When we plan our trips, we usually have an end destination in mind. We try to add fun and interesting stops along the way. Sometimes they are iconic places we have always wanted to visit, and sometimes they just happen to be the midway points between other stops. Memphis was a midway point stop for us. We knew we needed to add another stop between Arkansas and Nashville, and Memphis just happened to work perfectly. We didn’t expect to fall in love with this city, but we really did. My kids have even declared it their favorite stop of the trip. It might even be our favorite city stop of any trip we’ve taken.
I have to give a special shout out to Brittney from the Memphis Visitor’s Bureau. I contacted her a few months before our trip, and she was amazing at giving us the low-down on all the key spots we needed to see while in town. I was particularly worried about where to stay in Memphis. I had heard some scary things about the crime rate in the city, and since we are basically in a tent, I wanted to make sure we were safe during our visit. Brittney suggested we book at the Graceland RV Park & Campground, and I am so glad we did. It was a perfect spot to set up base camp.
The Graceland RV Park & Campground is actually adjacent to Graceland itself. There are both full hook-up and partial hook-up sites available. There is 24-hour security, and the campground is completely fenced in. You have to enter the RV park through a security guard station, which made me feel a little more safe. When we arrived, we were actually booked to stay in a smaller site within the main area of the park. That site had no shade. It was a full hook-up site, but I really preferred to have some shade on our little PUP, since we don’t have A/C. The staff directed us to the tent area–where we still had water and electric–and it was perfect.
We pretty much had the whole area to ourselves., too I think there was one other camper back there, so the staff let us select our own site. We set up in Site J, which fit our needs perfectly. We paid $41 per night, and had full use of all the RV park amenities.
There are bathhouses, laundry facilities, WIFI, a pool, and a camp store on site. We had no problem getting all of our laundry done, and the facilities were clean and reasonably priced. The bathhouses, while not fancy, were always clean and there was plenty of warm water. We didn’t make use of the pool, but noticed a lot of families swimming and grilling in the attached barbeque area. All the streets had fun Elvis themed names, and there was Elvis music playing throughout the campground during the day.
Our first stop in Memphis was the Gibson Guitar Factory. My son is a huge guitar buff, and he was really looking forward to the factory tour. I am actually really glad we did this while we were in town. We made reservations online, and the tours were $10/person. Sadly, I’ve read that Gibson is moving out of Memphis and headed for Nashville. They no longer offer tours in Memphis. I believe there is still a retail store on-site, but production has moved elsewhere. 🙁
If you are into guitars, you will find this tour so interesting. My son and husband definitely did. We got a great feel for the entire process, from start to finish. The girls, while they enjoyed shopping in the gift shop, were not as impressed with the factory. The tour was about an hour, and pictures were not allowed, so I don’t have any of the actual tour. There were some amazing guitars in the retail store, though, and my kids each picked out souvenir guitar picks to take home.
From there we headed down the street to visit the Rock ‘N’ Soul Museum. Now honestly, we were not expecting to love this museum. My kids don’t really like blues or soul music, but we had time to kill before our dinner reservations, so we popped in. I was surprised to discover that this museum is really well run. The museum admission includes an audio tour. You carry around a small device and headseat, and as you move from exhibit to exhibit, you are able to hear samples of music from different time periods. We loved that. The kids got their first taste of Elvis here, and from then on, they were fans. 😆 Admission is reasonable, too. Adult tickets are $13, and kid passes will run you $10. If you love music, don’t miss this one.
While we were downtown, we couldn’t miss the famous Beale Street. It didn’t disappoint. We wandered through the street and listened to blues music streaming out of each little shop. We hit B.B. King’s for dinner and were even entertained by live music there. We got to pay our very first cover charge to get in, but the BBQ was worth it. It was a perfect ending to an awesome day.
On day two, we hit the National Civil Rights Museum at the Lorraine Motel. This is another museum that is not to be missed. We weren’t sure what to expect, but left very inspired. There are two buildings, the Lorraine Building, which houses many of the civil rights exhibits and the Martin Luther King, Jr. memorial, and the Legacy Building. The Legacy Building is across the street and encompasses all of the timeline exhibits and the investigation surrounding Dr. King’s assassination at the Lorraine Motel. Tickets run $16/adult, $13/child and cover admission to both buildings.Our favorite part of our Memphis experience had to be the Backbeat Big Mojo and Sun Studio Tour. This was absolute heaven for my music-loving family. What is not to love about a musical bus tour of Memphis, guided by a professional Beale Street musician? We saw all the major Memphis landmarks. We heard the music of Elvis, Johnny Cash, B.B. King, Carl Perkins, Jerry Lee Lewis, and so much more. And we ended with a tour of the legendary Sun Studio. By the end of the tour, we knew all about Sam Phillips and how Elvis was discovered. We learned more about Johnny Cash and Jerry Lee Lewis. I’m not gonna lie… we were all a little starstruck. The kids even got to pose in the room where Elvis recorded That’s All Right.
