Thursday, June 5, 2014

Ozarks Trip Day 3 (Graceland!)

After a pretty awful drive from Little Rock, we finally arrived at the Heartbreak Hotel (late at night, I took this picture the next day)

Now, Graceland is not exactly in a fabulous part of town, but the Heartbreak Hotel and associated campground are fenced off and there's a guard shack where you have to stop and prove you have a reservation before they let you in.  We had already eaten dinner before we got to town, so we didn't actually leave the Graceland area at any point, but it never felt unsafe.

I had read mixed reviews about the hotel, so I wasn't sure what to expect.  You can tell it's an older hotel, but it was comfortable and clean.  We ended up reserving a packaged deal where we got the room and 2 adult VIP tour tickets and I think it was worth it.  I only had two real complaints, first, the elevator was scary.  It reminded me of the Tower of Terror ride at Disney:
It was jerky and slow and I was constantly scared we were going to get stuck in it, but I couldn't say that because Sierra was also worried about it, so I had to pretend it was totally fine.  I would have skipped the elevator and taken the stairs, but we had been put on the top floor.  I'd suggest requesting a room that doesn't require elevator usage.

My other complaint was that the bathroom light was tied to a very loud exhaust fan.  When we're in hotels, we usually leave the bathroom light on with the door cracked so the girls aren't scared and can easily find the bathroom in the night.  That wasn't possible here, so we moved a lamp from the desk to the bathroom instead.

There was a refrigerator and microwave in the room.  The air conditioner was pretty loud, but it was so cold when we got in that we just turned it off for the night and it was fine.  The free breakfast in the morning was standard fare, my only complaint there was that the coffee wasn't any good.  After breakfast, we were able to walk over for our Graceland tour without having to move the car at all (even though we chose to check out before the tours).   Of course, there is Elvis everywhere, because that's what it's all about. I'm not a huge Elvis fan, but if you are, it'd probably be pretty neat to see all the pictures, movies and decorations.

So after breakfast, we headed over to the ticket office to trade our voucher for tickets and buy Sierra's ticket (kids 6 and under are free, so Sedona didn't need a ticket)

 I had seen some complaints online about having to be shuttled across the street, but I thought they had a pretty good set-up.  There was a line to wait for a bus, but it moved quickly.  I think we waited 10 or 15 minutes, but in that time, we took pictures, got our audio headsets and listened to the intro track about how to use the headsets.  But yes, you are waiting for a bus to just take you across the street
Of course, the girls didn't mind this at all.  Their biggest disappointment about being homeschooled is that they don't get to ride the bus

A couple of minutes later, you pull up to the front door of Graceland

They do have everyone that was on the same bus (they are the small, shuttle buses) wait outside to go in as a group.  This is more traffic control than anything else and once inside, you don't really have to stay with your group the whole time.  You are kind of on your own with your audio tour and can hang back if you want to look longer or tag on to the back of the group ahead of you if you want to speed up. 
Inside, you're allowed to take pictures, but not to use a flash, which makes it a little difficult to take pictures in some rooms.  The tour is only the main level and the basement.  They say groups are not allowed upstairs because Elvis kept it a private area when he was alive and it stays private today.  You don't really go into each room, you're kept to the hallways.

You start out with the living room and it's a little bit of a shock.  While it's all pretty gaudy, the house is not nearly as big as I expected.
While his bedroom is closed to the public, his parents stayed downstairs and you can view their room from the doorway.  This is the most understated room on the tour.
 Dining room.  Did I mention gaudy?  This level of fancy isn't exactly my thing. 
There are LOTS of mirrors everywhere too. 
 The kitchen was a really good size, but like other parts of the house, I expected it to be a lot bigger or better outfitted for feeding large groups.
Down in the basement, you first visit the navy blue and yellow, mirrored ceiling, TV room
And also the associated bar
On the other side of the stairs is the basement billiards room.  Completely lined with 400 yds of fabric.  Have I said gaudy?
Back up the stairs to the main level, the last section you see is the jungle room
You leave through the back door (and again, marvel that it's really not all THAT big)
You walk past Lisa Marie's swing set
And over to Vernon's office
This part also includes a model of his childhood home
After a look at the pastures, next up is the trophy room
Which is a big room with lots of records, Elvis and Priscilla's wedding clothes and other things like that.  This was the only part of the tour I didn't like.  Once you passed the records, the rest of it was pretty crowded and I felt trapped.
Outside the trophy room, there's the pool (just a normal ol' swimming pool)
And then the meditation garden, where Elvis, his parents and his grandmother are buried

Back on the ticket office side of the street, we visited the automobile museum.
Also no flashes allowed in here and it was pretty dark, so it was hard to get decent pictures
I thought Sierra was going to climb over the barrier when we got here.  She insisted I take a picture so I could show Josh what car she wants when she starts to drive
That is, until she got to the pink Cadillac.  She thought that one would be pretty cool to have too
The kids were nearing their Elvis limit by this time.  Sedona doesn't really have a clue who he was.  When I asked Sierra about it before the trip, she said, "Yeah, I know him.  He got a polio shot to show other people it was safe and some people thought he shouldn't be on TV because his dancing was inappropriate for kids to see".   So I learned something new from my 9 year old (she's right about the polio shot...he collaborated with March of Dimes), but she wasn't really aware of his music at all.

We just had to go through his plane, the Lisa Marie, before we left though.  The kids had no frame of reference for what a private jet is like and I wanted to show them.
It starts out looking like a normal plane
But then you get to the gold lined sink in the bathroom
The rest is somewhat typical of what you'd expect in a private jet.  I was worried this might be crowded and miserable, but the line moved through at a steady pace and they have a good air conditioner going.

