A Boot Scootin’ Hootenanny in the Deep South

NI Travel News’ JORDAN McCLUSKEY was invited along to experience The Deep South by Travel Solutions on a recent educational - supported by British Airways... cowboy boots at the ready!

NI Travel News’ JORDAN McCLUSKEY was invited along to experience The Deep South by Travel Solutions on a recent educational – supported by British Airways… cowboy boots at the ready!

The Deep South USA triple centre of New Orleans, Memphis and Nashville has quickly developed into one of the most up and coming tourism destinations in the world over the last couple of years. And arguably top of that trio list, and most popular, is Nashville, more commonly known as Music City USA!

NI Travel News were extremely lucky to be invited on a recent educational – hosted by Travel Solutions with support from British Airways – with some other key members of the NI Travel Trade to experience a sample of what this absolute gem of a US city break destination can offer.  Day One: Belfast City Airport was the first meeting point as the group checked in on their British Airways connecting flight to Nashville via London Heathrow. After experiencing the delights of the BA Executive Lounge and the Club Europe service to London, a four hour connection quickly flew by with shopping, lounge access and even some exclusive Elemis Spa treatments allowing the group to enjoy the outstanding facilities and services of the impressive Terminal 5.

This was all, of course, a precursor for the main event – the transatlantic flight within BA’s incredible Club World Business Class Cabin. And let me tell you, a nine hour flight to Nashville is an absolute doddle when you are treated to this type of comfort and enjoyment. Worth every penny! Upon arriving into Nashville, the group were quickly transported to their hotel – the Holiday Inn Vanderbilt – which is located in the up and coming trendy Midtown part of the city. Dinner was quickly followed by the first (of many) visits to Nashville’s biggest tourism driver – the Broadway area with its many “honky-tonk” bars and live entertainment.

Dozens upon dozens of bars with music and bands playing on every floor of every building!! Prepare yourself for a lot of singing and dancing! Day Two:  It was an early start on the first full day and after a large buffet breakfast at the hotel, the first stop was the legendary Studio B where so many iconic songs were recorded – including so many of Elvis’s classic tunes. It was fascinating to learn about the history of the building before we all got the chance to record as a group the iconic Elvis song “I cant help falling in love with you”… needless to say, that recording wont make any moves on the Top40 chart! After that, it was a short journey across to the Country Music Hall of Fame to learn all about this type of music – the museum was full of memorabilia, songs and interactive exhibitions – enough to keep you occupied for several hours regardless of whether you like country music or not. Next up was a visit to the Ole Smokey Distillery – a working moonshine distillery right in the heart of downtown Nashville.

The group were given a personal tour on how the drink was made, and able to sample 10 different flavours of moonshine ranging from peanut butter to caramel whiskey … and ranging in alcohol strength, with the strongest being at a fire inducing 128 proof (thats 68% in our currency!). This distillery also offers a bar, food and entertainment area – you could easily spend a full afternoon here and was definitely one of the highlights of the trip.  Loosened up after the distillery and lunch, the party ventured to a Goo Goo workshop – a chance to create our own chocolate based treat – a super group activity that was really enjoyable and filled 60-90 mins.

My own concoction of chocolate, peanut butter, white choc chip and Oreo was the absolute bomb!  We were lucky to be in town for the next induction ceremony for the “Walk of Fame” – a street filled with stars on the pavement right across from the Hall of Fame. The group had an amazing view of such artists as Lady Antebellum, Clint Black and the late Chet Atkins get their stars – and as a special treat even had their picture taken with country music legend Tim McGraw! After dinner (where one of the party had THE BIGGEST pork chop I’ve ever seen in my life!) we were transported across to the Grand Ole Opry for the evening performance. The Grand Ole Opry is the “mecca” of country music and as you enter the auditorium you cannot fail to be swept up in the majesty and history of the building.

