It sounds like the beginning of a joke your uncle might tell: “A vegan and a hunter walk into a Bass Pro Shops hotel inside a giant pyramid on the banks of the Mississippi River in Memphis …”
But this isn’t a joke. We really did it.
Once we learned about Tennessee‘s giant 321-foot-tall pyramid housing a Bass Pro Shops store and a hotel known as Big Cypress Lodge, we approached it in true TPG fashion: We sent a vegan and a hunter to spend two nights inside the North American pyramid to see what would happen.
Here’s what it was like spending over 40 hours inside Memphis’ quirky pyramid.
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How did a giant pyramid end up in Memphis?
You may wonder just how Memphis became home to a towering pyramid.
There’s an entire room inside the lodge chronicling the history of the pyramid. The short version of the story is that Memphis shares its name with the ancient city of Memphis, Egypt.
At some point in the 1950s, a resident of the Tennessee city concocted a wild idea to create three giant pyramids along the Mississippi River that resemble the famous Pyramids of Giza. While the multi-pyramid idea never came to fruition, a single pyramid was eventually built in 1989.
From the outset, the Memphis pyramid was eccentric. The groundbreaking ceremony for the 32-story structure had a 20-minute fireworks show, and a giant shovel was dropped from a helicopter to start the excavation.
The pyramid that opened on Nov. 9, 1991, however, contained almost nothing of what’s inside it now.
At the time, it was home to the University of Memphis basketball team, and a decade later, it became the home court of the Grizzlies NBA team. Over the years the pyramid has hosted numerous basketball games and other sporting events and countless concerts. For example, the heavyweight championship boxing fight that resulted in Lennox Lewis knocking out Mike Tyson in 2002 was held here.
But when the teams and performers moved their events to other venues in the city, the pyramid sat mostly empty until one fateful day in 2005.
As the legend goes, fisherman, TV personality and founder of Bass Pro Shops, Johnny Morris, was fishing in the shadow of the pyramid with Bill Dance and Jack Emmitt, two world-famous anglers. Morris wagered that if they could catch a fish weighing at least 30 pounds, he’d open a Bass Pro Shops inside the pyramid.
The whopper of a fish was caught shortly after, and before long, Morris set to work turning the idea into reality. Ten years later, the massive 535,000-square-foot Bass Pro Shops store (and accompanying Big Cypress Lodge) debuted inside the silver pyramid.
Booking our ‘pilgrimage’ to the pyramid
It was just too on the nose to only send an on-staff hunter from South Carolina (in this case, senior director of audience development Taylor Jenkins) to this mega Bass Pro Shops outpost. So, the team also sent vegan traveler and credit cards writer, Ryan Smith, to tag along for the adventure.
It was a match made in pyramid paradise.
Before we could begin our trip to Big Cypress Lodge, we first needed to book our rooms.
When we called the reservations desk, the recorded greeting advertised the lodge as “a destination within America’s most dynamic retail experience.” The hold music: Chris Janson’s “Buy me a boat.”
For a normal property, rooms with water views (in this case, of the Mississippi River) cost more than those facing other buildings or an interior courtyard.
However, this hotel is far from normal, so rooms that don’t have an exterior view are the ones with the higher nightly rates. As such, Big Cypress Lodge’s preferred rooms are those with balconies — called “porches” — overlooking the pyramid’s interior, including its sprawling Bass Pro Shops sales floor.
Room rates start around $260 per night for a standard room with no Bass Pro Shops view and climb to as much as $650 a night for a cabin with a loft facing the store. Packages are also available, should you want to enjoy extras like family board games, a Big Cypress Lodge puzzle, wine and chocolates, a sherpa blanket with the lodge’s logo or a birthday cake during your stay.
To get a well-rounded look at all the lodge had to offer, we booked both an entry-level interior king room and an upgraded Fly Fishing Lodge suite.
We stayed from a Monday to a Wednesday when the interior king cost $297 per night and the Fly Fishing Lodge cost $627 per night. These rates are before taxes and resort fees ($20 per day per room) and don’t include overnight parking ($20 per day, including valet privileges).
With our rooms booked and our travel day upon us, we entered the pyramid with the goal of staying put for 36 hours.
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Day 1: Arrival, exploring and a meal at the top of the pyramid
An anomaly on the banks of the Mississippi River, the colossal pyramid sits at the end of aptly named Bass Pro Drive amid a sea of highway overpasses. It’s an unexpected addition to a city famous for food and music — not hunting and fishing.
The grandiose structure is hard to miss as you make your approach, with walls of glass on all four sides and two huge signs advertising the Bass Pro Shops and Ducks Unlimited locations inside.
After entering the front doors, we bypassed the “Welcome to Paradise” arch to enter the Bass Pro Shops store and instead made our way to the reception desk for the lodge.
