Can ChatGPT actually write a travel blog post? Let’s find out!

Can ChatGPT actually write a travel blog post? Let’s find out!

I keep hearing about how AI is going to steal writer jobs and I’ve seen a LOT of “travel bloggers” starting to use it to write posts. I finally decided to give it a test – want to see how it did?

I asked ChatGPT for “Free Things to do in Branson, MO”, since that’s a post I’m actually working on and I thought it might be cool if it knew about things I didn’t. Here’s what it came up with, plus my commentary in parentheses:

“Branson, Missouri offers a variety of free activities and attractions for visitors to enjoy. Here are some options:

1. Branson Landing: Explore the Branson Landing, a waterfront shopping and entertainment district. Enjoy the scenic views, walk along the promenade, and catch the spectacular water and fire fountain show that takes place in the evenings. (This is a decent item to include, but they left out SO MUCH info. For instance, the fountain show is hourly, there’s no mention of concerts and events that take place there, no info on the shops and attractions… I’m giving ChatGPT a C for this one.)

2. Downtown Branson: Take a leisurely stroll through Downtown Branson. This area is known for its charming shops, galleries, and local boutiques. You can browse for unique souvenirs or simply enjoy the vibrant atmosphere. (Again, this is beyond vague and unhelpful. If they’re talking about historic downtown, I wouldn’t exactly call it a “leisurely” stroll since the hills are steep, parking can be a nightmare, and it’s often crowded. Yes, there are some unique souvenirs but they don’t offer any suggestions for the best places to shop, like Dick’s 5&10 or the used book store. “Charming shops” and “local boutiques” feels kind of repetitive, and sorry, no galleries here. There’s also no mention of the free trolley you can use to get around. Giving this answers a D.)

3. Lake Taneycomo: Visit Lake Taneycomo, a beautiful reservoir that stretches through Branson. Enjoy a picnic by the lakeside, go fishing (with appropriate permits), or simply relax and appreciate the scenic surroundings. (Okay, again, super vague and lacking detail. They could add that North Beach Park is the most convenient place for dock fishing and picnics, but the Shepherd of the Hills Fish Hatchery is also a great place for both of those, plus it offers fishing licenses and pole rentals. They also don’t mention the size – those two spots are a good 20+ minute drive from each other, and the lake stretches on a really long way. I could probably write an entire 1000+ word post about how to best enjoy the lake, but while this suggestion is technically correct, it’s again just not helpful at all for someone trying to plan a trip. Giving this one a B.)

4. Branson Boardwalk: Take a walk along the Branson Boardwalk. Located near the Grand Village Shops, it offers a scenic trail along the edge of Lake Taneycomo. Enjoy the fresh air, soak in the views, and watch the boats go by. (Okay, this one absolutely cracked me up, because the “Branson Boardwalk” is next to the Grand Village, but it’s *nowhere* near the lake. At all. Not even close. Miles away. Good luck with that fresh air, since you’re right on the city’s busiest highway, and the only nearby boat is the Titanic museum! You *will* find the Aquarium at the Boardwalk here, which is awesome. This one gets an F.)

5. Shepherd of the Hills Fish Hatchery: Explore the Shepherd of the Hills Fish Hatchery, one of the largest trout-rearing facilities in the United States. Take a self-guided tour to learn about the fish production process and enjoy the beauty of the hatchery grounds. (Okay, I already linked my post about the Branson fish hatchery up in #3, but yet again, this one is kind of on the right track but also not good. There’s no mention of the free guided tours, the beautiful nature trails, feeding the fish, and a very important part… that it’s currently closed for at least a year. Oops. Giving this a D.)

6. Table Rock Dam: Visit Table Rock Dam, located just south of Branson. Take a scenic drive across the dam, enjoy the views of Table Rock Lake, and learn about the dam’s history at the visitor center. (Another disappointing answer. Sure, you can “visit the dam” in that there are some nice overlooks nearby and the Dewey Short Visitors Center has some fun natural history of the area. I wouldn’t exactly call the drive across the dam “scenic” – it’s 30 seconds of driving across a bridge with the lake on either side. It’s fine, but if you want actual scenery, you want to do the Lakeshore Trail that starts at the Visitor Center, passes by the Showboat Branson Belle and ends out at State Park Marina. I’ll give this answer a B- for being on the right track but not really helpful.)

7. College of the Ozarks: Take a drive to the nearby College of the Ozarks campus. Explore the Keeter Center, a stunning lodge-style building that houses a bakery, restaurant, and a creamery where you can sample delicious homemade ice cream. The campus also features beautiful gardens and walking trails. (I’ve been to C of O for events in high school, but I haven’t personally visited the Keeter Center. I know that the restaurant there is pretty popular, and they do have an ice cream shop but having worked in ice cream shops as a kid, I feel comfortable saying that they probably aren’t going to appreciate you just wanting to sample flavors with no intention of buying. There are greenhouses on campus, but I don’t know of any gardens and walking trails. Overall, I feel like this is more of an activity to do if you’ve done literally everything else in town and just want to try something new, or if you’re visiting to go to the restaurant and museum, but since those aren’t free I wouldn’t include it on a free things to do list. C-.)

