When we set out to book a trip to Houston to attend a family member’s graduation, the plans quickly developed into a full blown road trip. Why spend just a week in Houston, when you can spend two weeks touring the American South by car?
My parents and mother-in-law would be joining Pamela and myself, so what a great opportunity to visit two highly significant places for them. My Mum has been an Elvis Presley fan since he swung his hips into action way back in 1956, so we made plans to visit Memphis. My Dad, on the other hand, has been interested in the John F Kennedy assassination since that shot rang out on a November afternoon in 1963, so we incorporated time in Dallas as well.
Back home, our itinerary planning skills went into overdrive, plotting out a packed four days in Memphis, that sprawling Tennessee city by the wide Mississippi River. Unsurprisingly, there is much to see and do in Memphis if you are fan of Elvis, and too much for just one blog post. So in this edition, I am just focusing on our trip to Graceland, and future blogs will cover the other attractions to be had.
We soon realised that we had struck lucky, as Graceland had received a significant expansion and the new ‘Elvis Presley’s Memphis’ entertainment complex was open ready for our visit in May. Great timing!
We had decided to book the Elvis Entourage VIP Tour (which cost $98.75 per person) online. The main bonus of this package is that you get front-of-the-line Mansion access. This cut waiting times down significantly. The Graceland Mansion is separate from the entertainment complex, and can only be accessed by bus from the complex, and our package allowed us to get taken to the mansion and back again without delay. The package also gives you a Keepsake Backstage Pass and access to the Exclusive VIP Exhibit. We found that this exhibit, however, was unimpressive, certainly compared to the rest of the exhibits.
The tour of the Graceland Mansion was fascinating, and you were led around by an interactive iPad that you were issued with. The tour included only the ground and basement floors of the house, which still gave you access to the living room, Elvis’ parents’ bedroom, the kitchen, the TV room (which was a crazy entertainment room with three TVs side by side), the fun pool room, and of course, the famous Jungle Room.
Obviously the Jungle Room was everyone’s favourite! Who wouldn’t want green carpet on the floors, walls and ceiling??
Outside, we visited the Trophy Building, which gave a fascinating insight into the life and times of Elvis through his personal mementos. My favourite displays were the homemade films that Elvis shot, showing fun times that he'd had at his sanctuary. We also had a chance to view Priscilla's wedding dress and Lisa Marie's cot.
There was also the chance to visit Vernon’s (Elvis’ father) Office and the Racquetball Building.
The tour of the mansion finishes off at the Meditation Garden. As the name suggests, this was a peaceful and touching resting place for Elvis and his family. Even though I wasn’t Elvis’ biggest fan, I couldn’t help but shed a little tear while standing at his grave. The whole Graceland experience was so well done and I really felt a connection with the man himself after immersing myself in all of the displays. After walking around Graceland, it would be hard not to feel some sort of emotion while paying respects at his shrine.
The tour round the Graceland Mansion was certainly the highlight of the visit, but it is by no means the only thing to see. Of particular interest to me was the Presley Motors Automobile Museum. I love my classic cars, and this was a great chance to see the famous Pink Cadillac (which he eventually gifted to his mother Gladys), as well as the 1960 MG used by Elvis in Blue Hawaii, and perhaps his favourite car, the 1973 Stutz Blackhawk. As well as the cars, I was really impressed with the museum itself, as it was spacious and well laid out, giving all of his many cars the space to really shine.
There was also the Presley Cycles exhibit; the Private Presley: Elvis in the Army Exhibit; Icons: The Influence of Elvis Presley Exhibit; and the Mystery Train: The Sam Phillips Exhibit, which describes the story of the record producer that discovered Elvis.
Special mention should also be made to the Elvis: The Entertainer Career Museum. I must have spent almost an hour studying this amazing collection of jumpsuits and memorabilia!
The visit was rounded off with a short walk across the carpark to the Elvis’ Jets Exhibit. On show was his 1958 Convair 880, named Lisa Marie, and his smaller Lockheed Jet Star. Full access is given to the Convair, which you walk through, checking out his living room, conference room and even his bed, complete with oversized seat belt!
As I am sure you will have gathered by now – there is a lot to do and see at Graceland! We spent five hours there, and anyone thinking of going, should set aside at least 4 hours. As well as the exhibits, the complex has good facilities and restaurant options, and lots of opportunities to buy Elvis merchandise.
Join us next time when we visit two of Elvis' favourite restaurants, and eat his favourite dishes.
Until then, happy reading and safe travels.