Country music “royalty” was performing that night including superstar Luke Bryan which was a thrill to be in attendance to see. There are also back stage tours available throughout the day if you want a glimpse of what goes on behind the scenes! Of course the night (and early hours …) ended with enjoying the delights of Broadway again. AJs, Kid Rock and Luke Bryan’s own “honky-tonks” where the establishments of choice this time – very enjoyable! Day Three:  Slightly bleary eyed, the group had an early start to head out to the Loveless Cafe for a breakfast buffet extravaganza – home cooked southern hospitality was on offer as this charming venue paid host to a group that was struggling from the night before, but not enough to turn down a mimosa or bloody Mary (or two!)  A short drive away was the Belle Meade Plantation – a former family estate that became Nashville’s first attraction. Here you can choose from all manner of tours including – Mansion, Food & Wine Tasting, Bourbon Tasting, Segway Tours and many more!

It was fascinating hearing of how the Harding family founded the estate and area – and if I could recommend one thing to do it would be visiting the ice cream and fudge store for some of the most incredible tasting treats you will ever have! Another of the oldest tourist attractions in Nashville is the Parthenon. Located in Centennial Park, this is a full scale replica of the same building structure in Athens Greece and was built over 120 years ago as part of the Tennessee Centennial Exposition. The NI group were given a personal tour inside by the museum director and it was great to hear an insightful description of all that the statues and carvings contained within – including the 42 feet high statue of Arthena Parthenos – a sight to behold! The Parthenon is located in a public park that is really lovely area to walk around and close to the Vanderbilt area with eateries aplenty! Naturally, when in the Deep South, its important to sample the authentic grub – and at Martins BBQ Joint we were given the full BBQ experience – pulled pork, ribs, turkey, beef brisket and a LOT more – this is a super spot for a lunch in a relaxed family friendly atmosphere. Maybe don’t plan anything too arduous after it though!

Next up was a tour of the famous Ryman Auditorium. Located just off Broadway, this was the traditional home of country music and even played host (and still does at times) to the Grand Ole Opry. After a short entertaining video, you are free to roam the auditorium and stalls – even getting your picture taken on the stage. The group were treated to a sit down dinner live music performance at the Listening Room Cafe – a super concept where you can have dinner and drinks while listening to some local artists perform their songs and tunes. There are 2 performances per night (most nights) and is an enjoyable way to listen to some local talent while enjoying some grub and cocktails! Who knows, the next Garth Brooks could be performing the night you next visit! Once again, the final night was rounded off on Broadway for more drinks and entertainment. The Wild Horse was a fantastic spot as the group partook in some line dancing (with varying levels of ability and success!) and toasted another fabulous day, before visiting a fair few of the “honky-tonks” into the early hours once again (note – we were there 3 nights and only visited about a third of the Honky-Tonk bars on Broadway, there are so many to visit!)

Day Four: After breakfast in the hotel (and a head count to see if everyone was alive after the night before) the group were transported across for a Music Studio Experience at Bold Studios. A small intimate recording studio where we were treated to a performance of four or five songs by Travis and Megan. Megan actually finished 2nd in season eight of The Voice TV show in the USA and it was clear to see why – an unbelievable talent!! A demonstration of the digital editing equipment was fascinating before we all had the chance to record a version of one of the songs that Megan sang – each member of the group had their own personal part to sing and this was all mixed in – an amazing experience and something that will live long in the memory… But hopefully the tune will never hear or see the light of day! After our final lunch together, and en route back to the airport, we had the opportunity for some retail therapy with a visit to Opry Mills shopping mall – needless to say the girls in the group were more excited than the boys for three hours non stop shopping! The indoor mall boasts over 200 stores, full service dining options and entertainment including a Madame Tussauds!

The only problem you will have is finding space in your suitcase for all the bargains you pick up! Armed with a LOT more baggage, the group made the last transfer back to the airport for the travel home. Once again, the BA Club World class was an absolute blessing with a night flight meaning that comfort and sleep was easy to accommodate – and with tail winds behind us the flight time back to London was just over 7 hours, not bad at all!

Many thanks to Travel Solutions and British Airways (with the assistance of Nashville Music City) for putting on this amazing trip – by all accounts, one of the greatest ever educational outings for NI agents! Put simply, if you are considering a short break USA destination, get yourself to Nashville, Tennessee before everyone else catches on, you wont regret it.  Now, time to download some more country music…