8. Live Music Shows: Branson is known for its live music shows, and some venues offer free performances. Check out the schedule of local theaters, outdoor stages, and entertainment venues to see if there are any complimentary shows during your visit. (Okay, this is a strange thing to include. I don’t know of any Branson theaters with free performances, but like any town you can catch some great local performers at bars like Waxy O’Sheas and the Paddlewheel at the Landing. Those are technically “free”, but I really hope you’re at least buying a drink and tipping the entertainer, so… not really free.  Giving this one a D for being misleading.)

So overall, how did AI do writing a travel post? Not great. If you add up my scores, it averages to a D+. Honestly, even with all of my additions I’d only give this list a helpfulness rating of a B-. I would never publish something like this as an actual list. There’s just no point in shallow posts that just reword things other people have said a million times.

AI might be great for some things, like turning my cat into a cute cartoon, but I see absolutely no point of travel posts without personal information. “There’s a walking trail along Table Rock Lake” tells you nothing. “There’s a great, paved walking trail called the Lakeshore Trail that runs along the lake. It’s bike, dog, and stroller-friendly, and it’s fairly flat, but if you want to get down to the water it’s usually pretty steep and rocky. You can park at the Dewey Short Visitor’s Center, the Branson Belle parking lot, or at a few different spots in Table Rock State Park & State Park Marina, depending on how far you want to walk. You’ll also find BBQ grills and picnic tables, and there are 4 bathrooms along the 2+ miles of trail.” actually gives you information you can USE. If the person who wrote the post can’t answer a reader’s questions about the place they’re writing about, what’s the point?

All of THAT said, I’m working on finishing up a *real* “Free Things to do in Branson” post that I’ve had in my drafts for over a year now, plus a “Cheap Things to do in Branson” post with ideas under $10. I have a few weeks off school soon, so fingers crossed I’ll finally find time to finish them up!

And hey, do you have questions about any of the items on the list? Feel free to ask in the comments! Because other than the Keeter Center, these are all things I’ve actually done countless times, so since I’m not relying on computers to do my work for me, I can actually help you out!
Eureka Springs Historical Museum – The Crazy History of a Small Town

Eureka Springs Historical Museum – The Crazy History of a Small Town

It’s hard to walk around the Eureka Springs Historic District without wondering about the town’s past. Almost every building in downtown Eureka Springs dates back to around 1900, give or take a few years, and it seems like each one has a story. If you’re a curious person like I am, you’ll be so happy the Eureka Springs Historical Museum exists!

History museum Eureka Springs Main Street

Within this three-story historic building, which dates back to 1889 itself, you can learn all about the town’s past, from some of its infamous residents (including Carrie Nation) to the fires that wiped out the entire downtown area a few times to the springs themselves.

historic photo at Eureka Springs museum

I love that you can see the Crescent Hotel up on the hill! It was practically still new when this was taken in 1888.

Admission to the Eureka Springs Historical Museum is just $5 and there’s parking right next to the building (a rarity in this town!).  They’re open from 9:30-4 pm, but they’re closed Sundays & Wednesdays. (A lot of businesses here close Tues or Weds.)

Here’s my suggestion if you’re visiting Eureka Springs for the first time: Take an hour or two to wander around downtown and get a feel for it, THEN visit the museum. It’s going to be more fun if you’re a little familiar with the town, but then you can go back and look at everything again with a whole new depth of knowledge! (I also suggest the Downtown n’ Underground tour of the Eureka Springs Historic District – click the link for my post about it!)

Historic Eureka Springs hotels at history museum
As a huge hotel nerd, I loved all of the displays on historic Eureka Springs hotels!

Like pretty much every museum, you are going to get out of this place as much as you’re willing to put into it. If you just do a quick walk-through, you probably won’t be all that impressed but if you stop to read signs and really look at the exhibits and chat with the super knowledgeable staff, you’ll really enjoy it. Eureka Springs AR history is pretty crazy – you’re sure to leave with at least a few fun facts that blew your mind!

Pearl Tatman info at Eureka Springs History Museum

Pearl is one of my favorite iconic Eureka Springs residents. You can actually rent her house as an AirBnB now! 

