It would be possible to visit Memphis without going to Graceland, but that would be silly.
It’s a short drive out of downtown, out I-240 and then on to Elvis Presley Boulevard. I am not making this up; in fact, I think it was named that while he actually lived there. On our way there, we listened to Paul Simon’s “Graceland”… ’cause, well, it was just necessary.
We bought the Platinum Tour tickets, and fortunately got both the AAA discount as well as the student discount for Dave’s ticket (he’s still a UofI student until mid-August!). It’s not cheap, but we were expecting that.
The first thing we did was board the shuttle bus to take us to Graceland Mansion for the mansion tour. When boarding, we were given our audio tour headphones. The entire tour is self-guided via audio tour, so you can basically go at a pace convenient to you. It’s nice to not have to be bunched up with the entire group the whole time.
When we had dinner with our friend the night before, she commented that the charming thing about Graceland Mansion is that you could actually picture people people living in it. She was totally right. Although it’s ridiculously tacky in that over-the-top, I’ve-got-more-money-than-I-know-how-to-spend way, it’s still a relatively human-sized home with relatively normal furnishings. (The best contrast is Hearst Castle, in which it’s really hard to imagine people actually spending time, much less in comfort.)
The tour of the Mansion is very informative, and gives visitors a good sense of the life and career of Elvis Presley. We enjoyed it immensely.
The end of the tour took us to the “Meditation Garden” in which Elvis, his parents, and his grandmother are buried. The audio tour and the crowds didn’t leave much opportunity for meditation, but it was touching in its own way.
We boarded the shuttle and returned to the Visitor’s Center. The Platinum Tour included tickets to some of the additional exhibits. We started with the car tour (which was mercifully air conditioned), where we were able to see a dozen or so of the flashy cars that Elvis had owned at various points in his career. It also included motorcycles and other more recreational vehicles (such as the golf carts he and his buddies used to race around the back yard of the mansion).
Then we headed over to the tarmac and visited Elvis’ two custom airplanes. The Lisa Marie is the larger of the two, and was used by Elvis when he was on tour. It included a blue suede bedroom for the King. The other was primarily for Elvis’ advance team, and featured an interior decor of bright lemon and lime colors.
We were starting to tire of the Disneyesque atmosphere and the myriad gift shops (all of which miraculously managed to have different merchandise), but we soldiered on and visited one more exhibit, which was actually quite interesting. It was an exhibit called “Elvis! His Groundbreaking, Hip-Shaking, Newsmaking Story”, developed by the Newseum in Washington DC. It focused on the various ways in which Elvis interacted with, and was covered by, the media. It was worthwhile.
We spent several hours there and could certainly have seen more if we’d had the inclination. Definitely a worthwhile trip.