I wouldn’t exactly call myself an Elvis fan, but there are several songs of his that I do like. What I am though is an admirer of big houses. If there’s a big house that I can tour, I want to do it. I want to learn about it and walk the grounds and learn the history. When we passed through Memphis, Tennessee on our way back home from Virginia Beach, Graceland was on my list of places that we needed to stop.
The thing that we quickly learned about Graceland though is that it’s a tourist trap from the moment you park your car, because that costs $10. We watched several people turn around and leave as soon as they realized you had to pay for parking, in fact, we almost did the same. However, the fact that we have this site and the curiosity of seeing what else goes on behind the scenes turned us back around and we paid for the parking.
The parking, the classic car museum, the airplanes, gift shops and restaurants are actually all in a compound across the street from the actual estate. Here you pay for your tickets, which are pretty expensive considering that the tour is an audio tour and doesn’t even have a real tour guide. You take a shuttle bus from the compound to the actual house and grounds of Graceland.
The ticket prices vary depending on what you want to see. We opted for the basic tour as were short on time, but it still cost us $31 per person. It looks like they are going up on their prices for 2012 according to the website. If you want to see the car museum and the airplanes, it’s an additional charge.
When you arrive at the house, you’re rushed to the front door where they give you a briefing of sorts and let you know what number to set your audio tour on. On one hand the audio tour is unique and interesting, you do get to hear music and commentary from Lisa Marie Presley and others who knew Elvis, but on the other hand, it takes away from the experience if you’re visiting with friends or family. Everybody has their own headset and you find yourselves worried more about what number you’re on for the tour rather than being able to talk and discuss what you’re seeing. I much prefer an actual tour guide that you can interact with and ask questions. Instead, you walk around with a silly headset and they have people placed throughout the house for security and safety. Kids don’t get their own headset, they get a headphone splitter, so they are tethered to you throughout the tour as well; that is if they will even listen to the audio.
The other thing that I didn’t like about the tour was that you don’t get to see the second floor of the house. They say that this is because the upstairs was Elvis’ private quarters and that he always greeted guests downstairs and that they don’t allow anyone upstairs out of respect. I think that if a home is presented for touring, then you should be allowed to see the upstairs. People are there after all to see his home and how he lived.
The house itself is pristine and decorated just as it was in the 70s when Elvis passed. From the peacock room with the huge white couch to the jungle room with the waterfall wall and shag carpet ceiling, everything is the same. I was actually surprised that the kitchen wasn’t larger, especially since he had s someone on hand to cook 24 hours a day. The basement was interesting as well since this was also Elvis’ personal space. They have the televisions in the wall running old news recordings from the 70s.
After you tour the house you walk out the back beneath the car port to see the backyard and his father’s office. In the office, they have an interview of Elvis right after he returned from being deployed and discussing a girl he met while he was away. The girl turned out to be Priscilla. The office is a converted garage building that also houses a room that Elvis used as a shooting range at one point.
From the office, you go to the racquetball court. This is the building where Elvis actually died. The first part of the building is a lounge/bar/gym type area. It is two levels and also has a piano in it. The racquetball court area itself has been transformed into a display center for various jumpsuits that Elvis wore while he performed. There are also numerous awards and pictures. A concert is also playing on a television there.
From the racquetball court, you can see the pastures and stable where Elvis had his horses. There are actual horses living on the grounds now as well. You continue walking from here into the building that houses an exhibit walking you through Elvis’ life and his awards. It’s an interactive timeline of sorts. This building was particularly interesting because you can see all of the dozens of awards that he won and for which songs.
Once you make your way through the timeline building, you exit to the side of the house where the swimming pool and meditation garden is located. The meditation garden is where Elvis and his family have been laid to rest. There are various water features here as well as sitting areas. This is also where the tour bottlenecks a bit as people stop to listen to the audio and read the headstones. Elvis and his mother weren’t originally buried here; his father had them moved to the estate for security purposes, according to the audio. There is also a memorial headstone for Elvis’ twin brother. He is actually buried in Jackson, Mississippi. We didn’t know that he had a twin and I think that the fact he died at birth is why he is never been mentioned.
There are numerous flowers and gifts around the gravesites here and most of these have been sent from the various Elvis fan clubs from around the world. According to the audio tour, they are regularly switched out as new ones arrive.
The meditation garden is the last part of the tour and from here you head back to get back on the shuttle. This was the only opportunity that I had to try to get a picture of the actual house and my opportunity was very short at that. They say that you’ll have the opportunity to take pictures of the house at the end of the tour, but the shuttle buses come and go so quickly that you really don’t have much time.
Although the tour was interesting, we didn’t feel that it justified the cost of the tickets or the parking. It really felt like a tourist trap at the end of it all. If you are a really huge Elvis fan, then by all means go on the tour, if you’re iffy about it, I’d just go walk the sidewalk in front of the house and see it from the street.