The King’s Castle

Originally published in Lake & Sumter Style, November 2017.
Photos: Mary Ann DeSantis
Download the original magazine layout here.

The exterior of Graceland

Elvis Presley’s Memphis—a $45-million, 200,000-square-foot, state-of-the-art entertainment complex—opened in March and is an extraordinary place honoring the late king of rock ’n’ roll, but Graceland remains the crown jewel. 

If it’s been awhile since you visited Elvis Presley’s Graceland, things have changed this year—not so much with the Colonial Revival-style mansion itself, but with the 40 acres across the street where the new Elvis Presley’s Memphis attraction sits. After all, the home will always look the way it did when Elvis died 40 years ago because fans have a burning love for the place and want it to remain the way the king left it. But the tours are more organized than they were when the home first opened to the public…and there is a lot more to see.

The best way to describe Elvis Presley’s Memphis is to imagine a theme park that is “all Elvis.” From his lean years as a U.S. Army private to his extensive car collection in Presley Motors, including his pink Cadillac, the “streets” are lined with everything Elvis. I grew up watching Elvis’ movies, so for fans like me, there’s even a big screen theater showing his old movies—all day.

One of Elvis' many jumpsuits

The attraction’s cornerstone is “Elvis: The Entertainer,” an entire section dedicated to Elvis’ music, movies, and live touring career. Featuring hundreds of artifacts from the extensive Graceland archives—including his collection of gold and platinum records and his jeweled jumpsuits—the building houses the largest, most comprehensive Elvis museum in the world.

Save time to peruse the Elvis Discovery Exhibits, which explain the influences that defined Elvis’ extraordinary life. I particularly enjoyed “Icons,” which told how Elvis paved the way for many of today’s artists, including Bruce Springsteen and Elton John. Endearing was a story by singer Trisha Yearwood about how she wrote a letter proposing to Elvis when she was only 5 years old.

When you get hungry, visit the onsite themed restaurants honoring Elvis’ parents. For lighter snacks, including the famous peanut butter and banana sandwiches, stop by Gladys’ Diner, a ’50s-style diner named for Elvis’ mother. His father was known for his barbecue, so Vernon’s Smokehouse offers hunka, hunka portions of pork, ribs, beef brisket, chicken and Southern-style vegetables.

A paiting of Elvis at Graceland

Some visitors may get all shook up when they see the admission prices for the Elvis Experience Tour, but the exhibits and archives are so extensive that it doesn’t take long to realize you are getting your money’s worth—especially if you grew up loving Elvis. Admission for the Elvis Experience, which includes a tour of Graceland and as much time as you want at the entertainment complex, is $57.50 for adults ($51.75 for seniors and children). Admission for Graceland is only $43.75, but if you’ve made the journey to Memphis you might as well see the new complex.

Getting an Elvis Entourage VIP pass was my good luck charm because I could skip ahead of long lines and see a special exhibit and film. Otherwise, I never would have made it through the 40-acre complex and Graceland, too, in one afternoon. My advice: arrive early in the day and spend the extra $36 for the Entourage VIP tour if the lines are long. An Ultimate VIP tour with a private guide also is available for $159.

There is an extra $5 charge to walk through Elvis’ planes—the Lisa Marie and the Hound Dog II—which are parked near the gates of Elvis Presley’s Memphis.

The pink  Cadillac that Elvis loved

The Mansion

Elvis Presley bought Graceland in Memphis’ Whitehaven neighborhood in 1957, when he was only 22 years old, and lived there until his death in 1977. It is said that Elvis didn’t see just a house, but rather the beginning of a dream.

When the home opened for public tours in 1982, just over 3,000 visitors marched through the gates; today, more than 600,000 people come annually, making it the second-most visited historical site in the U.S.—only the White House gets more traffic.

Today’s visitors receive an interactive iPad to use as they tour the Graceland Mansion and the 14-acre estate. Visitors follow a defined route through Elvis’ living room, music room, parents’ bedroom, dining room, kitchen, TV room, pool room, and the famous Jungle Room. The newly enhanced Trophy Building showcases a wealth of information about Elvis and his family. The final stop is the Meditation Garden, where Elvis, his parents, and grandmother are buried.

A room at The Guest House Hotel at Graceland

The Guest House 

It’s a long way from a heartbreak hotel to The Guest House, the 450-room luxury resort adjacent to Graceland that opened in 2016. There are nods to Elvis everywhere: curved, high-backed sofas in the lobby are meant to mimic the collars on some of Elvis’ capes, and the heart-shaped outdoor firepit is called “Burning Love.” The gabled entrance and grand staircase are large-scale replicas of those at Graceland. And best of all is the nonstop soundtrack of Elvis songs playing in the lobby and public areas to get guests in the mood for their Elvis Presley’s Memphis experience.

I wasn’t sure what to expect when I decided to visit The Guest House and Elvis Presley’s Memphis. Quite honestly, I was afraid I’d find a lot of hokey souvenirs. Instead, I found tasteful décor and an archive of cultural history that spanned my lifetime. I just couldn’t help falling in love again with the King.

For information, visit graceland.com and guesthousegraceland.com


Trip tip

The Holiday Concert Weekend will be Dec. 15-16 at the Graceland Sound Stage in the new Elvis Presley’s Memphis entertainment complex. Elvis in Concert, gospel greats, an all-star band, and a live symphony orchestra will be featured in three unprecedented concerts that celebrate Elvis and the Christmas season. For ticket information, visit graceland.com/holiday.


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