Your first clue that a stay on Michigan’s Mackinac Island isn’t like any other starts with getting there. Cars aren’t allowed on this island in the farthest northern reaches of Lake Huron, so you have to leave yours parked on the mainland and board a ferry for the half-hour transit.
Transportation on the island itself is horse-powered carriage — those operated by the Grand Hotel are stagecoach-style. Your luggage travels on the ferry in huge shrink-wrapped bins that are pulled separately to your hotel and carried to your door. (So, yes, there’s a lag between your arrival and its appearance.)
The flag-festooned, colonnaded, 660-foot front porch of the Grand — which first welcomed guests in 1887 — is claimed to be “the world’s longest porch”. Sitting in one of the white wooden rocking chairs and contemplating the view over the Straits of Mackinac is a great way to relax.
Then, there’s the décor. Interior designer was Carlton Varney of the venerable New York city firm of Dorothy Draper & Co. who used a color scheme derived from the Grand’s signature flower: an Americana Dark Red geranium (more than 2,500 are planted around the hotel). Varney is known for his bold use of color, and somehow the lavish use of deep leaf green and red does not conjure up visions of Christmas. Used throughout the hotel it’s leavened with lots of pink, lavender and every possible shade of green. Red roses and red geraniums are a recurring theme although I spotted lots of leaf prints and even couches covered with a lavender lilac print.
Each of the 393 guest rooms is uniquely decorated. Mine had a balcony, wallpaper showing lighthouses and roses & geraniums galore. An elegant touch: fresh flowers on the dresser.
The Grand Hotel follows the resort tradition of including a full breakfast and five-course dinner in its room rate. Speaking of dinner: there is a dress code after 6:30 p.m. each day. Women are expected to wear dresses or “dressy pants”; coats and ties are required for men (with corresponding attire for children, of which there are many — children nine and under stay and eat for free at Grand Hotel).
Although I stayed at the Grand Hotel for a conference (and had little free time), there’s lots to do on site. There’s a 500,000- gallon swimming pool, 18-hole golf course (said to be the only course in the world that transports guests from the front nine to the back nine via horse-drawn carriage), bocce ball court, tennis courts, duck pin bowling, pickleball and croquet. You can rent a bicycle, saddle up a horse or just walk around the island. Downtown (a short walk or carriage ride away) there are the ubiquitous fudge and souvenir shops plus art galleries.
Music has played a key role in the hotel almost since the beginning. Somewhere in the hotel from noon ’til at least midnight there’s live music. Dancing after dinner to the tunes of the Grand Hotel Orchestra is a traditional favorite as is harp music during afternoon tea.
Tipping is not permitted within Grand Hotel, which makes any stay seem more like being a guest in a friend’s home (albeit a large one).
You’ve still got time to book a room this year at The Grand Hotel: its 130th season ends October 30. Check the specials on the hotel website, or go through one of the booking sites like Hotels.com.
Like most seasonal vacation locations, the Grand Hotel relies on workers drawn from abroad (in their case, 26 different countries). Many have returned summer-after-summer (some for decades). With fewer than 600 year-round residents and as many as 3000 seasonal workers required, staffing is a fraught subject on the island. At least a third come from abroad each season on H-2B visas. According to the New York Times, the Grand Hotel received all the visas it requested while many other businesses on Mackinac Island did not.
(Photos courtesy of The Grand Hotel and by Susan McKee)