The check-in process was initially fairly straightforward, much like what’d you experience at a typical hotel.
After taking care of the basics, the front desk agent shared a plethora of information about the on-site restaurants and amenities, including hours for the bowling alley and how to access the glass elevator that takes visitors to the top of the pyramid. We were also reminded that the Bass Pro Shops store on the first floor closes at night, though we could explore the areas around the store whenever we pleased.
With this arsenal of information and our keycards in hand, we made our way to the private elevators, where we waited by a “Welcome Home” sign to be taken to our rooms on the second and third floors.
Guest areas and accommodations
The third-floor lobby bar and lounge set the tone for the entire experience. The combined space had a rustic cabin vibe that was enough to pass as a family game room.
Along with multiple seating areas, outdoorsy decorations and a false fireplace, there were a full-service bar at night and a game area with giant checkers and oversized Connect Four boards in a nook to the rear. Unusual finds included a self-playing piano that ran through a lot of Elton John songs and a grizzly bear statue with Elvis-themed attire.
From the third-floor balcony, you can look over the Bass Pro Shops store in all its glory, including multiple “exhibits.” These included live alligators in a pool (we counted five), a handful of ducks living in the pond and multiple pools with real fish — plus lots of fake trees and moss.
From this vantage point, we could also appreciate the scale of Big Cypress Lodge, as it was easy to look up from the space to see the rows upon rows of windows comprising the pyramid’s walls.
After taking in the scene from the third floor, we went to find our rooms.
Ryan’s interior king room
Nothing about my 518-square foot, third-floor interior king room was like your typical stay at a Hyatt, Hilton or Marriott property.
There were free snacks on the table (popcorn and gummies), as well as nature-focused details throughout. I chuckled at the hibernating bear theme on the “do not disturb” sign as I hung it on the door.
The king-size bed, wood desk and leather chair had a worn-in look that seemed more intentional than actual signs of wear and tear. I slept without discomfort, even with the glow of the sales floor just beyond the balcony.
Outside of the view — if you call it that — the most striking aspect of the room was the giant deer head hanging on the wall.
While it certainly fits the vibe, my mind flashed to the scene in “Friday Night Lights” where Julie asks Matt to cover the deer head on the wall while they try to enjoy a romantic moment. Personally, I hoped this would be the last time I slept with a dead animal hanging over my head.
The bathroom was an interesting space, too, with a window that overlooked the bedroom area. Fortunately, there were curtains for privacy.
Next to the window was a walk-in shower, plus a whirlpool tub that wasn’t quite large enough for me (I’m 5 feet, 10 inches tall). Still, I was able to use it comfortably on the second night.
There were dual vanities with Big Cypress Lodge-branded toiletries. I expected a woodsy scent of some type, but the products didn’t have much fragrance at all.
The real highlight, though, was definitely the balcony, which looked over the gigantic Bass Pro Shops store below. The “outdoor” space had a screen across the front and came furnished with two rocking chairs and a small dining table set, creating the feel of a screened-in porch at a rustic cabin in the woods.
Taylor’s room: Fly Fishing Lodge
The website says this suite is 1,318 square feet, but Ryan and I joked that these measurements must include volume in three dimensions because the main room and partial loft on the second floor definitely weren’t big enough to equal this number.
Situated above the four-wheeler sales portion of the Bass Pro Shops store, the suite was set up like a duplex room in a cabin on stilts.
Upon entering, I noticed the same welcome amenities as what Ryan found, including a variety of snacks and digital guides.
The main bedroom was more spacious than Ryan’s room. In addition to a traditional sleeping area, it had a small loft with a queen-size bed and a separate bathroom. The loft is accessed by a spiral staircase, though it isn’t well lit.
Within the main room, there was a bed with a wooden headboard, a nightstand with a lamp made of antlers and a leather armchair.
Instead of a desk and chair, however, there was an ottoman to go with the armchair. And rather than a taxidermied deer hanging above the bed, there were a number of fish on display, as well as a canoe of sorts on top of the part-cabinet, part-closet space that held the television and electric fireplace.
Like Ryan’s bathroom, there was a window into the bedroom just above the tub. In fact, the bathroom itself was essentially identical to Ryan’s, offering a whirlpool tub, two sinks and a glass-enclosed shower.
However, my balcony was much larger than Ryan’s, as it was laid out in an L shape. It lacked the mesh netting but featured French doors that opened out onto the space. Otherwise, it was similarly equipped with a small table and several chairs, plus a pair of rocking chairs, all made of solid wood.
Lunch at Wahlburgers Wild
We reunited to grab lunch and both commented about how dark the hallways were.
