By Joe “Santa Jeaux” Pridgen
We arrived a few days early to Branson, so we could celebrate the 4th of July and see some of the sites around the town. On entering the hotel, the Chateau on the Lake Resort, which served as the central area for the entire event, a surprise was waiting for us in the 10-story atrium. Santa was hanging from a rope at about the 7th floor, as if he was rappelling from the rooftop. Of course, that’s all the further he got since he was a plastic mock-up. Below him, though, were a few very nice restaurants and meeting areas along with landscaping of trees, bushes and ponds with a stream.
The bellboy team at the front entrance were extremely efficient and cordial, even while loading a luggage cart with my 3 stuffed-full suit bags, shoe bags, hat boxes, etc., not to mention Mrs. Claus’ bags also. (I may have overdone it a bit on my shoes. HOHOHO!!!) A great start to what became an enjoyable and welcome experience.
On entering our 8th floor room, the first task, even before unpacking our luggage, was to take a look out our balcony door at beautiful Table Rock Lake. Which could be seen from most of the higher floor rooms and the restaurants. We ate at the main restaurant on the first night and dropped well over $120 for the two of us (and we only drink water), but the food was simply marvelous and the service was exceptional.
I had planned on playing golf at a local course with some other Santas the next morning, July 5, but our view had drastically changed overnight. Those stalwart brothers-of-the-red-suit, who braved the conditions, only completed about 9 holes and some didn’t complete any while waiting a couple of hours for the storms to pass. So, wisely, Mrs. Claus and I ate breakfast at that same restaurant, which, again was pricey – $60 with tip – but magnificent and by that time, we had pretty much blown our off the plan dining budget.
Later that day, many more of the Kringle family continued arriving and many of the other residents at the resort began clamoring for photos with their favorite elf. (It’s a tough job, but someone has to do it! HOHOHO!!!) Here , I am with a great Santa friend, George Drake from Nebraska, doing what Santas do best (posing with beautiful young ladies … HOHOHO!!!)
There were Santas and Mrs Claus of every shape and description, wearing as many different casual Kringle clothes as you can imagine. It was enough to turn the head of most passersby. These two were particularly unusual and stood out from the mostly red dressed crowd. The check-in lines for the event moved very quickly and all was pretty much in order, except our packet didn’t include our Showboat tickets for the Thursday night event. But, we were told we could just use our red wristbands that we were not supposed to remove until the entire event was over. It was our ticket to all meals, workshops and other events. (At least that’s what we were told – that’s my story and I’m sticking to it.) How wonderful, meeting Kringles that we had only communicated with on e-mail, Facebook or the phone – putting faces to our friendships in person. A really wonderful happening.
After touring the city and going back to the hotel, many of the attendees, vendors, volunteers and other family members explored the venue and the grounds around the resort. One particular young man wanted to have his photo taken in the sleigh outside the front entry. I just happened to be the closest Santa, so I hopped in the grounded sleigh. We had a rollicking (imaginary) ride through the clouds above the snow – which if it were real, would have melted long before hitting the ground, due to the mid 90s temperatures. Turns out this youngster was with two of the vendors for the event and all of them were also from the Atlanta area. It was like old home week.
I know, I know – you’re seeing a lot of photos of me, but HEY, I’m the one that made the trip, and this is my Branson diary.Here I am with a beautiful tree that cost over $100,000 and was the focal point of the atrium where it was placed right in the center, surrounded by benches and chairs. (That may explain why the restaurant prices were so high.) It was made of a plastic material that looked real from a distance and only upon getting close and reaching out to touch the bark could it be determined to be artificial. Which meant it was a ‘designer’ tree instead of a ‘real barked’ one. HOHOHO!! (What a shameless pun!)
All around the city, with a full-time resident population of a bit over 10,000, there were interesting traffic signs. We found that the most inventive were STOP signs like this below. Of course, I don’t know how many accidents may have been caused by people taking photos of it while waiting to go. Who me??? NOPE!!
A dozen or more Santa vehicles were presented in the parking lot on the first official day of the event. WorldWide Photography sponsored the event and presented each exhibited vehicle with a framed photograph, including my wrapped Chevy Avalanche and Atlanta area Santa Glenn Heald’s silver sleigh. There were wonderful sleighs of different persuasions.
And, of course, Blitzen (otherwise known as Brownie), made an appearance, though not flying through the air and landing. (Again – NO SNOW!) He arrived in his own stylish trailer with all his accouterments, paraphernalia and other reindeer stuff. He also strutted his way in the Kringle Family parade on the next morning.
