This summer, Ripley Entertainment will be opening a brand new, patriotic-themed family-friendly experience replacing Ride the Ducks. There will be an interactive outdoor maze, indoor laser tag, and more, with 10% of all proceeds from the attraction, with a minimum amount of $100,000, to be donated to the first responders “who make the Branson community safer – specifically local police, the fire department, and EMS.Moreover, all first responders and military will be offered discounted admission to the attraction,” according to Ripley Entertainment.
The attraction will be opened along Highway 76 in Branson in the same location as the former Ride the Ducks business. The company closed Ride the Ducks after the deadly sinking of one of its boats on Table Rock Lake. The amphibious duck boat sank amid strong winds, killing 16 passengers and a crew member.
In the face of lawsuits, Ripley closed the Branson Ride the Ducks, releasing a statement that said in part that it had been “an important part of the Branson community for 47 years. We are deeply appreciative of the support we have received. Branson Ride the Ducks will not operate this season. Our building and property are a gateway to the economic engine of this community, however, and we want to ensure it continues to contribute during the upcoming season. To do so, we will be offering an all-new visitor experience at this location.” The company relates that more information about Branson Top Ops will be coming soon, and art renderings depict and bright red, white, and blue patterned building with a military jeep in front of it.
The attraction will open this summer, 2019, with a prospective opening date of Memorial Day Weekend.According to Suzanne Smagala-Potts, Ripley Entertainment Inc. public relations manager, “Branson thrives on tourism and we didn’t want the building to not operate and contribute to Branson’s economy for 2019," Smagala-Potts said. “We also want to be able to employ people in the city. We’re very grateful that some of our staff from Ride the Ducks are going to be joining us on our Top Ops team.”
Looking ahead, the Branson Aquarium will be opening in spring 2020. The new aquarium recently had $51 million in funding approved and is also known as the Aquarium at the Boardwalk.
The aquarium is planned as an adventure in which visitors take a walking journey through the world’s oceans, with looks at colorful fish, seahorses, octopi, and sharks. The project will be completed by developer Kuvera Partners in stages, and take up 46,000-square-feet on the site of the former Grand palace in Branson.
Kuvera Partners bought the former theatre four years ago. Through its affiliated entity Branson Entertainment Center – Branson, LLC, Kuvera plans to finance the attraction using $15 million (29.4%) of its own equity, $29 million (56.9%) in debt equity, and $7 million (13.7%) in Tax Increment Financing or TIF assistance.
Like many Branson attractions, the exterior will be part of the entertainment and a draw for guests. And, it will be as much an adventure experience as an educational aquarium itself. Once they’ve entered the aquarium, guests will be able to control a color-changing environment in the Jelly Fish Infinity Room. They will be able to travel through a tunnel inside the attraction, and pass into what is billed as an ancient, sunken city. The attraction starts with creating what Kuvera describes as “the atmosphere for a classic boardwalk” and moves into bringing visitors “under the sea” to explore and play, while enjoying up-close views of sea animals.
Another aspect of the aquarium will be the “Mermaid Palace,” a themed-area in which schooling fish, sea horses, and butterfly fish will be on display. Guests will be able to interact with a touch pool and visit a coral reef, as well; there will be photo ops with a high-tech diving suit and inside a fish bowl. In the touch pool, animal life will include horseshoe crabs, cow-nose rays and bamboo sharks.
For the smallest guests, a themed children’s play area is in the works. There, tots will be able to climb a replica of a giant ocean jellyfish, or sea nettle, inside a 14-foot net-enclosed climbing area. There will also be a slide that takes its riders “through a swarm of spiny Lionfish.”
A ground-breaking ceremony took place in February; there Kuvera Partners’ Tej Sundher related that the company was excited to be working to revitalize the Grand Palace property and expressed gratitude toward everyone who allowed the project to move forward. “We are thrilled to be this close to having the opportunity to clean up the Grand Palace property and create an exciting, thriving attraction.” Kuvera Partners believe it will be a strong draw for visitors to Branson, and has modeled itself and all planned exhibits on both “fish and fun.”
Sundher states that redeveloping the Grand Palace site with an aquarium is "the most impactful way to reactivate this key section of the Highway 76 Strip.”
Sundher explains that the company studied the Branson market for three years, and determined an aquarium would have the greatest positive impact on the area for visitation. The company partnered with H2R Market Research to conduct consumer testing for the planned aquarium.
Kuvera Partners is working on the planning and design for the project with the St. Louis-based PGAV Destinations, which also designed the Georgia Aquarium. Kuvera itself also operates an existing Branson attraction, the Hollywood Wax Museum Entertainment Center, Castle of Chaos, Hannah’s Maze of Mirrors, and Shoot for the Stars Mini Golf.