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A Family Sharing Good Times in Nashville

Author: sightseeingsue
Date of Trip: April 2006

Nashville, Tennessee was the destination for 13 of our family members to celebrate my mother-in-law’s 70th birthday.

Nashville is one of my favorite cities to escape to, and I usually do when I get the opportunity. Living near Grand Rapids, Michigan, it’s only a 9-hour car trip to get there or a short 1-hour flight. Being appointed the families social/trip director, I didn’t have a difficult time convincing the family to make this our destination. Thirteen family members from three different states coming to town for a weekend celebrating our Matriarch’s 70th birthday.

I’m a Michigander, so going south (warmer temperatures) seemed appealing, 6 hours from northeast Georgia was an easy drive, and it offered a large airport for our flyers. Nashville was the ticket.

Being here many times before, I made a list of things to do that might appease everyone. For the music lovers, they need go no farther than downtown to Honky Tonky Highway to catch a live performance at the Stage, Second Fiddle, or the famous Tootsie’s Orchid Lounge. Scoring tickets for the Grand Ole’ Opry Show, attending one of the many dinner theaters, or a visit to the Wildhorse Salon for line-dancing lessons would make this a night to remember.

If some preferred more historical attractions, I included Belle Mead Plantation, The Hermitage, Belmont Mansion, or Travelers Rest Plantation to go explore. Museum lovers could tour the Ryman Auditorium, Parthenon, Country Music Hall of Fame, or one of the many Art Gallery’s in town. We would be staying near the Opryland Hotel so just planning a visit to his massive resort for a few hours would satisfy most. They could take a ride on a flatboat, scroll through the gorgeous atriums, view sparkling waterfalls, catch the laser-light show, shop, or dine at one of the many great restaurants they offer. Opry Mills Outlet Mall was within a mile, so this would make the list for the shoppers.

Eating would be a priority and with so many different places to choose from I wouldn’t have a problem here except finding a place everyone would agree on. We had to try the Aquarium, couldn’t pass up Findley’s Irish Pub, and agreed on Santa Fe Cattle Company for the group meal. Had more time been an option, B.B. Kings restaurant for their ribs, Loveless Café for some down-home cooking, or Stock-Yard would have been enjoyed. Next Time. Regardless of when, preference in music, or adventure level, don’t miss a visit to Nashville. A definite must!

Regardless of what month you travel to Nashville, you will find festivals, concerts, award shows, sporting events or tours that will be available during your stay. I suggest ordering Nashville’s free travel magazine for a detailed list of what’s going on and when. This free publication will provide dates and times, fees, locations and some additional information on what is going on. An example might be some of the numerous holiday shows offered in Nov. and Dec. or details about the Tennessee Renaissance Festival held every weekend in May. One of the biggest crowd pleasers found in June is the CMA’s Music Festival. I don’t go anywhere without first reading reviews, checking out websites (like this one) and doing a little research before I head out on a vacation. However, if you don’t have time, don’t worry as you will still stumble upon hours and hours of cool stuff to keep you interested in Nashville.

If music is your passion then just walking downtown is all you will need to do to enjoy jazz, bluegrass, country, or rock. There are countless bars, with live performances going on all day long. Seeing a performance at the Grand Ole Opry, visiting the Opryaland Hotel, getting line-dance lessons at the Wildhorse Saloon, or taking a tour of the Ryman Auditorium would be my top picks while in town. In the spring or summer months when the weather is warmer spend the day at one of the Plantations and take in some of the history of this town or take a ride on the General Jackson Riverboat for a relaxing adventure. But my best tip or suggestion would be to spend as much time as you can exploring all Nashville has to offer, if you can’t see it all in one visit (and you won’t for sure) then return again, and again and again. This truly is a fun, friendly place to visit.

