Tampa Bay Buccaneers vs Buffalo Bills September 18th, 2005
On the eve of the new NFL season our resident office expert on all things American sports blogs about the first time, he went to an NFL game.
On a trip to Orlando, Florida during a heat wave we had the bright idea of going to see our first NFL game. So in the car we piled to make the the hour and a half journey down the I-4 to the Raymond James Stadium home of the perennial losers the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. Maybe I’m being harsh calling them perennial losers given they won a Superbowl in 2002 and in lately in 2020 but they had a 26 game losing run and 14 years of consecutive loses, however they are undefeated in Superbowl games and the first expansion team to to clinch a division title, win a playoff game, and host a conference championship so every cloud and all that.
We arrived and parked up near the stadium before realising we neglected to think about tickets – DOH! Luckily scalpers were out in full force and tickets in decent seats were secured for face-value.
When we walked to the stadium we were amazed at all the activity in car parks and gardens, people were wandering from car to car (well truck to truck) with beers and food. As we got closer we saw and experienced what we soon learned is a staple of American sports – the Tailgate Party.
Fans arrive hours before games start and get ready to party – marques, flags and seating are all erected. BBQ’s set up, I saw gas, charcoal and someone actually smoking meats and music turned on. People PARTY and this is before the game has even started. Its a joyous, carnival atmosphere with different sections taking it more seriously than the next, and sections competing with each other for display, food and variety of beer. We loved it!
At first we didn’t have a clue what was going on, but a few polite questions and us Brits were given a warm welcome, a burger and a cold beer (did I mentioned we went in a heatwave?) and we joined in. We were having such a good time, we were almost sad to have to go off to the game!
So a top tip from me, research tail gate parties if you go to an NFL game and turn up early and experience it for yourself, you won’t be disappointed.
We entered the ground and had seats on the half way line, about 20 rows back, so ideal seats for us newbies. Opened in 1998, this bowl like stadium sponsored by Raymond James financial services had unobstructed views all round but what amazed me was the full size replica pirate ship located in the aptly named Buccaneer Cove. The game was a sell out with 65,000+ fans in attendance.
A relatively tame first quarter resulted in a score of 0-0 but sometimes the match is second to the entertainment in the crowd with Bills and Buccs fans all mixed together with funny, free flowing banter going back and forth between the fans, something us Brits aren’t used to with crowd segregation.
I learned another important tip that day that has stuck with me, especially on my most recent trip to Louisiana, Bills fans kept taking it in turns disappearing to the toilet and to the bar, and when they came back they were distributing wet towels amongst themselves to wipe the sweat and put over their necks, genius idea especially when were in an open air, concrete bowl on a scorching day!
The temperature hit over 40 degrees and my friends made their way inside to watch the game in the bar, I stayed and the sweat was literally pouring off me and all the Bills fans.
The game continued to be a back and forth affair until the Bills Quarterback got sacked in the end zone, first points to the Buccs and the crowd went wild. Suddenly there was a series of explosions in the stadium and I through myself on the floor, only to be laughed and pointed at by all the fans – each time the Buccs score the crew on the Pirate Ship fire the cannons, two make explosion noises and four fire confetti. they are loud, very loud – how was I supposed to know it was all part of the experience? Some fans helped me and my red face to my feet ready for the rest of the game.
With just under three minutes remaining of Q2, the Buccs scored again, rushing the ball one yard over the line, this time I was able to enjoy the celebrations without thinking Bills fans were destroying the stadium! The Buccs converted the field goal to make it 9-0. The Bills stormed up the pitch from the punt but just couldn’t get the ball over the line, with a minute to go they kicked a field goal making the score 9-3.
Half time. And a cool half time at that. Only 15 minutes but the cheerleaders put on a show, the Pirate Crew walk around the stadium firing t-shirts and freebies out of cannons, and it gave me a chance to cool down inside with a nice beer!
The third quarter started the same way as the previous two, back and forth for nearly ten minutes before the Buccs engaged their rushing game and bashed their way up the field to score a touchdown and with their field goal the score was 16-3, this was to be the only scoring drive of the game.
The fourth quarter started at a fairly high pace, this is why I loved American Football, you have to keep trying to score, and charge up the field, if you don’t you risk turning the ball over close to your endzone resulting in the game turning quickly against you, not like other sports where you can reduce the pace and play around with the ball running the clock down.
The Bills tried and tried to get back into the game but they just couldn’t get past the mean defence of the Buccs. When the Buccs scored a field goal after six minutes of Q4 making the score 19-3 the game was as good as over but the Bills kept going and their last drive nearly got them a touchdown but it just wasn’t to be for them.
Whilst the Bills were in a transition period, the hopes of Tampa were on the Buccs who ended the season with their first winning record since they won the Superbowl but it was alas not to be and they were eliminated in the first round of the play-offs by the Washington Redskins before entering into a long period of decline, only recently being revived by the GOAT Tom Brady.
I love watching American sports live when I’m on holiday, the build up, traditions and fan fare always make it a great day out for me, and I highly recommend incorporating seeing a game, be it American Football, Basketball or Baseball when your on a trip. Hearing 80k fans in the Caesars Superdome in New Orleans chant ‘Who Dat’ always makes the hairs on the back of my neck stand up.
On my bucket list is to see my beloved and mostly frustrating Chicago Bears play live at Soldier Field. If anyone wants to take me, then please drop me a note!
If you want to see a live game on your next trip to North America then we’ll be happy to incorporate this into any bespoke intinary we create for you. Want to start chatting? Then give us a call today 0800 316 3012 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.
When I was asked to go on a trip to the Deep South and spend a few nights on the paddle steamer – the American Queen and then tell you all about it, who was I to say no! I’ve long yearned to sail on the American Queen partly because we sell a lot of voyages on her and after seeing Priscilla Presley christen her way back in 2012.
On Day 1, I flew direct into New Orleans where I enjoyed an overnight stay in a hotel allowing me the afternoon and following morning time to explore New Orleans before embarking.
Day 2 – Embarking
At 418 feet long the American Queen is the largest steamboat ever built and she certainly took my breath away when we pulled up on the banks of the Mississippi ready to embark. An effortless process saw us quickly into our stateroom – There are eleven grades of stateroom on offer, ranging from inside (from 132 sq. ft), window, promenade deck suites and large/owners suites (360 sq. ft, with 690 sq. ft veranda). A quirky touch, all staterooms are named after rivers or historic figures. I stayed in an outside stateroom with an open veranda, working for Bon Voyage has its rewards, I thought I’d be in one of the single rooms! The open veranda was simply perfect for letting in a breeze and for relaxing with a drink as we sailed away.
After the mandatory safety drill, we were ready to explore and see the ship. Walking around, what struck me the most was that even though the ship was built in 1995 and refurbished in 2012 and 2017 it was like stepping back in time, every detail was faithfully adhered to, you would think this was an original paddle steamer if I had not told you.
There are two dinner sittings 5:15 pm and 8:00 pm and we opted for the latter, if we feel peckish throughout the day there is a buffet-style, self-service restaurant called Front Porch Café where you can grab something to eat at breakfast, lunch, and dinner.
We headed to the Grand Saloon where we were entertained by the entertainment team who were playing hits from throughout the ages. With drinks included in the fare I did not have to worry about what I ordered or how much, I will say everyone was very well behaved on board and there was no drinking to excess that I saw.
