For a getaway that doesn’t involve a second mortgage to buy gas, toll booths, parking and all the other headaches that come with taking your car on vacation, there is a unique and timeless destination in upper Michigan.
The famed Mackinac Island and its historic Grand Hotel offer a car-free experience that effectively mingles the charm of the past with the amenities of the present. The Grand Hotel, in its 137th season, features 388 rooms and suites — no two alike — with all the associated dining, sightseeing and outdoor activities that make up any good vacation.
But what first-time visitors especially will notice is the clip-clop of hooves instead of the sound of shifting transmissions and honking horns. Mackinac Island is only accessible by ferry, with no autos allowed and horse drawn carriages as the primary transportation.
Spoil sports in the science community might say time travel isn’t possible, but they might be convinced to make an exception when it comes to the Grand Hotel. In fact, Hollywood filmed a time travel movie at the hotel, among a number of other films, documentaries and TV programs.
The hotel is a registered National Historic Landmark and its “Distinctive Destination” designation by the National Trust for Historic Preservation places it among a select group of 12 in the U.S. Each room is individually decorated using themes, decor, paintings, furnishings and historical memorabilia to achieve its unique effect.
Nostalgia lovers should make it a point to take in the main dining room evening experience featuring a dress code for guests, servers in black tie, an orchestra and a four-course meal enhanced by a wine cellar of more than 350 bottles curated by sommelier Elizabeth Schweitzer. The Cork and Fork culinary benefit Sept. 29 - Oct. 1 will feature a number of those wines and is one of the year’s highlights.
With its commanding views of The Jewel Golf Course, Mackinac Straits and Mackinac Bridge, the Grand Hotel presides over landscaped grounds on which are planted more than 50,000 annuals and 100,000 individually hand-planted bulbs.
Often referred to as “America’s Summer Place,” the Grand Hotel continues to earn its stripes as a vacation haven with modern upgrades and amenities to please parents as well as kids of all ages.
More recent additions include the Woodlands Activity Center — with a greenhouse and BMX course — The Gem miniature golf within the forest grounds, lawn games, pickleball courts and the Esther Williams pool and pool house which has undergone a $10 million renovation.
Additional on-site activities include horseback riding, hiking, tennis, biking, a salon, spa and afternoon tea, as well as six restaurants.
With only 600 year-round residents and 500 horses, Mackinac Island’s popularity dates to the Victorian era, when it became known as the “Jewel of the Great Lakes” for those seeking its comforts away from the summer heat of the cities. The Grand Hotel experience, with its unique mix of past and present, helps give the jewel its luster.
And you never have to remember where you parked.