Families united with fun and adventure at Lake of the Ozarks
By Michael Cochran
It’s not as unusual as you might think. Since 1949, more than 2,500 couples have exchanged vows in Bridal Cave, named by Glamour magazine as one of the nation’s top ten unique wedding venues. It was June 1964 when my parents were married inside Bridal Cave, the entrance of which overlooks a scenic expanse of Lake of the Ozarks from the side of Thunder Mountain. When they announced their intention to reaffirm their vows at the same spot for their upcoming 50th anniversary, the celebration quickly turned into a family reunion. Fueled by a flood of enthusiastic responses from our far-flung clan, there were ultimately 28 attendees who convened for a very special Lake of the Ozarks vacation. And why not? For a group with ages ranging from 3 to 73, you couldn’t script a better setting to guarantee fun times and happy memories.
Fish, shop, play
With over 1,100 miles of twisting shoreline and 55,000 acres of surface water, Lake of the Ozarks offers some of the finest fresh water fishing in the country. The largest of Missouri’s great lakes, local residents devote years to learning the ins-and-outs of where and when the bass, crappie, catfish and walleye are biting. The out-of-area anglers among our group were well-served by the lake’s Fishing Guide Service. Their catch provided the bounty for a family fish fry that first evening in fine style.
Those who didn’t want to fish, including me, my wife and son, went on a morning safari through some of the lake’s outstanding shopping venues, then spent the balance of the day at Putt N Stuff Family Fun Center. Putt N Stuff features the area’s liveliest high-tech bumper cars. My son took great delight in sparring with his cousins, who battled back with gleeful gusto. I captured a video of their antics that will surely be a family treasure in years to come.
It took the allure of the Fun Center’s two 18-hole miniature golf courses to pull them from their demolition derby. Both courses feature the latest in challenging, fun-inducing designs, and with a family like ours, the competition was fierce. After lots of cheering and good-natured heckling, Cousin Ben was declared the overall champion. We corralled a bystander to take a group picture with us posing, arms raised, as though we’d won the World Cup, giving everyone a personal keepsake to commemorate our time together.
Day two brought us all to Big Surf Waterpark, another family fun lake venue. I joined the kids in taking the long twisting slides down the 300-foot Challenger Flumes, but what I enjoyed most was relaxing alongside my wife on inner tubes as the Lazy River’s gentle current propelled us on a winding course through the Big Surf complex. From that vantage point, we could keep an eye on our group while enjoying the cool water.
I would have been content spending the afternoon lolling on my inner tube, but my son, Ricky, insisted on the two of us doing Zambezi Falls together. I let him persuade me, but began having doubts as we climbed the stairs to the skyscraper height of the launch pad. Zambezi Falls is an exhilarating four-story waterslide half pipe. Cross your feet, put your chin to your chest, hold tight and fly. What a ride! Twice was plenty thrill for me, but Ricky and the other kids couldn’t get enough, making the breathtaking run over and over again. It was a great day for every member of our family, from toddlers to grandparents.
Day three was the big day as we convened at Bridal Cave to witness the renewal of vows. Located in Thunder Mountain Park, it’s a uniquely beautiful place, with multi-tiered decks overlooking the shimmering lake, a public boat dock, and a shop specializing in rocks, minerals, gemstones and educational materials for rock hounds of all ages.
Before the ceremony, while Nana touched up her makeup and my wife put a flower in her hair, Granddad, Ricky and I explored the unexpectedly fascinating gift shop in search of souvenirs and postcards. On display near the shop’s front entrance are photo albums containing pictures of every couple married there over the past six decades. We started flipping pages and sure enough, along with numerous others from June of 1964, we found the chapel photo of Granddad and Nana on their wedding day. “Hey, we made the history book!” Granddad chirped.
We entered the cave, enjoying the rejuvenating 60-degree climate, and made our way to the subterranean chapel. The minister’s voice echoed off the ancient formations as he performed the ceremony. Subtle lighting added an almost mystical glow to the witnesses gathered to honor the couple whose love and commitment had endured half a century. There wasn’t a dry eye to be found as they exchanged their vows and once again kissed as newlyweds.
Afterward, we took the hour-long tour of geologic wonders, since Granddad said they hadn’t spent much time exploring the cave the last time they were here. Positive energy was flowing, and the seasoned couple was beaming—I suspect due to connecting with their clan as much as in celebration of their enduring marriage.
Ode to Lake of the Ozarks
That night, we all sat on the deck, taking in the enchanting view of twinkling lights on the far shore as passing boats cut wakes through the moonlit water. We talked of the old days, the new memories we were making, and the good times to come. As bedtime neared, we agreed that Lake of the Ozarks was the perfect place for this time of family celebration. It couldn’t have happened anywhere else quite like it did here.
Bring your family together with a fun Lake of the Ozarks adventure!