At the back of the plane, there's Elvis' bedroom.  My mom may have almost fallen into his bed.  Supposedly on accident, but I'm still a little skeptical
One last stop before leaving the plane (and another gold plated sink, I presume)
After grabbing some sno-cones, we headed back to our car.  And in the middle of a city, at noon, surrounded by nothing but concrete, Sedona (of course it was Sedona) yells out, "Look!  A frog!!" 

Since we had driven into Tennessee at night, in the rain, surrounded by large trucks and construction, we didn't get to really check anything out.  So on the way out of town, when I saw a sign for a Tennessee welcome center, I decided to make a pit stop.

The girls immediately spotted the monorail and asked if we could ride it (no, we didn't...there are only so many hours in a day)
I took a picture of the Tennessee welcome sign since we couldn't do it the night before
The visitor center was pretty basic.  Some pamphlets, maps, people to answer questions and clean bathrooms.  Oh, and a giant statue of Elvis
And BB King
We got to get a good look at the bridge over the Mississippi River
And feel just a little bit like we were in Montana again (check out that fluff of cottonwood on the ground....they had that whole, "hey, it's snowing in May!" thing going on)

The visitor center also gave me the vantage point to take a picture of perhaps one of the worst buildings ever built.  This thing has to be a hazard, it blinded me more than once when I was trying to drive.  It's so bright that this picture was taken during the day, but it completely screwed up the metering on my camera.  Apparently it's not even used for anything!  It was supposed to be an NBA arena, but they screwed up and then it couldn't be used because of a contract with the NBA.  I'm reading online that Bass Pro Shops bought it and will be opening a mega (to say the least) store in December.
We were in the car again and on the road somewhere around 1pm.  Back across the river and back to Arkansas!
These are the super nice, open roadways from the beginning of our driving day.  Pretty views!
Before long, we spotted the Missouri sign! 
We were hoping for a Missouri welcome center, but apparently there's not one on Hwy 63.  So when we turned around and followed signs to the "visitor's center" we found ourselves back in Arkansas at Mammoth Springs State Park
We were just looking for a pit stop to take a short break from the car and this surprise find worked out just perfectly

You could even look at the old generator

I think these were geese (maybe ducks? I'm not sure how to tell the difference).  Sedona had to stop and try to talk to them.
Back on the road, we made it north to West Plains, Missouri and then took Hwy 160 west.   I don't have pictures of Highway 160 because my camera battery died, which is a crying shame.  Hwy 160 is probably the prettiest road I've ever driven.  It is uphill, downhill, curvy, and tree-lined.  The scenery was gorgeous and I imagine in the fall it's even better.  The downside to Hwy 160 is that is uphill, downhill, curvy, and tree-lined.  I started feeling carsick...and I was driving.  It was also slow going, we probably only averaged 45mph though that 85 mile stretch because of all the blind curves and "30mph for the next mile" signs. 

Now, the slow pace would not have been a problem except that I, in all my wisdom, had made 8pm reservations for a show in Branson.  More on that in a bit.  We had chosen to reserve an all inclusive package in Branson at a place called Grand Country Inn.  The package included our room, all meals and snacks, unlimited mini golf, unlimited shows at Grand Country, their indoor water park, and tickets to the Dixie Stampede Show.  For a few reasons, we reserved our Dixie Stampede tickets for 8pm on the day we'd be arriving.  I knew this would be a tight fit, but it should have been doable.  After getting slowed down on the road and a little turned around in town, we actually ended up pulling up to the hotel at 7:30.  Yikes!  This would still have been doable, but when we walked in, the worst hotel receptionist ever totally ruined our evening.  She was eating pizza at the counter.  As grease oozed through her napkin and onto the papers on the desk, she looked and acted completely ticked off that we were interrupting her dinner.  Then she acted like we were the stupidest people on the face of the Earth for asking if we could make the 8pm show.  She told us (as if everyone in the world knows this) that you have to pick up the tickets before 4:30!  No one had told us this, so I got a bit angry at this point because she was acting as if we just wouldn't get to go at all.  When we asked for a manager, she had to call one at home.  This is a HUGE complex of hotel, restaurants and  entertainment places, they really didn't have a manager on the premises?!  Eventually, another employee stepped in, called Dixie Stampede and got our tickets changed to the next evening.  The girls said in an awed voice as we got to our room that "grandma and momma had a civilized fight with that lady". 

When we got to our room, everything was clean and the beds were comfortable, but there we no towels or washcloths at all!  I called the front desk, got the same terrible employee, who acted like she didn't know who I was.  The icing on the cake was when I plugged in my phone (which had died on the road) and found a voicemail.  The Dixie Stampede had called us at 7:20 asking if we were still coming to the show!!  Had the snotty hotel employee just picked up the phone and ASKED, we still could have gone.  Of course, at this point, the hotel had already changed the tickets, so we couldn't go.  All in all, an infuriating run in with someone who really needs a new job.

We still needed dinner and to make the best of a frustrating situation, so we hit the pizza buffet and then a round of mini-golf.  Sedona needed a little help at first (and we forgot to turn the flash back on after Graceland)

She got better with a little practice though
Turns out Sierra is a very sore loser when you play mini golf after bedtime
Grandma proceeded to kick all our butts, including a hole in one

After mini golf, there was also a little party going on inside that included free glow necklaces and cake

Yes, that was ALL one day.  We all crashed into bed and looked forward to our time in Branson, which was very loosely planned and left room for last minute decisions and even a tiny bit of relaxation.

Next up, the Branson section of our trip...the Dixie Stampede, Amazing Pets, Silver Dollar City and the Titanic Museum!

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