living room at Graceland Mansion

A Guide to Graceland

A Guide to Visiting Graceland

So, I have wanted to visit Graceland for some time now.  Don’t ask me why because I’m not an Elvis fanatic nor do I know much about him.  But I feel as an American, it’s my duty see what all the craze is about.

Over the years, I’ve scanned Graceland’s website thinking I might get to Memphis soon.  Tickets used to be a reasonable $30, but recently with a massive renovation to the complex, the price to enter has sky rocketed. Tours range anywhere from $41 to see the mansion only to $174 for the Ultimate VIP experience.

While Graceland’s website provides details about what will be seen on each tour as well as the approximate time it would take to visit, I still wasn’t positive about which tour to purchase.  Ultimately, I chose to the Elvis Experience Tour with the airplane add-on for $66, and this tour seemed right for me and anyone who just wants to know more about Elvis and the time period.

Sun Studio Tour Bus

As I was browsing the web for other places to visit in Memphis, I stumbled across Sun Studio where Elvis was first recorded.  Sun Studio provides a free shuttle service to Graceland with the purchase of a studio tour for $14.  Being without a car, this was a perfect option for me.  For the price of a one-way Lyft, I got to see an attraction and have a two-way ride to Graceland.

Sun Studio is about a 20-minute walk from downtown Memphis.  A short portion of the walk is through a “sketch” neighborhood.  It might be best to stay on Beale St. all the way despite the directions Google Maps provides.  Otherwise, it is a short Lyft ride away.

Sun Studio Tour

The Sun Studio Tour lasts about 45 minutes and the tour takes place on the half-hour. While their website suggests coming to the studio for 1-1.5 hours that is simply providing additional time for purchasing a tour ticket and for browsing the café/shop.  There is nothing else to see outside of the tour, so only plan on staying an hour to account for any lines unless souvenir shopping is a necessity.

Shuttle Bus Service

The shuttle service from Sun Studio to Graceland leaves on the quarter hour.  Therefore, it is possible for example to take the 10:30 tour (which started early as soon as everyone had paid) and get the 11:15 shuttle to Graceland.  This is what I did.

TIP 1: I visited Sun Studio on a week day in the spring.  At the 10am opening, it was crowded, but thereafter, not so much.  It might be worth doing a later tour. I was just trying to time it with my Graceland Tour time at 12:15.

TIP 2:  The shuttle also stops at the Rock n’ Soul Museum near the end of the Beale St. Entertainment District on the half hour.  It is possible to board the shuttle here and ask the driver to go to Sun Studios which takes 2 minutes before it goes to Graceland.  I saw a couple do this, though I don’t know if they were able to join the Sun Studio Tour a few minutes late or if they had to wait an hour for the next one.  It’s worth the inquiry to skip the “sketch” part of the walk.

Anyway, the shuttle reaches Graceland on the hour.  I saw other hotel shuttle buses too, so using a hotel shuttle bus may be an alternative form of transportation for those without a car.

Ticketing

I purchased a ticket to Graceland online the same day I planned to visit and received it via email in order to skip any lines.  Caution: Day of sales might be limited during busy times. I selected a 12:15 entry and the ticket stated my “tour” was at this time which was little confusing to me.  The only part of Graceland which is a guided tour is of the mansion which is across the street from the giant strip center entrance.

graceland entrance
Graceland Entrance

While the ticket time is likely for crowd control, on this spring, weekday, employees at Graceland did not enforce or even mention my ticket time though I did go in the correct time slot.  After entering the gates and then the ticketing office, it wasn’t clear what to do.  After asking, I found Graceland has a preferred procedure to attend a short film and then queue in the bus line to visit the mansion across the street.

I entered the movie theater and situated myself next to the entrance door for a quick escape only to find out there is an exit door, so its best to go to the other side of the theater to shorten time in the bus queue.  The line for the bus didn’t take long tn this spring weekday. As we queued, employees provided us interactive ipads and headphones.

Mansion Tour

Upon reaching the mansion, each bus load waited in a group and entered every 10 minutes or so.  Soon our group entered the foyer.  On one side is a living area with a piano and on the other side is the dining room.  We pushed play on our ipads to hear the guided tour which directed us to start at the dining room. We continued through the hall to a bedroom, came back to the dining room, passed by the kitchen and caught a glimpse of the Jungle Room before heading down a mirrored stairwell to a media room and billiards room.

No one has to be an Elvis fan to appreciate the mansion.  Each room featured exquisite décor for the time period and was very unique!  The guided tour provided insight about Elvis and his family and how they used each room. 

Upon returning upstairs, we exited past the Jungle Room once more, and walked through the carport into an office and smoke house.  We continued by the grazing horses into a racetrack room full of awards before eventually entering the racquetball court and adjoining room where Elvis spent his last hours before succumbing to a “heart attack”/”prescription drug overdose.”

From the racquetball court we followed the path to the pool area and garden where Elvis and his parents are laid to rest.  The cemetery also includes a placard for his twin who died at birth and is buried in Tupelo.

Graceland Complex

After visiting the mansion, we returned to the Graceland complex across the street.  VIP members, who got to skip the line, could also return through the house should they wish.

The Graceland complex across the street resembles a strip center of warehouses.  It includes a BBQ restaurant, a café that serves pizza and fried food, a coffee shop, multiple gift shops, a music stage where current A-list artists perform their shows, and many warehouses featuring Elvis’s belongings, archives and more.

We walked through a warehouse of cars, boats, golf carts and motor cycles.  In another warehouse we learned of Elvis’ service in the military.  We continued from one giant room to the next that featured other music stars, their outfits, and quotes about Elvis; the life of Lisa Marie; and finally all of Elvis’ records, movies, awards, and jumpsuits.

It took a solid three plus hours to tour the mansion and all of Graceland’s rooms without even reading everything.  After grabbing a snack at the onsite restaurant and take a short tour of the planes, I ventured back to my pick up location by 4pm for a total of four hours at Graceland.  I would recommend allotting at least this much time even for the non-Elvis fans!

planes at graceland
one of his two planes

Opinion of Graceland

I recognize Elvis is a phenom due his good looks and the birth of rock-n-roll, but it truly amazes me how many people idolize movie stars and musicians who are philanderers and drug addicts yet crucify politicians and athletes and the regular Joe who participate in the same follies!

Yes, that was probably a controversial statement.  While it is not my intent is not to take away anything from Elvis, it is true that movie stars and musicians seem to get a pass for bad behavior. Just to name a few…Mick Jagger, Stephen Tyler, Keith Richards.

Anyway, Graceland and all of Elvis’ contributions to Rock-n-Roll were impressive to say the least.  I’m glad I chose the Elvis Experience Tour.  I’ve been on enough planes that I probably didn’t need to see his customized jets, but a lot of people would probably like them and it only costs $5 more to add them.  Graceland is definitely worth a visit! ETB

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Beth Bankhead

Former public finance professional turned travel photographer and blogger.

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