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New attractions in America’s Heartland

Courtesy Castle Noel

Castle Noel
Medina, Ohio
When Castle Noel opens in November in Medina, Ohio, it will be the realization of Mark Klaus’ dream.

“This is the culmination of a family dream; our last name being Klaus, we’ve always been Christmas lovers,” he said.

Castle Noel, which is slated to open November 22, will be the nation’s largest indoor Christmas attraction featuring the largest privately owned collection of Hollywood Christmas props and costumes, as well as the “I Had That” toy exhibit and “NYC Christmas Windowland.”

Mark and Dana Klaus first opened a Christmas-themed attraction in 2008 in Brecksville, Ohio, but finally decided on a permanent location in Medina. The Klauses are converting 31,000 square feet in a former church, school and two 1800s commercial buildings, covering half a city block, into Castle Noel.

Visitors will enter through a simulated blizzard, a vortex tunnel that “snows,” and can end their day by reliving Ralphie’s terrifying slide down Santa’s Mountain in “A Christmas Story.”

“‘Holly’Wood Christmas Movieland” is packed with costumes, props and set pieces from a host of Christmas movies. In his vast collection, Mark Klaus has the sleigh from Jim Carrey’s “How the Grinch Stole Christmas,” Will Ferrell’s elf costume from “Elf,” costumes from the Patrick Stewart-led “A Christmas Carol” and tons of items from Tim Allen’s “The Santa Clause” movies, among them a 10-foot rotating globe that says “Naughty” on one side, “Nice” on the other. Cousin Eddie’s RV from “National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation” is even sitting in a courtyard between buildings.

“We have so many things, it’s impossible to list them all,” Klaus said.

In the “I Had That” toy display, guests can wallow in nostalgia of Christmas mornings past as they watch old toy television commercials, wander through displays of vintage and antique toys, and play with giant versions of popular childhood games, including huge Connect Four and Memory games.

In “NYC Christmas Windowland,” Klaus has restored and reassembled original and complete window displays from New York City retailers such as Macy’s, Bloomingdale’s, Lord and Taylor, and Saks Fifth Avenue. The elegant and extravagant scenes include a “Nutcracker” set “that’s so gorgeous, it’s been used in two books,” Klaus said.

Castle Noel will also include a gift shop, a cafe and a private room for up to 150 people, Klaus said. Group tours are welcome, and with prior arrangements, Klaus will even open for groups on days Castle Noel would usually be closed.

New Shows
Branson, Missouri
At any given time, Branson, Missouri, has 110 to 120 live shows playing at theaters and venues throughout the city, said Lynn Berry, director of communications for the Branson/Lakes Area Chamber of Commerce and Convention and Visitors Bureau.

Berry said the big news this season is the “Adventures of Marco Polo,” a show about the Italian explorer’s journeys to China as told through his journals. More than 60 international artists perform in the show, which features original orchestration, dance, acrobatics and illusionists at the White House Theatre. The show opened August 9 and will run through the end of November, Berry said. Although the dates are not yet set for the 2014 season, Berry does expect the show to return next year.

Also new this year is “The Price Is Right Live!” which is produced by the same company that does the on-air television show and follows the same format, from “Come on down!” to the Showcase Showdown. Just like on the television show, guests can win cash, cars, vacations and appliances. The live show opened last spring at the Welk Resort Theatre and runs through the end of November, Berry said. The Welk Resort will likely re-up the show next year, she said.

Another fan favorite this year is “Dancing Queen: ABBA’s Greatest Hits” at King’s Castle Theatre, formerly the Branson Variety Theater, which the owner completely renovated after it was damaged by a tornado. The musical revue pays tribute both to ABBA and to the ’70s as the troupe performs ABBA hits such as “Waterloo” and era-defining songs such as “YMCA” and “In the Navy.” The show runs through October but will also likely return next year, Berry said.

In keeping with the ’70s theme, Barry Williams, aka Greg Brady from the classic sitcom “The Brady Bunch,” is headlining a nostalgia-packed live musical revue called “’70s Music Celebration” that runs through December 30 at RFD-TV The Theatre.

Another major addition to the Branson entertainment scene isn’t a show; it’s a roller coaster, and “it’s setting records,” Berry said. Outlaw Run opened at Silver Dollar City in March and is “so one-of-a-kind, it’s proving to be the best idea they’ve ever had,” she said. The wooden roller coaster drops riders 162 feet at an 81-degree angle and is the only wooden coaster to twist like a corkscrew, taking riders on a stomach-flopping barrel roll.

Rachel Carter

Rachel Carter worked as a newspaper reporter for eight years and spent two years as an online news editor before launching her freelance career. She now writes for national meetings magazines and travel trade publications.