Graceland: How to Survive Elvis Mania

by  Dana McMahan | Sep 12, 2016
Graceland / iStock

Sometimes there is a tourist attraction so over the top, so unabashedly existing solely to clear out your wallet, and so unapologetic about herding the throngs that you just have to submit and go. To wit: Graceland.

For the true Elvis lovers, it's a no-brainer; for the rest, it's a spectacle to behold. If you find yourself in the latter camp, you may find you change your mind when you hit Memphis city limits. As Paul Simon says, "I'm going to Graceland, for reasons I cannot explain. There's some part of me wants to see Graceland."

So steel yourself and point your car (or hop on a plane!) toward Graceland, but be sure to come equipped with these survival tips.

1. Go late, and buy your tickets in person

Lines are known to be epic in the morning at opening time, when everyone thinks they can beat the rush. Instead, try waiting until mid-afternoon, about three hours before closing. Chances are you'll walk right up to the ticket counter. You can also buy advance tickets online, but the $5.95 fee per ticket adds up quickly.

2. Skip the upsell (kind of)

Once you're at the counter, there's a dizzying array of ticket options, and the vendors are pretty slick at the upsell. If you have to see the King's private planes, skip the $80 VIP ticket -- basically 30 extra bucks to get to the front of the line to board the bus -- and opt for the Platinum + Airplanes choice for $47.50.

Here's why:

The museum gives you a time slot for your bus ferry and a number (i.e. you have the 2:30 p.m. bus, position 8). Head out of the ticket sales area to the long line outside and check the sign above. They're probably on position 2 or 3. Great! You can head over to the planes. Audio commentary takes you through the Lisa Marie -- Elvis' 1958 Convair 880 named for his daughter -- but if you didn't get enough of the gold-plated seat belts and suede chairs, just climb the stairs and go back through (you may even get the plane to yourselves). You can also step into the smaller Lockheed Jet Star, mainly used for carting staff around on tours. Make your way back to the line and check the position. You probably still have time for the cars exhibit. And now would be a good time to use the restroom before boarding the bus for Graceland. Boom.

3. Linger a while

You're given an iPad and headset for your John Stamos-narrated tour of Graceland, so you're part of a shuffling herd of Elvis fans as you walk in the front door of the mansion. It's tight quarters as everyone presses up against the ropes to peer at the downstairs rooms (no, you can't go upstairs). Be patient. Allow the crowd to do their thing and they'll move on per Mr. Stamos' cheerful instructions. Before the next wave moves in, you'll have some peace and quiet to admire the home in all its tacky glory. The "hanging back" technique should work most of the way through the tour and makes for easier breathing, not to mention better photo opps.

4. Decompress, eat, and watch a movie

After the tour, which will take at least an hour (two or three if you're a huge fan), you're likely wiped out. Hit Rockabilly's Burger Shop back at the Visitor's Center where you can debrief over a grilled peanut butter and banana sandwich. What was your favorite? What was the worst? Chat it up with your travel partner while you get your second wind. More exhibits (which change from time to time) await, as does a movie, which is a great way to escape the heat.

5. Go with a group

Take a page from Elvis' book, and go big. Book the Heartbreak Hotel's Graceland suite for the night. The mini-Graceland features replicas of the mansion's living room, dining room, TV room, billiard room, and jungle room. Rates start at $565 a night, but the suite sleeps eight so make it a slumber party.

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