August 8, 2018

5 Things For Kids To Do At Fort Mackinac

Mackinac Island was one of our favorite stops on our Great Michigan Road Trip. There’s much to love about Mackinac Island–there’s natural beauty and zero cars. It’s a fun family vacation destination steeped with military history. And there’s one place on the island go that combines fun things for kids to do and military history: Fort Mackinac.

Disclosure: Mackinac State Historic Parks provided complimentary admission and a complimentary cannon firing session so that I can write about it. All thoughts, opinions and typos are my own.

The view from one of the cannons at Fort Mackinac in Michigan.

Fort Mackinac is part of Mackinac State Historic Parks. Built in 1780, it served as a military outpost, home for soldiers and their families, and later, was the headquarters for Mackinac National Park. Now, it’s bustling destination for history buffs and families, featuring 14 buildings, costumed interpreters, and possibly the best view found on the island.

Things Kids Will Love At Fort Mackinac

Firing The Cannon

Each morning at 9:30 a.m. sharp, the cannon is fired from the bluff overlooking the City of Mackinac Island and Haldimand Bay. Usually, it’s costumed interpreters doing the daily task, but guests can reserve the chance to fire it, too.

The kids and I got a history lesson while we helped prep and fire the cannon at Fort Mackinac.

I got the chance to fire it on the morning we visited, and it was a thrill. It was actually quite a ceremony, and with my kids in tow, we learned a lot. They were too young to fire it–you must be at least 13 years old–but they were old enough to help clean, load and prime the cannon. 

While I was the only one who got to fire the cannon at Fort Mackinac, my kids (ages 6 and 8) were able to help prep the cannon.

By far, this was the highlight of our visit, as we felt that we became a part of a centuries-long tradition. It helped that we also got souvenir hats, to boot. The kids wore them for the rest of the day.

The experience is $50 for one person, which includes admission into the park and the souvenir hat. Only one person gets to have the experience each day. More details and reservations here.

The cannon is fired a couple times a day, but it’s only the 9:30 a.m. salute that could be fired by the guest.

Costumed Interpreters

It’s one thing to read about history on a sign while you pass through historic buildings. It’s something all together different to hear about history through a character from that era. 

There are demonstrations performed by costume re-enactors every day at Fort Mackinac. One of the most popular ones is the rifle firing demonstration, which is held several times a day during the summer.

Fort Mackinac has interpreters in the park who regularly perform demonstrations like a court martial, rifle firing, or a bayonet demo. The rifle firing is pretty loud, so be alert and cover ears.

It’s not just soldiers at the fort now, just as it wasn’t just soldiers back in its day. Look for ladies strolling in costume, as well.

Kids’ Quarters

The Kids’ Quarters is tucked inside the Officers’ Stone Quarters, built in 1780. Here, kids can touch exhibits meant to teach through play. They can pull a cord to fire a cannon, dress up like a soldier, practice morse code, and learn how to carry a rifle.

The Kids’ Quarters at Fort Mackinac includes interactive displays like this dress up corner where kids can dress up like soldiers and their families.

If your kids are under age 8 (probably even under age 10), they’ll like this place.

Walking through history

There are more than a dozen buildings to explore at Fort Mackinac. While some keep guests back from the exhibit to preserve items on the display, others are completely open. 

There are 14 buildings to tour at Fort Mackinac on Mackinac Island, Mich.

Our tour guide pointed out the bathhouse, which dates back to 1885, as an example. 

Fort Mackinac is also home to the oldest building in Michigan. Use that fact to impress your kids.

Treats With A View

The Tea Room, a cafe operated by the Grand Hotel, is located in Fort Mackinac. Of all the places I had a meal on the island (or in this instance, had coffee), this place had the best view.

The kids loved the hot cocoa with whipped cream at the Tea Room, located inside Fort Mackinac. The view can’t be beat.

Most of the day, they serve snacks, desserts and beverages. Lunch is available from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m.

Fun things for kids to do at this historic Fort Mackinac #Michigan #MackinacIsland #familytravel #familyvacation #travel

If you go

Where: 7127 Huron Road, Mackinac Island, Mich.