I headed down to the sumptuous J.M. White Dining Room on Deck 1, where all meals are served. There is a dress code, whilst not as formal as a European cruise I do advise looking at it before you travel. It is divided into three parts: two long, sunny atriums with tall windows, chandeliers and 8-foot palms are divided by a less impressive, darker seating area with a low ceiling that is framed by a wine cellar. (The Mark Twain Gallery is on the deck directly above, and it has windows that provide a glimpse of diners noshing in the two high-ceilinged spaces.) Linens are crisp and spotless, while flatware is heavy and ornate. Seating ranges from two-tops by the windows and square tables seating four to round tables that seat six and eight.
The menu changes each night and has a variety of Southern Fare, on the evening I went for the Lobster Macaroni Fritters to start, Roast Rack of Lamb and a delicious chocolate chip bread pudding. There is a whole host of extras available every night so I thought it would be rude not to have a lobster tail too. I washed all this down with some delicious red and white wine, magnificently paired by our waiter.
I was fit to burst after this, so I had a stroll around both the promenade and observation deck even at the time of night it was still hot so was glad of my A/C when I turned in for the night.
Day 3 – Nottoway, Louisiana
Of the stops on this cruise Nottoway and Pointe Coupee were the two I was most looking forward to due to the two excursions that were planned.
We rose early on Day 3 and had a quick breakfast in the Front Porch Café which is a buffet-style restaurant where you help yourself. We were on deck at 8:30 am to watch our arrival in port. We took advantage of the cosy swing seats dotted around the decks to watch the fabulous blue skies as the ship docked.
Today we were off on the complimentary tour of Nottoway Mansion, this stunning historical plantation offers a view of a truly grand plantation. Rooms are trimmed in custom plaster frieze made from Spanish moss, clay, plaster, and mud and are all original to the house. As if this was not enough the mansion was constructed with 365 openings, one for each day of the year. We enjoyed a walking tour of this ‘American Castle’ with our guides in traditional dress and we finished by strolling through the lush grounds and gardens. Was so glad I choose to visit.
I was back on board ready for the Captain’s Welcome Reception where I enjoyed some champagne as Captain Greg Brown made us feel very welcome. Although there is a dress code, it is still very informal so no need to be packing your cocktail dresses and spending hours dressing to the nines, just slip into something comfortable and away you go! Think American casual and you won’t go wrong.
I meandered around the ship prior to dinner taking in the entertainment in the Grand Saloon and Captain’s Bar.
Dinner was as lavish as the previous evening where I enjoyed shrimp, New York strip steak and of course a dressed lobster on the side. I was too stuffed for pudding. I went to the Engine Room Bar, for the Night Owls Club where I enjoyed a few digestifs before going to bed as I had a full day tomorrow.
Day 4 – Pointe Coupee Parish, Louisiana
I woke up far too early in my excitement about our trip but used the time to have a sit-down breakfast in the J.M. White Dining Room where I had the fluffiest pancakes, I think I’ve ever had. I worked them off by strolling around the sun deck and despite it being only 7:30am, it was hot!
I was off the ship as soon as the gangplank was lowered and straight on the coach to Anglo prison, formerly America’s most dangerous penitentiary! To say I was excited was an understatement.
No messing around on this tour, the first stop was ‘The Red Hat’ a compound featuring the electric chair. Quite chilling to think this is where those sentenced to death would wait out their final hours on earth. The hall of cells had several plaques that talk about nasty punishments that happened during the time men awaited the chair.
Driving around the prison grounds you pass one camp after another. One we were told was closed having been used for the bad of the bad. Seems they have been mixed into other camps in some cases. In another, they were sent to max security, and you could see how it had a much higher level of fence lighting. Funny, we did not see guards in the towers, yet we got word we were under video observation miles before we had gotten close to that camp.
I do not recall why they had a camel, yet this guy was kept with so many horses and other critters it was very surreal to see!
We did get to talk with three inmates that worked with dogs in a training program to get the dogs ready for veterans that need service animals. It was great to see them involved in something that was so worthwhile.
We learned about the annual rodeo that the inmates put on for the local people and it attracts tens of thousands of visitors, the prison is so different now with a focus on giving prisoners, many of whom will never be released a purpose rather than a brutal regime.
Day 5 – Natchez, Mississippi
I was tired after yesterday’s excursion to Anglo so treated myself to a lie-in and an early lunch in the Front Porch Café on board. I disembarked the ship and jumped on the complimentary hop-on, hop-off buses the American Queen provides at each stop.
There are plenty of things to do and see but I just picked three things and had a lovely afternoon pottering around them. You need not do any tours, you could easily just walk around Natchez which its 500 pre-Civil War buildings, reflecting the huge fortunes built by the cotton and slave traders.
Rosalie Mansion – A Union Headquarters for Natchez during the Civil War built-in 1823. This 1716 mansion was built by the French as a fort on the bluffs of Natchez. The Mississippi State Society Daughters of the American Revolution have since gained ownership and have been maintaining the house and grounds since 1938. On this guided tour, I heard the history of the house and viewed the artefacts in the hands of an expert tour guide dressed in period clothing.
William Johnson House – An incredible, historic 3-story brick house constructed after the 1840 Natchez tornado. William Johnson was known as the “Barber of Natchez;” he began as a slave and gained his freedom at age eleven. After his freedom, he began to work his way up in society, eventually becoming fully accepted by society. As the town barber, William Johnson was able to hear the stories and gossip of many of the residents, which he documented in his diary. It is a fascinating tour.
Natchez Association for the Preservation of Afro-American Culture Museum – This is a must do, packed with photographs, artefacts and exhibits all dedicated to the African American heritage in Natchez and Adams County. Here, I learned the history and culture of the African Americans in Natchez over time.
After that I jumped back on the bus and headed back to the ship, ready for the 4:30 pm departure.
Feeling spritely I was determined to indulge today given it was the Captains Dinner in tribute to Mark Twain. I started with some oysters and then Twain’s favourite Mock Turtle Soup (well the American Queen’s version of it) followed by pan-seared Duck Breast and cheese and crackers to finish. Again, all washed down with superbly paired wines.
Feeling in the party mood I headed to the Grand Saloon to sip some cocktails whilst listening to a Frank Sinatra tribute, with my dancing shoes on I ended the evening in the Engine Room Bar bopping to some blues.
Superb evening all around.
Day 6 – Vicksburg, Mississippi
After such a leisurely day yesterday and feeling the effects of one or two (or three!) Mississippi Bourbon Punches (each day the ship has a signature cocktail) I rose with a sore head ready to explore Vicksburg. An important city in the Civil War, with Lincoln himself saying “Vicksburg is the key. The war can never be brought to a close until the key is in our pocket.”
The city is the final resting place for 17,000 Union soldiers, 13,000 of whom are unknown so with those facts swirling in my head I boarded the bus to go to Vicksburg Military Park which was created in 1899 to commemorate and preserve the infamous siege line and historic heritage.
This was a full day of all things American Civil War so perfect for all you history buffs out there. We began the 16-mile tour at the visitor centre, where exhibits and our tour guide explained all about the siege of Vicksburg, why the town was so important and the battles so bloody.
Then we were off on a tour of 15 historic sites from battery positions to the Vicksburg National Cemetery. This was a very enjoyable but sombre morning and with the Confederate and Union lines so clearly marked out, you marvelled at how close they were to one another at times.
After a short lunch, we went on to see the USS Cario Gunboat and its associated museum. One of seven shallow-draft City Class river ironclads, The U.S.S. Cairo was commissioned in January of 1862. Named after towns along the upper Mississippi and Ohio rivers, the seven formidable City Class gunboats prowled the Mississippi River and connecting shallow waterways, menacing Confederate supply lines and shore batteries.
Cairo’s career was short, seeing limited action in battles at Plum Point, Tennessee (also known as the Battle of Fort Pillow) in May,1862, and Memphis, Tennessee in June 1862. Recovered in the 60’s and fully restored seeing the Cario was worth the trip alone.