I get to write about crazy old-fashioned medicines for the museum I do social media for, so I loved the exhibit with things like these definitely healthy belladonna cigarettes for your asthma. 😳

antique medicine Dr Schiffmanns Asthmador Cigarettes

It should be noted that the museum is two stories and since this is a classic Victorian home, there’s no elevator. (Not being super well designed for visitors with mobility disabilities is one of the very few negative things about Eureka Springs.) There’s still plenty to see on the first floor if you can’t do stairs (I probably spent 3/4 of my time there downstairs).

Side note – I just googled that “Wizard Oil” next to the cigarettes and apparently it was advertised to cure everything from sunburn to toothache to cancer (yikes.. although if you want some crazy stories about fake cancer treatments, don’t miss the Crescent Hotel Ghost Tour just a few minutes away!) but it contained things like turpentine (imagine putting that on your skin!!), chloroform, and ammonia. Maybe all those fumes just made you think you felt better??

A note for book lovers: The museum gift shop has a GREAT selection of books on local history and culture! (This is only like half of what they have)

Arkansas history books at Eureka Springs history museum gift shop

While I would absolutely support buying these at the museum or from another small local business if at all possible, I also found a few of them on Amazon if you’re interested in the area but don’t have access to other buying options. Here are the ones I was able to hunt down:

🕮 Eureka Springs: City of Healing Waters There are about a dozen pages of this one that you can read for free if you click “Look Inside” on the Amazon page. A great way to see if you’re interested in buying!

🕮 An Ozark Culinary History: Northwest Arkansas Traditions from Corn Dodgers to Squirrel Meatloaf This one is currently only $3 on Kindle! And again there are about a dozen pages you can read on the “Look Inside”

🕮 A Fame Not Easily Forgotten This one is mostly available used, but used paperbacks are like $7.

🕮 Classic Eateries of the Ozarks 

🕮 Stair Step Town This was written back in 1952 and I’m so curious about it! It’s only available used on Amazon but the ones in the museum look new.


Overall, while the Eureka Springs Historical Museum isn’t huge, it’s a great way to learn more about the town, see some cool antiques,  and catch the rotating temporary exhibits, which are always cool. Plus it’s only $5 and right at the bottom of Main Street – super easy to get to! If you happen to be visiting in October, they do an annual event called “Voices from the Silent City” where actors share the stories of notable residents over in the cemetery.

One more tip: I’d recommend visiting at a less busy time like a weekday morning if you can. I’ve never seen the museum very crowded, but like most of the town, parking is very limited to a handful of spaces and fairly tight. There is $5 parking a few doors down at the Cathouse, metered parking about a five-minute walk away behind the auditorium, or free parking at the trolley station if you don’t mind a 10-ish minute walk straight uphill.

I’m working on a whole series of posts about fun things to do in Eureka Springs, so be sure to check back! And let me know if you wind up visiting the Eureka Springs Historical Museum – I’d love to hear what you think! You can find more photos and reviews of the museum on TripAdvisor.

Looking for a cozy place to stay within walking distance of the museum? Check out my post about the Mary Margaret Guest House!

Visiting Shepherd of the Hills Branson Fish Hatchery

Visiting Shepherd of the Hills Branson Fish Hatchery


The Shepherd of the Hills fish hatchery in Branson, MO often comes up on lists of the best free things to do in Branson, but is it really worth checking out? The Branson fish hatchery is located just a few minutes out of town, right next to Table Rock Dam. It’s very close to Table Rock State Park, which has tons of hiking trails (check out my guide to Branson Hiking Trails for more info!), and also just a couple of minutes from the Dewey Short Visitor Center, which is perfect for doing on the same day as your fish hatchery visit. The Showboat Branson Belle is less than a five-minute drive away, so if you’re looking for something fun and free to do before a dinner cruise, consider visiting the Shepherd of the Hills Fish Hatchery!

If you’re planning to do some Branson fishing, there’s trout fishing on Lake Taneycomo right outside, including a boat ramp, and you can purchase a license or rent a fishing pole here, too! The money from Missouri fishing licenses goes straight back into conservation, which is something they share details of on the fish hatchery tour!

There’s plenty of parking here, both outside the conservation center building and over by the picnic area, which is just a short walk.


Branson fish hatchery conservation center


5 Important Things to Know Before Visiting the Branson Fish Hatchery:

  1. Admission to the Conservation Center and tours of the Branson fish hatchery are both free, but bring quarters if you’d like to feed the fish.
  2. The hatchery is closed on Sunday & Monday most of the year, as well as on state holidays. In the summer months (June, July, August), they may be open 7 days a week. (Check the Missouri Department of Conservation website to be sure!)
  3. Branson fish hatchery hours are 9 am – 5 pm. If you’re planning to enjoy the outdoor areas while you’re here, those hours are different: The conservation area opens at 4 am and closes at 10 pm.
  4. The free Branson fish hatchery tours are offered several times a day. At the time of this post, they’re at 10 and 11 am, and 1 and 2 pm.
  5. In addition to the conservation center, you’ll find hiking trails, fishing areas, a picnic spot, and a butterfly garden.

