The Grand Opening of Elvis Presley’s Memphis
It was an honor to be one of the first people through the gates of the new Elvis Presley’s Memphis and to see all the new items on display at Graceland and of course the restored racquetball court for the first time! I had the pleasure of spending time with old friends and making new friends. Besides visiting Graceland and Elvis Presley’s Memphis several times, I also stopped by Sun Studio and hung out for a bit on Beale Street.
I landed in Memphis Wednesday March 1st at 6:40pm cst (a little later than scheduled). I took the shuttle to my favorite hotel the Guest House at Graceland, checked in, hung up my clothes and was at E.P.’s Bar and Grill by 7:30pm. This would be my restaurant of choice for dinner during my entire stay. I mean it’s just an elevator ride away, the kitchen is open late, you can eat alone at the bar (I prefer sitting alone at a bar rather than sitting alone at a table) and there are always games on the televisions. For my first meal, I got the sausage and cheese plate and a glass of moscato. I’ve had better sausage and cheese plates, but it was good. Caroline and Julie stopped by to chat for a few minutes. I hadn’t eaten all day, so I got an order of fried mac n cheese bites to go to eat later up in my room. I finished unpacking and thought about what an exciting next few days it was going to be!
I only got about four hours of sleep, but was SO excited I didn’t care. Thursday March 2, 2017 was the Grand Opening of Elvis Presley’s Memphis! Graceland has been open since 1982, but now there is a completely new 200,000 square-foot, visitor center / entertainment complex, now named “Elvis Presley’s Memphis,” across the street from the Graceland Mansion. They have taken the gold records, movie memorabilia and sequined jumpsuits out of Graceland (moving them across the street) and replaced them with Elvis’ personal artifacts we have never seen before. Now the mansion tour is just about Elvis’ family life – the racquetball court is restored back to its original form, a racquetball court. Across the street at the new “Elvis Presley’s Memphis,” is everything about Elvis’ career from the early days in Tupelo to his days in the army to his final days touring in Vegas and across the US. The jumpsuits, gold records and movie memorabilia and much, much more are now housed in the new 20,000 square foot “Elvis: The Entertainer” museum. Also in the new “Elvis Presley’s Memphis” is the new Elvis Presley automobile museum now called “Presley Motors.” There is also the new “Graceland Soundstage,” a 20,000 square foot theater that seats 1,700 people for movie screenings and music performances. There are also discovery exhibits showcasing music that influenced Elvis and music today influenced by Elvis. There are two new restaurants in “Elvis Presley’s Memphis” named for Elvis’ parents. Gladys’ Diner has burgers and sandwiches, while Vernon’s Smokehouse features Memphis BBQ. There is an ice cream shop, coffee bar and many retail shops within the new complex. Elvis’ two airplanes remain in their current spot on Elvis Presley Boulevard.
On Thursday March 2, the Ribbon Cutting Ceremony with Priscilla Presley was to start at 8:45am at the new Elvis Presley’s Memphis. We (Caroline, Julie, Delia and myself) took the shuttle over at 8am. There was already a small crowd of fans gathered behind the media. It was definitely a larger crowd than for the first Ribbon Cutting Ceremony for the Guest House at Graceland in October. Somehow I was able to record the ceremony with views of Priscilla, but a photographer blocked my view of the actual ribbon cutting.
Directly after the Ribbon Cutting Ceremony, I literally ran into the ticket office. I already had my ticket for my Ultimate VIP tour later that morning, but I wanted to get the add-on discounted tickets for the next two days to tour the new museums. I would have been ok, but two different people told me two different things about where I needed to go. And by the time, I got in the right line I was all the way in the back. So I waited in line for an hour, missing the very beginning of Girl Happy playing in the Soundstage. It was fine because I’ve seen Girl Happy hundreds of times as it’s my favorite Elvis movie (and I had just watched it the day before on the plane), but it is my favorite movie so I was quite excited to see it on the big screen. Luckily, I only missed the first 10 minutes or so. I was the only one in the Soundstage, which was pretty cool. It is a HUGE space, but the chairs are just like banquet chairs. It is more like the Ballroom in the Guest House than the theater in the Guest House (the theater at the Guest House is a for real movie theater, and it’s beautiful and comfy). Since all I had for breakfast was a poptart in my room at 7:30am before my tour, I stopped by the Grab and Go place for a bottle of water and a blueberry muffin (which they heated without me even asking).