Big Cypress Lodge’s website lists multiple on-site restaurants, however, that was a bit misleading. The lobby and lounge is listed under “dining,” for example, but there’s no food served. The bowling alley is also mentioned, but you simply order food from the adjacent Wahlburgers Wild.
We settled on the burger-themed Wahlburgers Wild for lunch, which is part of the chain run by the famous Wahlberg brothers, and there are locations in more than 20 states, as well as several countries.
Along with standard fare, the venue offered a veggie burger, which Ryan was excited to see. He had mentally prepared himself for a steady diet of french fries while inside the pyramid.
Overall, the food and service were average at best. They matched what you may expect to find at a chain restaurant inside a giant store with a kitchen not immediately attached to the dining area.
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The Bass Pro Shops store
With full bellies, it was time to explore the goods. This is far more than your average Bass Pro Shops store, so we had to carve out plenty of time to check it out.
As expected, the Bass Pro Shops store did not disappoint. We couldn’t believe how much water there was everywhere — roughly 600,000 gallons of it, to be exact. Swimming within it were all kinds of fish native to the Mississippi River, including some surgeons measuring more than 6 feet long.
While the wet areas looked like one giant pond, there were barriers to separate the fish, since some of the 36 species can’t cohabitate. There were also numerous docks, though there were no boats on the water.
At the “General Store,” we found lots of candy — everything from fudge to roasted nuts to the biggest selection of whoopie pies we’ve ever seen.
Dinner at The Lookout at the Pyramid
When we were hungry for dinner, we made our way to the top of the pyramid to dine at The Lookout.
Information on the website and over the phone indicated the restaurant can fill up quickly, so we made a reservation through Yelp just in case.
The Lookout is accessible via a glass elevator that is said to be the tallest free-standing elevator in the U.S. The restaurant offers panoramic views of the surrounding area from walls of windows around the pyramid’s apex. Normally the ride to the top costs $10 for adults. However, because we were guests at the lodge, we rode for free.
We were pretty excited when we saw a sign for an express line for hotel guests and those with restaurant reservations. After a few minutes though, we realized it might as well not exist. There was no priority boarding being given, so we ended up in line with everyone else.
Once we snagged two spots on the elevator, we started our ascent to the top. During the ride, we heard the voice of Johnny Morris (the founder of Bass Pro Shops) as he recounted some of the Memphis pyramid’s history.
Due to high winds and the chance of lightning the day we visited, the terrace was closed during our dinner. Because of this, we were seated inside the massive dining room.
While the views were fantastic, the food and service were a bit hit or miss.
Ryan may have been the first person in a long time to order a salad ($12 for the southwest salad that required multiple modifications to make it vegan), as it took a while for the staff to find and deliver the salad dressing.
That said, Taylor’s blackened redfish and shrimp dish ($35) was a hit. Most entrees cost between $27 and $35 with the exception of the steaks, which were as much as $89 per order.
The after-hours experience
The view from the top of the pyramid and exploring the Bass Pro Shops store were no doubt highlights of our day. But we couldn’t wait to get to the bottom of one mystery: What happens after the store closes?
The answer was simple: nothing. While the people disappeared, the lights never turned off.
To keep guests like us from wandering into the store after it closed, a gate went up by the front doors and the secondary elevator into the ground-level bowling alley was disabled. Fortunately, we could still use the main elevator to reach the front door via the reception desk, should we need any assistance from staff.
Day 2: What can you do here for a whole day?
When we woke up the next day, we wondered what exactly we could do in the pyramid with another full 24 hours at our disposal. It turned out that there were plenty of ways to pass the time.
Breakfast at Wahlburgers Wild
The second day of our visit was when it really became clear how few on-site dining options there were.
Instead of having a traditional all-day venue like most hotels, Big Cypress Lodge served breakfast every day from 7 a.m. to 11 a.m. at — you guessed it — Wahlburgers Wild. You can also order everything from the menu via room service.
Taylor ordered the Big Cypress Breakfast ($16), while Ryan went back and forth with the waitress before figuring out he could get plain oatmeal with hot water instead of milk. The latter was far from satisfying, but at least Ryan had a full belly — and he knew eating vegan here would likely be a challenge.
A morning workout, closed doors and duck education
An indoor morning workout came next on the agenda. The gym inside Big Cypress Lodge was equipped with multiple treadmills, ellipticals and a few exercise bikes with television screens, as well as weight-training machines.
While the 24-hour space wasn’t large, there was enough room for a decent workout.
Following our workout, we sought out the shooting and archery ranges.
The gun range was closed for the day, and though the archery range was open, it didn’t offer loaner bows and arrows. Both ranges require visitors to bring their own equipment. We could’ve presumably bought some on the sales floor to then use at the facilities, but we skipped this option and headed elsewhere.