Want more details about the Shepherd of the Hills fish hatchery in Branson and tips to make your visit great? Read on!


Trout fishing in Branson is a HUGE deal. I live right on Table Rock Lake so I knew that a lot of people come to this area to fish, but I had no idea about the volume. The Branson fish hatchery puts around 700,000 trout into Lake Taneycomo and other Missouri trout management areas EVERY YEAR! Of those, 70% are caught within two months. That’s so many fish! Shepherd of the Hills Fish Hatchery is the largest of the five cold water fish hatcheries in Missouri, and there’s a lot to see here. Now, I’m clearly very into learning about nature and wildlife and fish in general (be sure to check out my post about the Branson Aquarium!) so that definitely factors into my opinions, but I was surprised that I enjoyed my visit to the fish hatchery in Branson way more than I expected to. I wound up spending almost two hours here!


Feeding the Fish at the Branson Fish Hatchery

feeding trout at branson fish hatchery


Trout food is sold in gumball-style machines outside near the fish runs. 25 cents gets you a pretty nice handful of food! I’d recommend bringing a small cup or even an envelope to hold the food in – it’s a little tough to avoid dropping any! It’s kind of fun to decide which fish you want to feed (they’re segregated by age/size, including a special area for the breeding adults at certain times of year). The conservation center had quarters available when I visited, but you may want to bring some quarters along just in case if feeding the fish is something you really want to do. Feeding the fish anything other than the provided food is NOT allowed.


trout at hatchery in branson

Exploring the Conservation Center

While it might look small from outside, there’s a surprising amount to see in side the conservation center!

You may want to start by watching the short video (I think it’s 8 minutes) that’s shown several times an hour and explains what the hatchery does. The room that serves as a mini cinema for that video also contains some VERY cool nature and wildlife exhibits!


Missouri amphibians at fish hatchery in Branson MO

You can see several different types of live wildlife native to this area, including turtles, frogs, salamanders, and snakes. There are also exhibits that don’t have live animals but do let you see things you might never see up close otherwise, like different bird nests and different stages of fish development.

eastern tiger salamander missouri


Tip: If you aren’t sure if your kids will enjoy the Branson Aquarium at the Boardwalk or Wonders of Wildlife Aquarium in Springfield, bringing them here is a great FREE way to see how they react to fish and animals! If they get excited about watching these guys, they’ll LOVE the aquariums!

Branson Fish Hatchery Tours


Free Branson fish hatchery tours

Tours of the Branson fish hatchery are FREE and fun! They start inside the conservation center, last about 45 minutes, and are about 1/3 indoors and 2/3 outdoors, so be sure to come prepared for whatever the weather (you may want to bring bottled water on hot days). They’re great for curious kids who won’t interrupt the tour guide, as well as adults who love learning.

I’d suggest arriving at the conservation center at least 15 minutes before a tour, taking some time to explore the building, going on the tour, and then feeding the fish/exploring the outdoor areas on your own.

Note: There are restrooms inside the conservation center, as well as some out in the picnic area near the hiking trails.


Outdoor area of fish hatchery branson missouri

The runs in the outdoor area are filled with tens of thousands of trout at all different stages of development. Fish come in to breed in the fall and the babies stay here about 15-18 months – until they’re large enough to be released. If you visit at just the right time, you might see Table Rock Dam open in the background!

Just a note – As someone currently studying captive wildlife care and conservation who is pretty sensitive about how animals are treated, I’m not entirely sure how I feel about the whole hatchery thing in general. Trout aren’t even native to Missouri, but they’ve become a HUGE part of Branson Missouri fishing since they were introduced to Lake Taneycomo in 1959. I don’t know if the conditions are exactly ideal in terms of welfare, but I’d much rather have people out having a great time catching fish in the lake and eating that than buying fish from commercial fisheries that are endangering so many species of sharks and fish, plus the ocean ecosystems in general. The tour guides will tell you that due to how hot summers have been lately, they do lose quite a few fish to the heat, but on the other hand, all of these fish are totally protected from predators through their vulnerable youth stages. I do think the Dept. of Conservation give the trout the best treatment possible given the space and resources they have. I just wanted to mention all of this here because I do try to be careful about which animal-related tourist attractions I recommend visiting.  I still think the fish hatchery is one of the best free things to do in Branson, since it’s fun, free, something you can’t just see every day, and educational, but your opinions might differ.


map of Branson fish hatchery and trails

Other Things To Do at the Shepherd of the Hills Branson Fish Hatchery

You can definitely spend a few hours exploring everything to do on-site at the fish hatchery in Branson if the weather is nice! Here’s a handy checklist:

Things to do at the Branson Fish Hatchery:

  • Explore the conservation center and see some native wildlife.
  • Take the FREE fish hatchery tour
  • Visit the butterfly garden filled with native plants
  • Feed the fish (bring quarters!)
  • Explore the four nature trails
  • Get a fishing license and fish in Lake Taneycomo, just steps away!
  • Bring a picnic lunch and relax in the covered picnic pavilion.

