Decked out in more than 2 million Christmas lights, the sprawling Gaylord Opryland Resort and Convention Center reopened Monday after historic Nashville flooding shuttered the cornerstone of the city's tourism business for six months.
The hotel, known for its indoor waterfalls and garden-filled atriums, has 2,881 guest rooms and bills itself as the largest non-gaming hotel in the continental United States. In May, flooding from the nearby Cumberland River caused about $200 million in damage and left part of the resort in up to 10 feet of water. Ten people died in Nashville after it rained 13.5 inches over two days.
Among the guests Monday were newlyweds Stephen and Mary Doty of Evansville, Ind., who set their wedding date so their honeymoon would coincide with the reopening.
"We've walked all around and there's no sign of damage," said Stephen, a design and engineering worker for a communication company.
Four groups or conventions were meeting Monday at the hotel. Rooms are sold out this weekend, and conventions are being booked as far ahead as 2020. Room rates start at $149 on weeknights and $209 on weekends, according to the resort website.
"It's elegant, soothing," said Pam Bush of Jamestown, R.I., a curious tourist who visited the hotel but was staying elsewhere. "They've put a lot of thought into traffic flow and furnishings."
The resort opened in time for several special holiday events: an interactive ice sculpture; a dinner show featuring entertainer Louise Mandrell and the Rockettes at the nearby Grand Ole Opry House, which was also forced to close because of the flooding. The Grand Ole Opry House reopened Sept. 28.
According to hotel figures, 1 million visitors (some of them local) experience at least a part of the resort's holiday activities.
Nearly 120 guest rooms were damaged along with the exhibit halls and its complex mechanical, electrical and power systems. Repairs cost up to $285 million.
More than 1,700 employees were laid off, but rehiring began in October and the hotel is again fully staffed. The resort's guest rooms represent 12 percent of all rooms in Nashville, where 11 million people visit each year.
The Opry Mills mall, next to the hotel, has also been closed since the flooding. It has filed a lawsuit against 17 insurance companies seeking at least $150 million in claims, claiming the property cannot be restored without the money.
Meanwhile, the newlyweds were already looking forward to a return visit.
"We'll be back for our first anniversary," Stephen Doty said.