I am not going to bore you with what I had for dinner, but it was superb, feeling tired I took a couple of Aperol Spritz to my favourite place on deck 4 and whiled away the time in the rocking chairs whilst watching the ship sail down the Mississippi. What struck me the most about the Mississippi was how lush and green the shore could be one minute and then you will be sailing past sand dunes the next. The sky was so clear each evening meaning you could star gaze for hours (I did!).
Day 7 – Greenville, Mississippi
A short stop today in the town of Greenville Mississippi where we had upgraded our excursion to do the Small Towns, Big Legends, The Story of B.B. King tour which took our entire time in Greensville and was so worth the additional $99pp.
We travelled to Indianola, Mississippi the hometown of B.B. King. Indianola really captures the essence of the blues with every brick being saturated to the core with the gritty, unrefined soul of the blues.
We arrived at the B.B. King Museum and Delta Interpretive Centre, where gospel music fills the air as a live performance by local musicians is held exclusively for American Queen guests. We went on a guided tour of the museum that documents B.B. King’s life from as a child working on a farm to international icon. It was fascinating and a must-do for everyone, you do not have to love the blues to enjoy it.
It is all very well learning about the blues, but you really need to experience it for yourself and where better than the iconic nightclub – Club Ebony which was built in 1948 and has seen performers such as Ray Charles, Count Basie, Bobby Bland and of course B.B. King all play. Purchased by B.B. King in 2008, the club keeps the blues tradition alive. We enjoyed listening to local performers whilst munching on Southern snacks and sipping ice-cold cold beer. My first visit to an authentic juke joint and I loved every minute of it!
Day 8 – Cruising the Mississippi River
On day 8 we had a day on board travelling the river which let me have a day to explore on board.
After a quick omelette in the Front Porch Café, I was ready for my spa treatments. I prebooked my treatments at the purser’s desk and went for an hour-long massage and a restorative body scrub. It was a blissful couple of hours.
I then headed to the Mark Twain Gallery where you can find an abundance of puzzles and board games (there is no casino on board), I saw the night before a signup sheet for bridge so there I was ready to do battle!
After I was defeated, I headed for lunch and choose to have it in the J M White dining room where I started with some tomato soup followed by a grilled turkey burger with all the trimmings.
I went to the chart room for a lecture by the boat’s riverlorians which was interesting, and we got to view maps of river throughout the years, was strange to see how much the river has been changed over the years. Here we saw us approach a bridge and I thought we would crash but the massive funnels lower – have a look here.
Dinner was delightful, I went with a dressed crab, pan-seared scallops, and some Matcha white chocolate mousse. I washed this down with some excellent white wine.
I then headed straight to the Engine Room Bar and danced the night away.
Day 9 – Disembark, Memphis Tennessee
It feels like my journey is over all too quickly. The 640 miles I travelled up the Mississippi have flown by. Did I enjoy it, yes! Would I do it again? In a heartbeat, I would do the opposite route from Memphis to New Orleans letting me take in some new places, experiences and ports.
For me, I am heading to my hotel and then trying to see as much of Elvis as I can in Memphis!
Theresa Wilson is Bon Voyage’s resident Yankee Doodle Dandy. Here she shares her perspective on the Fourth of July holiday……..
Happy Birthday, America!
I’ve now lived in England for 25 years and have fully embraced my adopted country. But if there is one time I really do long to be home it’s the first part of July and all of the Fourth celebrations.
On the whole, Americans are a patriotic bunch – we fly flags from our front porches; we thank our military for their service; we wear eagle and flag embossed clothing year-round, but give us a holiday where the entire point is patriotism and stand back. Parades, fireworks, family gatherings, BBQs, picnics, baseball – God Bless America!
It’s a tough one for those of us split between two countries. On one hand, we’re celebrating the birth of a nation – on the other, we’re celebrating freedom from British rule. I have a British husband, so you can imagine the jokes that fly around our family! But I believe that both countries have huge amounts of respect and interest in each other. Back in 1776, it was time to end the American Revolution and let the original colonies be independent. Although the war went on for another seven years, on July 2, 1776, the Second Continental Congress voted to approve a resolution of independence from Great Britain’s rule. The Declaration of Independence was ratified on the fourth. There is some historical debate on whether that is true, but no alternate theories here – the 4th of July is America’s Independence Day!
As a child, it represented the first big weekend of summer. Schools typically break up in the USA between the end of May and mid-June, so summer activities were in full flow, but everything stopped for the 4th of July. Depending on when it fell, either the weekend before or after would be packed with family fun. We were always involved with the local parade which included the whole community. If you weren’t in the parade you lined the street waving flags, hoping to grab a treat that might be thrown from a marcher! Then it was on to a good old family style BBQ. Burgers, hotdogs and corn on the cob straight off the grill. I honestly dream about that corn – fresh from Midwest fields, dripping in butter. It’s as much a part of my Fourth of July as waving flags and sparklers!
This brings me to evening events. We’d all gather at the appointed family members’ home for an evening of backyard games, more food and ultimately fireworks. Invariably, we’d fire a few rounds of our own that an uncle brought from a local stand while all the kids always ran around the garden with lighted sticks actively spewing sparks. Of course, one of us would either be afraid and drop the ignited stick on the ground or get burned while the adults continued lighting roman candles and keeping fingers crossed that nothing flew over the neighbour’s fence! It was the 1970s, so don’t judge! Then it was time for proper pyrotechnics! Some years we’d watch local displays from the comfort of our own lounge chairs in the yard. Other years, we braved traffic and crowds for an amazing vantage point along Lake Michigan.
In my adult years, our family would undertake a huge reunion every other Fourth of July and religiously those of us who no longer resided in Wisconsin would flock home. Ultimately, the Fourth of July is as much about celebrating family and friends and summer as it is about celebrating America’s birthday. Don’t get me wrong – there is always a red, white and blue cake, but it’s more than just being American – it’s about the people we love, what we appreciate about living in a democracy and what we are thankful for. That’s Thanksgiving too, but one holiday at a time! The funny thing is – every American I know loves all things British. The Queen, Buckingham Palace, the accents, the pomp and circumstance…the list goes on. The more I think about it, the more I realise – the Fourth of July today has very little to do with celebrating our break from Britain and more to do with bringing a nation together to honour where we came from and think about where we’re going. Like any country, we’ve got our issues, but hopefully we’ll reflect, regroup and re-emerge stronger than ever.
I know I will be with my family in spirit and chances are I will wear stars and stripes to the office on the 4th. You can take the girl out of America…..
Growing up, music filled our home, particularly the Beatles and the King – Elvis Presley. With the imminent release of the King of Rock n Roll’s biopic, I got thinking back to the time I spent three nights in Memphis on Bon Voyage’s Heritage to Honky Tonk itinerary where I immersed myself in all things Elvis.
One of the many things I loved about this itinerary was
the fact that with travel by rail, private car, and Mississippi steamer all you have
to do is take in the view so when we arrived in Memphis from Nashville via our
private sedan transfer, we arrived raring to get stuck and experience Memphis through the eyes of
After a swift check-in to our hotel – the historic Peabody we set
off to find some food. Where else should we go but the Arcade Restaurant which
is not only the oldest diner in Memphis but a firm favourite of Elvis and only
a short walk from the hotel. I wasn’t brave enough to try The King’s favourite a fried
peanut butter and banana sandwich but instead, I had a Rainmaker Sandwich with an amazing Shake it
like the King, spiked shakes. Well worth a visit not only because of the
connection to Elvis but because it’s been featured in a whole host of Hollywood
movies like The Rainmaker (and every other Grisham), Great Balls of Fire, Walk
the Line and one of my favourites – Elizabethtown.