Our Ultimate VIP Tour began just after 11:45am with a short intro film. There were 10 of us in the group with two tour guides. These two guides worked in archives, so they were quite knowledgeable. They told me a few things I actually did not know. We walked into Graceland, and I stayed in my favorite spot (the living room) as long as I could – even skipping Gladys’ room so I could stay longer in the living room / foyer area. I honestly would be happy with just standing in the foyer looking into the living room and up the stairs. Even though we were a small group, there were lots of groups coming in behind us and moving past us. We made our way through the mansion learning some new things, then to the new trophy room, which now has all new items for us to see including Elvis and Priscilla’s unopened champagne bottle from their wedding at the Aladdin in Vegas, Elvis’ slot cars and a crazy red couch. Of course the highlight of the new stuff was the restored racquetball court. Making it even more emotional was “Blue Eyes Crying in the Rain” and “Unchained Melody” was playing – those were the last two songs Elvis played (on the piano at the racquetball court just hours before he died).
We did not finish our tour of the mansion until almost 2pm, and we were all starving. So our guides quickly walked us through all the new museums across the street (telling us to go back through them at our own pace after lunch) and ended up at the exclusive VIP exhibit. There was Elvis’ shirt, boots, gold Vegas championship belt and microphone from Elvis on Tour. We put on the white gloves and were allowed to hold the microphone – and got our photo taken with it. Then we walked over to Vernon’s Smokehouse for lunch – this was also included in our tour. As we were walking in Jack Soden (President and CEO of EPE) greeted us saying we definitely looked like VIPs. We told him how impressed we were with everything. There was a room set up in the back for the VIP groups, and they served us family style: ribs, chicken, brisket, sausage, mashed potatoes, mac n cheese, brussel sprouts, rolls, drinks and peach cobbler with ice cream. It was SO good! We were there until almost 4pm when we went back over to the mansion.
With our Ultimate VIP tour, we are allowed to go through the mansion as many times as we want that day. Knowing the last tour for the mansion was at 5pm and the complex was opened until 9pm, we wanted to make sure we spent all the time we could inside Graceland – and that’s exactly what we did. We took the VIP shuttle over to Graceland and literally just stood in the foyer looking into the living room and up the stairs for an hour. We let tours pass us over and over again and finally had to leave my favorite spot when Kevin Kern (Graceland’s Director of Communication) needed to walk through with a film crew – it was after 5pm anyway. We made our way to through the mansion, the new exhibits in the trophy room, the racquetball court and meditation garden. At 6:10pm, we were the last to leave Graceland on the day of the Grand Opening of Elvis Presley’s Memphis.
We came back to the new complex and toured all the new museums. (We had been there since 8am and it was almost 6:30pm and we still had not seen the new museums yet – just the quick walk through before lunch.) We started in the VIP lounge and exhibit. I was very excited to see my favorite Joe Petruccio painting on the wall – the one with Jerry Schilling and Elvis (autographed by Jerry!). I have admired this painting since 2009 when I met Joe right after he painted it and was showcasing it at Graceland Crossing. Joe painted it from a photo that Jerry used on the cover of his memoir. I made my way though all the new museums taking photos of everything on display. My favorite is the Elvis the Entertainer Career Museum. Before going back to the hotel, I stopped in the ice cream shop and tasted (a free sample bite) the peanut butter banana ice cream (only available at Graceland). Then I bought my ORANGE Elvis refillable cup. They have these every year. It costs about $12, then it’s free refills. So I got free refills while I was there and will get free refills when I’m back in August for a week – it’s a great deal! I took the shuttle back over to the Guest House and was sitting at the bar at EP’s by 8:30pm. This time I had the yummy Fried Green Tomato BLT with french fries and water (no wine that night, too tired and dehydrated). Even though I was exhausted after spending 12 hours at the new Graceland, I didn’t get to sleep until 2:30am. I was uploading photos and just going over the day’s events in my head. To see all of my photos from the Grand Opening of Elvis Presley’s Memphis, please click here.
