Trade exhaust fumes for the fresh northern Michigan air — crisp and clean. Exchange incessant honking for the rhythmic clip-clop of horse hooves hitting the pavement. Swap fast food for five-course dinners served in elegance. Experience life at a slower pace. The Grand Hotel, a Mackinac Island resort, transports you back in time.
Mackinac Island does not permit motorized vehicles. Horsepower is truly horsepower. More than 500 horses summer on the island. Travel by horse-drawn carriage, horseback, bicycles, or walking.
Mackinac (pronounced MACK-in-awe) Island has only 600 year-round residents. However, over one million visitors experience Mackinac Island annually. Of those, 130,000 of them stay at the Grand Hotel.
Arrival at Grand Hotel on Mackinac Island
The Grand Hotel, a four-star resort, National Historic Landmark and third-generation family business, sits on a bluff overlooking the Straits of Mackinac. In 1887 over 600 workers built the Queen Anne-styled wooden structure in 93 days from Michigan white pine. This Mackinac Island resort was a summer haven for those taking lake steamers from Detroit, Erie, Chicago, and Montreal. The railways brought vacationers from across the country.
My family and I arrived early. Our room was ready and check-in a breeze. The key to our room was indeed an old-fashioned key, rather than a magnetic key card. Behind the lobby desk are the traditional key cubbies. A sign over the front desk indicates, “No Tipping”.
Each of the 390 guest rooms are different, wallpapered in various florals and stripes, carpeted in a variety of styles. The Grand Hotel appointed with antiques and chandeliers is simply, grand. It felt as if I had entered an elegant home, rather than a hotel. The red geranium logo is everywhere even woven into the parlor carpet.
Wallpaper sprinkled with a purple and white violet floral pattern decorated our room.
Two canopied double beds furnished the room. Typical to the Victorian era the beds were high, but the staff provided a step stool without question.
Returning to the room after a long day, our turned down beds had chocolates on the pillows. Although the Grand Hotel is from a bye-gone era, it gives a nod to modern conveniences. You will find free Wi-Fi, a small flat-screen TV in every room, and phone charging stations in the lobby.
Open May through October; the Grand Hotel on Mackinac Island is the world’s largest summer hotel. We relaxed in white rocking chairs on the world’s longest front porch (660 feet long) and gazed out over the Straits of Mackinac.
The colonial-style porch delivered a view of the Mackinac Bridge. I could feel the fresh air and view knock away the mainland’s stress.
The 1,375 red geraniums planted in 147 white flower boxes outline the porch. In addition, over 5,200 geraniums on the hotel grounds continue to represent the logo.
If you are not a hotel guest, a $10 USD charge per person allows a walk on the porch and a chance to explore the hotel. If you eat in one of the hotel restaurants, staff will credit the $10 fee to your check.
Grand Hotel Dining
On the porch, men in blue and white striped seersucker suits accompany women dressed-up to kick-off the evening festivities with a cocktail and hors d’oeuvres reception. A trio plays lively music that combines with the laughter of families delighted to see the transformation from daytime casual to evening elegance. The grandeur transports diners back to an era of grandeur at Mackinac Island resorts.
The dress code requires men and boys over twelve to wear jackets and ties for dinner. To avoid dressing for dinner; the modified American meal plan affords opportunities for dining in a more casual environment.
Food at the Grand Hotel
Tuxedoed servers with long tails formally present a five-course dinner, from one of three rotating dinner menus. A typical evening entrée menu consists of six choices. Foodies relish the gourmet selections like Cervena venison medallions with Brioche bread pudding and an elk crepinette with a green peppercorn sauce. Or try the line-caught swordfish steak with black rice, pineapple-mango salsa and a citrus beurre blanc, or a truffle mousse stuffed chicken breast with a Madeira reduction.
More classic diners appreciate the petite filet mignon and shrimp scampi with duck fat fingerling potatoes, caramelized onions and a bordelaise sauce, or the mushroom and fontina cheese ravioli with caponata, roast squash and a saffron-cashew cream. A Michigan favorite is the Lake Superior Whitefish.
A separate dessert menu remains constant, with choices like a lemon meringue tart with blackberry compote, Nutella Mousse Millefeuille, Bananas Foster bread pudding with a Bourbon cream or white chocolate cheesecake with a strawberry crème fraiche and an almond crumble. All while dining to live music. Reservations are not necessary.
There is a children’s buffet if the kiddos would rather not wait through several courses. Adults discreetly palmed the chocolate covered Rice Krispy treats on a stick from the children’s buffet – hoping no one would notice.
Breakfast may be chosen from the menu, selected from the breakfast buffet or a combination of both. For an additional charge, you can grab a snack at the ice cream parlor open to everyone, not just Grand Hotel guests.
Depending on the weekend package, lunch may be included. Over the July Fourth weekend an all-American picnic was included. The hotel also serves afternoon tea.
Activities on Mackinac Island
Many activities happen on the hotel grounds. Play the award-winning 18-hole golf course the Jewel. For a treat move from the front nine to the back nine via horse-drawn carriage. Amuse yourselves with lawn games like bocce ball and croquet or snack on complimentary snow cones in the Tea Garden.
The 1980 movie “Somewhere in Time” starred the Grand Hotel, as well as Jane Seymour and Christopher Reeve. Jimmy Durante and Esther Williams filmed “Time is for Keeps” at the Grand Hotel in 1947 and the hotel’s 220-foot heated outdoor swimming pool is her namesake.
Many weekends have a special focus. The family-focused July Fourth weekend, a history weekend, a “Somewhere in Time” weekend and others allow you to choose the right weekend for your interests. Kid-friendly programs over July Fourth weekend included a carnival in the Tea Garden during the picnic. Our family had a complimentary caricature drawn.
Snacks and non-caffeinated beverages accompanied “Zootopia” and “Peanuts” on Saturday and Sunday nights. In the evening from 9:30 until 11:30, we danced to the Grand Hotel Orchestra in the Terrace Room.
It is entirely possible to spend the entire weekend on the hotel property, but we reluctantly left the front porch to explore the off-property activities. Entrance to the Richard and Jane Manoogian Mackinac Art Museum was included in our stay. We visited the Grand Hotel horse stables in Surrey Hill for a complimentary look at some early carriages.
We took a horse-drawn carriage tour of the island and stopped for a look at the lake through Arch Rock. A walk on Main Street ended with free fudge samples from several of the specialty fudge shops, in an effort to choose our favorite.
Getting to Grand Hotel on Mackinac Island
All major airlines fly into Detroit (DTW) with some connecting flights to Pellston (PLN) Michigan. The drive from Detroit to Mackinaw City is about 300 miles and five hours via I-75 N.
Arrive on the island via ferry or charter plane. Note the Mackinac Bridge connects Michigan’s Upper and Lower Peninsulas, not the Lower Peninsula to the island as some visitors expect.
Shepler’s Mackinac Island Ferry transports you back in time to Mackinac Island. There is free outside parking with a shuttle to take you to the ferry. Your stay at the Grand Hotel includes special ferry discounts. The ferry ticket price includes luggage transportation to the island.
Once you reach the island, roundtrip luggage transport from the dock to the hotel will be an additional charge added to your room. Your luggage arrives directly to your room at the Grand.
Unencumbered by luggage, you can either walk to the hotel or take the Grand Hotel horse-drawn carriage (aka taxi) found on the street at the top of the dock.
Summary – A Mackinac Island Resort
The Grand Hotel on Mackinac Island is an elegant experience from another century.
The slower pace quickly creates memories from another era.
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