If you're an Elvis Presley fan (or even if you're not), a trip to Graceland, the singer's beloved mansion in Memphis, Tennessee, makes for an unforgettable holiday experience
Visiting Graceland is a not-to-be missed foray into the life and times of Elvis Presley, but you don’t need to be a die-hard fan of Elvis to enjoy the experience. If you like sampling local cuisine and learning about the history of an area, Memphis has plenty to offer. We visited in April, when the weather was agreeably warm, with sunshine every day and not-too-stifling temperatures. The evenings were pleasant, with a warm breeze that kept us cool during our sorties out of the hotel.
The Graceland tour (which costs around £20 for adults and £9 for children) is a must, and takes in Elvis's house, his two jets, the auto museum and memorabilia displays. A shuttle bus picks up passengers at the tour station across the road and transports you through the imaginative gates and up the drive. The interior of the house is very impressive and there is a lot to see, including Elvis’s costumes and possessions. Visitors can spend as long as they want looking around the house and grounds, with a shuttle bus on hand to transport them back to the tour station.
Where to stay
The obvious choice is Heartbreak Hotel, which is on Elvis Presley Boulevard, opposite Graceland. The hotel is totally decorated in a 50s theme, with a small outdoor pool, bar, dining room and a giant screen, which is used to show Elvis videos all day long. The standard rooms are tastefully furnished and all have tea and coffee-making facilities, microwave and a tiny kitchenette area with a fridge. The suites have the same facilities, but have separate kitchens and sitting rooms. We stayed in a standard room, which was more than adequate, with plenty of room to stretch out and ample closet space. Prices vary, but you can expect to pay from £75 per person per night in Mid May (booking online with Hotel Travel.com) to £677pp per week booked with other online agencies. This includes continental breakfast, which consists of a variety of cereals, porridge, ‘biscuits’, toast and doughnuts. There was always plenty to eat, with ample supplies of fresh fruit, preserves and coffee.
The small bar opens from lunchtime until midnight and hot snacks such as burgers, fried chicken and fries can be purchased round the clock. During the evening, the bar was a popular watering hole for residents returning from various trips out, and we met some very interesting people of all nationalities.
Where to eat
The area around the hotel is populated with snack bars and diners, which serve the ever-popular burgers and fries for lunch and dinner. We used a typical American diner called the Rock and Roll Cafe, which offered a standard American Deep South menu of burgers, fries and a variety of ‘dogs’. These were hot dogs, but with all sorts of palate-tickling relishes and sauces.
The mainstay of the diet in Memphis is hog or pig, which is invariably fried or barbecued and coated in some kind of sauce or gravy. It's served with the staple beans and coleslaw - whichever diner or restaurant you go for, these two items will always be an accompaniment on the menu.
A favourite eating place of ours was Marlowe’s, affectionately known as ‘The Pink Pig’ owing to the rotund shape and pink colouring of the exterior. Our hotel was one of several in the area that join with the proprietors of Marlowe’s to provide transport to and from the diner - by arrangement, a magnificent pink Cadillac will pick customers up from their hotel, ferry them to the diner and take them back again afterwards, totally free of charge. It was a wonderful and exciting aspect of our holiday because, of course, Elvis was known to have owned a Cadillac very similar to this.
Next to Heartbreak Hotel is a Chinese restaurant (the name of which escapes me), serving an ‘all you can eat’ buffet for $7. The food is piping hot and authentic Chinese. The restaurant interior is very basic but spotlessly clean, and the staff are very polite and helpful.
A short drive from Heartbreak Hotel (there's a free bus service for guests) is Beale Street. The nightlife here is fantastic, with live acts in most of the bars that line either side of this famous street. Whether you like soul, jazz or blues, you will find it somewhere. We ventured into Coyote Ugly, where ladies are invited to get up and dance on the bar. It is a very busy place, full of atmosphere and lively music, as are most of the bars and clubs in this area. There is also a modern entertainment complex, Peabody’s Place, which houses theatres, fine dining and interesting nightlife.
What to see
If you fancy spreading your wings and seeing a bit more of Memphis, there are a few small tour companies operating in the area. We went for a mini bus tour ($24) that took us around Memphis, past the Lorraine Motel, where Martin Luther King was shot, and stopping at Sun Studios, where Elvis recorded his first record. The tour took about three hours in total and culminated at Peabody’s Hotel in time for the march of the ducks! Every day, at 11am, the Duck Master marches the hotel’s five ducks into the lift from the roof pool and down to the ground floor. The ducks then march along the red carpet to the marble fountain, where they swim and splash until 5 pm, when the whole thing is then done in reverse, and the ducks are put to bed in the duck pool on the roof.
How to book
We booked online, arranging our own Graceland tour, flights and accommodation, and the total cost was around £625 per person. You can also get a package deal at most tour operators, sometimes for less than this, depending on the time of year.