As heat descends upon the stunningly green Ozark mountains, so does the droves of people on the hunt for thrills this summer at Silver Dollar City. Home to record-breaking roller coasters and some of the best theme park food, this 1880’s-themed experience in Branson, Mo. shines in the warmest of seasons with live entertainment, longer operating hours, and the continued celebration of the park’s 60th Diamond Jubilee.
By Carly Caramanna
As someone who visits theme parks all over the country on a regular basis, to me, Silver Dollar City has captured lightning in a bottle. What makes a visit here so special? Fantasy meets real life in a world that feels magical, yet completely authentic. In addition to its impressive theming down to intricate architecture and detailing, it’s the people who make this park. The park touts itself as the home of the craftsman, and in that, they pay homage to their mountain roots.
These are not actors or trained entertainers, but true experts in their craft. From the highly-skilled glass blowers and pottery makers, to the bakers and taffy makers, guests have a front row seat to the park’s greatest attraction: passionate workers who take great pride in their work. Everyone I encountered was warm, friendly, and it certainly wasn’t an act.
Another thing I noted as a frequent theme park visitor was the vast number of shops and dining options that were open and readily available. When I’ve visited other regional parks recently, many of their operations were still not fully ramped up and I found that a good number of stores and dining options remained closed — which resulted in long lines (and unhappy, hungry guests). While there were just a handful of counter-service locations that were closed on my visit, I never once encountered long lines at any of those in operation. It was also a pleasant surprise to see several roaming entertainers, an offering that has seen major cutbacks across the board in the theme park industry.
My recent visit fell on a Sunday, when crowds were rather low. Entering and security was a breeze and after grabbing the park’s signature pecan sticky bun from Eva & Delilah’s Pastries, I went to watch the park’s daily flag raising ceremony. A tried-and-true park tradition, Veterans are invited to participate in this act of patriotism, and it was a touching way to begin the day.
If you’re a thrill seeker like me, you’re likely making a bee-line straight to the park’s crown jewels: roller coasters Outlaw Run and Time Traveler. Time Traveler is incredible in both its ride experience (it is the tallest and fastest spinning coaster in the world), and steampunk theming. On our visit, it was walk-on throughout the day. We’ve seen countless parks around the country take a keen interest recently in merchandise that appeals to the more discerned park goer, and Silver Dollar City is right on par with the best. Time Traveler’s merchandise was well-thought-out and featured several designs that honored its theming.
The park’s other main draw, Outlaw Run, was also a walk-on throughout the day. I would like to note that the rider dimensions are particularly small, given the nature of the ride. Because of that, I witnessed many hopeful riders turned away. The park’s newest attraction, Mystic River Falls, which boasts the tallest raft drop in the western hemisphere, maintained a small but steady line throughout the day.
After over a year of closure, the Marvel Cave, upon which Silver Dollar City is built, is preparing to reopen to guests. On our visit, they were testing it out with a few tours available in the afternoon to go down the nearly 500 feet of limestone cave. Included with park admission, it’s expected to ramp back up to full operation in the near future.
In a region so rich in heritage and culture, it’s not really a surprise that one of the highlights of any visit to Silver Dollar City is the food. Their culinary program is particularly interesting as the park operates without an executive chef. Instead, it is a collaborative effort between the food & beverage director, Sam Hedrick, and its employees. This allows the opportunity for its employees to have a direct hand in what the park offers. Perhaps the most notable outcome of this unique partnership is the park’s signature skillet dish, a family recipe presented by an employee.
Their newest restaurant, Rivertown Smokehouse, opened in 2020 in the park’s new Rivertown district, located next to Mystic River Falls. With a menu that includes smoked turkey, baby back ribs, and my personal favorite, smoked sausage, it is a shining example of the effort and care Silver Dollar City pours into its food. In its conception, developers headed to Texas where they trained directly with smoke masters in creating the menu. Everything is smoked and carved right before your eyes in an open-kitchen concept. They also make all their own in-house sauces, including the addictive sweet heat barbecue. You can find the now iconic cinnamon bread in bread pudding form here and it is simply divine. Not only was this the best barbecue I’ve ever had in a theme park, it was some of the best I’ve ever had, period.
With their Star-Spangled Summer festival comes even more opportunities to feast the senses. A new summer tasting passport is available which offers guests the chance to sample five items, including specialty seasonal offerings, at one discounted purchase. Running through July 25, 2021, the festival also sees the return of the Harlem Globetrotters in a brand-new show developed exclusively for the park.
For an all-encompassing relaxing, entertaining, and delicious way to end your day, the return of the Showboat Branson Belle exceeded all expectations. My past experiences with theme park dinner shows have been a rushed whirlwind which sees your entrees being pushed aside within minutes for dessert. This was certainly not the case. The experience lasted just over two hours and I found it to be an incredible value. The entertainment was top notch, as one would expect from Branson, and I was pleasantly surprised by just how good the food was, including a standout 21-day dry aged angus ribeye that was steakhouse quality. Taking in the later seating, guests have the wonderful opportunity to see and take photos at golden hour as the sun sets over Table Rock Lake from the boat’s top deck while listening to live acoustic music.
In my humble opinion, Silver Dollar City is a place that realizes and appreciates the fact that their guests have chosen them to spend their hard-earned money here. This sentiment is felt throughout all of their experiences, from the globally-recognized attractions to carefully-curated dining. In a time where theme parks are scrutinized more than ever for their watered-down experiences, Silver Dollar City offers the full package.
To learn more about Silver Dollar City, click here.