On Friday March 3rd, I only put in half a day at the new Graceland complex. I woke up at 7:30am still tired and made my way down to Delta’s for the buffet breakfast before starting my day. Caroline and Julie were sitting in the lobby as I passed by at 9am, so they joined me. I caught the shuttle over at 10:45am. I filled up my orange Elvis cup with sweet tea then went into the two gift shops in the front of the complex (across from Vernon’s and inside the ticket office) and bought a t shirt in each. I also bought a keychain, then received a free one with the new Elvis Presley’s Memphis logo for free. (Still waiting for a t shirt and hat with the new logo on it.) I also bought some fudge during the free tasting. I then walked over to the VIP Exhibit where the Elvis Fashion store is to see if I could buy that Joe Petruccio Jerry and Elvis painting. And yes it was for sale, and just a little over what I was willing to spend, but I bought it anyway. I have wanted that painting for eight years. I am SO excited! They are shipping to me. As much as I wanted to take it with me, it was just too big to take on the plane and not get damaged.
Excited with my purchase, I headed over to the Soundstage to watch Loving You, my fifth favorite Elvis movie, at noon on the big screen for the first time. I wasn’t the only one in the ‘theater’ this time. It was fun! I walked over to Gladys’ Diner for lunch, but after walking through (it is cafeteria style) looking at the menu, I decided I didn’t really want a burger or sandwich or chicken tenders. (If I was going to have a burger, it was going to be the amazing Memphis Burger at EP’s Bar and Grill at the Guest House.) So I walked over to Vernon’s where we had lunch the day before, but it was a pre-fixed menu, so I was happy to see what else they had to offer. I found the perfect meal for me! They had a Veggie Plate, which was five sides for $8.99. I thought that was a great deal! I got two mac n cheeses, one mashed potatoes, one collared greens and one bbq spaghetti. Only in Memphis are Mac n Cheese and BBQ Spaghetti considered veggies! And I also got a banana pudding. The food was amazing! I was too full to eat the banana pudding, so I took it with me for later. I ate at the table next to Delia and her friends, so I chatted with them for a bit.
For the rest of the day, I was carrying around three t shirts, two keychains, a half pound of fudge, a huge banana pudding with nilla wafers and my 32oz orange Elvis cup filled with sweet tea. I walked through all the museums again to see if I missed anything from the night before. I ran into Caroline and Julie and talked with them for a bit. Around 4pm, I was going to get the shuttle back to the Guest House when I stopped in the Ticket Office to use the rest room. I saw George Klein was there for a Meet and Greet, so I decided to stick around. But George left to tour the museums and I ended up talking to some fellow fans, including Lori, until almost 5:30. Then I got the shuttle back to the Guest House, uploaded my photos, wrote in my journal then met Caroline, Julie and Delia for dinner at EP’s at 7:45pm. It was great fun. We had a table right in front of the Grizzlies game. I ordered a glass of Moscato and a BBQ Pizza, which I took half up to my room with me. We stayed until the end of the game, then walked around the Guest House and had a little photo shoot on the Grand Staircase (the replica of Graceland’s). To see all my photos from March 3rd at the new Elvis Presley’s Memphis and the Guest House at Graceland, please click here.