I talk about the different nature/hiking trails in depth in by Branson Hiking Trail Guide, and I’m planning to write a detailed post just about the fish hatchery hiking trails soon, but overall they’re short, easy trails suitable to just about anyone, and three of the four have really stunning lake views!


Lake Taneycomo view from Branson fish hatchery trails


The trails start behind the picnic area just across the road from the conservation center. Look for these little bridges:


Branson hiking trails along Lake Taneycomo

You can find a map of the trails on the Missouri Department of Conservation Website.


While you’re out in this area of Branson, you may also want to check out the Dewey Short Visitor Center (also free but closed in winter!), the hiking trails at Table Rock State Park, go for a cruise on the Showboat Branson Belle, or have dinner or drinks at Chateau on the Lake! If you’re looking for more free things to do in Branson, I have a helpful list coming soon!




Branson Missouri fish hatchery trout

The Mary Margaret in Eureka Springs, Arkansas

The Mary Margaret in Eureka Springs, Arkansas

If you’re a regular visitor to this site, you might know that I LOVE visiting Eureka Springs, Arkansas. It’s only about an hour away from me but feels like it’s worlds away. Downtown Eureka Springs lodging is so much fun – it’s mostly either Victorian-era homes or historic hotels built in the early 1900s. When I started my search for a Eureka Springs Airbnb I came across one called the Mary Margaret guest house, which totally delighted me because that’s my mom’s name! And then by total coincidence, I was chatting with the PR manager for the Crescent Hotel and she said, “You should check out my coworker’s place, it’s called the Mary Margaret.” Seems like I was meant to stay here!

Eureka Springs Airbnb near downtown

One of the biggest selling points of the Mary Margaret is that it’s within walking distance of downtown! A two-minute walk downhill will bring you to The Grand Central Hotel & Spa and Eureka Live on Main Street, while about four minutes along a side street and down several flights of stairs will bring you to public parking area between the Eureka Springs Coffee House and Mud Street Cafe. (Can you tell coffee is my priority?) Both trips are a little longer coming back uphill – I’m in decent shape but there’s a reason Eureka Springs is known as “The Alps of the Ozarks”!


Mary Margaret Eureka Springs downtown map


You also get A PARKING SPACE!

Airbnb eureka springs downtown parking


Eureka Springs is one of those towns where finding parking can be a challenge and pretty much all of the public parking downtown is paid. Even some of the most popular Eureka Springs historic hotels have parking that’s either a bit of a walk from the building or that you take a shuttle to and from. Being able to park for free just a few steps from the room and just leave my car there for most of my stay was SO NICE! If you’re visiting during a special event or on a weekend during the busier months (pretty much everything except winter), I highly suggest finding a place like this that includes a good parking spot!

The outdoor areas are the second best part of the Mary Margaret.

Airbnb Eureka Springs porch


The Fox Den and the Guest Suite each have an outdoor space but if you go down the stairs, you’ll find a fun little outdoor area with a great woods view, pictured above. It also has swings! And you know I tested them out.

Victorian Airbnb eureka springs porch swings


I stayed in The Fox Den which is a separate building from the main house – they think was originally a carriage house. It’s a cozy studio-style room with everything you need for a comfortable stay.

Mary Margaret guest house victorian rental Eureka Springs Arkansas


It rained for an entire day when I was in town, so I really appreciated that the little walkway between the main house and Fox Den is covered!

airbnb eureka springs entrance

Entrance to the Fox Den

Personally, I *love* having a door code instead of a key when I’m staying in a vacation rental. I worked front desk in hotels for almost a decade, and people coming down to request a new key because they left theirs in the room was probably in the top 3 things that kept us busy. Locking yourself out of your room when you’re in a hotel with a 24-hour front desk is one thing, but I’m always SO paranoid that I’ll lose or forget the key when I’m staying at an Airbnb or VRBO!

downtown eureka springs airbnb with loft

The Fox Den’s loft is perfect if you have a child big enough to climb up and down the ladder but small enough to be comfortable with the lower ceiling and small mattress.

Lodging in eureka springs ar rental cottage

While being from the late 1800s is definitely part of this property’s charm, it does mean the Fox Den is not soundproof. There’s very little traffic on the street outside, but if a motorcycle or a loud truck goes by, you hear it. You also hear the rain and the birds, which is really nice, especially if you’re falling asleep on a rainy night. But you also hear the screen doors of the main house and anyone who might be outside. If you’re a light sleeper, you might want earplugs or a headband with built-in headphones designed for sleep like this one that I use, but if you’re a heavier sleeper or used to more sounds than I am, you’re probably fine.