Having a car is the best way to get around this city. It has a fairly easy expressway system to navigate, but due to its explosive growth in recent years you won’t have an easy time getting around town without avoiding major construction areas. But don’t let this stop you from visiting here — just plan on a little more time getting to where you are going. Nashville is no different than most large cities and experiences major rush hours during parts of the day, so be aware. Expressways are bumper to bumper for the early morning rush hour or for the evening’s drive home. If staying at one of the resorts (such as Opryland Hotel) for all means use their shuttle service. They have rides to many of the downtown attractions such as the Wildhorse Saloon, Country Music Hall of Fame, or Ryman Auditorium and are very practical, reasonable priced (some free) which is especially helpful for the unfamiliar drivers to this area. I do recommend taxi service for people coming to town without their vehicles, or rental cars. Now after having said that, I do want to report that I did have one of the worst rides ever by a taxi driver in this town once before. I sure hope he’s not driving in this town any longer. Aside from that one bad experience I would probably use a taxi service again if need be as I am sure most taxi drivers are safe curiosity drivers…(I said most, not all). And one more word of advice: If having to choose from your Mapquest directions or a local living in the areas advise (ex: hotel desk-clerk) take the locals advise. I thought my directions looked easier, while the hotel’s desk-clerk suggested avoiding the heavy construction by going another route. Man, I sure wished I’d listened, I did however take his advice on the way back.

Aquarium — for me, the food at a restaurant is only half of the dinning experience; the other half is its atmosphere. Being fascinated by aquatic life, I found watching 100 different species of colorful tropical fish swim freely in a 200,000 gallon aquarium very soothing. So that being said, I would recommend dining at the Aquarium for the ambiance rather than its food.

Aquarium is located in the Opry Mills Outlet Mall near the cinema. As you enter the restaurant, you will be greeted with a fairly good-size aquarium filled with multicolored coral and reef and brightly colored fish swimming amongst the tank, then directed to walk underneath a tunnel, which is yet another aquarium filled with vibrant colored fish, to wait till you can be seated.

Both times we came here (2pm), we found no line at the door. Our first time, we just wanted to take a peak inside, but once our eyes fixed on the floor-to-ceiling centerpiece aquarium, we were hooked. Table, please.

Once seated, our overly friendly waitress did her spiel to try and educate us on some of the species found in the tank, went over some features of the menu, and talked about how they know all this, which is due to the lengthy training required to work here. She took our drink orders and said she would return soon.

The menu’s full of seafood dishes, but also offers steaks, salads, chicken, pasta, and a menu for little pirates. We weren’t starving but wanted a light snack, and so decided on shrimp and crab dip ($10.99) and possibly one of their scrumptious dessert. We placed our order, sipped our drinks (apple martini $7.99), and got lost watching the sharks, rays, eels, and other various coral life for a moment. The food took forever to get, almost 40 minutes. How long could it take to make seafood dip?

The generously portion dip and bread finally were served. It came out warm, creamy and decent tasting. The drink-tini was expensive ($9) but hit the spot.

Our second visit was for lunch the next day, and we invited a few more people to join us after telling them about our previous days visit. The table for seven ended up being a table for 13 once the rest of our other family showed up in town. Our friendly waiter was more knowledgeable about the fish than the menu but handled the arriving guests efficiently. Drinks were kept flowing.

Several appetizers were ordered to start. Fried calamari ($8.99), chicken lettuce wraps $(14.99), and shrimp dip. All were large portions that were good. Some of our meals consisted of pasta-stuffed chicken, fried stuffed shrimp, fish-and-chips, Jamaican jerk chicken, and a burger. The entree price ranges were $17 to $28.

Everyone agreed that the food alone wasn’t worth coming in for, but with the aquarium’s spectacular backdrop, it was well worth the trip and every penny. If you aren’t hungry, sit at Dive’s bar for a beer or exotic cocktail and an awesome view.

Courtyard Marriott Opryland — Trying to please a group of people ranging in ages and finding that perfect spot to fill everyone’s needs wasn’t going to be an easy task. One wanted an indoor pool, another didn’t want to stay downtown, all wanted reasonable rates and located near attractions, it had to have internet access, offered reward points, and at least a three-star rating. But with a little research, and some luck with our stay at the Courtyard Marriott (Opryland), it was accomplished.

We stayed the first weekend in February 2006 and reserved a total of 6 rooms. Reservations were made on the 800-number the month previously and were made easily, by a friendly and helpful staff member. We ordered five rooms with two queen beds, and one room a king. Price for our stay was $93 per night given at the senior rate for all. Even though only half were seniors they allowed two rooms to be reserved by each senior. Regular rates for that weekend were quoted at $129. We requested adjoining rooms with refrigerators, all non-smoking.

