When we started thinking about taking a family vacation this fall, we knew we wanted to go somewhere with lots of fall foliage and fun activities for the kids. After looking at several options in the northeast, we decided we didn’t want to travel that far from Texas. Our next door neighbor suggested we look into Big Cedar Lodge in Branson, MO. We instantly loved what we saw online, found so many fun things to do with the kids, and booked the trip just a month in advance. We kept the vacation as a secret and surprised our kids just hour before we loaded up to leave town. They woke up expecting to go to school, so their excitement was fun to watch.
It was about a six hour drive from our house to Branson. We pulled up to the ‘resort’ that was booked for us, around 4:00 pm. It looked nothing at all like what I had pictured, what I had been telling people about, or what the images I showed our kids as we were pulling out of the driveway. Where were the big trees and secluded log cabins? Where was the lake and outdoor putt-putt golf? We were smack dab in the middle of town, at a two-story motel. Thinking it wasn’t as bad as it looked, we checked in and circled the building to find our room.
There had been quite a miscommunication with our travel agent and when she couldn’t get the five consecutive nights for us at Big Cedar Lodge, we agreed to book a room at this ‘similar’ place. Which, turns out, was not even comparable. The smell in the room was very, ummm, unpleasant. It was a small room and would not be a fun way to spend vacation with four kids. Caleb immediately said we needed to call Big Cedar Lodge to see if we could get a room any of the nights we were in Branson and I couldn’t get to my phone fast enough!
As I was laughing at the mishap, the kids were just excited to be out of the car and in a ‘hotel’ and wasted no time getting out their things. I called Big Cedar lodge and explained our situation to the receptionist. She was so kind and said she would be able to book our stay for every night we were in town. However, we would have to change rooms two times, staying in three different rooms during our five night stay. That’s fine, whatever it takes, we will do it! Less than 20 minutes after we unloaded, we were taking it all back down to the car and loading up the kids again.
We made our way over to Big Cedar Lodge and after making it through the entrance off of the highway, we drove 3+ miles down a windy road, through tall trees that had started changing colors, to the resort. With views of the Ozark mountains, fall foliage, Table Rock Lake, and streams of water, we were in awe of the beauty surrounding us.
For our first night, we stayed in a Valley View Double Queen room. After getting checked in, and then finding our way to the room, we unloaded… again. We were so happy to be in a nice room, with more space, without any odd smells. We didn’t unpack our suitcases because we would be changing rooms in the morning.
It was now after 6:00 p.m. so we went to dinner at the restaurant on the resort called Devil’s Pool. This is also where we would have breakfast each morning. The upstairs was reserved seating for dinner, but downstairs was on first come basis. We had to wait just a little bit for a table, but the food and service was really good! By 8:30 p.m. we were back in the room, baths done, and we were getting everyone situated for bed. Ready for a restful night of sleep, but who was I kidding. Does that even exist when you are in one room with four kids? On this night, it was the 4-year-old who decided to be wide awake, and talking, from 2-4 a.m. That’s never happened at home, but then again, there’s no one in his room for him to talk to at night.
Friday was a cold and rainy day, so we were looking for indoor activities, but we were ready to actually get the vacation fun started. Breakfast was a delicious buffet, or you could order off the menu. Afterwards, while we waited for the call to let us know our room was ready, we went to Top of the Rock and toured the Ancient Ozarks Natural History Museum. The kids enjoyed to museum more than I expected them to. It was fun listening to them talk about the things they were looking at that they had learned about in history at school.
Once our new room was ready, we went to get situated there so that I could stay with Cora to let her nap. We would be in this two-bedroom cottage for three nights and it was perfect for our family. With a kitchen, living room, and two bathrooms, we were really wishing we had this cottage for our entire stay. The oldest three shared a king bed in one room, Cora slept in the crib provided, and Caleb and I enjoyed quiet evenings in the living room after putting the kids to bed each night. Apparently, I only took video of the inside and no still photos that show the inside very well.
I stayed with Cora for a nap in the cottage while Caleb took the oldest three kids to play at Fun Mountain. There was endless fun for them there, including go-carts, bumper cars, laser tag, arcades, bowling, ropes course, and more! The activities are an additional fee, but they were comparable to any similar place we’ve been to in the North Dallas area. We would go back there a few times during our stay and still didn’t get to do everything.
Friday afternoon we went see Samson at the Sight and Sound Theater. Wow! The theater was so much bigger than I had envisioned and everything about it was incredible. We sat about mid-way up on the upper lever. I feel like we had a great view of the entire show and the kids were so captivated the entire time. Cora didn’t last long, but there was a ‘family room’ at the top/back of the theater with large glass windows, so you could still see the show. Caleb took her there while I stayed with the older three. The acting, the stage set, and all of the visual effects were outstanding! Caleb and I both agree that it was every bit as good as a show on Broadway. I would highly recommend seeing any show that is playing at Sights and Sounds.
