Granted, a hotel visit isn't your normal Nashville Fun for Families excursion, but the Gaylord Opryland Hotel is most definitely not your average hotel. It has nine acres of indoor gardens complete with multiple waterfalls, multiple restaurants, and an indoor river featuring a Delta flatboat river ride. Don't want to pay for a river ride? Don't want a room? That's okay. It's free to walk around and enjoy the scenery.
If you simply drive up to the Opryland hotel, you will have to pay for parking in the lot for overnight guests. But to visit for a few hours, just drive through the Opry Mills Mall parking lot toward the Regal Cinemas entrance and leave your car in a free space outside the Gaylord Events Center. (This is the same area you will want to park in if you choose to go to “Explore ICE!™ when it opens in November for the holidays.) Walk through the gate to the left of the event center and follow the walkway under the green awning. It takes you to a side entrance in the Delta area of the hotel.
See the Delta
This is where you'll probably have the most fun visiting the Opryland Hotel. The Delta covers half of the nine acres of indoor gardens. There are various attractions including the Delta Riverboat Tour, the Aqua Fountain Show and the International Waters Fountain Show in the Delta Atrium.
We timed our excursion to the hotel to arrive around 4 pm and started our visit in the Delta enjoying the very pleasant 68 degree (year round) temperature and the lush plant life. This area is slightly inconvenient for those with strollers. There are elevators, but they aren't necessarily where you would want them to be as you have to walk past several sets of stairs before reaching them. The elevators will get you from the lower ground level to the first floor where you can access the main island in the Delta Atrium. Once in the main island you can shop and enjoy dinner including kid friendly burgers, pizza, ice cream and fountain shows set to music.
Pizza and Burgers for All
Depending on when you go, you should be able to get great seats in the restaurant area overlooking the fountain. Grab your seats and send a member of the family for burgers or pizza. The burgers are great quality at Stax. You have your choice of 4 toppings as part of the price and the fries are perfectly cooked as well. Stax does combos and,for the parents, will even serve beer or wine.
The Pizza from Paisano’s Pizzaria & Vino is huge and thin. Our two year old munched her way through it quite happily. You will have to pay more than a fast food restaurant but then you get great quality food, along with the fun factor of sitting in a wonderful atmosphere with waterfalls, a fountain show, and live plants while still being indoors tucked away from whatever the Nashville weather happens to be doing outside.
Free Dancing Fountain Shows
We ate our food watching the Aqua fountain show. The music beats, the water rushes, the crowd watches in delight as the fountain bursts into action at 6 pm. The noise volume from the intensity of rushing water might startle little ones initially but they should get over it quickly; ours did. We were there on a Sunday night and the crowds were fairly thin for this show.
Indoor Riverboat Tours
When the show finished we headed for the Delta Riverboat tour. The Delta Riverboat Tour takes you on a nice gentle ride around the four and half acres of gardens and waterfalls. It takes about 15 minutes and is powered by an all electric flatboat which is guided by a rail in the water (only 2 feet deep). The tour guide provides you with some knowledge about the hotel and how it expanded over the years and points out some interesting features within the gardens.
You will see the high water mark reached by the 2010 flood, the largest chandelier in TN and if you are lucky , the resident ducks. In case you miss it on the tour do remember to look up; the atrium is covered in seven football fields of 250 pound glass panels. Even though it has a glass roof it might be the safest place in town should a storm arrive – the glass panels are rated to wind speeds of 140 miles an hour and golf ball sized hail.
When the boat tour was over we made our way back to the Delta Island and enjoyed Gelato from Bravo Gelato where you can also get a world famous Christie cookie. We then wandered round to the fountain area to catch the 7 pm International Waters Fountain Show. We decided to try and find our way downstairs so we could see the fountains from ground level. With a stroller this proved interesting. We ended up finding the relatively well hidden elevator to the Water's Edge restaurant which was closed. We navigated the tables and went alongside the water to the fountains.
Having made the effort to get there we weren't disappointed. The music seemed louder. The water effects bigger. The kids were clearly having fun on this family outing. Our son figured out he could run and slide along the ground where the fountain had flung water out of its immediate enclosure. Our daughter danced to the music while enjoying her ice cream.
By now we had managed to spend over four hours inside just one section of the hotel and it was clearly time for little ones to get to bed. As mentioned there are other areas of the hotel to visit; Cascades, Garden Conservatory, Magnolia, and even the main lobby is worth a quick look albeit more for the parents at the sheer opulence of the place. If the kids are dying to see fish, Cascades is where you will find them.
You will also see more water antics. There is a whole water section with jets of water jumping from one rock to another and don't worry they are safely tucked out of kids reach so no wet clothes to take home. The single biggest feature in the Cascades are the two waterfalls and the walkway. You can walk behind the waterfall through a cave and see out across the entire Cascades atrium.
In the Garden Conservatory you'll find more plants and some water with the biggest attractions being the Crystal Gazebo. If it's not being used for a private event, like a wedding, this can be a great place for kids to run loose for a few minutes. The Magnolia section of the building is a swimming pool for the hotel guests. When you reach the end of the Garden Conservatory you can turn right back into the Delta Atrium and then walk back around to the exit for the car at D3 on the map.
There are lots of other restaurants, bars and shops to explore in the Opryland hotel, but as a way to pass four plus hours as a family, this is definitely worth a look. Relax, enjoy the water features, the green plants, the pleasant temperature and tell us what you think at Nashville Fun for Families.
Family Fun Facts
Open Daily Cost : FREE*
*Riverboat requires a per person fee, Food and Drink not included
Delta Riverboat Tours Cruises Sunday – Thursday: 10 a.m. – 9 p.m.; Friday – Saturday: 10 a.m. – 10 p.m.
“Aqua” Fountain Show Shows daily**, 6 p.m. and 8 p.m. on the Delta Island.
“International Waters” Fountain Show Shows daily**, 7 p.m. and 9 p.m. on the Delta Island.
**Schedule subject to change; please see the Concierge Desk in the Cascades Lobby for an up-to-date show schedule.
Cover photo courtesy of Marriott.com