Johnny Morris is part Willy Wonka and part Walt Disney…but a “golden ticket” into his newest “kingdom” can be had by anyone who dares to be dazzled by his “Wonders of Wildlife National Museum and Aquarium” in Springfield, Missouri.
The words “museum” and “aquarium” are severe understatements when attempting to label this major tourist attraction since the size and the interactive nature of the adventure Morris has created are vast and all-encompassing.
He founded Bass Pro Shops by selling fishing lures out of the trunk of his car in the early 1970’s, and is now, with over 100 big box destination stories – plus his recent purchase of Cabellas – a world leader in conservation efforts.
World leaders, in fact, attended the recent opening ceremonies for the “Wonders of Wildlife,” including former Presidents Jimmy Carter and George W. Bush, who visited and participated along with actors Kevin Costner and Mark Wahlberg.
“I wanted to be the first to see what Johnny had built here. He continues to out-do himself. The amount of vision and planning, and the artistry that goes into something like this is masterful, it really is,” said Wahlberg, who scuba dived on a “ship wreck” in one of the massive aquarium tanks. While tourists won’t be diving, they’ll feel like they are thanks to tanks which fully surround visitors and curved glass which provides the sensation of being underwater with a shark swimming right at them.
Guests may not ever visit Africa, but they’ll know what it feels like to spot a lion crouched in the high grass sizing them up while they traipse across the savanna. The collection of live animals and settings is as if Johnny Morris wanted to create a Noah’s Ark of not only creatures but also 4-D natural environments, including temperatures, scents, and hair-raising surround sound.
There are also plenty of souvenirs from Morris’ worldwide expeditions plus various fishing “Halls of Fame.” A section of the museum is dedicated to the outdoor pursuits and passions of U.S. Presidents, including a replica of the “Bass Force One” fishing boat (painted to resemble Air Force One) he gave to “W,” the 43rd president; and a NASCAR museum showcasing genuine race cars banked on the corner of a realistic oval track.
The attraction is attached to a massive Bass Pro Shop, but one of the more charming historical elements is the life-sized replica of the very first, tiny, quaint Bass Pro Shop.
Thoroughly experiencing “Wonders of Wildlife,” open year round and fully indoors, takes and entire day. For a full vacation to the area, “Big Cedar Lodge,” the fish camp in Branson Morris converted into a full-scale fishing, boating, and hiking luxury resort – surrounded by 3,000 acres of Ozark Mountain wilderness – is 40 miles away. An all-water sports marina, lodges and cottages on Table Rock Lake, plus a spa, fitness center and countless activities are available, plus golf, including, eventually, the first-ever public course designed by Tiger Woods, which is one of the additional courses now under construction.
Wonders of Wildlife is open daily from 10 a.m. – 8 p.m., excluding Christmas Day. All-access tickets are $39.95 for adults and $23.95 for children. For more information visit www.WondersOfWildlife.org
Travel Writer Michael Patrick Shiels may be contacted at MShiels@aol.com His radio program may be heard via MiBigShow.com or its’ one-touch app. His latest book is “I Call Him Mr. President – Stories of Fishing, Golf and Life with my Friend George H.W. Bush”