Memphis Family Vacation Memories – Ducks, Dining, and Beale Street

Genie Davis March 29, 2011 No Comments

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Memphis, Tennessee might seem like an unlikely spot to entertain children of all ages, but it’s actually a fantastic destination for the whole family. Situated just above the rolling, wide Mississippi River, Memphis is a vital city with lots of music, great music-themed attractions – including but certainly not limited to Elvis’ home, Graceland - and a really family-friendly vibe in the restaurants and music venues across the city.

Memphis Tennessee view of the Mississippi River

Strolling near the river in Memphis makes a pleasant afternoon.

We loved Memphis, and had only one regret: we had too short a trip. Yes, this is the bar b q center of the United States, but our vegetarian and vegan family members had no problem finding delicious food, too. Yes, this is a city built on blues, rock and roll and soul music, but don’t your tots love to dance? From Sun Recording to the Stax Studios, from Graceland to Beale Street, there’s plenty of opportunities to experience a musical Memphis that all ages will enjoy.

We stayed at the Westin Hotel in Memphis which has an amazing location just around the corner from Beale Street and all the music, shops, street musicians, and bar b q restaurants this busy thoroughfare offers. It’s also a very short walk to AutoZone Park, a great minor league baseball stadium not far from Beale. Although the hotel’s sleek modernity is geared more toward business travelers than families, the large rooms and the great views – along with super convenient location – make this a winning stay. We had a view of Beale Street that was glittery yet private – we didn’t have the music and crowd audio, but we had an excellent bird’s eye view.
Another prime Memphis hotel is the elegant, grand Peabody. The hotel is richly adorned with marble and velvet the lobby themes, friendly staff, and beautifully appointed room and suites decorated in a traditional style. While the Westin is right at the edge of the Beale Street and baseball action, the Peabody embodies a gentile, Southern style and isn’t far from Beale. We had a great deal at the Westin thanks to some careful trip planning, but you couldn’t go wrong at either hotel.

Regardless of where you stay, you must take your kids to the Peabody at 11 am or 5 pm any day of the week. Why these times? Well, those are the hours where you’ll find the Parade of the Ducks in the Peabody’s opulent lobby. The ducks actually live in the hotel – at a so called “penthouse suite.” In the morning, they’re marched by formally attired hotel staff from their suite, into an elevator, along a red carpet, and into an ornate fountain in the center of the hotel’s main lobby. In the evening, the process is repeated in reverse. Either way, there isn’t a toddler around – or a child or adult of any age – who isn’t going to smile watching this event.

Fountain Ducks at Peabody Hotel Memphis

Here comes the ducks - fountain ducks in Memphis - a real treat for kids of all ages.

Why do the ducks do this? Well there was a practical joke played in the early 1930′s involving Memphis recreational hunters and their live decoys. The decoys took to the fountain like, well – ducks to water – and hotel visitors enjoyed these feathered friends so much that the ducks were allowed to stay, housed, and – many duck generations later, they’re on display. You can view the ducks from a mezzanine level or line up right along the red carpet. The fountain is located in the lobby bar area, which allows you to purchase a Shirley Temple or two for the little ones or imbibe yourself. The bar is completely child and duck friendly!

Also in the hotel: a great gift shop with plenty of duck-designed memorabilia. We liked the net bag of miniature rubber ducks for the tub. If you haven’t had enough shopping, right next door is the large Peabody Place Mall, with a variety of department stores and speciality shops.

Now if those ducks weren’t fountain-raised, where could they swim? The Mississippi river of course. Take a pleasant walk around city park and watch the river barges and steamboats cruising on the broad stretch of water. Memphis is after all the United States’ second largest inland port, making for a busy waterway for boat watching.

For people watching and music in the afternoon and into the night, there’s Beale Street. When we were there, pre-teens were performing awesome break-dancing feats in the middle of the street for tips; blues, jazz, a Johnny Cash tribute band, and all ages Kareoke vied for our musical attention. In W.C. Handy Park, an outdoor stage featured great blues and jazz performances with plenty of room for the kids to run and play, while the adults paid a brief homage to Handy’s iconic statue located in the plaza here. All the venues allowed kids of any age accompanied by an adult well into the evening hours – past nine p.m. the street became child-free, but until then – wonderful sounds unrestricted by age.

O'Sullivan's on Beale Street Oyster Bar

O'Sullivan's on Beale Street Oyster Bar

Music feeds the soul, but it was the aroma of baking corn bread that drew us into the King’s Palace Cafe. Delicious shrimp gumbo is on the menu too. Away from the Beale Street corridor and closer to the Peabody you’ll find The Rendez-vous serving up excellent and inexpensive bar b q to local and savvy tourists alike. For real Southern style cooking, check out the Woman’s Exchange of Memphis on Racine Street. Offering an entree, two side dishes and desert at a bargain price, this lovely tea room style restaurant is a great lunch choice. Founded in 1885 on the principle of helping others help themselves, you can also buy unique, one of a kind children’s clothing on site as well as beautiful hand made toys and kitchen items.

Memphis is a delightfully laid back city with an urban edge. Where else can your family enjoy ducklings, a free outdoor blues concert, a river walk, and fresh baked cornbread?

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Genie Davis is a multi-published fiction author, screen and TV writer, and travel writer. If it was possible, she'd like to spend every day traveling. www.geniedavis.com

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