The Deep South
Sarah Jeffery, GTO’s Partnership & Product Director, recently enjoyed a 12-night holiday, travelling across America’s Deep South on a tour organised by Travelsphere and led by tour manager Jackie O’Donoghue.Sarah travelled across three states and gained thought provoking insights into the birth of rock ‘n’ roll, the Civil Rights movement and America’s Civil War heritage. She reports back on the highlights of her trip revealing what this part of the States has to offer groups.
Atlanta, the capital of Georgia, played an important part in both the Civil War and the 1960s Civil Rights Movement and this history can be discovered in the Atlanta History Center and at the Martin Luther King Jr. National Historic Site – dedicated to the African-American leader’s life and times.Groups can visit the original Ebenezer Baptist Church, where King was baptized and where he and his father were pastors, visit KIng’s tomb and the ‘eternal flame’ and stroll through the tranquil ‘I Have a Dream’ World Peace Rose Garden.
Downtown, the Centennial Olympic Park, built for the 1996 Olympics is well worth a visit – it’s now home to the massive Georgia Aquarium, which houses more than a 100,000 animals including whale sharks. There’s also a SkyView Ferris wheel, offering panoramic views of the surrounding area.
Historically a major railroad hub, Chattanooga is on the banks of the Tennessee River in the foothills of the Appalachian Mountains. Here, groups can stay at the famous Chattanooga Choo Choo Hotel, which opened in 1973 and was named after the famous tune that was originally recorded by the Glenn Miller Orchestra featuring in the 1941 movie Sun Valley Serenade.In addition to traditional hotel rooms, the hotel also offers guests the option to sleep onboard a vintage Pullman train car. Just a few miles outside of Chattanooga is the Incline Railway, operating since 1895 it’s the world’s steepest passenger railway and is now a National Historic site and Mechanical Engineering Landmark. The trolley like railway takes visitors to the top of the Lookout Mountain, where visitors can enjoy spectacular views and visit Point Park – the site of a Civil War battle. Nashville, aka ‘Music City’, is the capital of Tennessee and home of the honky-tonks! Its capitol building is one of the oldest in America, and its distinctive tower was designed to replicate the monument of Lysicrates in Athens. The architect, William Strickland, considered the capitol his crowning achievement and chose to be entombed above the cornerstone. Groups can take a tour of Music Row and visit the historic RCA Studio B, which became famous in the 1960s for creating the production style and technique known as the ‘Nashville Sound’. Here, Elvis recorded more than 200 songs and Roy Orbison, Dolly Parton, Chet Atkins, Eddy Arnold, and many more recorded classic hits.
Nearby, is the Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum exploring the history of country music through dynamic state-of-the-art galleries and groups can also choose a unique experience that includes performances from Music City’s finest musicians and songwriters.As well as the live music bars on Nashville’s Broadway, groups can visit the legendary ‘Grand Ole Opry’ stage and radio show – USA’s longest running radio broadcast to enjoy live music. A variety of optional tours can be booked, including a Post-Show Tour – starting minutes after that day’s stars head home and taking in dressing rooms, private VIP areas and the stage.
Memphis, on the Mississippi River in southwest Tennessee, is famous for the influential strains of blues, soul and rock ‘n’ roll that originated there. Elvis Presley, B.B. King and Johnny Cash recorded albums at the Sun Studio and groups can visit and stand in the very place that Elvis stood! Knowledgeable tour guides tell the inside stories of B.B. King, Howlin’ Wolf and Ike Turner, and priceless memorabilia from the era is on show.The most iconic attraction in Memphis is Elvis Presley’s Graceland mansion. During the tour of the house, which includes the living room, his parents’ bedroom, the kitchen, TV room, poolroom and the famous Jungle Room, groups can fully immerse themselves in learning about Elvis’ life, his influences and his artistry through many exhibitions. New is the Presley Motors Automobile Museum, where some of Elvis’s favourite cars including his famous Pink Cadillac are on display. Other exhibits showcase his customised planes such as the Lisa Marie, fitted with a living room, conference room, private bedroom and gold-plated seat-belts, leather-covered tables and 24-carat gold-flecked sinks, as well as a smaller Lockheed Jetstar – the Hound Dog II.
LouisianaFamed for its costumed parades during Mardi Gras, New Orleans is on the Mississippi River, near the Gulf of Mexico. Nicknamed the ‘Big Easy’, it’s known for round-the-clock nightlife, vibrant live music and spicy cuisine reflecting it’s mix of French, African and American cultures. A ‘must do’ is a trip on the iconic Steamboat Natchez – the last authentic steamboat on the Mississippi. Lunch and dinner Jazz cruises are available daily throughout the year.
In the heart of the city’s French Quarter between the Jax Brewery Shopping Mall and the French Market and in front of the St. Louis Cathedral you’ll find the popular Jackson Square. It was known in the 18th century as Place d’Armes but was renamed in honour of the Battle of New Orleans hero, Andrew Jackson. Surrounding the square are historic buildings including the Presbytere and Cabildo, two of Louisiana’s State Museums, and the Lower and Upper Pontalba Apartments – the oldest apartment buildings in the United States. For over 50 years, local artists have come here to paint, draw, create portraits and caricatures, displaying their work on the square’s iron fence. It’s also here that the world-famous Café Du Monde has been serving up crispy beignets and creamy cafés au lait since 1862.
New Orleans’ cemeteries with their ornate tombs, some dating back to the late 1700s, are major tourist attractions. There are dozens throughout the city so groups are advised to book a tour – most will take you through St. Louis Cemetery #1, home to Voodoo Queen Marie Laveau’s grave, and Lafayette Cemetery – a popular location for movies shot in New Orleans and situated directly across from Commander’s Place in the Garden District.
Around 25 miles outside of the city, groups can enjoy a trip on the bayou and explore the swamp with Cajun Encounters Eco-Tours, operated by New Orleans natives who are passionate about their home town, its history, and the surrounding wildlife. Groups will learn unique Cajun history and get up close to many of the swamp’s residents, including 10-foot alligators, turtles and raccoons, plus numerous birds and fauna. Smaller groups (16 people maximum) can book the Close Encounter VIP Tour. Swamp tours can be teamed with a tour of a local plantation, such as Destrehan Plantation, an antebellum mansion built in the French Colonial style in 1787.
Here, costumed guides will lead tours of the mansion and share the stories of the Destrehan family and the enslaved who lived on the plantation. There are daily craft demonstrations showcasing African-American herbal remedies, historical carpentry and quilting.
Organising trips to the Deep South
For this trip, Sarah joined an escorted group tour organised by Travelsphere but the itinerary can be tailored so that it suits the needs and specific interests of a group taking in preferred dates, destinations, accommodation or dining choices. A local tour manager will join your group too making sure everything runs smoothly and giving GTOs the chance to relax and enjoy the trip as much as their group.