-energy show featuring Stevie Lee Woods, as well as the new “Ultimate Elvis Experience With Dean Z” at the Clay Cooper Theatre.
“The show is amazing,” she said. “It will turn you into a crazy fan. This young man plays every instrument on stage and really looks like Elvis.”
In addition to these shows, visitors returning to Branson in 2021 and beyond can take advantage of many other high-profile attractions, several of which are new or newly expanded.
In March 2020, right before the pandemic shutdown began, WonderWorks opened its new museum in Branson. Already a popular attraction in several other domestic tourist destinations, WonderWorks is an imaginative science museum popular with groups of all ages. The museum building, which resembles a stately mansion that has been picked up by a tornado and then dropped upside down, features four floors of science exhibits, fun and games. At this location, groups will find several exhibits that focus specifically on the geology of Branson and the history of Route 66. There’s also laser tag, a science lab and a variety of group programming.
Aquarium at the Boardwalk
Among the most exciting Branson openings in 2020 was the debut of the Aquarium at the Boardwalk. Built on the site of the former Grand Palace theater, this aquarium is marked by a giant, reflective octopus sculpture draped over its exterior. Inside, guests will find more than 7,200 individual sea creatures of more than 250 species. The visitor’s journey begins with a “5D” submarine adventure to the bottom of the ocean floor. From there, guests see areas such as a coral reef, a kelp forest and an imaginative exhibit called the Jelly Infinite Room that surrounds them with stunning bioluminescent jellyfish.
Beyond the Lens
In late 2019, Branson celebrated the opening of Beyond the Lens, a “techno-tainment” attraction that immerses guests in the world of Hollywood and pop culture. Visitors start by walking a red carpet complete with flashes of photographers’ cameras and then can re-create the experience of leaving their handprints in the wet concrete of Grauman’s Chinese Theatre. From there, they can go on to multiple interactive exhibits that highlight various figures from media, history and science. Among the highlights is FlyRide, an immersive motion ride that simulates the feeling of flight, giving passengers a bird’s-eye view of 22 national landmarks.
Among the area’s most popular free-time destinations is Branson Landing, a large open-air shopping, dining and entertainment development on the shores of Lake Taneycomo. The Landing is famous for its $7.5 million dancing-water-and-fire fountains, as well as more than 100 retail outlets. Groups can eat in restaurants owned by celebrity chefs, including Paula Deen’s Family Kitchen and the recently opened Guy Fieri’s Branson Kitchen and Bar. A new attraction, the Shipwrecked Treasure Museum, features more than 500 artifacts recovered from shipwrecks around the world. Interactive exhibits at the museum afford the opportunity to maneuver a robotic arm or untangle a variety of sailors’ knots.