Sun Studios Tour
We decided to walk to the Sun Studios for the 5:30 pm tour along Beale Street so we could view the famous Elvis statue. For those of you who don’t know Sun Studio is the birthplace of Rock N’ Roll and discovered BB King to Elvis to Johnny Cash to Jerry Lee Lewis, there are music legends everywhere you look. I got goose pimples standing in the very same spot where Elvis first recorded, and it was like being a child again with all the memorabilia from all the artists my parents had in our front room. The tours leave on the hour and last 45 minutes and are so worth it. If you’ve got the voice, you can book a recording session, I didn’t disgrace the fabled Sun Studios with my singing voice!
We had a few hours of R&R at the hotel before heading out for
some BBQ food and then experiencing the famous Peabody Rooftop Parties – the
food and entertainment in Memphis will be blogs in themselves so no need to
venture off our Elvis path.
Historic Peabody Hotel
We rose on day two with sore heads and missed breakfast as we were
checking out we were surprised by a Peabody tradition – the ‘Peabody Duck March’ where the famous ducks come out of
the lift and walk down the red carpet to the fountain for a nice swim! It was
almost surreal seeing it but we were so glad we did – they do this daily at
11am and 5pm, don’t be like us and nearly miss it!
We headed over to the Beauty Shop Restaurant for brunch. This hip
and trendy restaurant is styled on a 50’s beauty salon and what links this to
Elvis you may ask – it was formerly Priscilla Presley’s go-to for her curl and
dye. A few excellent Bad Boy Bloody Mary’s with some Eggs Benedict gave us the
fuel for our next stop, the Holy Grain for all of us Elvis buffs – GRACELAND!
The Guest House at Graceland
Whilst we would have stayed at the Peabody for longer, we wanted
to get the full Graceland experience, so it made sense to stay at The Guest
House at Graceland, which is located just a few steps away from the Graceland
mansion. This AAA Four Diamond Resort (in British, this is a four-star hotel!) was
influenced by Elvis himself when archivists unearthed an architectural design done for Elvis while he was
alive that included a recording studio and “a place where he wanted his friends
to stay.” He called it the guest house. Opened in 2016, the $92m hotel has all
of Elvis’ signature swagger with Priscilla herself overseeing all the design
aspects (it’s said that Priscilla and Lisa Marie are regular visitors to the guesthouse,
but we didn’t see them, unfortunately).
We didn’t stay in
either of the two King Suites which are modelled on Elvis’ Las Vegas hotel room
and the other the master bedroom at Graceland. We had a ground-floor room which
really felt like we were staying in Graceland with the King himself. Check-in
was a breeze as a Bon Voyage client, they really love us here and go out of
their way to make us feel extra special.
What I really
loved about staying here was all the subtle ways in which the Guesthouse pays
homage to Elvis, it really isn’t big, bold and brash as you’d expect from somewhere like Las Vegas.
For example, the staircase is breathtaking but it’s only until you visit
Graceland that you see it was modelled on the entrance then the light fitting
just looks like well a light fitting but when you do a closer inspection you
see they are arranged around E’s and P’s, lobby chairs with pointed backs to
resemble Elvis’ upturned collar, subtle but it works. Forgot to mention, that every
evening there are complimentary peanut butter and banana sandwiches.
Graceland is the
most famous rock n’ roll residence in the world? It certainly is for me, and I can’t think of
another of its stature. I was expecting it to be huge but it is a lot smaller
than say celebrities’ houses of the present day but that doesn’t take anything
away from how beautiful it is and the feeling you get walking up the drive and
through the front door. The tour is conducted through an audio guide (narrated
by Lisa-Marie) on a tablet however since I have wanted to visit Graceland for
like forever, I splurged on Ultimate VIP Tour tickets. This got me a tour of Graceland with an expert
guide (group of no more than 10 people), a self-guided tour of Elvis’ Custom
Jets, entry into the Elvis Presley’s Memphis complex as well as a host of VIP
add-ons like meal vouchers, VIP merchandise, photo opportunities etc, I thought
it was good value at $196.
I was really
overwhelmed walking through Graceland, no two rooms truly are the same and as
it is largely untouched, I kept looking out for the King to walk down the
stairs – you really do feel like a guest when you visit. One thing for sure is
that Elvis truly had a unique style when it came to interior design.
The living room
is magnificent, I loved the huge white sofa and the glass windows with bright
peacocks painted on them. You’ll notice that there are TVs everywhere, Elvis
loved his telly and he made sure that he could see a TV no matter where he was
sitting in Graceland.
tour you keep passing the staircase to the second floor, we’re not allowed up
there because that was exactly how Elvis had it when he was alive, guests had
the run of Graceland, but they were not permitted on the second floor.
You see his
parents and then his Grandmother Minnie’s bedroom with its purple colouring and
poodle wallpaper which was designed by Minnie herself.
The next stop was
the dining room, where you can see Elvis’ favourite seat, chosen so he had the
best view of the TV. Lisa-Marie says they still eat at the table when she stays
at Graceland. The table is laid with the crockery from Elvis and Priscilla’s
The tour then
took us into the kitchen, which Lisa-Marie says was the busiest room in the
house, it was amazing to see all the vintage appliances.
downstairs down a mirrored stairway into his recreation room, with the TCB
lightning bolt on the wall and the monkey ashtray. He had three TVs here because someone told
him the President of the USA had three TVs! Lots of animal horns adorn his bar
(and all over Graceland), I really wanted to have a game of pool on his table.
What is great about this area is how everything is close together yet so
Now onto my
favourite room of Graceland – the jungle room, which we got to up a staircase
that has been green carpet on the floor, walls and ceiling. Bizarre indeed. His
jungle room was apparently Elvis’s favourite room in the house, with all the
wood, carved animals, and ashtrays. He loved to entertain in this room, and it
is said because the autistics are so good, he recorded here, hence the carpet
on the ceilings.
We walked through
the carport and around the back of Graceland into his father Vernon’s office.
This was the hub of Elvis enterprises, and it is pretty cool to see. The next
stop was the trophy room which had all kinds of interesting stuff like his
birth certificate, the family bible, pay slips, and unique finds like school
reports, and his box of crayons from school. The room has their wedding
outfits, Lisa-Marie’s crib, and several items taken from upstairs in Graceland.
I did tear up a scarf that Elvis gave to Lisa which he wrote a few heartfelt
words on, it really showed how much he loved his ‘Yisa’. Elvis loved to shoot, and we get to see his
We left the
trophy room and passed the pool which is tiny into Elvis’s sports complex which
is really a huge racquetball court, bar and pinball machines. I saw a water
fountain that still worked, so took a sneaky drink, who else can say they had a
drink from Elvis’s water fountain.
The end of the
tour is the Mediation Garden but more on this tomorrow.
I think we spent
around an hour and a half on the tour and maybe more if we had stayed for
longer in the Mediation Garden. We walked out to the gates, where we wrote on
the wall with seemingly everyone else who has been to Graceland.
Elvis Presley’s Memphis Complex
Our next stop was
across Elvis Presley Boulevard to the Elvis Presley’s Memphis, which opened in
2017 costing a whopping $45m I was keen to see what all the fuss was about. A
visit to the Elvis: The Entertainer Museum inside is worth the admission alone,
there are hundreds upon hundreds of artefacts from the Graceland archives
detailing Elvis’s life from his early days, first recordings into his live
performances and films. The Presley Motors automobile museum has over 20 cars
and motorcycles that Elvis had owned including a Pink Cadillac, a 1975 Dino
Ferrari and a cinema showing his films.