I squeezed a lot into my last day in Memphis on Saturday March 4th. I woke up at 6am after about 5-6 hours sleep. I ate my banana pudding (from yesterday) for breakfast. It was so yummy! Around 9:30am I took the shuttle over to Graceland to catch the 10am shuttle over to Sun Studio. I wasn’t going to take the tour (I take the tour usually every other year as I could literally give the tour myself), but I just wanted to visit especially since I had not gone while I was in Memphis in October. I just stayed at Sun long enough to take a few photos, buy a new Million Dollar Quartet shirt and absorb all the wonderful music history! Then I took the shuttle to Beale Street. I love going to Beale Street early in the day, and it was a clear, crisp 60 degree Saturday morning. My first stop was to the Grizzlies Den to check out what they had that I could not get online. Then I walked up Beale and went into A. Schwab’s, which was established in 1876 and is the oldest store in Memphis and in the oldest building on Beale Street. I love to go in there and as I say ‘smell the history.’ It was finally 11am and Rum Boogie (my favorite spot on Beale) opened. So I ran in there, grabbed a table on the patio and ordered a sausage and cheese plate and sweet tea – my Memphis tradition. By 11:30am, I was on the shuttle headed back to Graceland.
Once back on EP Boulevard, I walked over to Graceland Crossing to the one gift shop that was still opened with items 50% off. The books were 1/2 off and books are my weakness and sadly the heaviest ‘souvenir’ you can buy. I bought six books for $100 – not bad! I obviously couldn’t carry these books around all day going through the new museums, so I walked back to the Guest House to drop them off. Then I took the shuttle back over to Graceland and walked through the museums one last time. I came back to the Guest House and took one of my new books on the back porch around 3pm. They call this resort The Guest House at Graceland, and it truly is. I was relaxing on a couch on the back porch looking out onto the courtyard reading while listening to Elvis music they have playing. It is thoroughly relaxing, and it is like being at someone’s Guest House – at Elvis’ Guest House. At 4pm, I went to EP’s (for the fourth night in a row) for Happy Hour. They have $5 wines and 1/2 priced appetizers every day from 4-6pm, but this was the first time I was there early enough to partake in Happy Hour. My bill was 1/3 what it had been the previous three nights. No Moscato for Happy Hour, but the house white was a great Pinot Grigio, which my bartender gave me quite a full pour. I ordered the Pimento Cheese Fries for my dinner. I was quite happy, quite full and a little tipsy as I went back up to my room. It wasn’t even 6pm yet, and I was ready for bed. To see my photos from Sun Studio, Beale Street, the new Elvis Presley’s Graceland and the Guest House at Graceland, please click here.
I wanted to do the walk up to the Meditation Garden (Elvis’ grave) at Graceland Sunday morning before I left for the airport, but it was raining. I got the shuttle at 10am for my flight home. I was in Memphis five months ago for the Grand Opening of the Guest House at Graceland, I was just in Memphis for the Grand Opening of Elvis Presley’s Memphis, and I will be back in Memphis in five months for the 40th Anniversary of Elvis Week. It’s a good year!
Great story as always Deena!! Wow what an adventure and it sounds as if you really had a ball. A beautiful experience!!! Wonderful pics as well!!
Thanks so much Vicky. Glad you enjoyed it.
Hi Deena. I am planning my trip to Elvis Week and stumbled upon your website … very enjoyable and informative site. I do have a question that I cannot seem to find an answer to. Do you happen to know what the Ultimate Lounge is at Elvis Presley’s Memphis? I appreciate any info you can provide.
Thank you! Im thinking that’s the VIP lounge when you get the ultimate VIP tour but they’ve changed names of things etc since that opening weekend.
I visited Graceland and Tupelo in 2005, staying at Heartbreak Hotel. I would love to visit again especially with my son who is an Elvis fan too, but it’s quite expensive to travel from Scotland. I need to save harder.
In the meantime I’ve very much enjoyed your description of your visit. Thank you, Meg
My pleasure. Thank you for reading. I’m in Memphis right now. Look for a write up of my trip sometime next week.