This past weekend we took the kids to Nashville as an early Christmas present/experience. The trip included two shows; How The Grinch Stole Christmas the Musical! and A Christmas Story; a stage play put on by the Nashville Repertory Theater.
We drove in after school on Friday; with a pit stop in Bowling Green Ky to eat and drink at The White Squirrel Brewery which was a cool joint that reminded me a lot of Black Sheep Burrito here in Huntington but with it's own on-site brewery. The food at the Squirrel was pretty good. However, I didn't realize I'd ordered a vegetarian burger (black bean and corn) until I received it. Fortunately, it tasted good. I also liked the beer I had. I think we'd definitely stop in again. I'd kind of like to see what else Bowling Green has going on so it might be a fun weekend get-a-way without the kids sometime.
In Nashville we stayed downtown at the Sheraton. I've had mixed experiences with Sheraton's so I was a little nervous; especially since we did the cheap route and booked via Priceline. Parking was easy to find (big garage behind the hotel) and the hotel seems to have recently gone through some major renovation - it was very modern and white on the inside. Sadly, the pool is being renovated and won't be open for a while. We were all a little bummed the pool wouldn't be available. However, the staff was super friendly and the hotel was very nice. Because I'd booked through Priceline we had a standard room which had two double beds. I asked if we could get a room with larger beds and the desk clerk offered to put us in two rooms with kings. That was very generous but we didn't really want the kids off elsewhere without an adjoining room so we stuck with the doubles. I kind of wish we'd thought about that a little more.
A double bed is just too small. I become very self-conscious when sleeping in a small bed and stay on the very edge of the bed. This ended up with me sleeping in a weird angle on a very firm mattress which resulted in my having pretty bad neck/shoulder problems the full day Saturday. Ignoring that though, the room was really nice, very clean, and had a great bathroom. The view was pretty good too.
Saturday was really our only day to do stuff in Nashville so we made the most of it. First we got up and headed to a cool restaurant for breakfast called 817 Union. I had the prime rib hash for breakfast along with a couple biscuits. All in all pretty tasty. I also had my first ever Bloody Mary. I'm still not sure what I think of those. It was weird drinking something spicy. From the 817 we headed over to a cool memorial square where they had amazing monuments to those lost in a variety of wars as well as a really nice tribute to police officers who'd fallen in the line of duty. The WWI portion of monument square was amazing but it appears my camera failed when I took photos. Here is the Vietnam Memorial statue which is also very cool.
After exploring the monuments we hailed an Uber and headed to the Opryland Resort. We'd never really been in Nashville before and we had no idea what this place would be like. It's huge. It sort of reminded me of a cheap facsimile of Disney World's main street. It was nice but it felt a little dirtier and the people working there weren't nearly as friendly as the folks at Disney always are; especially the photographer on their river boat tour. The guide was nice but the photographer was kind of a jerk; he didn't seem like he wanted to be there.
The boat tour was nice - it gave us a nice chance to see some of the cool flowers growing around the river but it wasn't worth $10 a person. Opryland is clearly a money making machine. There were little bars everywhere and shops and endless opportunities for the Gaylord company to take your money. It felt overly hackish. I wouldn't go back even though the building itself is pretty amazing.
The main reason we had gone to the Opryland was because the Grinch musical was at The Grand Ole Opry. I was kind of excited to go there since it is a part of American pop culture and has been for as long as I've been alive. We took a free shuttle from the hotel to the Opry building and a really nice guy with a golf cart picked us up from the shuttle stop and gave us a ride to the front door of the Opry. He was the highlight of the experience. A really nice and welcoming person. I wish I had gotten his name as I would definitely have sent Gaylord some feedback on his behalf.
The Grinch musical was pretty good. The guy who played the Grinch was really good (though I felt like he lost some interest when he was doing a bit where he was snapping a crop in time with the music) and the rest of the cast was okay. The guy who played "old Max" had a great deep voice so when he sang "You're a mean one Mr. Grinch" it was pretty cool. I liked his voice for that part better than the Broadway cast recording I had previously listened too. I didn't care for "Grandpa Who" at all and I thought little Cindy Loo Who did a nice job though I had trouble understanding her when she spoke.
I thought the Opry building was interesting. There were, of course, more bars all over the place (I caved and bought an Opry Ale for almost $10; it was okay which is better than I expected). It looked like there were no bad seats. I'm not sure how it would be in the back of the upper balcony but the lower level seats were all really good; except they weren't very comfortable. The seating is basically made up of large wooden pews like you'd find at a church; just without the kneel boards. The seat itself was a bit deeper so it was a little more comfortable than a padded pew - but not much. I found myself fidgeting far too often during the show and my sore neck and shoulder were really aggravated by the bad seats. I really thought they'd have something like theater seating.
Once the show was over we headed across the street to a nice but very crowded mall called Opry Mills. It was a mad house and the traffic on the main streets coming in was insane. There is no way I'd want to drive there or spend any more time at that mall than necessary. We bought a couple things and then hailed another Uber and got back downtown for dinner and to prepare for our second show, A Christmas Story.
We had dinner at a little joint called the "Back Alley Diner" which is literally in an alley very close to the 817 Union where we had breakfast. The food here was pretty cheap and was just decent. But the service was friendly and prompt. It was really what we needed because we didn't have much time before the next show started and the diner was within walking distance of the Tennessee Performing Arts Center (TPAC). TPAC had two things going on that night; A Christmas Story and the Nashville Ballet's performance of The Nutcracker. Emily kind of wanted to bail on the show and see The Nutcracker but we'd already bought tickets so she was out of luck.
A Christmas Story was downstairs in an experimental theater. It was a small intimate space where the stage was the floor just in front of the seats. The photo above is of the main stage area taken from my seat. Through the use of lighting the calendar pattern helped tell the story. The setting was really perfect for the show and the entire set was really cool. I can't say enough good things about the quality of this show.
The cast was small but really good. I was a little doubtful about the casting of an older guy, Derek Whittaker, as Ralphie but he did a great job. He did a good job of projecting the persona of a kid. I was very impressed. The whole cast did a stand up job but I have to also mention Curtis Reed who played Ralphie's little brother Randy. Curtis was "all in" and really cracked me up quite a few times. If you live anywhere near Nashville and like "A Christmas Story" you should definitely check out the show. It is somewhat interactive and the cast is really great.
The next day we slept in a bit before heading to breakfast at "Wild Eggs". Wild Eggs is a chain but we'd never eaten at one before so it was a local experience to us. The food there was tasty - I had Breakfast Nacho's. Shannon ordered a stack of pancakes and was overwhelmed by the amount of food she received. Each pancake was about 3/4 of an inch thick. If you go to Wild Eggs make sure you go hungry.
As a cool bonus; on our way out of the hotel before breakfast we bumped into two of the dancers (Kayla Rowser and Nicolas Scheuer) from the ballet company and Emily had her photo taken with them. We learned later that Kayla is a pretty accomplished dancer. It is good for Emily to meet people like that who she can look up to; she wanted to buy Kayla's used/signed pointe shoes after that but, once again, she was out of luck. Hopefully, next year, we can get back to town so she can see her dance.
After breakfast we headed home with a pit stop in Lexington at a cool little coffee shop called "Common Ground" and then dinner at some unremarkable Italian restaurant.
Overall it was a fun weekend and I am pretty sure we will be back in Nashville for more short vacations in the future.