We were famished
at this point so took a stop at the Glady’s Diner, named after his mother, we
could have dined at Vernon’s smokehouse but since we were having BBQ food that evening,
we decided to eat here.
We took in the
many exhibits that change throughout the year, I really enjoyed the King of
Karate and Elvis in the army exhibits.
The last stop on
our tour was a self-guided tour of Elvis’ Custom Jets, there is the Lisa Marie
and a small Lockheed Jet Star, it was amazing to see them both especially given
that Elvis spent $800,000 renovating the Lisa Marie and adding a living room,
conference room and private bedrooms.
I think including
a bite to eat we spent nearly three hours in the complex so all in all maybe
five hours at Graceland, I was knackered at the end, to say the least!
I had intended to
visit Beale Street again but instead chose to have a nap and some food at The
Guest House and then was pleasantly surprised to find live music on at the
Graceland Soundstage, so I whiled away the evening with some good food, good
music and a few good cocktails before having an early night.
The reason for
the early night was because each morning between 7:30-8:30 am the gates to
Elvis’ Meditation Garden are opened early and I wanted to pay my respects to
Elvis and his family before the hustle and bustle of the day starts.
The garden is in
a beautiful peaceful setting, with flowers and a central fountain. Elvis is
buried here with his mother, father, grandmother and stillborn twin brother.
There were only
around 15 of us there and we were all in deep, reflective moods, paying our
respects to the King, a person who had touched so many for so long.
It was back to
The Guesthouse for breakfast ready to start my third and final day in Memphis.
Tigerman Karate Dojo and
I really wanted to visit Beale Street on my final night,
especially B.B. King’s Blues Club so decided my final day was going to be at a
more leisurely pace and where possible I was going to walk around Memphis to
see the sights.
A short 25-minute stroll gets you to Tigerman Karate Dojo and
Museum to see where Elvis first practised karate. The building has been
restored to the original appearance of the early 1970’s so it really is like
walking in just like Elvis. The museum celebrates all things karate and Elvis
with one-of-a-kind pieces of memorabilia that you won’t see anywhere else.
For those of you that practise karate, this is a working dojo, and
you can pre-book classes so you can say you’ve trained where Elvis has!
Stax – Museum of American Soul
intended to walk everywhere but checking google maps I saw it was a near five-mile
walk to Stax – Museum of American Soul so I cheated and took an uber!
museum is on the site of the original Stax Records recording studios where
Elvis recorded some of his best work in 1973. The museum pays homage to Elvis
but more importantly to all the great soul singers that have passed through its
doors such as Isaac Hayes, Otis Redding, Booker T. & the MGs, Marvin Gaye and many others.
Normally museums are quiet places but not here with lots of music
blasting out and dancing down the exhibits is actively encouraged! Well worth a
Coletta’s Italian Restaurant
I was getting
hungry and saw that Coletta’s Italian Restaurant was around the corner. This time capsule/restaurant claims to have created barbecue
pizza, a favourite of Elvis’. I dined in
the Elvis Room among pictures and memorabilia commemorating the times when
Elvis and his entourage would take over a private dining room at the
restaurant. I left suitably stuffed.
Memphis Music Hall of Fame
I cheated and got
an uber to Beale Street so I could tick off the next two stops in my Elvis
trail. I didn’t know until I arrived that Elvis has been inducted into five
halls of fame with the Memphis music hall of fame being the fifth.
The MMHoF has
been inducting members since 2012 with the museum opening in 2015. Elvis was
one of the first inductees. The museum itself is quite small but what they lack
in space they more than make up for with inventive ways to display their
exhibits such as suspended guitars and a grand piano repurposed as a light
The museum has
exhibits and memorabilia from all Memphis’ famous singers, from Elvis’
jumpsuits to Johnny Cash’s famous black suit and handwritten lyrics from Al
Green, there is something for everyone here and it’s great for discovering
bands you’ve forgotten and links between famous artists.
A liked the conciseness of the
museum and the fact I was in and out within an hour.
Lansky Brothers Clothes Shop
Since I was
already on Beale Street and knowing I needed to buy some gifts I popped along
to the Lansky Brothers Clothes Shop where the King himself used to purchase his
clothes. I spent way too much time and money in the store and came away with
more for myself than others, but it was so worth it to get some retro 50’s
shirts and Elvis-inspired wear like a beautiful belt.
Since the shop is
located inside the Hard Rock Café I partook in some ice-cold beers and some hot
wings whilst listening to some live music.
On to New Orleans
After a hard day
wandering the streets of Memphis I went back to the Guesthouse for a nap before
heading back to Beale Street for some authentic BBQ food then onto B.B. Kings
Blues Club to dance the night away.
Tomorrow, I check
out and head to New Orleans but since I’m catching the train I can overindulge.
I hope you liked my blog about my Elvis-inspired
journey to Memphis. At Bon
Voyage we make your holiday truly bespoke and tailor your trip to suit your
tastes and budget. Talk to one of our Memphis and Deep South experts to book
YOUR next trip – dream0800 316 3012 or
Since you’ve made it this far, you deserve a treat, we have a special digital guide to the Deep South, want a copy? Just click here to request one.
The people of San Francisco are unapologetic, open-minded, freethinkers. Only in San Francisco are you met at the airport by a 28-pound rabbit named ‘Alex the Great.’ along with his fellow Wag Brigade made up of adorable dogs and a pig called Lilou, helping travellers to forget about their worries for a brief moment. San Francisco people love a bold and brave statement. The new terminal at SFO is a testament to this, named after the famed civil rights activist Harvey Milk it’s a beautiful addition. Currently accessible when flying with Virgin, British Airways, and eventually United airlines, it certainly causes controversy with the lesser liberal American States.
Our hotel for the evening is located on Nob Hill. One of the highest and most elegant districts in San Francisco, once mansions for the wealthy San Francisco families these historical gems are now pillars of the community. We love the Stanford Court or Fairmont and recommend booking a high floor with Bay views, or heading to the highest restaurant in San Francisco – The Top of the Mark offering 360-degree views of the city, soon to be restored to its former 1920s grandeur. The wealthy families of the day would gather here and watch as their husbands and partners deploy from the naval dock below.
Changes post Pandemic
The Marine district became a firm favourite with locals because of the alfresco dining and bars. Visit in the evening when the fairy lights are twinkling and the atmosphere is vibrant and lively, and sample some of the best chefs in San Francisco. Amongst them is the Dorian – delicious food, attentive staff, and the best martinis. Finish the evening at Club Fugazi, located in North Beach and experience intimate theatre at its finest, telling the story of San Francisco through contemporary circus, I soon saw why this show is internationally celebrated. Creative, moving, and full of death-defying acrobatics. I guarantee you will be left in awe of the cast.
Day 1 – Fisherman’s Wharf, Alcatraz, and Sea Lions
Sitting on the dock watching the sea lions playfully wrestling each other off the marina provides hours of entertainment. Fisherman’s Wharf has an abundance of souvenir shops and some of the best seafood restaurants in the city. The Fog Harbor Fish House with its panoramic views of Alcatraz and the Golden Gate Bridge is well worth a visit. Try Dungeness Crab available from November, it’s a favourite with the locals who associate it with the holidays. Book a trip to Alcatraz and always remember to reconfirm your ticket.
We were lucky enough to stumble upon an enthusiastic Uber driver one evening, happy to take us all on a quick tour before heading home. First stop, The Palace of Fine Arts a historical monument sitting on a serene lagoon, restored in 2010 has become a favourite place among locals. The best time to visit is in the evening, lit up by floodlights from below. The light reflects from the lake, casting shadows over the monument and the result is breathtaking. Alternatively, an early morning walk is the best remedy to jetlag.