We were all located up on the third floor in the same section. Not all directly next to each other but not far away. What was amazing to me was that all six rooms were all slightly different. I was pleasantly pleased by the size of our room. It being the largest amongst the group’s, offered a pull-out couch, coffee table and desk with chair. My brother-in-law’s room (with his elite status!) was slightly smaller, but had a balcony but not a couch. The king room also had a couch but the others just a reclining chair. The refrigerators that were requested were only available for two of our rooms. This wasn’t really that big of a deal as some rooms would have been rather crowded with them in it.

Overall, the rooms were well cleaned, had a large picture window, decent size bathrooms,comfortable beds, coffee pots and standard amenities. Rooms décor was typical, but with nicer furniture then most places. The bathrooms came with a blow-dryer, showers were hot, had good water pressure, and an adequate number of towels were provided.

The hotel provided a good size indoor pool and whirlpool that appeared to be kept clean which allowed the guests to relax. My family used this and had no complaints.

The staff was very helpful, friendly and made our stay perfect. They allowed us to have use of a conference room for the weekend, free. They even piped in some good music for us to enjoy. We spent hours here, playing cards, snacking, and telling stories with each other.

The only negative thing about this place was the breakfast buffet, served daily. They charge $8 whether you ate a piece of fruit or a full meal. The buffet had bacon, eggs, waffles, fresh fruit, and muffins, but didn’t look appetizing. Off to one of the chains near by.

Location’s great, very reasonably priced, nice friendly staff and no complaints by me.

Findley’s Irish Pub — I knew totally well I would end up in this place and even knew exactly what I planned to order that evening. Now, to direct my family to the Magnolia section of the Opryland Hotel to find this fine Irish establishment called Findley’s. This was not my first visit to Findley’s and definitely not my last. Last year I ate the best corned beef and cabbage ever here!

Findley’s has that authentic Victorian Irish Pub feel to it which gives you the true sense of walking into a Irish neighborhood pub. Its walls display plaques of Irish sayings and signs, the bar was deep brown in color and almost looked handcrafted out of some fine hardwood. With its friendly atmosphere it’s truly inviting as well as a perfect place to enjoy drinks, a delicious meal and some blarney at.

Findley’s features a reasonably priced menu, offered delicious Irish staples, a fine selection of drafts which includes Harp, Guinness, and Bass Pale Ale, and if that’s not enough a wonderful selections of specialty drinks to wet your whistle.

It’s always been busy when I’ve come, but never had to wait for a table. This time was no exception. We grabbed a small table in the patio area in front of the restaurant and quickly ordered drinks . Once the Guinness, Bass Pale Ale, and my Wild Irish Rose drink arrived we raised our glasses and said a Irish toast “Thirst is a shameless disease so here’s to a shameful cure.” The evening had begun.

The menu offers appetizers, soups, salads, and sandwiches along with the usually Irish cuisine. Appetizers of Potato Pockets, beer battered mushrooms, or salt and vinegar crisps are all priced around $5, with the sampler combo the highest priced at $11. We ordered the chips and the combo to munch on. Combo included potato skins, chicken tenders, more chips with specialty sauces.

The soups they suggest are hot potato, or ham and pea which cost $5. A house salad (salmon and potatoes) would set you back around $9. My sister-in-law offered the Shamrock salad ($9) which presented a little different twist (corned beef rather than ham or turkey) from a chef salad which she said was fresh and tasty.

Main menu consisted of fish-n-chips, Shepherds Pie, burgers, assorted sandwiches and my all time favorite corned beef and cabbage all priced around $9, and to complete the menu they even offer a few desserts to choose from.

My corned beef and cabbage wasn’t as good as my first visit, but was definitely excellent. They could have been more generous with the carrots and red-skinned potatoes though with only two on my plate. Meat and cabbage were tender and no problem finishing every bite. My husband’s fish-n-chips were also tasty, but a little on the ordinary side. We truly enjoyed the Irish folk singers which perform nightly, and everyone in our group had no complaints with their food or drinks. I would highly recommend this place when in Nashville.

Gaylord Opryland Hotel — My husband’s brother, his wife, and I agreed to arrive one day earlier then the rest and treat their mother to a night at the Opryland Hotel for a little surprise. This was my suggestion as I have stayed here several times before and always had pleasant experiences.

Arriving promptly at 3pm (CST) my husband dropped me off at the Cascade Entrance. I check-in, he parks the car. Parking rates are ridiculous. Self $10 per day, Valet $18.