Hours: Fort Mackinac is a seasonal state historic park, so it’s best to double check the hours before going. Here are the 2018 hours:

June 9 – Sept. 2, 9:30 a.m. to 6:30 p.m. (last admission 6 p.m.)

Oct. 8-28, 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. (last admission 3 p.m.)

Sept. 3 – Oct. 7, 9:30 a.m. to 5 p.m. (last admission 4:30 p.m.)

Admission: $13, adults ($12 online), and $7.50, children ages 5-12 ($7 online). Note: Admission also includes The Richard & Jane Manoogian Mackinac Art Museum during the 2018 season and the Historic Downtown Mackinac buildings through Aug. 25, 2018.

Beyond the fort

Your admission into Fort Mackinac gets you into the art museum on the island. It’s housed in the historic Indian Dormitory.

Kids can paint, cut, and draw art inspired by Mackinac Island history at the kids’ studio in the Mackinac Art Museum.

It’s three stories of permanent and temporary exhibits, though we didn’t get to explore much. We spend all of our time in the downstairs art studio. Kids could work on different types of art projects there and either take them home, or hang them up with others. The art studio is only open during the summer.

Through Aug. 25, there are four other historic buildings you can tour that are connected to the island’s history as a fur trading depot. Those buildings are the Biddle House, Benjamin Blacksmith Shop, American Fur Company Store & Dr. Beaumont Museum, McGuilpin House, and Mission Church. 

Read more about Mackinac Island

Mackinac Island inspired an entire road trip through Michigan (more on that to come). To plan your own awesome road trip through Michigan, I’ll be sharing a road trip recap soon featuring restaurant highlights, sights to see, and where to stay. You can start planning now with this ultimate Michigan Bucket List.

For Mackinac Island highlights, read these posts:

My Mackinac Island Bucket List

24 Hours On Mackinac Island With Kids

Family Guide To Staying At The Grand Hotel

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August 6, 2018

Staying at Amway Grand Plaza With Kids

The Amway Grand Plaza is more than a century old and credited for revitalizing downtown Grand Rapids, Mich. Grand Rapids was our first stop on our epic road trip through Michigan. I had a lot of plans, and luckily, Amway Grand Plaza was centrally located for our adventures in the city.

Disclosure: Our visit was hosted by Experience Grand Rapids. All opinions, thoughts and typos are my own.

What to expect at Amway Grand Plaza

Amway Grand Plaza has two sides to it: There’s a grand historic side and then there’s the modern luxury side. It really does feel like two separate hotels, where one tower (the tall, glass one) has modern amenities like the pool, outdoor tennis courts on the roof, and a restaurant by Wolfgang Puck. And on the other side (the historic hotel side), there are chandeliers, upholstered furniture, a fountain and dim lights.

The Amway Grand Plaza in Grand Rapids was once the Pantlind Hotel, and its historic lobby has maintained the early 20th century charm.

When you check in, the lobby is modern, bustling and connecting the two sides. I mention this because I was envisioning entering the building and stepping back in time. Instead, I asked if I was in the right place.

Walk away from the modern lobby and you’ll step into the gorgeous lobby on the historic side. It’s dimly lit by grand chandeliers, and the centerpiece is a fountain. 

The historic lobby of the Amway Grand Plaza Hotel had a fountain my daughter liked to watch.

The rooms at Amway Grand Plaza

There are options for rooms, and if it’s in the budget, you can opt for larger suites. We stayed in a room with two queen beds, which worked for our family of four. Understand that a room like that may feel small by modern standards.

A room in the historic Amway Grand Plaza was a little small by modern standards but was just fine for a family of four. The decor was beautiful and fit the historic nature of the hotel.

The bathroom, though, is updated and modern.

One thing to note: If you’re staying on the historic side, and you’re traveling with kids, a pool visit is inevitable. Know that you’ll have to cross through the lobby and take a lengthy walk to the other tower. Bring a cover-up.

Kids and the Amway Grand Plaza

It’s understandable to even wonder if this would be a good hotel for families given the historic nature of the hotel. It definitely is. We saw many families passing through the lobby while we were there, and the pool was a happening place each night.

