Graceland, Memphis: Inside Elvis's private plane in the expanded Graceland

This truly feels like I've stepped back in time to another era – a time when rock stars ruled the world.

It's not just the gaudy, '70s decor, it's the history and the decadence – the very existence of this place.

I'm standing on board a Convair 880 Jet, built in 1958 and flown by Delta Air Lines on routes across the US before being retired in the '70s. In 1975, it was purchased by the king of rock'n'roll, Elvis Presley, for $US250,000. He renamed it the Lisa Marie after his daughter and reportedly spent another $US800,000 refurbishing it.

Now it's one of the highlights of the greatly expanded Elvis experience in Memphis. Though the plane has been on display since 1984, along with access to Presley's home – the Graceland mansion – the attraction now features a huge exhibition space featuring the star's many cars, costumes and other memorabilia.

The Lisa Marie is one of two of his private jets on the property, the other a smaller Lockheed Jet Star. But Lisa Marie is the flagship – visitors can climb on board to get a glimpse of the extravagant fit-out Presley created for his plane.

Presley was big on keeping up with the trends in interior decorating, so it's unfortunate he died during the ugliest period in history – the late 1970s. This is apparent in the Graceland mansion, with shag carpets, velour upholstery and endless shades of brown.

It's also there in the plane, with its opulent, gaudy fit-out that even Donald Trump might consider over the top. There are gold-plated belt buckles, suede seats, leather-topped tables – even the sinks in the two bathrooms are flecked with 24-karat gold.

The plane feature a lounge, a conference room, sitting room and a master bedroom. It's the type of aircraft that, these days, might only only exist as a parody of rock-star opulence.

Visitors can walk through for a close-up view of the plane's features, though most of the furnishings are covered in plastic and touching them is, of course, a no-no.

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Take a look inside the plane and at the rest of Graceland in the gallery above.

But it wasn't just the interior design of the plane that screamed decadence, it was the way Elvis used the aircraft. He reportedly flew to Colorado for the day just so young Lisa Marie could see snow for the first time.

On another occasion he flew some friends, in the middle of the night, from Memphis to Denver just so he could satiate a hankering for a local restaurant's Fool's Gold Loaf – a giant sandwich made from an entire loaf of bread, a jar of peanut butter, jam and bacon. Elvis' trip made the sandwich so famous it now has its own Wikipedia page.

The two planes are just a small part of the Elvis experience since the site was expanded. Named Elvis Presley's Memphis, the new exhibition is split into three linked museums covering his cars, outfits and influences.

Presley loved vehicles, particularly unusual ones, and the museum features a large selection of cars not just from his personal collection (including his famous pink Cadillac) but also those used in some of his movies. Meanwhile, it's gold sequins galore in the costume museum, with outfits from his films and famous live performances, but also items from his time in the army (a period he did not look back on with fondness).

For most visitors though, it's the mansion itself that is the highlight. Preserved from the time of Presley's death, Graceland offers a glimpse into the lifestyle of the entertainer. Given his decadent lifestyle, Graceland is surprisingly small. Sure, it's a still a mansion, but it's not the sprawling property one might expect from the world's biggest rock star.

Presley lived there until his death after buying the house for $US102,000 in 1957. Visitors make their way through a designated path inside the house. The upstairs remains closed to the public, but the living rooms, his parents' bedroom, the TV room, pool room and famously gaudy "Jungle Room" are all on the tour, along with his racquetball building and his father's office.

The tour ends in the pretty Meditation Garden is where the man himself is buried, along with his parents and a memorial to his twin brother Jessie, who died at birth. Although it's crowded with visitors, each vying to read the inscription on his grave and pay quiet respect, its simplicity is a nice contrast to the rest of the site. The king is dead, but Graceland lives on.

TRIP NOTES

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VISIT

There are variety of packages available for visitors to Graceland, starting with the mansion-only tour, while others include the exhibitions and planes. See graceland.com

STAY

The Guest House at Graceland opened in late 2016 and is next door to the mansion. Rooms at start from about $US200 but can vary during peak periods. See guesthousegraceland.com

Read Traveller's full review of the hotel here.

The writer visited as a guest of Memphis Convention & Visitors Bureau.

Four more Memphis musical highlights

Sun Studio

A tour of the tiny Sun Studio is a must for any music fan visiting Memphis. The unassuming building launched the careers of not only Elvis Presley, but Johnny Cash, Jerry Lee Lewis, Carl Perkins and many more. The excellent guides bring infectious enthusiasm to this historic rock'n'roll mecca. See sunstudio.com/

Beale Street

Still the living, breathing heart of music in Memphis, Beale St is filled with neon-lit bars, each promising live music and cheap drinks. It's touristy, sure, but popping into at least one of the venues for a cold beer and some bluesy rock'n'roll should be on your list. See bealestreet.com/

Stax Museum

Sun Studio may be the home of rock'n'roll, but Memphis is also the home of soul. Stax Records launched the careers of Otis Redding, Booker T and MGs, and Mavis Staples among dozens of others. The Stax Museum explores the history of the famous label with exhibits from the original studio and artist memorabilia. See staxmuseum.com/

Gibson Guitars

One of the two biggest names in guitar manufacturing, Gibson is still based in Memphis and offers tours of the facility to see how the iconic instruments are made. Even if you're not doing a tour, the building's windows let you take a peek at the guitars being crafted. See gibson.com/Gibson/Gibson-Tours.aspx

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