Cute Airbnb Eureka Springs Historic

Having a microwave, Keurig, and mini-fridge is obviously super convenient but I loved that there were also thoughtful little extras like a little selection of books, a bottle opener, and a snack box perfect for those late-night cravings!

Unique places to stay in Eureka Springs snack box


Some of the dresser drawers had little extras like binoculars and a board game. There are also plenty of electric outlets, including USB outlets built into the lights over the bed for easy charging. The only thing I missed having was a bedside table.

A few of the fun decor details inside the Fox Den:



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A post shared by Crystal Ward (@andblueskyblog)

And a very quick video tour of the room!



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A post shared by Crystal Ward (@andblueskyblog)

The Fox Den has its own little balcony with a nice woods view:

Airbnb eureka springs arkansas



I also had the opportunity to peek into The Guest Suite at the Mary Margaret. It’s a bit smaller than the Fox Den, but the bathroom is larger and it has a closet!

unique places to stay in eureka springs

 eureka springs places to stay

unique places to stay in arkansas eureka springs

 downtown eureka springs lodging Mary Margaret


Overall, the Mary Margaret is a great choice if you are looking for a vacation rental close to downtown Eureka Springs. Being able to walk to town and have an assigned parking spot felt almost priceless, and having peaceful outdoor areas to hang out in was a huge bonus!

You can find the Mary Margaret Eureka Springs guest house on Instagram or check prices and availability on VRBO for the Fox Den and Guest Suite! Feel free to drop any questions in the comments and I’ll do my best to answer.

10 Things You Probably Didn’t Know About the Aquarium at the Boardwalk in Branson, MO

10 Things You Probably Didn’t Know About the Aquarium at the Boardwalk in Branson, MO

Branson Aquarium at the Boardwalk


It’s pretty hard to miss the giant octopus in Branson, MO. This shimmering silver sculpture overlooking the 76 Strip marks the entrance to the Aquarium at the Boardwalk, one of Branson’s newest and most enchanting attractions.


Image courtesy of Aquarium at the Boardwalk

Disclosure: I received complimentary admission to the Aquarium at the Boardwalk to facilitate my posts, but no payment was received and all opinions are my own.


The Aquarium at the Boardwalk opened in late 2020 and invites visitors to explore underwater wonders with more than 10,000 creatures from over 260 different species showcased in over 400,000 gallons of water.

While it’s easy to simply stroll through the exhibits wonderstruck by the fascinating fish that surround you, I wanted to put together a list of fun facts for people like me who delight in the details. The aquarium’s director of husbandry was kind enough to share his wealth of knowledge with me and answer a few million of my endless questions to help me create this post filled with fishy facts to keep in mind while visiting the Aquarium at the Boardwalk in Branson for an even more memorable experience.


octopus number graphic  Keep an eye out for octopuses! 

It’s not every day you see a 34-ton octopus. (Actually, if you *do* see one every day, I have questions.) The massive steel sculpture that decorates the aquarium entrance certainly sets the mood for the wonders inside. This 55-foot tall structure was created by the art studio Demiurge in Colorado and transported to Branson in pieces on a fleet of 27 flatbed trucks, which stretched the length of three football fields. (Am I the only one who thinks football would be more interesting with a giant octopus on the field?) After arriving in Missouri, the sculpture took six weeks to assemble. It instantly became a Branson icon and a popular spot for photos.


Octopus sculpture at aquarium in branson mo


The giant octopus sculpture outside is just the beginning! Inside the aquarium, you’ll encounter Aquarius the Giant Pacific Octopus at the souvenir photo spot and in the 5-D movie, as well as meeting the real deal in one of the first exhibits you come to. I’m a huge octopus fan, so I can’t think of a better way to begin your journey through the Aquarium at the Boardwalk!

Branson octopus going through tube in aquarium

Wondering about that tube that connects the two tanks? An octopus can fit through pretty much any hole that’s larger than their beak, which is the only non-squishy part of their body. This makes them experts at escape, since they can slip through any tiny opening in their habitat. Above, you can see Aquarius stretching an arm through the tube to decide if the seagrass is greener on the other side!

The octopus is a master of camouflage, though, so be sure to keep an eye out for Aquarius as you travel through the aquarium! There are nine hidden octopus sculptures to find as you explore, and spotting them is both surprisingly challenging and a lot of fun!

Aquarium in Branson Octopus Sculpture

If you read my other post about the Aquarium at the Boardwalk, you’ll have a good idea of where this one might be hiding!



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   The custom-made music sets the mood.

