Disney in Missouri?

We cautiously make our way further North in the Spring of 2022 from Southern Missouri to snowless but blustery Northern Missouri. There we check out the “hometown” of Walt Disney and his family.

Yes! Did you know that “Disney” is in Missouri as well as California and Florida? Actually, Walt Disney’s family were in several places between Orlando, Chicago, and Kansas City in the late 1800s and early 1900s before Walt went out to California to build the empire you know about today. We purposefully made a detour in our return to Wisconsin in the spring of 2022 to visit the hometown of the Disney family, which is in Marceline (pro. mar-se-lean), Missouri. Walt’s impression of this small town stayed with him, memories he reproduced in his parks and at his home in California.

The short of it? If you are a Disney fanatic interested in Walt’s life history, the museum is worth it! However, do not make it a destination alone. Stop in if you are driving by the area.

But first, before we could get to this area from Branson, Missouri, we had to make an overnight stop in Springfield at Fantastic Caverns after which we stopped for the week in Macon, Missouri, at the Long Branch State Park.

Fantastic Caverns

Most tourist attractions take your picture and then try to sell it to you as an upcharge for the experience. Not Fantastic Caverns, every group on the tour was given a copy of the photo to take home as a souvenir.

 

Believed to have developed over thousands of years, there are countless stalagmites and stalactites throughout the caverns. This exceptional one was 3 to 4 feet in length and were equally impressive pairs reaching up from the floor to this ceiling feature.

Both of us like caves anyway, but what better can a cave be than to be guided by a Jeep through it? Plus it was a Harvest Hosts site so we could use it as a stop-over point between Branson and Macon which are on opposite ends of Missouri. Fantastic Caverns are located Northwest of Springfield along some small, winding, country roads that are a bit white-knuckling to get to it. Honestly driving some of these roads with the motorhome, and with the Jeep in tow, is scarier than rock crawling with the Jeep.

There is your traditional souvenir “junk” shop in the waiting area with some static displays to educate you on the area and the cave before your group is called. Obviously, the caverns are pretty sizable when you can drive a Jeep through them but there are some points where the driver will warn you that you need to crouch down to avoid hitting your head. They even provide the entire group with a photo from inside the cave at no additional cost!  This tour is well worth your time and money.

We head into the mouth of the cavern being pulled by a modified Jeep that burns liquid propane instead of standard fuels. The Jeep carried a lucky family and it pulled a wagon of the other tourists behind.

 

There are numerous static displays outside the caverns to check out too. You can pose with one of their retired Jeeps!

 

You do not just drive in and out of the cave. There are numerous stops along the way where the guide will stop and get out to tell you what you are looking at in the cave. Our particular guide was a proud geologist that didn’t use cute stories to make the cave more interesting, she told actual interesting facts!
You will stay on the Jeep, or the trailer it is pulling, throughout the entire ride of the cave. The ride is very ADA accessible in that way, but getting to and into the transport was a completely different story. They did provide plenty of time but their facility was very difficult to navigate with an electric scooter.
Most of the time there is plenty of headroom, but there were several times when Jason had to duck down to avoid hitting his head. Fortunately, there is plenty of warning from the guides.

 

As a Harvest Host site, they are embracing RVs by having adequate parking alongside the driveway. We talked with a van lifer that was in the area for the overlander expedition at the fairgrounds and he was turned away for the night since he was not a member. The only downfall of this location is the constant public address system that is on every light pole in the parking lot. “Why they don’t turn it off at night,” will be a question running through your head that will drive you as crazy as the announcements themselves!

Both the loudest and quietest locations ever! You are out in the middle of the country on the hillside but unfortunately parked directly under a 24×7 public address system announcing do’s and don’ts for the cave visit! Regardless, this was a great Harvest Hosts location to visit!

Long Branch State Park

We were able to snag a decent RV site at Long Branch State Park Northwest of Macon, Missouri, from Sunday through Thursday night. This is pretty typical of our travel pattern, where we can get the “off nights” during the week and then have trouble with weekend nights during the normal camping season. The campground is at the “back” of the state park and you will need to travel typical low-speed park roads for about 10 minutes to get from the park entrance to your campsite. Our site was concrete and decently level, however, that did not appear to be the case for all sites.