After taking a few too many selfies, we headed home, passing by the famous Mrs. Doubtfire’s house. We made it to our hotel for the evening – The Stanford Court. Remember the best views on Nob Hill are up high. I recommend requesting an odd room number at Stanford. You’ll see why…
Day 2 – Bay Views and Clam Chowder
For the best views of the bay take a trip by jeep safari or hire a car for the day and visit the Marin Headlands, Fort Point or the Golden Gate Observation Deck are just a few to note. Hike along the coastal trail from the Cliff House at Lands’ End to the Golden Gate Bridge. Start at the Cliff House near the Sutro Baths and make your way to the Golden Gate Bridge passing many landmarks including Baker Beach, the Seacliff area, Marshall Beach, and the Batteries to Bluffs Trail.
All that fresh sea air and hiking work up an appetite. You’ll definitely need one for this next stop. The historical ferry building is located at Embarcadero. A vibrant gathering of local farmers, artisan producers, and independently owned vendors. You can skip from clam chowder to ice cream and macarons in a matter of minutes. It’s a foodie’s paradise. I recommend Hog Island for oysters, Bluebottle Coffee, and Humphreys Ice Cream. I love their bourbon and vanilla flavour it’s heaven!
Day 3 – Bike the Golden Gate Bridge, visit the Painted Ladies and Golden Gate Park
and if you’re feeling energic cycle the path that runs over the
Golden Gate Bridge to Sausalito. Start off early and you’ll make it for lunch.
Take the ferry back to Fisherman’s Wharf passing by Alcatraz. It’s a
particularly wonderful day for an adventurous family.
A must-do for families and lovers of the outdoors is the Golden Gate Park. Offering the perfect refuge away from the big city. You can spend the whole day wandering between the Japanese Tea Gardens, Conservatory of Flowers, and De Young Art Museum. Take a picnic and watch the world go by at Stow Lake and Strawberry Hill. Pop into the Academy of Science among the largest museums of natural history in the world.
Finally, drop by the Painted ladies and Lombard Street for those classic San Francisco photos and you’ve made it! some of the best and most wonderful points of the city on the Bay.
Personally, I always need more time in San Francisco but that’s just a testament to how much I adore this city, for me it’s back to the airport for my flight and back into work at Bon Voyage to make everyone jealous when they hear the stories of my trip!
Travelling solo is a growing trend but it doesn’t have to mean travelling alone. For those with a sense of their own adventure, Bon Voyage’s resident American, Theresa Wilson hosted a special one-off 11-night trip to America’s Deep South.
“We took in the magical cities of Nashville, Memphis and New Orleans,” said Theresa. “Flights, transfers, excursions and entrances were included and of course, individual King-bedded rooms in great hotels with no single supplements.”
Theresa was the hostess with the mostest and was on hand to help the holiday run smoothly, she makes it clear that the trip was not run like a coach tour. “The itinerary included plenty of time for personal discoveries as well as excursions and activities that could be enjoyed with the rest of the group.”
The holiday began in Nashville with a meet and greet at the airport, followed by a three-night stay in the city centre with plenty of planned explorations. A Nashville Music Pass provides access to attractions such as the Country Music Hall of Fame and Johnny Cash Museum while a performance at the ‘home of country music’, the Grand Ole Opry, was also included.
The journey continued by road to Tupelo, Mississippi for a visit to the birthplace of Elvis Presley and then on to Memphis, home of his Graceland mansion. The group overnighted at the Guesthouse at Graceland with VIP admission to the house.
After Memphis, it’s was all aboard the ‘City of New Orleans’ train down to New Orleans and accommodation in the heart of the French Quarter with a guided city tour and final evening dinner among the highlights.
Keep an eye on www.bon-voyage.co.uk for news on our next solo travellers holiday or why not sign up to our newsletter to be among the first to find out all our news, click here to do it – you won’t regret it!
Read Bill Bryson’s
classic travelogue ‘The Lost Continent’ (Secker and Warburg) and you will find
he can be both hilarious and rude about certain places in America. He pours affectionate scorn on his home
town of Des Moines, Iowa and is none too complimentary about Carbondale,
Illinois. But when his road trip brings
him to Charleston, he waxes lyrical: “I had thought that Savannah was the most
becoming American city I had ever seen, but it thumped into second place soon
after my arrival in Charleston.” Bill
loved the harbour, the promontory packed solid with beautiful old homes and the
peaceful streets. “I was enchanted,” he
And Mr Bryson is not
alone in his admiration. Centuries
earlier the Marquis de Lafayette, the French aristocrat and military officer
who fought in the American Revolutionary War, gave his verdict: “Charleston is perhaps the best built,
handsomest, and most agreeable city that I have seen.”
beautiful gardens, vibrantly painted Georgian houses along Rainbow Row, and
carriages clacking across cobblestone streets, Charleston has long been
considered one of America’s most charming cities. But, underneath its sleepy
veneer, the city is known for its eclectic food offerings, a thriving theatre
and cultural scene, bustling King Street, and historic City Market. An evening
stroll along The Battery is the perfect way to end the day.
walking tour is an ideal introduction.
You’ll learn about the city’s colonial past and how the first decisive victory of the
Revolutionary War was fought in Charleston’s harbour. During the golden age of
cotton, Charleston became the wealthiest city in the country but the shadow cast
by imported slave labour is also an important part of the story.
Spring and autumn are ideal times to visit
and Bon Voyage can tailor a fly/drive holiday to include Charleston and the
Carolinas or south to include Bill Bryson’s second favourite city, Savannah in
There are also a range of escorted tours that take in Charleston and you’ll
find ideas and inspiration at
The latest addition to our offerings is ‘Flavours of South Carolina’, a fly and self-drive journey with comfortable daily mileages so you can savour the feel and the food of the Palmetto state. You’ll stay in inns, b&bs and resort hotels along the way and there are three days to explore Charleston.
Bon Voyage credo number one: A perfectly crafted fly/drive holiday should be one of contrasts. Busy cities balanced with gorgeous scenery; days when you’re on the move and time to relax and contemplate; waterfront views and the open road. You get the idea.
When Senior Travel Consultant, Lara Hearn, was offered this road trip of contrasts she couldn’t wait to head for Nevada. Nevada is the driest state in the US, with some spots receiving just 4 inches of rain a year. Essentially, we’re talking about a desert state but this one includes wet and wild Las Vegas and parts of Lake Tahoe, which at 200 square miles is quite the oasis!
Lara takes up the story:-
They say you have to see Las Vegas to believe it. That you either love it or hate it. My take is that everyone should go once and form their own opinion. Many return again and again; they love the over-the-top, in-your-face on tap entertainment, the 24-hours a day, 365 days a year non-stop party-go-round; the all-star cast of world renowned artists, the biggest sports events, the highest stakes gambling; the drive through weddings; the high end resorts; the low life bars. In short, the whole nine yards. Others take one look and can’t wait to move on. I love it and after the 20-minute transfer from the airport following the ten-hour flight from London and check-in to a fountain-view room at the Bellagio, was ready to hit the town. I was pleased I’d had a nap on the flight because we were almost straight into the wonderful Cirque du Soleil, Beatles-inspired ‘Love’ show. If the idea of beautifully choreographed movement and circus-based athleticism blended with the best of the fab four appeals then you will adore this production. It’s been running since 2006 and plays to packed audiences every show at a specially built theatre within the Mirage resort.
