What To Do At Nashville's Gaylord Opryland Resort

This place has it all.

Interior of Gaylord Opryland

Courtesy of Gaylord Opryland Resort & Convention Center

I knew that a quick getaway with my seven-year-old son Theo would make him happy, but I would have never expected his reaction. “It’s just so nice!” he sobbed, as I showed him the Gaylord Opryland’s website and told him we’d be staying there for a night. As we looked through the images of the enormous resort—the indoor river, the shops made to look like the French Quarter, the sky-high atrium filled with trees and plants, the sparkling chandeliers, the 12 restaurants, the two arcades, the indoor pool, the waterfalls and fountain shows set to lights, and most importantly, Soundwaves, the four-acre indoor-outdoor waterpark—the happy tears just kept coming. 

When we arrived at the Nashville resort a few weeks later, he was too blown away to cry. And I was pretty stunned myself. The map of the property reminded me of an airport terminal; each of the five sections of the building were named and color coded, a necessity when you’re navigating a nine acres. (The hotel also has its own app, which includes a map.) As we passed through the bustling lobby into the vast atrium with its glass ceiling and lush foliage, it felt like entering the world’s biggest greenhouse—that also happened to contain a small city.  

Gaylord Opryland atrium

Courtesy of Gaylord Opryland Resort & Convention Center

Theo and I spent several hours wandering around, taking it all in, and yes, getting lost a few times. We poked around in the shops, which ranged from airport-style sundries to clothing and a whole store of toys for kids. (Prepare to be begged for things.) 

We took a boat ride on the river winding through the hotel, and our guide told us that there were 30,000 people in the building that day—mostly due to a cheerleading convention at the resort’s convention center. The number made my jaw drop, mostly because the property didn’t look nearly that full—it was full of visitors, families mostly, but rarely felt crowded.

Gaylord Opryland interior

Courtesy of Gaylord Opryland Resort & Convention Center

From the water, we admired the giant trees, colorful orchids, and gigantic chandeliers, then we hopped off the boat to have dinner with a fountain view at Cascades American Cafe. (After he nixed Italian, Mexican, burgers, and many, many other options.) In our little corner of the restaurant, it almost felt like we had a magical jungle to ourselves. “This is amazing,” Theo sighed over his chicken fingers and fries. I had to agree. And my chicken lettuce wraps weren’t bad either. As the sun went down, the entire building became aglow with colorful light installations and it felt entirely different. We walked another lap around the hotel to admire all of the night time decorations and eventually found our way back to our room.

History of Gaylord Opryland

Originally built in 1977, Gaylord Opryland was a much smaller hotel (around 500 rooms) adjacent to the Grand Ole Opry and Opryland USA, a music-themed amusement park. The park closed in the late 90s, but Gaylord Opryland just kept growing, becoming a destination in its own right and eventually the largest non-casino hotel in the United States. In 2018, SoundWaves, a four acre, three-level water park attached to the hotel, opened. 

Gaylord Opryland Soundwaves

Gaylord Opryland Resort & Convention Center

Experience SoundWaves at Gaylord Opryland

SoundWaves was the main reason we came to Gaylord Opryland, and anticipation was high as we got our wristbands the next day. Because we visited over spring break, the seasonal outdoor portion was closed so we only had access to the climate controlled indoor side of the park, but there was still plenty to do. Theo and I careened down three water slides, then he and a newly-found friend his age (see ya, Mom!) explored the rest of the space while I followed nearby, Secret Service-style. There was a fast river and a lazy river, a huge playspace, an obstacle course, a ride where you could surf real waves, and lots of space for younger kids to splash around, among other features. When I was able to drag Theo away for lunch, there were plenty of options at the on-site restaurant, ranging from quesadillas to a farro salad. The outdoor section of the park, which reopens on May 19 for the summer, has several water slides for thrill-seekers (i.e: not me) and other things to experience, including a large wave pool.

Available only to hotel guests, SoundWaves admission isn’t included with the price of a room, but there are package rates available, and a pass is good for an entire day—and you will want to spend an entire day there. There is also an arcade below SoundWaves (that is open to anyone) that is full of shiny new games, as well as some arcade classics.

If you don’t want to pay for a hotel room, you can still experience Gaylord Opryland—most of the property, including the restaurants, is open to the public and you could spend a fun day or afternoon walking around. (It’s all indoors, which means plenty of air-conditioning in the dead of summer!)

An overnight trip was just the right amount of time at Gaylord Opryland for me—although Theo could have stayed indefinitely. After we dried off from the water park and collected our things to go home, the tears started up again. “Why can’t we just live here?” he asked. We consoled ourselves with ice cream in the faux French Quarter and promised to come back—although I know it won’t be quite the same. It’s a magical place, but he’s also at a magical age to enjoy it.

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