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A review of Graceland -Nashville – Smokey Mountains Tour
for our customers and vendors
After this years fantastic fall foliage season Mel Tye, the CEO of Tye’s Top Tour & travel took a trip to Tennessee to try and improve the Graceland- Nashville – Smokey Mountain tour for next year. I had not done this tour in 10 years and wanted to see how things had changed. Here are my impressions: We arrived in Memphis a day before the scheduled tour was to arrive. Three of us had planned to take a Mojo Music tour but it was canceled because we were the only ones booked. (it was canceled the next day as well as we were the only ones booked) We ended up taking a Riverboat cruise, which was a fun way to spend a sunny fall afternoon. In the Evening we went to the Rendezvous Restaurant, which we were told had the best ribs in Memphis. This is a restaurant always mentioned on the Food Net Work and on the PBS shows. We were disappointed that the ribs that were supposed to be so good were so bad. The ribs were tough, dried out, and the seasoning was not balanced. There was hardly any meat on the bones and the only flavor you could taste was red pepper. If the Rendezvous wants to know how to cook ribs, I will be happy to send them my recipe. My slow cooked ribs would blow the Rendezvous ribs away any day of the week. The Rendezvous is a tourist trap and should be avoided; the place is living on its past reputation and hype. It has a very limited menu, no coffee, no desert etc. Our next stop was the famous Beal St. I was really surprised to find Memphis at rush hour has no traffic, there are very few people and the famous Beal St had very few people walking around on a mid week night.. I kept asking everyone where all the people were, and everyone kept telling me no one lives in Memphis anymore because of the crime and the shootings. The word from the locals was that if you lived in downtown Memphis and could afford to get out you were gone. It was really disheartening to know that the residents weren’t interested in saving the city by were surrendering to the low lives who are taking over many of the inner cities of this country. In the morning we toured Graceland the home of Elvis Presley and was surprised at how small it was. The tour of Graceland is automated and interactive and designed to keep you moving. I enjoyed Graceland and when I go back to Memphis would do this tour again.
Our next stop was Tunica Mississippi a place I had never visited. As many of you know I am not much of a gambler but enjoyed the hospitality of the Gold Strike Casino. We stayed at the Gold Strike, checked out other hotels and have nothing but positive things to say about the hospitality of this hotel and other casino hotels visited. A few things surprised me however. I have never been at a casino buffet where they served wine with dinner or in a casino hotel where they sold beer in the gift shop. These were both great ideas and appreciated and noted. I had thought the casinos in tunica were in a strip, like so many other casino destinations but they are in clusters spread out over a large area. In October the cotton was just getting ready to be picked and I had never seen the fields of cotton bursting with clouds of white before. The little things still excite me after all of my years of travel. From Tunica, we went on to Nashville, Music city USA. I have been to Nashville a couple of times on conventions and many years ago as a tour director but this was the first time I took the time to enjoy the city. We began with the Honky-tonks for lunch where you can truly find great entertainment and cheap food in an unpretentious atmosphere. If you are going to Nashville make it a point to spend some time in these establishments. I had been through the Old Ryman Auditorium several times in the past and was not overly excited about visiting this establishment again. I was pleasantly surprised as the guide we had was excellent and I became interested in the great deal of trivia she knew. I have said this in the past and I will say it again a great guide makes all the difference in the world. In the evening we took in a show at the Grand Old Opry and a back stage tour. Both were enjoyable and would make the suggestion do one or the other back stage tours, either the Ryman or the Grand ole Opry not both. The Ryman was enjoyable because of the history; the back stage tour of the Grand Old Opry was ok if you have never done a back stage tour. The next morning we began the day with the Studio B Tour, where Elvis recorded many of his hits. This was a fun tour and our guide was very good. Next year on our tours if you have the desire to record a song in a real studio we will offer this as an option. For lunch we went to Second Street and the Wild Horse Saloon. The food was good the atmosphere was fun and the customers were appreciated. I understand that the Wild Horse is going to be offering a soup, salad and pasta bar for lunch and if that happens the place will be jammed packed at lunch time. Our next stop was the Country Music Hall of Fame, a stop I had been through but never toured. Keith, one of the senior sales managers gave us a private tour of the Country Music Hall of Fame and can only say WOW. Keith, did such a fantastic job that I want to go back to the Country Music Hall of Fame and spend more time. I learned so much on this day that I actually developed an interest in Country Music. Keith, has been trying to get me the Country Music Hall of Fame for years when we have met at the NTA and ABA conventions. I never had a real interest in seeing the museum but after spending a couple of hours touring the museum I have to admit I was blown away. There were so many exhibits that I wanted to play with that I most certainly be back. I am of the generation that easily gets board with museums and totally enjoyed the Country Music Hall of Fame. It easily makes my list of top 10 museums I have visited in the last three years. In the evening we checked out the General Jackson and can tell you that is the first thing that will be gone from the tour next year. For those that want to know what I really thought. Here goes: The General Jackson was over priced, the food was cold and mediocre at best. The salad was great and the asparagus was good after that food went down hill from there. I ordered the prime rib, which at least a third was uneatable fat; the meat was tasteless and cold as were the potatoes. The cheesecake tasted like it came right out of the freezer and a few bites was enough. I had hoped for a great show and could best describe the show as lacking energy with performers who could not hit the notes they were singing. With so much talent in Nashville and the surrounding area I would think Gaylord Entertainment could find quality acts. The best way to describe the show is that it was stale. It was not good or bad, just stale with no energy. I enjoyed Nashville so much that I will be putting together a new five-day tour to Nashville for those that want to experience the excitement of the city. This new tour and the revised Smokey Mountain tour will be available for sale by Nov 1 2009. We are also looking to put together a tour to see the Country Music Award Show Live. Look for information on the website soon about this new tour.