SpeedVegas boasts the longest and fastest race track around, gets you behind the wheel of an exotic super car including Ferrari’s, Porsche’s and Lamborghini’s and basically lets you have at it. It’s quite the adrenaline-ride and it’s what we did on our second morning. Speed junkies will love it and others could not think of anything worse.
Vegas can serve as your base to explore the wonders of Valley of Fire State Park with its areas of petrified wood and 3,000 years-old Indian petroglyphs. Or you can make a helicopter day trip to the Grand Canyon which is a wonderful experience. We managed both over the next day and a half and then finally headed out to Cathedral Gorge State Park where erosion has carved dramatic and unique patterns in the bentonite clay. It’s a photographer’s and hikers dream but we were soon off to Ely and early dinner at the famous All Aboard Café. It’s a popular spot with an all-American menu – great salads and the lobster roll was a treat. It is really handy for the Nevada Northern Railway, the best-preserved example of a standard-gauge short-line left in North America and they were running a 90-minute Haunted Ghost Train on our evening in town. After an overnight in Ely we made an early start for Great Basin National Park and an hour-long tour of Lehman Caves. Slowly sculpted over the ages by water, the caves can be traced back 600 million years when Nevada and Western Utah were covered by a warm, shallow inland sea.
Finally, at 10.30am we’re ready to hit Highway 50. There’s a lot more to Highway 50 than Nevada. In fact, it runs from Ocean City, Maryland on the east coast to Sacramento, California. But the desert stretches are renowned for their solitude particularly as the interstate system long since became the fastest way to drive coast to coast.
Apart from the hum of
the engine the silence is deafening. Not
only isn’t there another vehicle in sight, we haven’t seen one for half an hour. Out here we see Nevada mustangs, indigenous
wild horses, roaming free. We make what
our American friends call comfort stops in Eureka and Austin and apart from
that it’s just us and the highway.
Finally, at 7pm we arrive at the Hyatt Regency Lake Tahoe and dinner at
Cutthroats Saloon with hearty portions and beers served in mason jars which are
like jam jars from days of yore. After
the solitude of Highway 50 it’s quite a contrast (that word again) to find our
resort is complete with seven bars and restaurants, a casino, 24-hour gym, hot
tub, spa – you name it. There’s also a
beach and with the lake being so vast you are to all intents and purposes at
Just as Vegas can be your base for some of the attractions of southern Nevada
so Lake Tahoe can serve the same purpose for the west of the state. The lake straddles Nevada and California with
the border point at the aptly named Stateline.
The lake is big and
beautiful and we took a wonderful sunset dinner cruise which was actually, for
me, one of the highlights of the whole trip.
You board a paddle-wheel steamer at nearby Zephyr Cove and there is a
great atmosphere with live music playing and champagne flowing. There is a full three course dinner with table
service but the real magic comes from the pinks and purples of the sky as the
sun goes down over the lake.
There was time on our
last morning for a trip out to Virginia City, a faithfully preserved Western
town of the gold rush years of the mid-19th century. A narrated walking tour leads you along the
streets that were once literally paved with silver ore. You can visit the abandoned mines and even
the school that was built to accommodate the influx of speculators and their
Then it was on the 20-odd miles up to Reno for the short flight back to Las Vegas for the onward Virgin Atlantic service to London. It’s a great fly/drive holiday and much of it has been adapted into our ‘Nevada and the Loneliest Road’ itinerary which you can find on the website at www.bon-voyage.co.uk/nevada.
Led by our resident American, Theresa Wilson and Sales Manager, Joanna Still, the Bon Voyage Six set off on a 1,000-mile familiarisation trip.
Individual members of the Bon Voyage sales team travel throughout the year to the US and Canada on visits organised by state and province tourist offices. But the ‘Big Daddy’ is our own annual blitz to take in as much territory as we can usefully cover. We flew from London Heathrow to Nashville on the new British Airways non-stop service and were lucky enough to sample the delights of Club Class. This is THE way to start and/or finish a Transatlantic holiday and if you pick the right time to book (we’ll guide you on this) it doesn’t have to break the bank. We needed a little flat-bed comfort because this was going to be anything but a holiday. Our aims? To site-inspect 29 hotels, check out new attractions, understand local geography and transportation and of course sample the food and entertainment! (We have a policy that we never recommend a customer to a hotel we wouldn’t stay at ourselves, and to say we have become picky over the years would be an understatement.)
Nashville on a balmy Saturday evening was buzzing. The senses are assaulted by the neon signs,
honky-tonk bars and music clubs of Broadway, the heart and soul of the action
between First and Fifth Avenues. One
innovation we saw is the pedal bar which is a moving pub crawl with about a
dozen riders enjoying a boozy tour of the neighbourhood. We took in Tootsie’s Orchid Lounge, a
Nashville legend for over 50 years and where Willie Nelson, Patsy Cline and a
host of others made their names. By that
time our beds were calling us.
Nashville is known as Music City and really does have a
country music style for everyone. Sunday highlights were Studio B, (who can
resist sitting at the same piano Elvis once sang at), The Country Music Hall of
Fame and of course the world-renowned Grand Ole Opry. We ate at the legendary Sun Diner, where the
walls are lined with photos of stars who went there after a night of recording.
We scoffed our ‘Jonny B Good’ egg flatbreads and ‘Love me’ Tenders while wallowing
in the nostalgia of a bygone era.
Then we hit the road to visit nearby Franklin. This cutesy town is lined with one-of-a-kind boutiques
and now has quite the reputation for an ‘Off Nashville’ music scene. Just to
challenge ourselves some more on the mileage front we drove part of the Scenic
Natchez Byway and were treated to lovely countryside views. We were too early for the Fall colours but it
is a spectacular show once an Autumn frost descends upon the route. Then it was
on to Tupelo and a visit to Elvis Presley’s birthplace. A very modest two room
building, housing some original items, most notably a picture of Elvis and his
parents hanging over the fireplace. The birthplace and interpretive centre are
definitely worth the stop for any Elvis fan; a true ‘hair on the back of the
neck’ experience for some of us.
Day 3 saw an early start to Memphis and check-in at the majestic
Peabody Hotel where yes, there really are ducks in the lobby. Whether its music
or history that draws you to this city it doesn’t disappoint. We
couldn’t visit Memphis without another ‘Elvis Event’, a tour of his Graceland home.
This was my second visit to the mansion, but I was just as teary-eyed this time
as last. We were extremely impressed with the new entertainment and exhibition complex
opened in 2018 by Priscilla Presley. The mammoth new ‘Elvis Presley’s Memphis’ houses
a showcase of cars he owned and used, a soundstage, two restaurants and retail
stores, artefacts from Lisa Marie’s childhood and of course those dazzling suits.
A new experience for me was the Arcade restaurant, one of
Elvis’s favourite diners. Get there when it opens at 7am and you can sit in Elvis’s
booth. The restaurant is just a short walk from the Civil Rights Museum where
the Loraine Motel stands. We walked around the site prior to breakfast; the sun
was rising as we reflected on the events of 4th April 1968 when
Martin Luther King was assassinated at this very spot.
‘The Six’ all agreed that our
favourite activity in Memphis was the Rockabilly Rides tour. Founded by two Beale Street entertainers who really know their Memphis music
history, we were
taken on a journey into Rock ‘n’ Roll history while exploring the city streets
in style. Our ride was a 1955 Chevy Bel Air while other options include a
1959 Ford Skyliner and a 1956 Chrysler Imperial. We never felt cooler!
By day four we were on to our 5th state of the visit. There was Tennessee, of course and Mississippi with Alabama clipped along the way, then the tip of Arkansas before we settled into our journey north and into Missouri on Interstate 55. St Louis was our destination and as we drove towards the city there was a collective gasp at the first sighting of the Gateway Arch. Opened in 1967 as a monument to the westward expansion of the United States, at 630 feet it’s the tallest man-made monument in the western hemisphere. You travel by a tram within the arch and if you’re not impressed by this engineering and architectural wonder you will be by the views from the observation platform as you gaze 30-miles across the Mississippi River to the East and the heart of St Louis to the West.
