Rocknuts Road Trip, Part 2: The Elvis experience

In part one of the chronicle of my recent musical journey, I recapped a few of the notable music attractions of the city of Memphis without mentioning the biggest one of all — Graceland, the home of Elvis Presley. Elvis gets his own segment of this feature, in part because Graceland on its own is a bit of a behemoth, but also because my Elvis experience didn’t stop with just Graceland. I also wound up in Tupelo, Mississippi later in my journey, where I spent some time at Elvis’s birthplace. Both attractions will be lumped in to this Elvis-themed portion of the story, starting with Graceland, and the impressive new museum that was just added to Graceland last year.

Graceland/Elvis Presley’s Memphis
Elvis Presley Blvd, Memphis, TN
Pros: An Elvis fan’s dream
Cons: Expensive and sometimes cheesy
Score for Elvis fans: 5 out of 5
Score for music fans in general: 4.25 out of 5
Score for non-music fans: Tourist trap out of 5

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Pretty much any fan of rock music is aware of Graceland, which long has been one of the most famous rock n’ roll tourist attractions in the world. What you might not be aware of is the Graceland experience has grown significantly over the past couple of years with the addition of Elvis Presley’s Memphis, a new museum that opened in 2017 that gives fans a much more detailed look at the life and times of one of rock’s biggest superstars.

It can all be yours to see, for a price. The normal adult-priced ticket for Graceland by itself carries the overinflated cost of $39.75, and for about $20 more you can see the new museum. For $5 more than that, you can walk on board Elvis’s two airplanes. Then, for $96.50, you can get all that plus VIP access to Graceland where you’ll be able to skip waiting in line, along with a few other minor features thrown in. Finally, for $169, you’ll get the ultimate package, where you’ll get your own tour guide, a free meal, an exclusive souvenir, and more.

There’s a sucker born every minute, and during that particular minute on my day of birth, that sucker was me. Because of that I originally intended on buying the $169 package, in part because I was scared by the horror stories I heard about the long lines at Graceland, but also because I figured it would probably be a once-in-a-lifetime experience, so why not?

Fortunately, the Graceland web site wasn’t working the night before I planned on visiting, which prevented me from purchasing that package. That’s a good thing, because when I arrived on Sunday morning, the complex was largely empty without many lines to speak of. I instead picked up the $64 package that gave me Graceland, the museum, and the planes, which turned out to be the best choice. I can’t say for sure if it would be the correct purchase for a hardcore Elvis fan, or on a peak tourism day later in the summer where the lines might be longer, but on this day it was best way to go. The only line came at the front door of the Graceland mansion, which eventually thinned out a bit once the crowd filtered through the house.

Graceland from the front

The visit to the house itself turned out to be enjoyable. Visitors are escorted to the house via shuttle and are given an iPad that accompanies their visit and explains what is in each room they enter. Visitors are then led through the main rooms in the house, including the famous jungle room, and are also allowed limited access to the grounds and other buildings on the property. The tour concludes with a visit to the family grave site, and once visitors have their fill, they can hop back on the bus to head back over to the museum or to leave entirely, if they wish.

The Jungle Room

For those of us who bought the museum ticket, the Graceland experience was just getting started after leaving the house, which turned out to be a good thing. The museum wound up being arguably the highlight of the entire Graceland complex, complete with an impressive array of Elvis memorabilia, automobiles, gold and platinum records, and other personal possessions. There’s so much on display that one gets the impression while browsing the museum that Elvis never threw away much of anything, which led to an archive of over a million items. Not all of those are on display at the museum, of course, but there’s more than enough to give you well over an hour of material to go through. There’s items from his childhood, his army years, his time in Vegas, his movie career, and much more. For Elvis fans, it’s all a little slice of heaven.

The museum doesn’t stop with just Elvis, either, as there’s a wing dedicated to Sun Records founder Sam Phillips, and another wing dedicated to musicians influenced by Elvis. All in all it’s a strong collection, with plenty of goodies to satisfy music fans.

Elvis sold a few records.

Along with a large amount of things to see and do in the overall experience, there’s also a wide variety of ways for them to take money from their visitors. I lost count of how many gift shops there were in the museum, but I want to say there’s at least five or six, one for almost every wing. Each visitor also gets their picture taken in front of a Graceland backdrop before hopping on a bus to the mansion, after which they are charged $35 if they want to take home copies of the picture. For all the good things to see at Graceland, you may also come away with a slightly bad taste in your mouth over the expensiveness of it all.

Despite those imperfections, Graceland was actually the highlight of my trip to Memphis, which was a nice surprise considering I came into it with diminished expectations. Your enjoyment of Graceland and the museum will probably coincide with how much of a fan you are of Elvis and of rock music, but if you’re interested enough in the source material, don’t leave Memphis without taking it all in — despite how much it might hurt your wallet. If you couldn’t care less about Elvis or rock music, you might want to think twice about making the trip.

Elvis Presley’s Birthplace
306 Elvis Presley Dr, Tupelo, MS
Pros: A loving tribute to Elvis and one hardcore fans should enjoy
Cons: Overpriced and short-lived, although visitors can see the outside of the house and tour the grounds at no cost
Score: 3.75 out of 5

Elvis was a long way from Graceland as a boy.

Fast forwarding through many of the other adventures on my trip, some of which I’ll talk about in the next installment, I would up in Tupelo six days after Graceland with the intention of visiting Elvis Presley’s birthplace, which would complete my round of expensive Elvis tourism. The attraction features the refurbished two-room shack where Elvis was born and lived as a child, the refurbished church from down the street where Elvis gained his gospel influences, a small museum that told of Elvis’ life in poverty as a child as well as his later years, and various memorials scattered about the grounds that fans can visit, including two statues, a fountain, and a reflection pool.

It cost $8 just to see the house, which even the most hardcore fan might find a hard time getting more than 15 minutes out of because it’s so small. For $18 visitors can see the house, the museum, and go inside the church, where they’ll take part in a 15-minute re-enactment of what church may have been like for Elvis Presley. For no cost visitors can see everything else, giving people the chance to simply drive up, get a picture of the house, then drive away, if they so choose.

A lovely tribute to Elvis overlooking the grounds of his childhood home

It was unfortunately too expensive, but it’s hard to hate on it too much because it was all put together with such reverence of Tupelo’s favorite son. In contrast to Graceland, this attraction is a bit more serene, although once again it’s disappointing there wasn’t a bit more for the money.

With that, we’re done with Elvis for the most part, and next up we’ll be moving to the most spiritual part of the journey — a trip through the fabled blues country of the Mississippi Delta.

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