Summer's finally dawning and Silver Dollar City's National Kids Fest brings two new entertainment icons to the internationally acclaimed 1880s-style theme park near Branson starting this weekend. The festivities run June 11-July 24 and feature productions created especially for the park.
One headliner is circus and high-wire phenomenon Nik Wallenda, holder of 11 Guinness Book of World Records, who with his family will be presenting the never-before-seen Nik Wallenda's Zirkus.
The other attraction, aimed at preschoolers, is called Chuggington Adventure Depot, an immersive and interactive playland adventure designed to bring the hit animated TV series "Chuggington" to life.
Nik Wallenda is seventh-generation circus royalty and undisputed king of the high-wire. He returns to Silver Dollar City a decade after a record-breaking stunt where he dangled from a trapeze, from a helicopter hovering 200 feet above, using his jaw.
Nik Wallenda's Zirkus showcases soaring acrobatics, aerial stunts, human pyramids, trick bicycling, and dangerous high-wire acts. Wallenda says the program's theme proves "the impossible is possible. We want to present an inspiring message that 'I can do anything if I set my mind to it.' "We hope guests come to be impressed and leave inspired."
Meanwhile, younger guests can take to the rails at the Chuggington Adventure Depot as they step into their very own trainee Chugger. On this interactive adventure, a conductor helps guide the exploratory fun, as kids travel through a free-play re-creation of Chuggington, drawn from the popular global series produced by Herschend Entertainment Studios.
"As the first of its kind, all new Chuggington Adventure Depot opens, we celebrate a collaboration between Herschend Entertainment Studios, specializing in content creation, and Silver Dollar City, excelling in bringing colorful family fun to life," said Natalie Setton, vice president of Partnerships, Licensing and Content Distribution for Herschend Entertainment Studios.
"We're so excited to see kids faces light up as they get to explore the World of Chuggington. This is our first opportunity to present the TV series in a powerfully imaginative way where the world of Chuggington comes to life for our fans, allowing them to create their own adventure with our beloved 'Chuggers.'"
Living within 45 minutes of this 60-acre park, I always look forward to its 40 rides and attractions, including roller coasters like 2015 Guinness World Record-breaker Outlaw Run, for the steepest drop on a wooden coaster; the Time Traveler, the fastest, steepest, tallest spinning coaster in America; and the new Mystic River Falls, featuring the tallest drop on a raft ride in the Western Hemisphere.
Of course, there's also all the great food.
Best once again
If you make it to Branson one weekend, you'd be well-advised to head another half-hour up U.S. 65 and spend time inside the truly remarkable Wonders of Wildlife National Museum and Aquarium. Put this place on your bucket list as summer approaches. Trust me.
Should you find me untrustworthy, then pay attention to the national poll lately published by USA Today that named this aquarium as the very best in America for the third consecutive year.
The museum and aquarium are gifts to our nation and the world from Johnny Morris, among the nation's most dedicated conservationists who would settle for nothing less than a world-class, not-for-profit conservation attraction unprecedented in size and scope, located in his hometown of Springfield, Mo., adjacent to his Bass Pro Shops' flagship headquarters store.
During adventures in these conjoined attractions, I'm always fascinated by the intricate animal displays, Native American collections and even the recreation of Morris' unlikely business venture as a young man who displayed an array of fishing lures and related items arranged on several metal racks at the back of his family's Brown Derby Liquor Store in Springfield.
After the museum blends into the aquarium at a sandwich cafe, I'm always mesmerized by the vast collection of fish in enormous tanks, colorful reef varieties, and the velvet-soft stingrays as they endlessly circle their large ringlike tank, brushing against visitors and eating from their open palms. Plastic bubbles inside the centers of many large aquariums allow children to actually climb inside and view the fish in their environment.
There's way too much worth experiencing to begin to explain here, so plan a day. Wonders of Wildlife, which also regularly hosts various classroom conservation programs for students, spans 350,000 square feet.
With half the nation's population living within a day's drive, it's readily accessible to millions and many already have taken advantage of these attractions. I've been three times. The experience never gets old.
Mike Masterson is a longtime Arkansas journalist, was editor of three Arkansas dailies and headed the master's journalism program at Ohio State University. Email him at email@example.com.