St Louis is also home to Forest Park, with its 1,400 acres
of walking, running and cycling trails. Steeped
in history the beautiful park was opened in 1876 and hosted the Olympic Games
of 1904. As a footnote at those Games
651 athletes competed; 645 men and 6 women.
Six women! It had to be a sign –
a sign that we needed a cocktail at the end of another busy day.
So many of our clients want to experience the kicks and kitsch of Route 66 that it was essential to take in just a part of the Mother Road before our final city stay, Chicago. On the morning of day 6 we took in Springfield and Pontiac. Pontiac is captivating with vibrant murals and reminders of Route 66 of old, whilst Springfield is a history buffs delight, home to an authentic collection of Abraham Lincoln sites that let you ‘step back in time to walk in the legendary president’s footsteps.’
Chicago is a favourite in the BV office, and a city that you
can visit time and time again. Famed for lakes, beaches, culinary delights and theatre
shows to rival those of Broadway, Chicago has been voted Americans favourite vacation
city. The upsurge in interest in Route
66 has enabled us to showcase Chicago as the great visitor experience it truly
Whilst in Chicago we were spoilt with a stay at the swanky Viceroy
Chicago Hotel in the ritzy Gold Coast neighbourhood. Voted #1 hotel in Chicago by
Conde Nast readers in 2018, it is an elegant mix of vintage and contemporary,
and the panoramic lake and skyscraper views from the rooftop pool added a touch
of magic to our stay.
Talking of city skylines, Chicago is an architectural mecca
and home to iconic buildings such as the John Hancock Centre, Willis Tower and
Tribune Tower. We were brave enough to take the ‘tilt challenge’ at the 360
John Hancock, suspended on a glass platform over 1,000 feet above the
Magnificent Mile. It is certainly a
novel way to see Chicago and received the thumbs up from us all once we’d done
After all that sightseeing Navy Pier, 50-acres of parks,
gardens, shops, restaurants and family attractions, beckoned us for a last
Margherita and deep-dish pizza. Chicago
and its residents ooze a self-assured confidence and you don’t need to be in
this city for long to understand why its residents are so proud of where they
So, there you have it, our BV road trip in a nutshell. Quite
frankly the highlights are too many to mention and we loved every second of our
If taking children to a different country sends shivers down your spine, just relax. The less you panic and the more organised you get, the easier things will be. The great thing about a family holiday to America is that the country as a whole is well equipped to welcome families. From family hotel rooms to a range of foods to suit every picky palate, you can be sure you’ll find everything you need when you arrive.
If it’s the flight plaguing you, just remember that the memories of the holiday itself will last much longer than the memories of the stressful journey. And there’s plenty you can do to make this journey as smooth running as possible, including choosing flight times that fit closely with your children’s current routines. Kids that sleep well on transport will be better suited to a night flight, but you may want to pick a day flight time to minimise disruptions to sleep patterns, using activities to keep them entertained.
Remember that the more you travel with children, the more used to the whole experience they will be. For children that travel from a young age, plane journey is nothing out of the ordinary.
Plan, plan, plan.
You may reminisce about the days when you were carefree, able to plan a last minute trip abroad and not worry about flight times, what you’ll eat or even where you’ll stay when you get there.
Family life can be quite far removed from the life you had before, with children requiring routines and constant entertainment, and don’t get us started on how much luggage a child can require for a week away!
But that doesn’t mean you can’t have the best family holiday ever. You just have to be more organised in order to make it run smoothly. Use all the tools at your disposal including the productivity apps on your phone and online sample itineraries. Reaching out to friends and family for advice is always a good idea too.
Create an itinerary specifically for your family.
When you think of family friendly holidays to America, Orlando is typically the first place that springs to mind. And whilst the roller coasters, resorts and amusements are great fun, the USA has so much more to offer.
If you’ve got your heart set on the fun and thrills of the theme parks, why not make your trip a multi-centre holiday and stop somewhere else on the way? Or explore more of Florida whilst you’re there; take a scenic road trip, jump on the train or fly down further South to West Palm beach, Miami or the Florida Keys.
Or perhaps you’re looking for something a little more adventurous, relaxing or educational? At Bon Voyage we regularly arrange family trips all over the USA and Canada, with popular destinations including New York, Hawaii, The Deep South and California. It really depends on your family’s taste and appetite for adventure.
Get the kids involved from the beginning.
It’s nice to plan a surprise holiday for the kids, but creating a memorable trip that’s enjoyable for everyone can start months or years before it actually begins. Get the children to research your destination and activities using guide books and the internet. Sit down with them and plan your journey on a world map so they can get a feel for how far away you’ll be venturing.
Why not check what they’re learning about at school or preschool and see if any elements can be incorporated into the trip? Seeing different cultures and real world experiences can provide a fantastic education (without any risk of being ‘boring’).
Lists are your best friend when organising a family holiday. Create a list for each thing you need to remember; items to pack, flight and transfer times, hotels, activity ideas to keep the kids occupied on the flight, snacks to pick up beforehand, the itinerary for when you arrive…
If you can prepare all this before hand you’ll have an instant reference point for any panics whilst you’re away.
Book, book, book.
Book flights, accommodation and the fundamental aspects of your trip as soon as possible. If you’re travelling during peak times (like school holidays), things will get booked up in advance. At Bon Voyage we can help you combine bookings to get the best rates and deals, for example multi-attraction theme park tickets that will save you hundreds of dollars, or the best-value family holiday accommodation where kids eat free!
Once your flights are booked, select your seats as soon as possible. Use SeatGuru to find the best seats on the plane, and try and get the front of a block of seats to allow for extra room to move around (this is also typically where the baby cribs are located)
Check before you travel.
Being prepared for every circumstance is key. When you arrive in the USA there’s not much you won’t be able to get hold of if you need it, but you’ll need to be prepared for the journey there.
Take more than enough nappies in your hand luggage in case of delays, and whilst you can get them when you’re out there, they’re also a great space saver in your hold luggage as you can refill your suitcase with new purchases for the way home.
Despite liquid restrictions at security, you can take baby food or baby milk through, as well as liquids essential for medical purposes.
When it comes to bag sizes for hand luggage, this will vary across different airlines, so check with your Bon Voyage travel consultant or airline before you travel.
You should also double check all flight times and airport transfers, plus documentation and passports before you go. Can you imagine getting to the airport to find you’ve left your passports in that really safe place at home?
Pack goodie bags.
These are key to keeping children occupied at any age on a flight (even teenagers!). Use tote bags (which fit inside another hand luggage bag and are always handy to have around) or carrier bags (also handy) and fill them with each child’s favourite things, plus; magazines, books, sticker books, colouring books, playing cards, snacks, a travel diary and headphones.
You might also want to include something to eat or drink during takeoff and landing as this will help with the ear popping, plus a tablet, iPad or iPod filled with their favourite TV programmes or films and apps if you have one. Whilst the inflight entertainment is good, it’s not the same as having the pick of your favourites.
Enjoy your trip
If the planning, booking and flying all seems a little overwhelming, don’t fear. As long as you’re organised you’ll have a fairly long period of time in between each process. This gives you plenty of time to get excited for the trip, but also lots of time to get organised.