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Itinerary suggestions for Chicago-New Orleans-Atlanta trip

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Hello all,

We are a 30-something couple from Scotland, looking for advice on planning a US trip from Chicago to the Deep South.
We’ve done things slightly backwards, as flights are already booked arriving in Chicago on 27th August and departing from Atlanta on 13th September, so that gives us 17 nights to join the dots.
Our interests on this trip include music (Blues, Jazz, Cajun, Soul, Country, Hip Hop), good food, architecture, wildlife, parks, gardens, museums, history.

Current rough itinerary is as follows. Difficult to judge the distances & travel times involved. Does this seem too ambitious for the number of days available?

Chicago, IL – stay 3 nights
- Art Institute, view skyscrapers
- Original plan was to take overnight sleeper train (for better experience, views & less environmental impact) from Chicago to either Memphis or New Orleans; but I fear this may take too long so we may, reluctantly, take an internal flight to NOLA
New Orleans, LA – stay 3 nights, pick up a hire car for rest of the trip
- Take riverboat trip(?)
- Drive north via Baton Rouge, LA to experience a little of Cajun country
Natchez, MS – stay 1 night
- View antebellum houses
- Take Natchez Trace Parkway / Highway 61 north
Vicksburg / Jackson, MS (optional) – stay 1 night
Clarksdale, MS – stay 1 night (in Shack Up Inn)
- Red’s Lounge, Ground Zero Blues Club
Memphis, TN – stay 2 nights
- Sun Studio, Stax Museum, possibly Rev Al Green’s church service
Muscle Shoals / Huntsville, AL (optional) – stay 1 night
Nashville, TN – stay 3 nights
- Grand Ole Opry, Bluebird Cafe
Chattanooga, TN (optional) – stay 1 night
Gatlinburg / Sevierville / Pigeon Forge / Cherokee, TN (optional) – stay 1 night
- Fiona has a bit of a Dolly Parton obsession, so Dollywood is a possibility!
- Drive through Great Smoky Mountains National Park
Atlanta, GA – drop off hire car (expensive one-way fee?), fly home late evening

Any and all comments/suggestions welcomed, including places to eat/drink/be merry! Thanks
Neil & Fiona

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