Monday, September 27, 2010

Touristy Tours Part 3: Boring But Practical Graceland Tips

My last post was an emotional journey through Graceland, the home of Elvis Presley.

This post is a little more mundane – it’s the boring but basic things I’d recommend you do to make your rock ‘n’ roll pilgrimage to Memphis, Tennesse as smooth as possible.

Beale St Blues
Whilst conducting my recent jaunt to the home of The King I stayed in Downtown Memphis, where there are plenty of really good hotels at affordable prices - most will have rooms for under $100 a night. I would recommend staying Downtown for the atmosphere and convenience (it’s close to the famous and fantastic Beale Street). That is unless you’re really set on staying at the famous Heartbreak Hotel, located just behind the main Graceland entrance, which is also a unique experience, and the choice of many die hard Elvis fans. Just beware, if you’re staying at the Heartbreak Hotel, there isn’t much else to do in the area except tour Graceland, and Elvis Presley Boulevard is pretty seedy either side of Graceland. However, you’ve also got access to a free bus, which will take you to Downtown Memphis.

Personal jet anyone? The King's 'Lisa Marie'
If you want to do the musical double (both Graceland and Sun Studio, birth place of rock n’ roll) downtown Memphis is a great place to stay.

Sun Studio is about a 15 minute walk from the hotel area of Union Street. A tour of the famed recording studios, which gave birth to records by Jerry Lee Lewis, Elvis, Johnny Cash and Carl Perkins (otherwise known as the Million Dollar Quartet) is worth the visit. The building is steeped with musical history - you can just about feel it in your bones when you arrive. When you’re finished the guided tour (I challenge any music lover to take the guided tour and not get chills listening to the very first rock ‘n’ roll recordings!) a bus will arrive. It does a loop between Sun Studios, the Memphis Rock ‘n’ Soul Museum, Heartbreak Hotel and Graceland – and it’s free! You get to ride to the spiritual home of The King in air-conditioned comfort, while watching an Elvis movie or show special on the flat screen TV.

Sun Studio -  birthplace of rock 'n' roll
Once you arrive at Graceland’s main building (which is across the road from Elvis’ actual home), everything is very user-friendly. Tickets are the first port of call, and you have a few options. The mansion tour tickets are around US$30 for adults, a few dollars cheaper for seniors and kids. For a couple more dollars the Platinum ticket includes the mansion tour, tour of Elvis’ two custom aeroplanes, the car museums and several other exhibits. For the serious Elvis fan there’s the VIP ticket, which includes everything in the Platinum plus a special extra exhibit at the mansion, front of the line access and a keepsake pass. You can be a VIP for around $69.

From the ticket building you can hop in a bus and meander slowly across Elvis Presley Boulevard and through the colonial style (musical) gates of the Graceland mansion grounds. The stately home is fringed by rolling green lawns and large lush green trees. More about the amazing tour here.

Once you’re done in the mansion – there’s still plenty more to see. If you’re an Elvis lover, you’ll want to set aside a whole day for Graceland – it’s not just a tour of Elvis’ former home – it’s also a multiple-museum experience.

I’d recommend hitting the mansion first, as it gives the necessary context for the Graceland museums, which include his car collection and seasonal exhibitions, showcasing Elvis’ infamously flamboyant wardrobe and possessions, including his Convair 880 plane and the smaller Hound Dog II Lockheed Jetstar aircraft.

The Elvis car museum
There are multiple souvenir stores, filled to the brim with Elvis paraphernalia and as corny as it can feel – it is also deliciously exciting for any Elvis-lover.

After all the tours and sight seeing – there is one thing I implore you to do before you leave the hallowed grounds of Graceland. For the love of god, eat a fried peanut butter and banana sandwich (you can get them for about $4 at the diner near the main buildings). See how The King lived and eat what The King ate! It’s the only way to experience Graceland.

Got any tips from your Graceland experience? Any questions? Let me know!

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