Disclosure: I received some free/discounted attractions and accommodations while in Nashville, for review purposes here on the blog. Opinions are, as always, my own.
So, my dream vacation to Nashville was supposed to be a girls’ trip, but when one of the girls backed out — not naming any names, but you know who you are! – I enlisted my hubby to join me instead. When telling others about my summer holiday plans, responses ranged from “Wow! Awesome!” to “Nashville…huh…” all the way to “Why NASHVILLE???”
I’ve been a country girl all my life (well, except for the three years I spent in a downtown Peterborough highrise) so it seems natural that I enjoy country music. But I will also readily admit that I am very into celebrities and entertainment in general, and due to the rise in popularity of country stars, as well as the amazing new tv show Nashville, my interest in visiting Tennessee has definitely been boosted over the past couple of years by its trendiness.
The Nashville Convention and Visitors Bureau
hooked me up with all the information I needed, and with some extra firsthand info from a friend who travelled to the city last summer (the exact same weekend actually) I planned our getaway.
After leaving the girls with my wonderful, loving, supportive parents (thanks, Mom and Dad!), we spent Wednesday night at a Toronto airport hotel where we could leave our vehicle during our trip. Thursday morning, the hotel shuttle took us to the airport where we boarded our two hour flight (though Nashville is an hour behind us, so technically we only lost an hour of our morning on the plane).
We took a cab to our downtown hotel (Hotel Indigo
), where we had requested an early check-in, and thankfully they were able to accommodate us. (If not, we would have just left our bags and started exploring, but it’s always nice to unpack and freshen up before venturing out. Or at least I think so.)
The hotel was great – and the room was much more spacious than I expected, having read that Hotel Indigo is a “boutique hotel”. (I think the bathroom was about the same size as our entire New York City “boutique hotel” room!) The staff was very helpful, whether with getting me on the free wireless internet, calling cabs, or answering questions.
Most downtown attractions are within walking distance, and our first destination was the Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum.
We started with a nice lunch in their Two Twenty Two Grill, and then began our self-guided tour of the museum (which is currently being expanded to twice its size, for anyone planning a trip next year).
A sign advertising an upcoming exhibit on Reba McEntire welcomed us as we entered the museum, and I was disappointed to learn that we were a few days too early to take it in…but there was still lots to be seen!
Artifacts are arranged in chronological order, and I’m going to be honest with you: I skipped over the early years quickly. I did enjoy learning about the roots of country music, but I didn’t grow up listening to it the same way my husband did, and a lot of the original stars and songs aren’t as familiar to me as the more current ones are. I was pleased to see that there is lots to appeal to both types of fans…and even reluctant or non-fans have to be impressed by items such as Elvis’ gold-plated and diamond-painted vehicle (ahead of its time with entertainment devices in the back seat):
Other “vintage” items that caught my eye were original handwritten lyrics, such the ones to “Jolene” written by Dolly Parton and pictured here:
I had to take this shot of a Taylor Swift display, which includes the laptop she used to record and produce two of her music videos (as Taylor says, “the only video CMT has probably ever played that cost like $5.00 to make”). Since my girls are totally into music (both listening/watching and performing themselves) I consider Taylor an excellent role model (knock on wood – some mothers once said that about Amanda Bynes) and I like to foster their interest in her.
Other highlights for me included stage costumes and items from Faith Hill and Tim McGraw, The Dixie Chicks and the TV show Nashville:
I was also impressed by the artifacts from Carrie Underwood’s “Blown Away” tour, organized based on the concert’s various acts (I really felt like I needed a wind machine for this photograph, but no luck).
This vignette is from the Meet and Greet room on the “Blown Away” tour. Someday I will have reached the rank of journalist where I get to meet and greet in such a room.
The actual Hall of Fame area features information on the various inductees, with my favourite shown here: (I still rank his Las Vegas one-man-concert as the best I’ve ever attended.)
For an extra fee, museum visitors can take a shuttle bus to the historic Studio B on Music Row. We hopped on board the shuttle, and were blessed with a fantastic tour guide who really made the tour for us, sharing jokes and anecdotes about the stars and the music en route and at the destination in addition to factual notes about the Studio itself. (Nearby: Reba McEntire’s recording studio, which she supposedly had built with a flat roof so she could come in via helicopter, an idea which was disputed by other area studio owners. She has never yet arrived by air.)
One of the rooms at Studio B is decorated with photos of artists who recorded there (I recognized a few of the names, but like I said, I’m more a new country girl) but one particular story caught my attention, regarding Dolly Parton and Porter Wagoner. Even if you’re not a country fan, I’m pretty sure you’re familiar with the song “I Will Always Love You”, which, while famously recorded my Whitney Houston for the soundtrack for “The Bodyguard”, was actually written and first recorded by Dolly Parton. Our tour guide told us that most of the world thinks it was penned as a love song, but in fact in was about a professional split, written for Porter Wagoner when Dolly decided to leave his television show, where she got her start, and set out on her own.
If you look carefully at this photo of the piano used in the Studio (which has never been removed from the room) you can also see where Elvis broke a panel from a cupboard door, angry that his record player wouldn’t work one night.
The Museum (and Studio B, with the hopes that all tour guides are as good as ours) are must-sees for anyone planning to visit Nashville.
Next on our agenda for Thursday was the General Jackson Showboat
(another cab ride from the hotel, located right near Opry Mills Mall and the Grand Ole Opry). While boarding, staff members took the required souvenir photo (okay, fine, I paid $20 for it because I thought we both looked pretty good):
We explored the boat for a bit, then we were seated in the dining room (the tables seat 8, so we were placed with others, which isn’t always my cup of tea, but we dined with a family of four from New Orleans and an older couple from Oklahoma who were interesting – but not overbearing- conversationalists, which was perfect for me). I expected the show to run during the meal, but it didn’t, so we ate our salad, prime rib/potatoes/vegetables and strawberry shortcake before the “Heart of Tennessee: A Musical Journey” began. (Loyal readers: which parts of that sentence do you think were untrue for me?) Appetizers and alcohol cost extra in addition to the price of the dinner/show.
The meal itself was fine, but I think if I did it again I would take the option of having something to eat on my own beforehand and then just seeing the show (those patrons spend time on deck having drinks and enjoying the cruise while the others are eating, and get invited in to take their seats on a second level before the show begins). This also would have allowed more time to actually enjoy the scenery, as the diners are pretty much below deck most of the time the boat is moving.
The live show was very fun, with seven performers presenting a history of country music (did you know we Irish can actually take some credit for it? You’ll have to watch the show to find out what I mean) with medleys of all sorts of toe-tapping tunes that I easily recognized.
One caveat: don’t be expecting a lineup of cabs after the boaters disembark. If you do, you will be waiting a while. And if you can’t use your cell phone because you’re out of the country and don’t have a plan, you’ll have to ask an employee to call a cab for you, and you might be waiting for an hour. Just sayin’.
Whew – can you believe that was only Day 1? Stay tuned for:
Day 2: Belle Meade Plantation, Bluebird Café and Honky Tonk Central
Day 3: Country Music Stars Tour of Homes, Opry Mills Mall and Grand Ole Opry
Day 4: Ryman Auditorium, Waterfront and General Tourist Tips
Please let me know if you have any questions at all about our trip!