From Nashville we headed to the Pigeon forge area. I had not been to Pigeon Forge since the Knoxville Worlds Fare back in the 80’s. The little sleepy town has changed. I discovered that Pigeon Forge has wineries and they will be on the revised tours for 2010. While in Pigeon forge we took in some great shows and wished we had time for more shows. The shows we saw were really very good and exceeded my expectations. The First show we saw was the Bear Country Jamboree and I expected very little. This show is a show not to missed, It was a high-energy show with good food and a great value. I was tapping my feet and singing to the music the whole night. I only wish the General Jackson in Nashville had a show that was this good. It truly was a feel good show. In the morning we saw the Blackthorn breakfast show. I had no expectations, and had no idea who the Blackthorns were. This show also turned out to be a great show but I have to say I am glad I had a cup of coffee and a muffin before I went to the show. The breakfast was cold and just plain awful, with dried out eggs, cold coffee and over cooked sausage and bacon. Go for the show not the breakfast. In the afternoon we went to Dollywood, another first for me. I enjoyed my time at Dollywood saw four shows, road the steam train and took some time to just chill out. In the evening we went to Mamma’s Country Farm Restaurant for dinner. This is a place that I can only say is waiting to go out of business. There was plenty of food, when you got it, but the quality was low. I am never in favor of restaurants that give you one piece of food at a time and tell you that you can have all you want. I would have enjoyed going to the Golden Coral, which always gives a great meal and great value. In the evening we went to see Terry Evenswood in “Magic Beyond Belief”, which I was told, was the best magic show in the area. The show was an ok show but not spectacular. It seemed to drag and the illusions had all been seen before. On my next trip and on our tours next year, I will take in one of the exciting musical shows and leave the magic show to the kids and their parents.
On my last day I drove through Gatlinburg and through the Smokey Mountains to Ashville. My thoughts on Gatlinburg, is drive through the town and don’t bother to stop. The town is a tourist trap filled with overpriced junk, crowds and no place to park. What once was a quiet, fun mountain town is now nothing but a tourist trap. The Smokies with the fall colors were spectacular and I have to say I can’t wait to get back to this park again. The colors were brilliant and everyone we ran into was so welcoming and friendly. In the end we flew out of Ashville, which was a great, no hassle airport. Next years all of our tours to Memphis, - Nashville and the Smokey Mountains will fly into Memphis and out of Ashville. In fact the gems of the Carolina tour will also be changing so that you will have more time to find the precious gems and we will fly into Ashville and out of Raleigh reducing the cost and the number of days.
If in my review, I have said some things that are politically incorrect, I hope you will show this review to the people who can make changes. As always my reviews are meant to make our own tours better and give our vendors and honest opinion. If someone reads one of my articles and makes an establishment better then everyone’s business will improve. At Tye’s Top Tour & Travel we are committed to making our tours the best they can be.
I hope you our customers and vendors, will join me on one of my adventures as I am having as much fun on the road as a tour director as I did 30 years ago when I started. If you are looking for a structured itinerary we are the wrong company for you. If you want to laugh and have a good time and learn something along the way we welcome you as friend.
Life is short, as we only have a limited amount of time on this planet. We should all be making an effort to have fun on the journey through life. There are no do overs in life, so what are you waiting for, get out and have fun and join us on an adventure.
Tye’s Top Tour & Travel
603 424 4043