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.
Memphis Cruise Reviews
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