It's been 20 years since the Showboat Branson Belle was launched into Table Rock Lake on a bed of slippery crushed bananas -- an ecologically friendly way to move the 2,500,000-pound boat from land to water.
Believed to be the largest ship built on an American land-locked lake, the 1800s-style Branson Belle is almost the length of a football field and carries 700 passengers. Its two paddle wheels propel the boat at an average speed of 6 mph -- less than the 14 mph it traveled during its nine-second banana-powered slide into the water at its launching.
The 10-foot captain's wheel, made of solid maple, was restored from the C.C. Slider, which operated from 1928 to 1952.
During the two-hour cruise, passengers are treated to a meal and a show, as well as the opportunity to stroll along the three decks, watch the paddle wheels turn, and gaze at some of the more than 800 miles of shoreline of Table Rock Lake.
In recognition of the 20th anniversary, the evening show has been revised and expanded, boasting the largest cast in the ship's two-decade history of sailing Table Rock Lake. Passengers will enjoy both new acts and returning favorites in the limited engagement show, "Celebrate!" More than a dozen performers present a fast-paced mix of music, dance, comedy and magic.
One of the new cast members is Branson's own Cassandre Faimon-Haygood, who viewers might remember from her own Branson show, Cassandre, and for her role for many years in Dicken's A Christmas Carol at Silver Dollar City. Her voice is pitch perfect and powerful and her performance is a highlight of the show.
Also new to the cast are the lightning-fast feet of the four-man dance troupe, Rhythm. They are billed as "the fastest feet west of the Mississippi," and I think that is true! Watching them made me want to sign up for tap dance and clogging classes.
The ShowMen, a five-member vocal act, return with their wide range of music, from classic to contemporary. Christopher James, comedian and magician, returns as the emcee. The live band, The Rockin' Dockers, accompanies the show.
Beginning May 23, the noon and Sunday cruises will feature a second cast, including the multi-talented Janice Martin, a classically trained musician and vocalist who is also an aerialist. She combines gymnastics, aerial dance, music and song in her performance. Ventriloquist Phil Hughes, magician and emcee Aaron Radatz, and the live band The Castaways round out the second cast.
The meal, which is freshly prepared in the ship galley, includes a mixed lettuce salad with sweet Vidalia onion dressing, roast beef, chicken breast, garlic mashed potatoes, sugar snap peas, hot roll, lemon-berry torte, and iced tea, water and coffee. A vegetarian option is available by request. For a special event, check out the premium dining options in the Wheel Club Room and Captain's Row.
Before and after the cruise, there's the chance to do some shopping at White River Landing, which includes Layton Mercantile, McAdoo's Boatworks, and concession stands. And during the cruise, there's the on-board boutique.
Billed as "America's Most Entertaining Dinner Cruise," the Showboat Branson Belle is a Silver Dollar City Attraction, part of the country's largest family-owned theme park company, Herschend Family Entertainment Corporation.
For information on cruise schedules and reservations, visit www.ShowboatBransonBelle.com or call 800-775-2628. For information about other things to see and do in the Branson area, visit www.ExploreBranson.com. Then sit back and enjoy the show!