The first time I visited Branson’s Aquarium at the Boardwalk, I actually didn’t even notice the spellbinding soundtrack until I got home and looked at the videos I’d taken. It enhances the experience without being intrusive, which isn’t surprising since it was created by Jay Flood, an award-winning composer who has worked on movie and video game soundtracks. When you first enter the building, you’ll hear current pop music that amps you up and fits the boardwalk theme, but once you reach the Grand Aquarium, you’re immersed in an original score that makes the beautiful visuals feel even more cinematic.



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The perfect soundtrack for a sharky shipwreck!


cownose ray branson boardwalk aquarium


Branson MO Aquarium Mealtimes are carefully measured… and kind of mouthwatering?

If fresh seafood gets you excited, you might be a little jealous of what the fish here get to eat every day. Restaurant-quality ingredients ranging from tiny brine shrimp to fresh leafy greens make up the menus, which are designed to mimic what each species would eat in the wild as closely as possible. As you can imagine, that can be a bit of a challenge when you live in a landlocked state!

Many of the aquarium residents, like the sharks and stingrays, are carefully observed by one team member as another feeds them so that detailed records can be kept about exactly what and how much each individual animal eats. These records make it easy to spot changes in appetite and watch for food preferences. Want to know what this particular cownose ray ate for breakfast a year ago? That info is filed away somewhere!


Coral Reef Aquarium Branson Missouri

 Octopus aquarium Branson The systems that keep the water clean and the fish happy are mind-blowingly complex.

I had the opportunity to peek into a few different “backstage” rooms where the water is transformed from ordinary tap water to fish-friendly saltwater with the perfect temperature, PH levels, and salinity to keep the aquarium residents happy and healthy. If you’ve ever had an aquarium at home, you have an idea of just how tricky keeping everything balanced can be, but imagine having to fine-tune water conditions for hundreds of different species! There are more than two miles of pipes beneath the building, ultraviolet sterilization, a whole separate system for the touch tanks to handle water that hundreds of human hands go into each day, an entire life support team in charge of water quality, and even smart technology that can send an alert to staff members if something goes wrong in the middle of the night.


School of Fish Branson Boardwalk Aquarium

Octopus Branson Aquarium at the Boardwalk  Social Life in the Sea Is Complex

Complex social lives aren’t just for reality TV and vague social media posts. While many people think of fish as very simple creatures just swimming through life, their social lives are often more intricate than you might imagine!

coral reef aquarium in branson moCoexisting in the Coral Reef

When designing the Grand Aquarium, which is home to more than 100 species and over 2,000 total fish, the aquarium team had to choose fish that could live together in harmony for their entire lives, which meant picking species that wouldn’t eat each other (always a plus), wouldn’t aggressively compete for food and territory, and would gravitate towards different parts of the exhibit.

The structure was designed to mimic a natural habitat as closely as possible so that, for example, smaller fish who would naturally spend their time hanging out in the shadow of a coral shelf can do exactly that, while others like sharks and rays have plenty of open water to glide around in. Can you imagine how much knowledge and experience it takes to choose fish who not only meet all of the above criteria for getting along but are also beautiful, fun to watch, and able to be obtained from ethical sources? I hope they’re incredibly proud of the thriving underwater community they’ve put together because it seems to be a huge success. It’s almost impossible to pry me away from this exhibit, which has multiple viewing points throughout the aquarium.


Grand Aquarium at the Boardwalk Branson

Majestic Sea Flap Flap (That’s definitely a scientific name.)


But it gets much more intricate than just sharing space and food! I became an instant fan of these colorful creatures:

Twospot Anthias at Aquarium in Branson

On Wednesdays, they wear pink.

While their bold fashion choices definitely get a thumbs-up from me, what makes the Two-Spotted Anthias so cool is their social structure, which is common among several Anthias species. They have an intricate social hierarchy that influences their coloring (They become more vibrant as they climb the social ladder), they’re all born female, and if there’s no male around, one of the large dominant females will just become male. Problem solved!

Branson Boardwalk Aquarium pink two spot Anthias

This fish is just daring you to challenge her place in the social hierarchy. Bring it on. 


Branson Aquarium Mermaid Palace

Image courtesy of the Aquarium at the Boardwalk in Branson

Branson Aquarium Fun Facts   Don’t overlook the art!

As a person who spent their last birthday flying 1,100 miles to go to an immersive art exhibit with my BFF I might be a little biased here, but the incredible artwork that decorates the aquarium really adds to the experience. I was chatting with Dani, one of the awesome aquarists who works so hard to take care of the animals here, and she mentioned that all of the amazing artistic details almost make it feel like an art gallery filled with fish! (Be sure to check out her Instagram – amazing fish photos and you’ll learn so many fun facts!) If you’re curious about the artists who made the aquarium so beautiful, check out this page on the Aquarium at the Boardwalk website to learn all about who created each aspect of the overall design.

