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Cruises to Memphis

Memphis (Photo:f11photo/Shutterstock)

About Memphis

To much of the world, Elvis Presley's Graceland is the main image of Memphis. But those who venture beyond the obligatory pilgrimage to The King's former home may leave with more vivid memories of other attractions.

Memphis is music, barbecue, Southern tradition and a place that helped spark the Civil Rights movement. Many riverboat cruisers will try to see everything in one extra day (which, of course, is impossible), but they'll discover much more than they may expect -- and learn a lot in the process.

Those embarking or disembarking on Sunday may decide to start their day with a living music legend. The Reverend Al Green -- yes, that Al Green -- preaches and sings at his Full Gospel Tabernacle Church most Sunday mornings. A recent visitor described it online as a "foot stomping, hand clapping, Bible-based Christian church."

There's live music scattered around Memphis, much of it on downtown's Beale Street. For the backstory, check out Memphis' music museums: rock 'n' roll's Sun Studio, where Elvis made his first 45s; Stax Museum, onetime recording studio for soul stars such as Otis Redding and Isaac Hayes; and Memphis Rock 'n' Soul Museum, where the full story of Memphis music is told. If that's not enough, there's also the Blues Hall of Fame and the Memphis Music Hall of Fame.

The music story is incomplete without learning about the chaotic changes in Memphis after the April 4, 1968 assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., which happened here. The music museums do mention the struggles, but to get to the heart of that era, everyone should spend time at the powerful National Civil Rights Museum, built around the site of the Lorraine Motel, where MLK died.

A new attraction in 2015 is an eye-popping store about a mile from the Beale Street Landing, where overnight and excursion riverboats dock. Once a basketball arena and site of mega-cultural exhibits, the riverfront Memphis Pyramid is now called Bass Pro Shops at The Pyramid. It includes the 103-room Big Cypress Lodge, two restaurants and a dimly lighted emporium where fake cypress trees with real moss lord over shelves with T-shirts and parkas, a giant aquarium, an alligator habitat, pond, and waterfalls.

Barbecue reigns in Memphis. But again, beyond the cliche ribs -- so good -- there also are sophisticated wine bars and ethnic restaurants, plus several down-home cafes on Beale Street.

A couple of favorite meeting spots for Memphis residents are near Beale, in and around the city's beloved hotel: The Peabody Memphis. Locals and tourists crowd the lobby daily at 11 a.m. and 5 p.m. to watch the hotel's resident mallard ducks parade to and from the lobby fountain, where they swim all day. It's delightful. It's Memphis.

More about Memphis

Why go to Memphis?

Pros: You can visit Graceland, home of Elvis, and the hallowed ground of Martin Luther King, Jr.

Cons: Fares for taxis can be uneven; if you visit the Peabody Memphis Hotel in shorts, you might be underdressed.

Bottom Line: Memphis serves up nothing short of fabulous music, barbecue and a powerful homage to the Civil Rights Era.

Where You’re Docked

Riverboats dock at Beale Street Landing, where a new riverfront building opened in June 2014 at 251 Riverside Drive. It's at the foot of Beale Street, where it dead-ends at the Mississippi River, about a 10-minute walk to downtown. Daytime excursion boats also leave from here.

Memphis Cruise Port Facilities

Beale Street Landing's floating dock has a spiral walkway (and golf carts with drivers to transport boat guests when the river is high) to the top of the riverbank and the Riverside Bar and Grill, where sandwiches, salads, fried green tomatoes, catfish and Memphis peach pie are among menu items. There's also a gift shop. Both are open 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. in spring and summer, 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. in winter. Unfortunately, when the American Queen docked here to disembark passengers at 8 a.m. on a Sunday in December, nothing was open.

However, the six-acre site is a haven in good weather for those who relish being outside. There are walking and biking trails, fitness stations, spots to settle in and contemplate the river, and Island Play @ Beale Street Landing, a children's playground with misting devices in summer, dancing fountains and a giant catfish sculpture. It's a 10-minute walk to downtown, with crosswalks over Riverside Drive

The Memphis Convention & Visitors Bureau is at 47 Union Street, walking distance from Beale Street Landing. It's open 8:30 a.m. to 6 p.m. weekdays, but is closed Saturday and Sunday.

The 1-40 Tennessee Welcome Center, at 119 N. Riverside Drive, is near the Brass Pro Shops at The Pyramid (about a mile from Beale Street Landing). However, the Memphis CVB is open only during weekday business hours, from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. So plan your Memphis visit in advance.

Good to Know

There's a friendly, casual atmosphere in Memphis, although those who venture to The Peabody Memphis will feel more comfortable if they leave their T-shirts and Nikes in their suitcases and dress up a wee bit.

When a local asks a bartender for Jack, he means Jack Daniels Tennessee Whiskey.

If you hear someone mention "the Grizzlies," they're not talking about bears, but about the local NBA team.

"Grit and grind" is a favorite Memphis saying, which is plastered across T-shirts and signs at NBA games. Tony Allen said, "All heart. Grit and grind," after his transformative performance when the Grizzlies beat Oklahoma City's Thunder in a wild game on February 8, 2011. Fans call the FedEx Forum (where the team plays) the Grind House.

Check fares in taxis. One driver posted a $4 Sunday surcharge on his meter, while the next two posted $2.

Getting Around

By Trolley: Memphis' downtown trolleys have been undergoing restoration since 2014; local officials promise they will return! In the meantime, they've been replaced on the same routes by buses painted to look like trolleys.

By Bus: There's the Hop On commercial tour bus, which operates Tuesday through Saturday in spring and summer, but only Thursday through Saturday in fall and winter. There is a free hourly shuttle between Graceland, Sun Studio and the Memphis Rock 'n' Soul Museum.

By Taxi: On a pretty day, passengers making a Memphis port call as part of a longer cruise can walk to from the port to downtown. If you have luggage, it's best to take a taxi; they line up for disembarking passengers when riverboats dock. Uber is also active in Memphis.

Currency & Best Way to Get Money

There is no ATM in Beale Street Landing, where the riverboats dock (see Where You're Docked), or at the National Civil Rights Museum. However, there are ATMs on every block of busy Beale Street downtown, a center for music, bars and cafes. There's also an ATM near the corner of downtown's Main and Peabody, a busy pedestrian intersection.

Language

English with a touch of a Southern accent is what you'll hear in Memphis.


Memphis Cruise Reviews

wickenburg_man
Sail Date: Sep 2018
We went to Graceland and due to time constraints never saw any of Memphis. I would recommend opting for a tour of the city rather than Graceland next time....Read More
American Queen
cesaltz
Sail Date: Apr 2019
Nice dock nice town....Read More
American Queen
Saperston
Sail Date: Sep 2017
Memphis was a fun city to start our trip. Beale St has great food and music. Sun Studios was very interesting....Read More
Queen of the Mississippi
lynnmarv1
Sail Date: Mar 2018
The bus tour we were on was extremely disorganized and we arrived a various stops at the wrong times for our appointments. Waited 45 minutes to see the ducks at the Peabody Museum - what a waste. Plus the...Read More
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