RV site #78 at Long Branch State Park, is very level and just the right length. There is zero shade from the South. We had to pull down the hill to the right and then back up to the top of the hill to get out, the loop at the bottom of the hill by the lake is very tight.

A backup plan for this state park in this area is the Macon County Fairgrounds RV park. There you will get full hookups for the same price as the state park and you will be just one block off the main drag in town but on the edge of town overlooking Missouri farmland. We spoke with some fairground volunteers there and the campground is mostly available outside of fair dates. The only downfall we saw was the lack of a solid base course on the sites, you will be on grass which may be a problem if wet. You also may need a good amount of hose depending on the site, the water spigot is at every other site. This campground appears to be open year-round.

 

Walt Disney Hometown Museum

We rarely pose with the characters when in the parks, but here at the Disney Hometown Museum everyone gets a chance so they can take your picture!

After enjoying lunch in town we drove around the little town and spotted the architecture Walt based the main streets of Disneyland and Magic Kingdom upon. The Walt Disney Hometown Museum is located in the railroad depot. We even got goosebumps when a freight train went barrelling through town shaking the little depot. This museum is focused on Walt’s family living in this area for a few years in Walt’s adolescent years. There are artifacts from the family here, but it is not a Disney family sponsored museum.

Marceline seems to have a love-hate relationship with the Disney Family. Every window on Main Street is marked using the “Disney” font, but you also get the sense they are looking to be their own identity. The reality is that this is a small northern Missouri town that we sought to visit, eat lunch at and experience the place Walt and his family once lived for a short time. It is true, you can see how Walt envisioned the Main Street USA concept for his parks, including the central park and the architecture that inspired it. (Mural just off of Main St. on a side street.)

The museum fails to convey what it really is about, it really undersells the importance of the history it contains. If you are interested in Walt’s family history while in Marceline then you need to check out this museum. You can get through the museum in a few hours, not more than half a day even if you read and watched everything.

Museum sign on the wall, "Walt and his sister, Ruth, spent hours playing in the barn. Under a circus tent he fashioned of old burlap bags, Walt tried to make disinterested cats perform tricks. he charged neighborhood children 10 cents but they left unimpressed and Flora made her son refund the dimes. Walt built an exact replica of the Marcelin barn for his California estate workshop."
Our absolute favorite sign at the museum, telling of Walt’s early escapades that he had the talent to put on a show!

 

The story behind the models by Dale Varner.

 

Dale Varner was a local resident to Disneyland and created these unofficial intensely detailed models of Disneyland. You can almost envision yourself walking through Disneyland and hearing the sounds of the park!

 

Many of the collections are loaned to the museum for display. Disney has had an Ambassadors program, which is limited to just a few people per year and those people likely maintain that connection for life through the museum.

North Bound!

The wind was crazy the entire week we were here. We were rocked by 60 MPH winds and rain for almost the entire week. That gave both of us some crazy headaches from time to time as the barometer kept changing. We were surprised that the park staff did not enforce a no-burning ban in those winds and we watched some crazy locals pull in and build a fire. Fortunately, they were downwind of us and nothing happened, but we shook our heads watching it.

These brothers do indeed get along sometimes, especially when the motorhome is rocking from 60 MPH winds blowing outside and somewhat inside too. Snuggle time for both of them to keep warm.

In the final stretch of our return from Florida to Wisconsin over the spring, we try to beat the winds by driving early in the morning and preparing to stop when the winds picked up. We made it as far as the Iowa/Minnesota border before we had to pull over into a casino we had identified using our membership to overnightrvparking.com.

We made it back to our home base in Wisconsin just in time for Easter weekend. Given the forecast of diesel fuel prices for the summer, and Jason’s work projects, the plan is to stay still for the summer.

We were not along by any means on this overnighting at the casino. The windows were crossing the highway at over 60 MPH and more than a dozen rigs made the stop for the night.
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