Woo Hoo, no line at the check-in desk. Boo Hoo, the rooms aren’t ready yet and none of the remodeled rooms I had requested were available. This has happened to me here before. So the reservation host got my 2 cents worth. I politely expressed my dissatisfaction, enlightened him with my situation (ailing mother-in-law due to arrive momentarily, she had been traveling a long distance, and was in no physical shape to wait for her room) and low and behold after letting his finger do some magic, discovered two adjoining rooms, though in a different section, that were ready. The rooms would be upgraded from what we requested at no additional charge. A $199 rate to a $264 rate complete with a garden patio — we’ll take it. Things went smoothly from here on.

Our remodeled, two queen-size bedrooms, were located in the Garden Conservatory section on the first floor, and only a short walk from the atrium. Although the rooms were small, they were decorated very chic, and offered very large comfy beds. A beautiful armoire housed the television, as well as drawers for clothing. The bathrooms are small but the counter-top and bathroom fixtures were not your ordinary hotel models. My shower was hot, had great pressure, and plenty of room to bathe.

The resort itself is massive, has luxurious accommodations, and first-class entertainment. Under majestic, climate-controlled glass atrium, we enjoyed being surrounded by acres of lush indoor gardens, winding rivers and pathways, sparkling waterfalls, and a place to relax, dine, shop, and be entertained all without leaving. Some highlights for me were the 44 foot waterfall, laser-light show, and tour on the delta flatboat. There is an indoor pool, first class spa and exercise facility as well.

There are several restaurants to choose from satisfying everyone’s taste buds, and entertainment nightly in some of the lounges, but some don’t open until early evening. Cocktails were especially enjoyed at a few lounges with our favorite being the Cascade Terrace, as you sit the terrace rotates giving you a constantly changing view of the beautiful scenery.

I would recommend this place if you aren’t on a budget and appreciate beautiful scenery.

Santa Fe Cattle Company — I needed to find a place located near our hotel (Courtyard Marriott-Opryland), a family-friendly place that could accommodate 13 of us, one with a menu that offered a wide variety of items to satisfied everyone’s taste buds, served alcohol, and was reasonably priced.

I asked for a recommendation at the front desk of our hotel and Santa Fe Cattle Company was mentioned. The clerk said steak, ribs, and fajitas were its specialty items, but they also offered chicken, pastas, and burgers as well. He needed to go no further, as he had my husband at steaks! So, after a quick call, our reservations were made for the next evening at 6pm.

It was located less than a mile from our hotel, and when we arrived, it mirrored a lot of other Southwestern-style steakhouses we had been to before. My only hope was that it was going to please our entire group. Immediately upon walking through the doors, you are hit with an awesome-smelling whiff of the hickory scent coming from their grills, and then you spot a large wooden barrel loaded with peanuts and people waiting in line or at their tables just throwing the shells on the floor. Now, what’s more family-friendly than that? This is when I realized this place might actually fix the bill.

We were quickly seated in a back section of the restaurant and given large menus to explore. The menu offers steaks, ribs, seafood, fajitas, burgers, and chicken dishes. Prices were generally in the $10 and $25 dollar range, with a few entrees under $10. They offer a wide variety of beverages and alcoholic drinks as well. After a careful review of the menu, our orders were placed. Drinks came quickly, but the meals took awhile to come out, but hot buttered rolls, our salads, large dishes of peanuts, and family to visit with made the time fly by quickly.

Most of us ordered steaks ,with a few choosing to dine on fajitas or chicken. My rib-eye cut was superb. Done exactly how I requested, with just a hint of a hickory favor, made this a truly delightful meal. My husband’s porterhouse was huge, almost fork tender, and was finished in a matter of minutes. The side dish of smashed garlic potatoes were very yummy as well. Looking around this place, you see all the families and friends gathered together, sharing laughs and good food, and all with smiles on their faces. That’s always a good sign in my eyes.

I was impressed with the friendly, efficient staff that was on hand that evening to handle our large group. She made our meal very pleasant and enjoyable. Drinks were served quickly and steadily so we didn’t go thirsty. Everyone I spoke with from our clan left satisfied and extremely full.

By all means, if a casual atmosphere, great value meal, friendly staff, and fun place to eat at is what you are looking for, then I don’t think you will be disappointed.

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