It’s the biggest non-casino hotel outside of Las Vegas, but Gaylord Opryland Hotel and Convention Center in Nashville is one of the best-run behemoths you could stay in.
When I graduated from college in the late 1980s, I settled down in Nashville to work in the music business. The city wasn’t nearly as hip and happening as it is now, so often when relatives would come visit I’d take them out to Opryland Hotel to see the indoor gardens. The place was enough of an oddity to be a tourist attraction and hey, parking was free. There was even an amusement park next door to visit if there were kids along.
Now the outdoor parking is a staggering $20 a day (in a huge open lot with a long walk), there are three indoor atria to walk through instead of one, and a routine shopping mall occupies the long-gone amusement park. Opryland Nashville is now just one more property in the Gaylord convention hotel portfolio, run by even larger Marriott. But it’s still the original, still one of the most popular convention hotels outside Vegas and Orlando, and still a very well-run property that succeeds despite its 2,711-room bulk.
The first thing to remember when packing for Opryland is…comfortable shoes. I actually saw shoe boxes outside two guest rooms as I walked down the hall one morning, undoubtedly from convention goers who felt a need to nip over to the Broadway Shoes store at the mall for something more suitable. You will walk, and walk, and walk some more in this spread-out monstrosity. If you’re lucky your room will only be a 10-minute walk from your meeting room or convention floor. More likely it’ll be 15 or 20. Thankfully you get a map upon check-in and management has done a good job making it as easy as possible to navigate, with ample signage and even color-coded carpeting.
You’re not just walking through routine hallways and lobbies though. The feature that has become synonymous with Gaylord hotels is a massive glass roof over tropical plants, indoor restaurants that feel like they’re outdoors, man-made streams, and waterfalls. Even if you’re jaded and joyless, it’s quite a spectacle. I was fortunate enough to have my 12-year old daughter along when I returned to Nashville. One of her friends came over and they had a blast. They went exploring the various sections, swam in the pool, and soaked in the huge outdoor hot tub.
In the summer there’s an outdoor pool open as well. All year there’s an excellent spa where you can get a treatment or just do like my wife did and pay to hang out all day using the steam room, sauna, whirlpool, and relaxation room.
The maintenance at this hotel is one of the best I’ve experienced. I had to look super hard to find anything out of place, anything not perfectly clean, anything in my room that was worn out. I usually get frustrated by something by the end of my stay, but at Opryland the huge staff—it’s one of Nashville’s largest employers—is like a big crew of cleaners and Fix-it Felix men. The Wi-Fi was quite spotty from my room, but when I plugged into the wired option the signal got a lot stronger.
There’s no sign of the devastating flood of a few years ago, when the Cumberland River overflowed its banks and the resort had to shut down for four months of feverish repairs. (The neighboring mall was closed for years.)
Rooms are well-equipped for a convention hotel, with a coffee maker, mini fridge, several kinds of pillows, and good toiletries. Baths are kind of tight in the regular rooms, but in many there’s an additional sink outside the bathroom, which helps on the getting ready sharing. In most hotels you don’t want to face a courtyard instead of the outside, but here it’s the opposite. Rooms facing the outside look at a parking lot or highway. Rooms facing in look at gardens and water, usually with a furnished balcony for people-watching.
If you’re here for a convention you’ll probably be eating banquet meals via Sysco truckloads as part of that, but overall the food throughout is good considering how many people they’re serving each day. There is also a good choice of restaurants and snack bars in all price ranges (12 in all), often with more food than you rightfully should be eating at lunch when you order. If you have a car, there are plenty of fast food and chain restaurant options nearby.
Understand that this hotel is and has always been a long way from the downtown action in Nashville. You’ll need to drive or take a 20-minute shuttle bus to get to the real heart of the city. Thus the attempt to make Gaylord Opryland a city unto itself, with everything under one roof that you’ll need for you and a few thousand co-workers. Despite the drawbacks, however, it’s still a wonder to behold.
Rates start at $159 a night and there are 171 suites to snag more space. Be advised there’s a mandatory $18 resort fee on top that covers Wi-Fi plus $20 per day if you need to park your car. If you are part of the Marriott loyalty program, you can earn or redeem points here as they’re the operating company. See more at the Gaylord Opryland website or book a stay online at Hotels.com.
Review and photos by editor Tim Leffel, who won a 3-nite stay at Opryland as a prize for winning a Gold in the annual travel writing awards from the North American Travel Journalists Association. This was one of five awards, for his story From Red to Green in Bulgaria.