The weather on Saturday was much better than Friday’s, so we enjoyed the outdoor activities at the resort. Cora wanted to play at the little playground and the older three wanted to play putt-putt. In the evening we went to Branson Landing, which is an outdoor shopping, dining, and entertainment area right on the water’s edge. Savannah and Hudson went on a zip line ride. We watched the water and fire show that was synced with music. We did a little shopping and ate a bbq dinner at Famous Dave’s, which was really good!
We started Sunday off at Silver Dollar City as soon as the gates opened. Our kids haven’t had many opportunities to ride roller coaster rides, so they were a bit hesitant at first. Once they realized that they were more fun than scary, we all had a great time! Even Maddox relaxed enough to enjoy the rides. Cora went on her first (mini) rides and oh.my.goodness!! Her excitement, and joy, and smiles are moments that I hope I never forget! She didn’t nap, even for a minute, and wanted to be out of her stroller doing all the fun things that her older siblings were doing. We spent six hours at SDC and still didn’t make it around the whole place. There was something for all of our kids (ages 9, 7, 4, 14 months) and it was a really great place for a family fun day.
That evening we went to the Dolly Parton Stampede. Our tickets were for the center section and we ended up on the third row from the front. This is a entertaining event where dinner is served while you watch the show. Everyone, child and adult alike, were served the same foods/portions for the meal. There was so.much.food per person. The meal included creamed vegetable soup, chicken, a slice of pork, half of a baked potato, corn on the cob, a roll, dessert, and a drink. Oh, and no utensils. The seats were great to see everything and our server was so fun! We all enjoyed the event, but the most fun was seeing Cora so happy to be watching all of the animals, especially the horses. She watched the entire two hour show without trying to get out of our lap. This is another great option for a family fun event for all ages.
On our last full day in Branson, we went over to Dogwood Canyon. I admit that I wasn’t too excited about this adventure. Several people had suggested it to us, if the weather was nice. Since it was an absolutely gorgeous day, spending it outdoors was the best decision. The views before getting onto the actual property were so pretty! We rented bicycles and went on a family bike ride for nearly two hours. It was a crisp fall morning. The kids were giggling as we rode along the trails. The sun was shining through the changing colors on the tress. There were more waterfalls than I could count. Oh, the scenery and family time was just breathtaking.
After riding bikes, we went to the restaurant, Mill & Canyon Grill, on the property for lunch on the patio. There is a huge treehouse, built by Treehouse Masters, about 20 yards from the patio, and the kids loved being able to play there. It was such an impressive, multi-level treehouse that any child would dream of having in their backyard. We spent a few hours at Dogwood Canyon and considering I wasn’t very excited about this outing, it turned out to be one of my favorite memories from the trip.
For dinner that night, we went to the Osage Restaurant at Top of the Rock. Our reservations were in time to watch a gorgeous sun set over the treetop hills and crystal lake. Another beautiful view to round out out the week, with a delicious meal, in a very nice place. I think we were the only ones there with young children, which put me on high-alert about their manners, or lack there of. The oldest three fought over who got the complimentary bread, crayons for the coloring pages, and clanked silverware too loud, too often. Cora didn’t want to stay in her highchair for long, but didn’t want to be held either. Just when I was starting to feel frazzled and like we were causing a scene, a sweet couple who had been sitting nearby, probably in their mid-forties, walked past as they were leaving. They stopped and gave us so many sweet compliments about how good they thought the kids were being and how well we were doing with all four of them there. It was just what I needed to hear and made me thankful for kind strangers.
Our final night’s stay was in a one room lakeside cabin. It was the cutest little cabin, nestled in the trees, with a view of the lake from the back patio. Like the cottage, this cabin had a living room, kitchen, and large bathroom. The three oldest slept on the sleeper couch and we had put Cora’s crib in the bathroom. Unfortunately, after nearly a week of no schedule, late nights, and being on the go, she was having a hard time staying asleep and ended up in the bed between Caleb and I. Which meant not much sleep for us. Due to the open windows along the roofline of the cabin, all the kids were up with early morning sun. Thus began all the packing and loading up to make the journey home.
We really enjoyed our stay (in all three locations) at Big Cedar Lodge! The staff was exceptional in every aspect. From the very beginning, when we called to get a room there for that night (plus four more), we were constantly impressed with how well they took care of us. It didn’t matter which staff member we spoke to, they took care of things, even if it wasn’t their department of responsibility. We never had to ask twice for anything. We were sad we didn’t get to do all that Big Cedar Lodge has to offer. We missed out of frozen custard at Truman’s and next time I plan to visit the spa. It was a fun-filled week between all that Big Cedar Lodge had to offer and the attractions in Branson. There is so much to offer for all ages, it makes for a wonderful family vacation place. We loved our time there and can’t wait to go back!