Story by Kathie Farnell
Photos by Jack Purser
One of the largest hotels in the nation has transformed itself from a theme park adjunct into a destination, a gorgeous greenhouse replete with waterfalls, tropical foliage and its very own river.
Nashville’s Gaylord Opryland Resort & Convention Center, built to service guests to a now-extinct amusement park, still caters to visitors coming to see the shows at the Grand Ole Opry, right next door, but today the average guest may just as well be here for a wedding. From one to three ceremonies a week are performed amid the Gaylord’s nine acres of atrium-covered gardens and walkways.
At 2,881 guestrooms, the Gaylord is enormous—the largest non-gaming hotel facility in the continental U.S. Wandering guests are assisted by frequent signs, by the color-coded carpets, and in our case, by a kindhearted staff member. In addition to the many rooms, the Gaylord houses convention facilities, the elegant Relache Spa, three swimming pools and a number of restaurants—all under glass.
Popular venues for wedding ceremonies include the pavilions and gazebos which dot the property. Wedding parties range in size from the tiny—just the happy couple–to the voluminous.
Just about every aspect of the wedding except the bride’s dress is covered—there is an onsite florist, beauty salon, and caterer. Arrangements can be made for groomsmen golf outings, honeymoon packages, DJ booking, photographers, videographers, tuxedo rentals and even officiants. The Gaylord has seen some unusual weddings, from a bride and groom confined to wheelchairs— they met at a dance class—to a Renaissance-style extravaganza at which everyone, including the bride, wore masks, to huge Kurdish and Indian ceremonies. The Gaylord caters rehearsal dinners and wedding receptions and can personalize themes and refreshments. Although at least one official wedding cake constructed of Krispy Kreme donuts has been sighted, the groom’s cake remains the final frontier for self-expression; especially one recently fashioned to look like the Starship Enterprise.
Most of the couples who marry at the Gaylord Opryland stay for the honeymoon, and the 27,000 square foot European-styled Relache Spa caters to these romantics with its Harmonic Couples Massage, as well as with pre-nuptial “Here Comes the Bride spa” packages designed to relieve pre-wedding jitters.
Even if you’re not in the throes of getting married, the Gaylord Opryland provides enough activities to keep you busy. The Delta River—nearly 400,000 gallons of water, home to more than 200 fish including two albino catfish and one eel—winds through the Delta Pavilion area, and guests explore it on narrated flatboat tours. All this summer, the Peking Acrobats perform nightly and live music is offered in the Wildhorse Saloon, the Delta Lounge and the Jack Daniels saloon.
Restaurants at Gaylord Opryland include the Old Hickory Steakhouse, recipient of the Distinguished Restaurants of North America designation; Ristorante Volare, which features upscale Italian food in a peaceful setting; and the Cascades restaurant which includes Wasabi’s, a sushi bar.
The Grand Ole Opry, right next door, hosts shows every Tuesday, Friday, and Saturday night. Elsewhere on the property, the General Jackson Showboat, a 300 foot paddlewheel riverboat, offers midday and evening cruises, with music and food available. Gaylord Springs Golf Links includes eighteen holes of Scottish-style links along with expert instruction at the Golf Institute.
If you want to go farther afield, a downtown district shuttle makes stops at the Wildhorse Saloon, the Grand Ole Opry’s original home at the Ryman Auditorium, and the Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum, a 130,000 square foot facility within sight of the Ryman. A couple of blocks over, the recently-opened Musicians Hall of Fame tells the story of Nashville’s session musicians, unsung heroes who backed up everyone from Elvis to Ringo Starr to Cher. Exhibits include the nightclub stage from which Jimi Hendrix performed and a bass fiddle which musician Lightnin’ Chance renovated to include a drumhead, which he beat surreptitiously in subversion of the Grand Ole Opry’s “no drums” policy.
The beautiful Frist Center for the Visual Arts, located in an Art Deco-era post office downtown, is home this summer to a landmark exhibit. “The Quest for Immortality: Treasures of Ancient Egypt” comprises the largest collection of artifacts ever loaned by the Egyptian government for display in America. Yes, they have a mummy, along with magnificent gold jewelry, elaborately-painted coffins, and a recreation of the burial chamber of Pharaoh Thutmose III. Audio tours, featuring the mellifluous voice of Jeremy Irons, can be cued up at a number of the exhibits, leaving the visitor free to wander at will.
Nashville is located in middle Tennessee, 251 miles northwest of Atlanta. Nashville International Airport, ten minutes from Gaylord Opryland, hosts daily flights by a number of airlines including US Airways.
For information on Nashville
Call the Nashville Convention and Visitors Bureau at 1-800-657-6910
Or visit their website at www.visitmusiccity.com.
The Gaylord Opryland Resort & Convention Center
Call 1-888-777-6779 or visit their website at www.gaylordhotels.com