I never thought my kids would get excited about classic rock and blues, but I underestimated them. It was all they could talk about on the way home. I definitely had little Elvis fans by this point. It was a good day. And for the icing on the cake, we hit Jerry’s Sno Cones for an evening treat–yes, before we even had dinner. Everyone kept telling us we had to try them, so we made the trek across town. After a long, hot day in Tennessee, it was worth it.On our last day in Memphis, we finally hit Graceland. I honestly wasn’t sure if we would even go, because it is so pricey. The ticket to visit just the Graceland mansion–no automobiles or airplanes or outfits–was $41/adult. Students are $36.50. For a couple hour experience, that is outrageous. I really didnt want to do it… yeah, I’m cheap. 😛
But I had a couple of giggly Elvis fans now, and they begged to go. Because I am not sure that we will be able to return to Memphis anytime soon, I relented. We purchased the Elvis Experience Tour, which gave use access to the mansion, the automobile collection, and the outbuildings that contain Elvis’s costumes and memorabilia. At $61/adult, it was a tough pill to swallow. If you are a die-hard Elvis fan, or if you have come to Memphis specifically for Graceland, it may not bother you to spend that kind of money on a tour. We had to fit three weeks of entertainment into a small budget, though, so it was a splurge for us. Get there early, if you can, because tours fill up fast. We had to wait in line to book a tour, then wait in line to get on the shuttle to the mansion, then wait in line to get into the mansion, then wait in line to get out of the mansion. You get the picture. 😉 The place is packed, so arrive early and be prepared to wait in line often. It’s maybe not the best activity for small children, just sayin’…Having said that, the tour really was very interesting, and I’m glad we did it. You are given an iPad and a headset, which serve as visual and audio guides throughout the mansion. We had an issue with one of our iPads, but it was a quick fix and the staff was very good about switching it out for a new one. Once you get your equipment, you hop on a shuttle, which takes you across the street into the mansion.The whole mansion tour took us right around an hour to complete. We really enjoyed learning all about Elvis’s life and peeking inside his beloved home. The mansion tour doesn’t include any of the upstairs bedrooms, so you won’t see Elvis’s room, but you get a great view of his dining room, kitchen, recreation room, and the famous Jungle Room. Unfortunately, Graceland is very particular about public relations. You are allowed to take photos for personal use, but you can’t post them online. So even though we snapped quite a few pictures of the mansion and property, we can’t actually share them here. 🙁
We spent several hours at Graceland, and all in all, I am glad we took the tour. It was really very interesting, and we all got a first hand look at some iconic Elvis possessions–like his Cadillac collection. My kids were a great age to really appreciate the experience, so it is perfect for teenagers. I wish it wasn’t so darn expensive, but Graceland really is a big part of Memphis. We wanted to make sure we took in as much as we could while we were in town. While we still missed so many things and could have spent at least one more day there, I think we got in enough adventure to call ourselves Memphis fans.
HELPFUL TIPS FOR VISITING MEMPHIS, TENNESSEE
- Memphis has a bit of a bad reputation, but we felt completely safe at the Graceland RV Park & Campground. It is fully gated and has 24 hour security. It is also right on Graceland property, so you can walk to Graceland if you choose to visit. And it isn’t a long drive into downtown Memphis, if sightseeing is on the agenda.
- There are so many great museums in Memphis, and they are all within walking distance of each other. Our favorites were the Rock ‘N’ Soul Museum and the National Civil Rights Museum. They were both affordable and kept the family entertained for hours.
- Although we didn’t get a chance to visit, Memphis has a top-notch zoo. If you have little ones, you might want to opt for the zoo over some of the museums or even Graceland.
- Don’t miss Beale Street–especially in the evening. There are so many great shops and restaurants, and the neon signs at night are really something to behold. And the music! It’s everywhere!
- If time and money allows, don’t miss the Backbeat Big Mojo Tour with a stop at Sun Studios. It was a great way for us to see all the major landmarks in Memphis and get some musical history about the city as well. There were even chances to sing along with our tour guide. It’s great fun for the whole family. It was our favorite part of our visit to Memphis!
- Graceland is pricey, but if you are Elvis fans, you just gotta go. Get there early! We arrived at opening time, and we still had a good wait to purchase tickets. Tours sell out quickly, particularly in the summer, so plan ahead. If you do the Elvis Experience Tour like we did, allow yourself a good 2-3 hours to see everything.
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Disclosure: The Memphis Visitor’s Bureau did provide us tickets to the Backbeat Big Mojo Tour in order for us to review the experience, however, we were not compensated for our opinions. We are always 100% honest about our experiences, and all opinions are definitely our own. It really was our favorite experience on our visit to Memphis! 🙂