Thursday, July 7, began very early in the morning with 5:30 wake-up calls, so all could get ready and board the buses for the Branson Landing parade, which was set to begin at 7:30 am while the temperatures were cooler. Mrs. Claus and I were driving my sleigh in the parade, so we didn’t ride the bus. There were banners from most every Santa organization in the country accompanied by their hosts of members. Total attendance was dominated by the Lone Star Santas from Texas with well over 100 attendees.
There were cars with dignitaries, walking acts from city attractions, including members of the Globetrotters, Brownie the Reindeer and handlers, vehicles of all sizes, shapes, makes, and colors, carts, both vintage and new vehicles, buses, and even a Santa on a scooter.
Many other Santas wanted to have their photo made beside my wrapped sleigh. The parade route was pretty much a straight line for about a quarter mile down the mall walkway of an open air shopping center, with most of the stores not being open that early. So there were few viewers of the parade.Afterward, all of the attendees gathered for a huge group photo shot by a camera drone. Some of the paraders decided to leave before the drone made its shot. Not naming any names!
After lunch, many of the Kringle family lined up downtown, again in the sweltering heat, while attempting to set a world record for the number of Kringles to continuously ride a Ferris Wheel. The ride would hold up to 160 adults at a time and someone said that we got a total of 220 or more with cars emptying and refilling. That’s a lot of bus loads. It took well over an hour to load it up in the first place, so the line was quite long waiting to get on. But, as you can imagine, there was a lot of entertainment by all of the family while waiting in the line. Some Kringles didn’t appear too excited about the wait, though. (Hmm!, where’s the smile????) Again, not mentioning any names!
Later that afternoon, the entire Kringle Clan gathered at the Mickey Gilley theater in downtown Branson for the official opening event hosted by The Noerr Programs company with Santa Tim Connaghan, Santa Hollywood, as the master of ceremonies. The photo below was when the theater which eventually nearly filled up was only about half full. That’s a lot of red!!!
The event was opened with an honor guard from the Palm Tree Santas in Florida, a presentation of attending chapter representatives by Santa Phillip Wenz, and comments by Judy Noerr. And then, the lights went down and when they came up all were thrilled with a concert by the sensational acapella singing group, SIX, which has been performing there for over 20 years. This was by far the best performance at the entire Discover Santa 2016 event. IMHO!
They sang many wonderful old songs, especially a superb tribute to the music of The Beach Boys and several western and contemporary numbers.
At another event, we were welcomed by Dolly Parton, via video, to her Dixie Stampede. They put on a wonderful show and we had Santas representing the north and the south in a battle of different tests of skill (all performed by the cast of the theater) but ultimately the most impressive, was the presentation of the flags showing our national unity.
While the stage crews were preparing the huge corral from a previous showing of Dixie Stampede the Kringle Family was treated to a dazzling display of juggling and plate spinning in a 3 story ante-room. It’s fun seeing those things in person rather than on television as usual. If you have never attended an event such as the Dixie Stampede or Medieval Times, it is well worth your time to seek one out and enjoy.
On another night, we were afforded the opportunity for a lake boating trip on the Branson Belle Showboat sponsored by the International Brotherhood of Real Bearded Santas. After waiting for what seemed like an eternity in the sweltering heat, we finally boarded and then waited for another half of an eternity for the photo drone to arrive so we could get a photo of the family hanging out and dancing on the upper deck. Once that was finally over we were treated to air-conditioned space inside the center of the boat. The food was quite good and the entertainment was also. But, it was a bit anticlimactic after the dynamic performance of SIX we had witnessed before. Santas wore many different varieties of outfits for this event as well as others. Personally, I wore what any southern gentleman would wear on a cruise, a white suit, red shirt and red/white shoes.
On Friday and Saturday afternoons, we had the opportunity of attending up to 6 different workshops (There were 5 or 6 different choices for each workshop period). I was working as a volunteer alongside Santa Bob Elkin, president of IBRBS, who was in charge of all of the workshops. I drew the assignment of monitoring the room where Robert Seutter, also known as Santa True, was teaching about the performance capabilities of Santa. I especially enjoyed his class on storytelling.
The final event on Saturday night was the ‘Red is the New Black’ fashion show and the Gala.
The balance of the photos are of participants in the show and attendees to the event that capped off a wonderful 6 days of entertainment, instruction and camaraderie. If you ever get the opportunity of attending a national or regional gathering such as this, please take that opportunity. It will not only be enjoyable, but very informative. And, who knows, YOU JUST MIGHT DISCOVER SANTA FOR YOURSELF.
I know I said all the balance of photos were from the Gala and fashion show. But, I felt I needed to add a photo of my trip gauge on my odometer. It was 1,655 miles of fun. Sugar Hill, GA to Paducah, KY to Branson, MO to Birmingham, AL and back to Sugar Hill, GA.
HOME SWEET HOME!!! (Can’t wait until the next one!)