BRANSON, Mo. — For many people, a trip to this Ozark Mountain hot spot wouldn’t be complete without a trip to Silver Dollar City, a theme park set in the 1880s known as much for its clean, wholesome atmosphere as for its many festivals and ever-expanding array of rides and roller-coasters.
In each of the past two seasons, the park has set an attendance record, including 2.2 million visitors in 2018. Silver Dollar City is owned by Herschend Family Entertainment.
Silver Dollar City officials said 2019 is off to another strong start, with plans already being formulated for 2020, when the park will celebrate its 60th anniversary.
Though it is set in the late 19th century, the park certainly isn't stuck in the past. Each year seems to bring a new, multi-million dollar ride. Recent additions include the $26-million Time Traveler roller coaster. Opening in 2018, the Time Traveler is billed as the world's "fastest, steepest and tallest spinning coaster."
In 2020, Silver Dollar City will celebrate its 60th anniversary with Mystic River Falls, a $27 million project that will include raft rides on a nearly half-mile river. The project also will include the Riverton Smokehouse.
Various festivals and related live shows bring entertainers and craftsmen to the park from across the nation and around the world.
The new Harvest Festival, which will feature "Craft Days and Pumpkin Nights," is scheduled to debut this fall, taking place from Sept. 25 to Oct. 26. The "Craft Days" festival will bring artisans and craftsmen to the park from around the country. Then, "Pumpkin Nights" promises to be a family-friendly alternative to some of the fright-filled Halloween offerings at other theme parks.
But the granddaddy of all the festivals remains "An Old Time Christmas," which for the past two years has brought a whopping 500,000 people to the park.
"Christmas is fun," said Darby Dunnavent, of Keller, Texas, who said she makes several trips a year to Silver Dollar City. "Christmas is amazing with all the lights."
Taking place from Nov. 2 to Dec. 30, "An Old Time Christmas" has topped the past three USA Today polls for "Best Theme Park Holiday Event."
Brad Thomas, president of Silver Dollar City Attractions, said "An Old Time Christmas" this year will feature more than 6.5 million RGB — or red, green and blue — LED lights. Each bulb is capable of producing a range of 2 million different colors.
The centerpiece of "An Old Time Christmas," a 5-story Christmas tree that has been used for about 25 years, will be replaced in 2019 by an 8-story tree in the Silver Dollar City town square. Lights on the tree will appear to dance and will change colors as they are synchronized to various Christmas songs.
"We'll keep the most popular song," Thomas said. "David Foster's 'Carol of the Bells' will continue to be our signature song. Then we'll have all-new songs beyond that song."
Thomas said the secret to Silver Dollar City's success has been staying true to its 1880s theme while making changes that reflect the tastes of its visitors.
"We know that to continue to attract people from Topeka, from Dallas, from Chicago, we have to listen to our guests and we have to continue to change," Thomas said, "and that's what Silver Dollar City does.
"We've got 60 years of history but also 60 years of change under our belt."
The key to Silver Dollar City pushing the right buttons is asking visitors what they want, then making decisions based on those answers, Thomas said.
"We won't please everyone," Thomas said, "but by going to our guests and asking them to help us make decisions, they do help us make decisions. And those decisions tend to be the right strategic decisions for us."