Nearby was the Ducks Unlimited waterfowl heritage area, but more than half of the display monitors weren’t working. Of those that turned on, several still had issues.
Experts were supposed to be available inside, but we couldn’t find any to chat with during our visit. Still, there were details about different types of ducks in North America and their calls, and a massive collection of historical hunting equipment.
After our time learning about ducks, we grabbed lunch at Wahlburgers Wild. Again. Then, we headed into the adjacent Fishbowl bowling alley. Fishbowl seemed like a fitting name, as it featured an over-the-top underwater theme.
Balls thudded down a not-so-smooth plexiglass lane before hitting pins that lacked the classic bowling pin “crash” while scattering into one another. It was as if the pins had quiet mode activated. What did make noise, however, was the ball rolling down the uneven lane.
The balls returned through sharks’ mouths, and we loved the design.
Taylor won both matches with an incredible ability to pick up splits for a spare when needed. File that under the things you learn about your coworkers while living together in a pyramid for 36 hours.
Once we finished bowling, we made our way to the property’s large fish tank to catch a live feeding.
Big Cypress Lodge’s website says informational fish feeding times are at 10 a.m. daily. Upon arrival, however, we saw a sign on the tank indicating the feeding occurs at 2 p.m. every day.
When we arrived, the woman throwing food into the tank informed us that a diver would normally be present before proceeding with the feeding. Although it was supposed to be informational, there wasn’t much to the presentation itself other than the species names. All in all, it lasted a few minutes.
Panoramic views and a test of our shooting skills
Since our fish feeding was a bit shorter than expected, we returned to the observation deck at the top of the pyramid. Unlike our previous visit, the sun was out, so we had great views of the western edge of Memphis and the Mississippi River.
The glare on the pyramid was strong and reminded us how long it’d been since we’d last seen the sun. The lack of light, combined with the notable absence of clocks, made it hard to keep track of what time it was throughout our visit.
We then moved on to the shooting arcade near the front entrance. Here, you can test your shooting skills on a toy rifle for 50 cents per 25 shots. Luckily, there was a change machine nearby to get coins.
The shooting arcade was fun, but it was likely designed for people a bit … smaller than us. We often had to squat down when shooting since the cords attached to the rifles prevented us from lifting them to shoulder height.
We’re happy to report, though, that no animals were injured in this “shooting” experience. We both even managed to set the high score for the day at our respective shooting stations. Who knew a vegan would be a natural at shooting games?
The Mississippi Terrace at The Pyramid
That night, we tried to visit this outdoor bar on the third floor, accessible from a gate near Ryan’s room.
Unfortunately, it was pouring rain. While we could go out onto the terrace, no one was here — not even the bartender. There is sometimes live music, according to the website. However, all we found during our stay was a mix of modern country songs playing on the speakers.
High points here are the views over the Mississippi River and the opportunity to breathe fresh air.
Day 3: Breakfast in bed
Room service is the true test of service at most hotels, so we tried it before leaving. Ryan relegated himself to orange juice and another bowl of plain oatmeal, though he managed to add a banana for a bit of flavor.
Taylor had far more options and enjoyed a stack of pancakes and coffee.
The room service attendants answered the phone quickly and delivered the food within 20 minutes. They weren’t overly friendly, but they were cordial and even called 15 minutes after delivery to see if everything was satisfactory.
Once we wrapped up our meals, we headed downstairs to check out.
The process went as you’d expect. We settled our room balances and paid the $20 per day resort fees we still owed — which cover access to the gym, the in-room snack basket and elevator rides to the top of the pyramid, among other services and amenities. Maybe we should have ridden the elevator a few more times to extract more value from the resort fee.
Should you spend the night at Big Cypress Lodge?
During our stay, we wondered if the property was hoping to lure anglers with its expansive “waterways,” locals seeking a place to let the kids can run loose while they pass time at the shooting range, or if it simply aimed to attract travelers craving a bit of novelty.
If you’re seeking a great story for a dinner party or something truly unexpected to post on your social media accounts, then Big Cypress Lodge could be the place for you. There’s certainly nothing else quite like it.
That being said, we both agree we wouldn’t go out of our way to stay here again. This isn’t the place to come for a romantic getaway with your partner. The location is technically near Beale Street and the downtown area, but you can experience the famous Memphis music and barbecue scene at more convenient hotels that also cost less. Big Cypress Lodge costs more per night than most hotels in the area, and you can enjoy those without being trapped inside a giant, lightless pyramid.
Also, there are a number of other properties in the area that let you earn and redeem hotel rewards points during a stay.
Still, doing it once gave us plenty of stories to share with friends and family.
Featured photo by Ryan Smith/The Points Guy.