“Here we go!” Nick enthused as we exited Route 65, denoting our arrival in Branson.
There were seven of us: our son, Nick, at the wheel; daughter-in-law, Betsy, riding shotgun; my wife and me (aka: Nana and Pop) in the second row with grandson Truman; and 8-year-old fraternal twins, Wyatt and Sonya, in the van’s rear seat.
“Look at that, kids,” Nick said, pointing to a three-tiered wooden structure as we waited for the light to change. “That’s Wild Woody, the go-kart course Pop and Nana took me to when I was your age.” Seeing Track 3 of The Track Family Fun Parks again, with go-karts whizzing around and families enjoying the balmy weather on the Lost Mine Mini Golf course, I was suddenly back with young Nick on the track, zooming side by side like it was the Indy 500. Our eyes met in the rear-view mirror and Nick said, “Those are some of my favorite memories.”
“Let’s go race!” Wyatt urged, as though he was reading our minds.
“That’s the plan,” Nick affirmed as we turned onto 76 Country Boulevard and headed toward the heart of Branson’s world-famous strip. “But we’re headed for something even bigger today. Just wait and see.”
We cruised past all the music shows, shops and attractions—and then we saw it, soaring majestically into the blue sky. “Whoa!” I heard from the backseat. “Oh, my goodness!” Nana gasped. “It makes the ones we used to ride look like toys!”
“Do we get to ride it?” Sonya asked, wide-eyed. “It” was the towering Branson Ferris Wheel, formerly Chicago’s iconic Navy Pier Ferris Wheel, which had nearly 17 million riders before it was moved to Branson in 2016.
“If you dare,” Betsy teased as we turned into the parking lot of Track 4 of The Track Family Fun Parks, primed for an afternoon of family fun. “Here’s the scoop,” she said, reading info from her phone. “The Branson Ferris Wheel is 150 feet tall, has 40 gondolas and lights up with 16,000 LED lights.”
“It’ll be a new experience for all of us,” Nana said, as we all agreed to save it for the last ride of the day.
Piling out of the van, we headed for the go-kart action, where Wyatt and Sonya got their first taste of racing excitement on the Classic Go-Karts track, a course that features an underpass and twisting figure-eight turns to challenge and hone driving skills. Neither had driven a kart before, but they were soon running pedal to metal. Seeing the expressions of pure glee on their faces had Nana and me grinning like kids ourselves. “Look at ’em go!” she said, laughing. “Nothing like seeing my youngsters having fun.”
“Okay, kids,” Nick said when we finally got them off the track. “You’re ready for the big time now. Let’s try some heavy metal!”
Nearly a quarter-mile long, Track 4’s concrete-and-steel Heavy Metal High Rise is Branson’s premiere go-kart track. This was a ride I couldn’t resist, so I joined Wyatt, Sonya and Nick on the spiral four-story climb, which lead to a three-tiered descent that adds oomph to the karts’ gas engines for the race back to ground level. As we zipped back down, I caught up with Nick and the kids—Wyatt and Sonya on either side of their dad. It was a scene I was familiar with.
Betsy and I switched places, agreeing that our two groups would rendezvous later at nearby Pizza World Buffet. I headed to meet Nana and 4-year-old Truman at the Heavy Metal Arcade, where we put Truman behind the wheel of one of the arcade’s interactive driving games and watched the video action unfold as he careened from one crash to the next, his delighted squeals mingling with the upbeat music and bright visuals. I took a turn myself, with Truman on my lap assisting, both of us whooping and hollering all the way to the finish line. The spontaneous hug he gave me as we left the driver’s seat put a tear in my eyes. “If this is second childhood,” I thought, “count me in.”
Back outside, Truman and Nana took a turn on the kiddie Ferris wheel and spinning top ride. The highlight for him, though, was driving a real go-kart all by himself, thanks to Track 4’s Kiddie Go-Karts. Monitored by watchful attendants, the low-speed kiddie karts are designed for maximum safety, but the pint-sized drivers actually get to steer a moving vehicle around a small oval. What a thrill for our little guy!
Rejoining Nick, Betsy and the twins for a bite to eat at Pizza World Buffet, we heard all about their Heavy Metal fun. “We started out in two-person karts, with Sonya and me teaming up against Betsy and Wyatt,” Nick explained. “And we smoked ’em!” Wyatt crowed, exchanging a fist-bump with his mom. Once they got accustomed to the track, the kids graduated to their own karts. “That’s when the sibling rivalry really came out,” Betsy said, laughing. “And guess who led the most laps?” Sonya exulted. “I wasn’t counting,” Wyatt fibbed. “I’ll cream you next time.”
The sun was just touching the horizon when we all got in line for the Branson Ferris Wheel and were soon seated in one of its enclosed gondolas. As it made a slow, gradual ascent into the twilight, the colorful lights of the Branson strip stretched away into the distance, blending magically with a magnificent Ozarks sunset. Entranced by the sweeping view, the kids were quiet for the first time all day. “Just think,” Nana said, as we reached the giant wheel’s exhilarating 150-foot zenith, “we’re looking down at all those twinkling lights, while the people down there are seeing all the lights up here. It must be visible for miles.”
We got off just in time to catch one of the hourly light and sound shows that are part of the Branson Ferris Wheel attraction. Called “Electrify,” it features original music coordinated with a dazzling display of changing light patterns produced by thousands of different colored lights mounted all over the huge wheel. It was the perfect ending to a memorable day.
“Today was my favorite,” Truman said, with Wyatt and Sonya in quick agreement.
I thought back to what Nick had said in the car earlier and smiled to myself. The Track Family Fun Parks were a place our family loved for decades—I knew we’d be back, making more memories, for years to come.