The Mermaid Palace (pictured above) is decked out in gold leaf, custom-designed flooring, hand-painted murals, and hand-carved statues. It’s even prettier in person with the lighting and the music and the swirling sardines in the center display!

Branson Missouri Aquarium Mermaid Room



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The beauty isn’t limited to just this room, though, you’ll spot gorgeous design details all throughout the aquarium.

And speaking of artwork…


trompe l'olei mural john pugh branson octopus

Aquarium in Branson Missouri Visitor Info     The back of the building features a breakout work of art!

I’m embarrassed to admit how long it took me to notice the BACK of the aquarium. It’s easy to get distracted by the giant silver octopus out front, but the more time you spend examining the mural on the other side of the building, the more amazing you realize it is!


John Pugh mural in Branson

This spectacular optical illusion was painted by John Pugh, who specializes in Trompe l’oeil images (which literally translates to “deceiving the eye”). This acclaimed artist is also an underwater enthusiast, and he used the Giant Pacific Octopus’s reputation for being a skilled escape artist to create this captivating mural of an octopus literally breaking out of the building!


  So Many Sardines and Spectacular Seahorses!

We discussed the gorgeous Mermaid Palace back in #6, but the incredible art isn’t all there is to see in that room!


Branson Boardwalk Inside Aquarium Sardines

If the central cylinder of sardines was one of those games where you guess how many jellybeans are in a jar, I would have lost. Terribly.

This fantastic fishnado is actually home to almost 3,000 sardines – by far the most of any species in the building!

Aquarium in Branson Missouri Seahorses

The seahorse exhibit in this room is also noteworthy! Most aquariums have fairly small seahorse tanks since they don’t get very big (lined seahorses like these only grow to about 6″ long), but the Aquarium at the Boardwalk wanted to give these beautiful animals a palatial residence! Be sure to keep an eye out for a the Mandarin Dragonet fish that share this tank with the seahorses. They’re gorgeous!


branson missouri aquarium scuba diver cleaning

Branson MO aquarium info So much love and dedication goes into making your experience memorable.

From sparkling clean glass to happy, healthy animals, so much work goes into making the aquarium both beautiful and a place you can feel good about visiting. It actually reminded me a bit of my Walt Disney World cast member days because just like at the theme parks, there are a million things going on “backstage” to make the guest experience great that you’d never think about – chopping up ingredients for meals in the fully-equipped kitchen, testing water samples, and even scuba diving into the big tank for regular cleanings.

Branson aquarium inside

This is also a good place to mention what goes into bringing the fish to their new home at the Aquarium at the Boardwalk in Branson! Every single fish you see was ethically sourced and transported as quickly and carefully as possible to ensure their health and safety. This involved some long road trips, including one to pick up the resident sea turtle, who was injured by a boat and not eligible to be released into the wild after she was rehabilitated. Since sea turtles are endangered, the US Fish & Wildlife Service has incredibly strict regulations for facilities that care for them (Yes, I read through their entire document on care requirements – #nerd), so you know she’ll be living her absolute best life while hopefully inspiring visitors to protect the oceans and their inhabitants!

Sea Turtle Aquarium in Branson Missouri

Branson Boardwalk Aquarium Fun Facts   You’re basically saving the planet by visiting.

Your visit to the Aquarium at the Boardwalk in Branson helps to support the Coral Restoration Foundation, which is using innovative methods to restore the devastated colonies in Florida’s Coral Reef. Coral reefs are incredibly important – They’re complex ecosystems that support around 25% of all marine life, reduce coastal erosion, and are even being used to develop new life-saving medicines for humans! Without them, the fishing industry would collapse, the loss of habitat would be devastating to countless plants and animals, the tourism around snorkeling and diving would drastically diminish, and weather events like typhoons and hurricanes would wreak even more havoc on coastal cities.


Coral Restoration at Branson Aquarium

Image courtesy of the Aquarium at the Boardwalk in Branson

You can see dozens of different kinds of coral in the aquarium and learn more about how amazing corals are and how the we can support them in this interview on the Coral Restoration Foundation’s website! (No seriously, it’s a great read! Go learn things!)


zebra eels inside Branson Aquarium

Which of these 10 fun facts got you the most excited to visit the Aquarium at the Boardwalk in Branson? Leave a comment and let me know! And as great as it looks in all of the photos here and over on my Instagram, it’s definitely something you have to see in person! If you’re planning a trip to Branson, be sure to put the aquarium on your must-do list!

Check out my other Aquarium at the Boardwalk in Branson post for Branson Aquarium prices, ticket deals, and other handy info that’s helpful to know before you go!

Branson Aquarium at the Boardwalk Fun Facts