Related Post: Favorite Historic Hotels For Families In The U.S.

My kids loved the pool area, of course, and I enjoyed the hot tub. There are two hot tubs, usually, though one was closed while we were there.

The pool and one of the hot tubs at the Amway Grand Plaza in downtown Grand Rapids.

If the weather had been nicer (and if I knew how to play), we’d take advantage of playing tennis there. How often do you get to play on a roof? There were other lawn games out there, too, like corn hole and that ladder golf game. I couldn’t get my kids out of the pool or we would’ve tested them out.

Adults will like that the fitness center also has locker rooms where the men can sit in the steam room and the women can enjoy the sauna.

As far as the rest of the hotel, both kids were fascinated by the Pantlind lobby, and wanted to take more photos than me. And just try to find me a little kid who isn’t fascinated by a fountain in a lobby.

The hotel has several restaurants ranging from Ruth’s Chris Steakhouse to a Starbucks. We didn’t eat at any of them, though my daughter and I did peek at the breakfast buffet at Rendezvous. It was very tempting but a little out of my price range for breakfast. 

Rendezvous is a bar in the evening, but come morning, it’s a family-friendly place for breakfast. It’s located in the main lobby of the Amway Grand Plaza in downtown Grand Rapids.

If you want to know where we had breakfast during our stay, read this post about our weekend in Grand Rapids

What’s near the Amway Grand Plaza

One of the prime reasons to stay at this hotel is its location. It’s in a prime spot in downtown Grand Rapids, right near the river.

The view of downtown Grand Rapids, Mich., from the Grand Rapids Public Museum.

Two of the places we visited, Grand Rapids Children’s Museum and the Grand Rapids Public Museum, are about a half-mile from the hotel. It’s also near the Grand Rapids Art Museum and the Gerald R. Ford Presidential Museum.

Read about all the things you can do in Grand Rapids in the post 48 Hours In Grand Rapids With Kids.

We would’ve walked to them if our kids were a little older and a little less whiny. 🙂

It’s also near great restaurants and breweries.

Parking is expensive in downtown Grand Rapids, and while you can self-park at the hotel, note that that is also expensive ($29 a night).

Staying at the Amway Grand Plaza with kids #familytravel #grandrapids #michigan #experiencegr

Read more about Grand Rapids

Grand Rapids was the first stop of an epic road trip adventure through Michigan (more on that to come). To plan your own epic road trip through Michigan, check out this Michigan road trip recap featuring restaurant highlights, sights to see, and where to stay.

For Grand Rapids highlights, read these posts:

My Grand Rapids Bucket List

48 hours in Grand Rapids with Kids

Adventures at John Ball Zoo 

Exploring Grand Rapids Public Museum

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August 1, 2018

Star Wars And The Power Of Costume

One of the most anticipated touring exhibits around is “Star Wars™ and the Power of Costume.” At least, I’ve been excited about it ever since I first heard about the tour launch in the U.S. a few years ago. This exhibit allows you an up-close look at “Star Wars” costumes, and explains the creative process of designing them and building character development through them.

What to expect if you take kids to "Star Wars and the Power of Costume" exhibit

I visited the tour at its stop at Detroit Institute of Arts. We were in Detroit as part of our Great Michigan Road Trip, and I brought my kids along to see the exhibit. If you want to see it while it’s still at DIA, you have until Sept. 30, 2018. I checked the exhibit’s touring itinerary and this may be the final stop of the tour.

Disclosure: I received complimentary admission in order to write this review.

What to expect at the “Star Wars” costume exhibit

This is strictly about the costumes and the thought that went in to designing them. You’ll see costumes from the movies, with informational signage explaining the concept behind the pieces. The first seven films are all represented, and all the iconic characters’ costumes are on display.

The Darth Vader costume on display at “Star Wars™ and the Power of Costume,” an traveling exhibit that’s at Detroit Institute of Arts until Sept. 30, 2018.

There are more than 60 character costumes, including Luke Skywalker, C-3PO, R2-D2, Princess Leia and Yoda.

