Graceland lets guests feel like king for a day

June 11, 2017

MEMPHIS, Tenn. — A truly relaxing getaway is one where you can check into a hotel and never get behind the wheel again until it’s time to head home.

Think of the Guest House at Graceland as an Elvis­ Presley-­inspired hotel rather­ than as an Elvis Presley-­themed hotel. You certainly don’t need to be his No. 1 fan to stay here — it’s pretty cool on its own.

The Guest House opened in October on property adjacent to the Graceland mansion, where Presley lived from 1957 until his death in 1977.

With suites designed by the rock ’n’ roll legend’s former wife, Priscilla Presley, the 450-room resort is excessively stylish. In the glitzy lobby — where we spotted a bouffant and thick sideburns waiting in line at the check-in counter, along with several contenders for No. 1 fan — high-back chairs evoke the stand-up collars of Elvis Presley’s jumpsuits. Splashes of color liven up midcentury-style furnishings. Stylized close-up photos in guest rooms and common areas highlight details from Presley’s life: sun­glasses, microphones, his iconic TCB (“Taking Care of Business”) jewelry.

Above a grand staircase at one end of the hotel, a replica of Graceland’s foyer stairs, is a chandelier originally purchased by Presley for his own mansion.

“Elvis never threw anything away,” explained Anna Hamilton, the hotel’s night manager. She graduated from Humes High School 12 years after Presley. “When he discovered that the chandelier was too big, he went out and bought a smaller one.”

Hamilton — a veteran of Memphis’ restaurant and hospitality industry who previously was a manager at the now-shuttered Heartbreak Hotel across the street — delights in showing off the Guest House. “I think it’s probably one of the most beautiful properties I’ve ever been on.”

Each of the well-­appointed guest rooms is filled with luscious textures, silky-soft bedding, mirrored surfaces and basics such as a refrigerator, Keurig coffee machine and plenty of places to plug in USB devices. (The Gid­eons Bible in the nightstand is gold, naturally.)

Themed suites such as the King’s Suites were inspired by Presley’s own master bedroom, with canopy beds and TVs on the ceiling. Living Room Suites use bold combinations of deep yellow and navy blue. TCB Suites have a living room and dining area.

“The furniture, to me, is extraordinary,” Hamilton says. “Every piece is something that Elvis would have loved.”

Guests can grab a drink at the lobby bar — we tried the crisp whiskey-ginger TCB and the tequila-based Blue Suede — and enjoy it out on the back lawn. That’s where there’s a pool, hot tub and heart-shaped fire pit, all set against a serene wooded backdrop.

A state-of-the-art fitness center also has great views of the courtyard — or you can focus on the TVs built into each machine.

Across Elvis Presley Boulevard, the new Elvis Presley’s Memphis greets visitors as the welcome center for Graceland tours. The complex opened in March, replacing Graceland Plaza, and is the attraction’s most significant expansion since opening in 1982.

Visitors can purchase tickets, board shuttles bound for the mansion, where 600,000 visitors tour annually, and browse well-designed exhibits of artifacts from Presley’s life and career.

The 200,000-square-foot space, which still smells like new construction, allows for double the amount of memorabilia to be displayed, including, for the first time, Presley’s boat. A room is also devoted to automobiles, including his pink Cadillac, and visitors can tour his airplanes outside.

But what visitors see is still only about 20 percent of a 1.5 million-item archive.

Libby Perry, a public relations coordinator for Elvis Presley Enterprises, says archivists aren’t finished yet. “We’ve got tons of receipts, contracts and papers. They’re still cataloging. It’ll be 40 years in August. They’re still working.”

A new archives exhibit shows some of the more mundane yet oddly fascinating artifacts from the star’s life — a shot-out TV set from his Palm Springs home, childhood toys, a TAB soda fountain from his TV room. There’s also memorabilia from his time in the Army.

The Elvis the Entertainer Career Museum is home to a floor-to-ceiling collection of Presley’s awards, including gold and platinum records that had been on display at Graceland’s racquetball court. (It’s now, once again, a racquetball court.)

Perry appears daily on SiriusXM’s Elvis Radio (Channel 19), which is broadcast from a new studio on the property. She also co-hosts a “Starring Elvis Presley” podcast, with commentary on Presley’s 31 feature films — 33 counting two documentaries. “If the podcast is successful, which it’s been, we’ll watch those, too,” she said.

Touring Graceland and Elvis Presley’s Memphis brings visitors closer to Presley’s personality, said Perry, who was born and raised in Memphis.

“If you’re a fan, you end up leaving an even bigger fan. If you’re just an appreciator, you wind up leaving a fan. Whatever level you’re at, Graceland kind of bumps you up.”