I can’t say I’m a massive Elvis fan. I’m not sure many millennials can, right? But I certainly feel some connection to The King. For a start, we have the same birthday, 8th January. It’s one of those things I whip out when asked for an ‘interesting fact about yourself’ in an awkward situation where you don’t want to give too much away. Same birthday as Elvis Presley, David Bowie and Stephen Hawkins. AKA the birthday of greatness… *cue some icebreaking laughter in the room*
I know, I’m such a wanker.
I also have a semi-hipster boyfriend with a record player who bangs out an Elvis record every now and then. The Elvis Christmas album in particular is an annual favourite around the festivities. So I know some Elvis music like most people do, but I didn’t know anything about his life, hadn’t seen any of his films or anything like that. So when we visited Graceland on the Trek America #iTrekHere trip, I figured I would like it, but I hadn’t expected to LOVE it.
Graceland was Elvis’ home from 1957 until he passed away in 1977. Since 1982 it has been a tourist destination with Elvis fans coming from all over the world to visit the home of rock and roll history. And it’s not just the mansion itself, from March 2017 several new sections have been added to the estate with new museums and exhibits showcasing Elvis Presley’s cars and range of fabulous outfits. There’s A LOT to see here, folks.
It’s here that you start your Graceland visit, across the road from the mansion itself where the museums are. Set out like a street, it did kinda remind me of Downtown Disney, but it’s not too in your face touristy. It’s been made to look like you’re in the fifties, complete with a retro diner in the centre named after The King’s mother, Gladys’ Diner.
I made a loop around the exhibits but there are certainly some that are better than others. For example a new addition this year was ‘The Fairground‘ which is meant to be a 1950’s carnival but it was pretty bare with not much going on. On the other hand, the ‘Presley Motors Automobile Museum‘ was cool AF, showcasing over 20 of Elvis’ cars and retro golf cart-type things. The best part is getting a load of his pink cadillac. What an absolute treat.
There’s also a separate exhibit just for his motorcycles – ‘Presley Cycles‘ – which again was pretty cool.
But my favourite exhibit by far was the ‘Fashion King Exhibit‘, you guessed it, an ode to Elvis’ custom-made outfits, including a whole bunch of white jumpsuit-esque numbers. So much embellishment, so much glitz and glam, the former Fashion student in me was jumping up and down about the whole thing. It’s just so iconic, you know?
Also there’s lots of photos of Elvis from his youth in this section and hubba hubba what a total babe. Like seriously, he’s a dreamboat. If I grew up in the fifties, my teenage bedroom would be covered in posters of the guy.
Another notable part of the museum section is the new ‘ICONS: The Influence of Elvis Presley‘ exhibit which details some of the stars of music and film that have expressed inspiration from Elvis. It’s quite a nice link from the fifties world of Graceland to the present day, and it’s really moving to see how many crazy-famous stars were inspired by this guy.
It’s also a cool place to see some awesome memorabilia from some of these stars, including John Lennon’s piano!
Ok, let’s move on to the Graceland Mansion itself.
Like I said, the estate is actually across the road from the museums – the road since re-named Elvis Presley Boulevard at that! But before you go across, you go into a mini cinema which tells the story of Elvis’ life. I enjoyed this way more than I thought I would – it shows clips of Elvis starting out in music, clips of his movies and interviews with him throughout his life. I didn’t realise that he served for two years in the army AFTER he was already famous. Like, can you imagine that? He’s serving his country after he’s already rich and famous? What a guy. The film really captures what an amazing talent he was and I was eager to see more of Graceland (which I guess is the whole point of this experience!).
After the film you’re given an iPad with headphones for an audio/visual guide and packed onto a retro bus that takes you across the road to Graceland itself.
Again, I didn’t know what to expect from the mansion, but it’s pretty impressive from the outside with big white pillars. But it’s not as massive as I thought it would be actually. It looks like a family home rather than a rock and roll mansion, I think.
But the inside is totally rock and roll with some really glam touches. I mean the Living Room at the front is real classy with gorgeous stained glass panels and retro white furniture, but some rooms like the infamous Jungle Room avec indoor waterfall, as well as the fabric-covered Billiards Room, are quite over the top!
Elvis even had a blue and yellow TV Room where he used to watch three TV sets at once. A guy that worked there called it “The Original Man Cave” which was pretty accurate!
The tour actually only compromises of the Ground Floor and Basement rooms as the First Floor has been restricted for family members only. This is due to the fact that they felt that too much attention would be given to the bathroom where Elvis supposedly passed away. But there’s more than enough rooms to explore on the property, including a Racquetball Court, Shooting Range and his Father’s Office. There’s even an exterior building that is now another museum, showcasing photos, important documents and furniture that used to be in the Graceland mansion.
This area, alongside the super informative audio tour, shared so much of Elvis’ life at Graceland. I mean, I didn’t know that Elvis was actually a twin – his twin brother died at childbirth. I also loved Elvis’ collection of police badges. Apparently, he was friends with lots of police officers and managed to convince them to give him his own police badges. He would then use them, along with his own blue flashing light, to pull over speeding cars, give them a lecture and an autograph and drive off! What a ledge.
The tour of Graceland ends in the Meditation Garden, where Elvis’ grave is situated, alongside his parents’. I had no idea Elvis was buried here and after hearing about his life throughout the tour, it was actually really emotional to get to this point. I fully appreciate what a special person he was and I totally understand the Elvismania and the reason that fans come from far and wide to visit this place.
Overall, I was massively impressed with Graceland. As someone that wasn’t really a fan, I hadn’t expected to love it so much. Not only did I enjoy learning about Elvis, his life, his career and his home, but actually just being around retro stuff from the fifties was really cool. I bloody love that era. Did I mention, there was even two of Elvis’ private jets in the freaking car park!?
If you’re travelling in the US, I really recommend a visit to Graceland, even if you know nothing about Elvis. It’s a moving and interesting tourist destination that left me eager to know more about this legend. There will definitely be more records added to our collection this year, for sure.
Just make sure you have enough time there. I was there for 2 hours as part of a tight schedule on the Trek America tour, and it felt a little rushed. I could easily have stayed longer. It’s clear to see why Graceland is one of the USA’s most loved tourist attractions.
Have you been to Graceland? Would you visit? Let me know in the comments below or tweet me @HeelsInBackpack!
Total Blogger Transparency: My visit to Graceland was complimentary as part of the Trek America #iTrekHere press trip. However all thoughts and opinions expressed are my own. I wouldn’t play you like that, shorty.