A few years ago, we spent four days in that great family vacation spot - Branson, Missouri (www.ourtribune.com/article.php?id=13174). Recently, we had the opportunity to revisit “Live Music Show Capital of the World.” Last time we drove and it took nearly 12 hours. This time, we took advantage of Air Tran (now a transitioning subsidiary of Southwest Airlines,) and flew direct to the city.

Visitors can now fly on a daily nonstop from Houston’s Hobby to Branson Airport • how convenient is that? In a little over an hour, we were walking into the airport - and what a contrast to busy Houston airports. Beginning with the airport, and throughout your stay, you will find Branson friendly and easy going. One plane at a time lands here.

The airport staff rush to meet each one and personally greet all arriving guests. The staff proudly does the ‘Branson Wave’ and lines up on the tarmac to wave goodbye to each plane too. The airport is folksy and decorated to look like a country town with a rustic ‘General Store’, wooden rocking chairs, huge artificial trees and a real running stream in the middle.

AirTran is offering incredible round trip fares, as low as $140 on my recent random check. Couple that with the impressive affordable hotel rates ( a sample: The Queen Anne Hotel, 2 persons for seven nights with breakfast $199 per week. Yes, you read that correctly. Two-bedroom, lake front condos with free water park, lake activities and game rooms $100 per night up) and all the activities, shows and fudge anyone could want – it is easy to see why Trip Advisor just named Branson to their Top 20 Destinations in the US.

We picked up our rental car and headed into town, driving through lush golf courses and upscale bedroom communities. Ten miles later, we were on the ‘Strip,’ or Hwy. 76, where in the early morning of Feb. 29, 2012, an EF-2 tornado blew down and damaged dozens of buildings, some beyond repair. The community has rebuilt most of what was damaged, and with a few exceptions, visitors will have a hard time seeing anything awry. The Branson Auto Museum, mentioned in my original article, does remain closed although open by appointment.

Lodging: The Hilton is still under repair from the tornado, so we opted for the Radisson. Located right in the center of the Strip, it was a nice alternative to the Landing. We enjoyed being closer to everything, the staff is great and a real bargain at only $87 per night.

Entertainment: Can you believe it? We saw eight shows in four days. Again, we loved everyone of them. Our favorite this time? Jim Stafford’s Music Comedy Show. We laughed out loud for two straight hours; he is simply a master entertainer.

Fun Stuff: The riverboat, Showboat Branson Belle, offers two daily dining/show combination excursions on Table Rock Lake. The food is fine, the view is magnificent and the show memorable. For $65, can you ask for more?

Dining: Make the trip to Billy Gails Cafe, just outside the city, but keep your eyes peeled. Don’t miss this charming, mostly breakfast spot that was once a gas station. Dine on the screened porch and be sure to order just one pancake – so big that two people can share!

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