5 Getaways 5 Hours (or less) from Kansas City
Whether you prefer the excitement of an urban vacation, an Ozark mountain getaway, wild animals and water adventures or the opportunity to step back in time and visit another culture, we have five fabulous family getaways only five hours (or less) from Kansas City!
Once in a while, it’s fun to be “a little bit country,” and Branson, the vacation capital of the Midwest, is the perfect destination for just such a family vacation!
Branson’s most popular attraction is Silver Dollar City (www.SilverDollarCity.com), an 1880s-styled amusement park with thrill rides, including Fire in the Hole, a roller coaster through a mineshaft; Tom and Huck’s RiverBlast, where you enjoy “America’s biggest water battle;” and more than 30 other rides, including roller coasters Wild Fire and Thunderation. This year brings the inauguration of Half Dollar Holler, a super-sized children’s play area, and the return of SDC’s vintage carousel. Live shows, annual festivals, craft demonstrations and a tour through Marvel Cave are also part of the fun!
Kids love riding the Ducks (www.Branson.RideTheDucks.com/home.aspx), refurbished military vehicles that travel on both land and water. Quack duck calls as you ride through town and conclude with a big splash into Table Rock Lake for a cruise where children "co-pilot" the boat. Also visit the Titanic (www.TitanicBranson.com), a replica of the legendary ship with attractions for the whole family.
Dixie Stampede (www.DixieStampede.com) is a dinner show unlike any other! The event includes horse acts, comedy, music and a menagerie of animals from ostriches to pot belly pigs. Everyone is served a full meal with one fun catch: the entire meal is "finger food."
Branson is overflowing with fun lodging choices. For a truly unique experience, visit Caboose Junction (http://CabooseJunctionResort.com) in Lampe, MO, just 30 minutes from Silver Dollar City. There, your family can enjoy the adventure of staying in converted cabooses complete with bunk beds, full beds, bathrooms and kitchenettes. Read our full review of Caboose Junction.
Omaha is a great vacation destination for families, with one of the best zoos in the nation, an incredible water resort at CoCo Key and an array of other fun attractions.
Begin at the Omaha Zoo (www.OmahaZoo.com), where you can ride the Skyfari for a view overlooking animals in world-class exhibits. Walk on the wild side in the Lied Jungle and marvel at the Scott Aquarium with a 70-foot-long underwater walk-through tunnel with sharks, stingrays and ocean life.
The most entertaining place to stay is CoCo Key (www.CocoKeyWaterRestort.com), an indoor water resort with an Olympic-size pool, beach entry pool, water slides, Parrot’s Perch, the giant water playground, dip-in kiddie pool, a lazy river and more, all housed in a luxurious hotel.
Next, explore the interactive exhibits at the Omaha Children’s Museum (www.OCM.org), including the Imagination Playground, the Splish Splash Garden and Science and Technology Lab. The hands-down favorite, though, is the giant ball machine where kids send balls through an exciting maze of contraptions.
You may also want to visit the Durham Museum (www.DurhamMuseum.org), housed in Omaha’s restored Union Station with historic exhibits and an authentic soda fountain. Or, take a trip to the Lauritzen Gardens (www.LauritzenGardens.org), a 100-acre botanical garden with an exquisite Victorian garden, an educational children’s garden and model railroad garden. And don’t leave the city without a royal experience as you tour the 1903 Scottish-inspired Joslyn Castle (www.JoslynCastle.com).
St. Louis, Missouri:
St. Louis offers many free and affordable family attractions for all ages, making it the perfect Midwest vacation destination you’ll want to visit again and again!
A visit to the top of the Arch is a must for spectacular views, and an interactive museum at the Arch’s base tells the tale of westward expansion. Add to your fun with a Gateway Arch riverboat cruise (www.GatewayArch.com), where you can enjoy lunch or snacks while learning about St. Louis and the role of the Mississippi River in America’s history. Read our full review of the Gateway Arch experience.
At City Museum (www.CityMuseum.org), parents have as much fun as the kids! The museum transforms junkyard collections into gigantic labyrinths, jungle gyms and people-sized gerbil cages and mazes, creating a fantasy world meant for exploration, all housed inside, around and atop a 600,000-square-foot downtown shoe factory… now known as City Museum. Read our full review of City Museum. Also housed in the same building is the World Aquarium, a one-of-a-kind touch and feel aquatic experience.
The Magic House (www.MagicHouse.org) in St. Louis lives up to its name as one of the most magical children's museums in the nation. Children climb Jack’s Beanstalk, enjoy a hair-raising experience as they touch an electrically charged ball, stand inside a bubble, solve a mystery, explore a child-sized village and more. Read our full review of the Magic House.
Visit the Sophia M. Sachs Butterfly House (www.ButterflyHouse.org) to see insects and butterflies up close and personal. In the conservatory, you’ll encounter 2,000 butterflies in free flight among lush gardens of tropical flowers, a pond and waterfall. Read our full review of the Butterfly House.
Amana Colonies, Iowa:
For modern families wanting to experience a simpler time, the Amanas are a welcome retreat. You’ll step back in time with a visit to the Amana Colonies (www.AmanaColonies.org), a national historic landmark consisting of seven villages. Founded in Iowa in 1855, the Amanas are one of America’s longest-lived and largest religious communal societies, where the traditions of German craftsmanship are showcased at local shops and businesses.
Begin at the Amana Heritage Museum, where you’ll learn the story of the colonies and the culture through videos and exhibits. Then, shop at the High Amana General Store, a museum-operated 1858 village store. From shop to shop, witness firsthand the art of making quilts, lace, clocks, metal crafts, brooms, baskets, wine and more. Be sure to visit www.AmanaColonies.org and request a visitor’s guide for tips and calendars to plan your trip. Some shops are not open year-round or every day; weekends are best.
You don’t have to go far to explore Egyptian mummies, discover dinosaur bones, learn about early civilizations, travel to the lands of conquistadores and experience history, all at the interactive and exciting Museum of World Treasures (www.WorldTreasures.org).
The Exploration Place (www.Exploration.org) makes science both educational and entertaining with traveling and permanent exhibits. Learn about nature, the human body, space, animal life and more. Our favorite attraction is the interactive castle where young children pretend to live and work, pumping bellows, making tools, cooking, blacksmithing, studying astronomy and dressing up and jousting on a child-sized wooden horse.
For fun family dining, enjoy a Prairie Rose Chuckwagon Supper (www.PrairieRoseChuckwagon.com), with an all-you-can-eat dinner, wagon and train rides, free movies and a musical stage show.
If you’re looking for a little adventure this season, you don’t have to go far to create unforgettable family memories and have an adventure of a lifetime!