Category Archives: Memphis

My Trip on the American Queen by Sarah Shepard

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!  

If you want to find out more about The American Queen please look at https://www.bon-voyage.co.uk/destinations/american_queen_steamboat_company or give one of our experts a call on 02380 248248. 

Fourth of July – why all the fuss?

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!

Fourth of July as waving flags and sparklers

Evening Events

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.

Family Reunion

Reunion

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…..

Theresa Wilson Celebrating 4th July
Theresa Wilson

Three Nights in Memphis – immersing myself in all things Elvis

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 Elvis.

Arcade Restaurant

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

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.

Throughout the 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 wedding.

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.

We went 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 differently designed.

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 gun collection.

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.

Meditation Garden

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 Museum

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

I had 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!

The 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 ReddingBooker 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 visit.

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 fitting.

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 – dream 0800 316 3012 or email sales@bon-voyage.co.uk.

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.

Enjoy!

 

Deep South Solo – a hosted Bon Voyage holiday for single travellers

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.

Guest House Graceland Lobby © EPE. Graceland and its marks are trademarks of EPE. All Rights Reserved
Guest House Graceland Lobby © EPE. Graceland and its marks are trademarks of EPE. All Rights Reserved

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!