Some of the more striking displays, for me at least, were the collection of Queen Amidala gowns, the droids, and the final room with Darth Vader waiting for us.

It’s an engrossing exhibit, and I enjoyed reading the story behind the costumes. Some of the inspiration for costumes was obvious, and others I would not have guessed.

“Star Wars™ and the Power of Costume” is at Detroit Institute of Arts through Sept. 30, 2018.

Your admission tickets includes an audio tour, an adult version and a youth version. If you ask me, try the youth version.

What kids will like at the “Star Wars™” exhibit

My kids loved, and I mean LOVED, the youth audio tour for the exhibit. I’ve never seen them so set on listening to each number on the tour. It turns out, the audio tour explains to kids that they’re training to be Jedi and, thus, my kids were determined to finish “training.”

My son listening to the audio tour in front of the droids display at “Star Wars™ and the Power of Costume.”

My kids’ ages are 6 and 8 to give you an idea of how young kids can be and still enjoy the exhibit. It helps that they are big “Star Wars” fans, too.

If your child is not into “Star Wars” this isn’t going to be as appealing to them. That’s not to say they won’t appreciate the artistic nature of the costumes.

If you go

“Star Wars™ and the Power of Costume”

Where: Detroit Institute of Arts, 5200 Woodward Ave., Detroit, Mich.

When: Now through Sept. 30, 2018

Tickets: Tickets are $7 for children (ages 6-17) and $19-$24 for adults, and are available for online purchase here. Children ages 5 and younger are FREE. At the Detroit Institute of Arts, your ticket is timed, as well. There is a warning on the DIA website that time slots tend to sell out, so it’s recommended that you purchase your tickets in advance of your visit. Your ticket to the exhibit admits you into the rest of the Detroit Institute of Arts.

What to expect if you take kids to see "Star Wars and the Power of Costume" exhibit in Detroit #StarWars #Art #Costumes #Review

Make the most of your Detroit visit

Favorite family-friendly museums in Detroit

If you’re headed to Detroit, and museums are your jam, check out this post about family-friendly Detroit museums. My family had a few favorites, and DIA was definitely on the list. For more ideas, read My Detroit Bucket List.

Here are upcoming posts about Detroit:

Fairfield Inn & Suites In Troy, Michigan Review – Aug. 29

20 Things Kids Love At The Henry Ford & Greenfield Village – Sept. 7

What To Expect At The Motown Museum – Oct. 5

This was the final stop of an epic Michigan road trip, so check back for that post soon!

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July 30, 2018

Things To Do In Petoskey With Kids

If you’ve been to Petoskey or a nearby town, you’ll agree: 24 hours isn’t much time to explore things. I know. Yet, we managed to see quite a bit of loveliness in that short amount of time during our summer road trip through Michigan. Read on to see all the things you can do in Petoskey if your family only has one day to explore.

Disclosure: Our visit was hosted by Visit Petoskey Area. All thoughts, opinions and typos are my own.

Things to do if you only have one day in Petoskey

Our main goal while visiting the Petoskey area? Find a Petoskey stone. It was at the top of my Little Traverse Bay Bucket List.

Our second goal: Enjoy the scenery.

And my third goal (not quite shared with the family but since they were with me, they had to come along): Find some Hemingway history.

We accomplished all three.

Things to do in Petoskey with kids

We arrived in Petoskey on a gorgeous, summer day. I’m talking blue skies, 72 degrees, birds-chirping-on-my-should kind of day (I might be exaggerating on that last part).

The Little Traverse Bay has crystal clear water. My kids immediately began looking for Petoskey stones along the rocky shoreline.

We went down Bayfront Park for the view of the lake and immediately my kids started looking for Petoskey stones.

The hunt for Petoskey stones begins.

No luck. But, lunch called so we gave up the pursuit for a little bit. The kids are easily distracted by things like waterfalls.

There’s a little waterfall and a creek that winds through Bayfront Park in Petoskey, Michigan.

Near the Bayfront Park is Bear River Recreation Area. This pretty little creek runs through the heart of Petoskey and is a great little escape. We walked just a little ways, before moving on (there were Petoskey stones to be found, you know).

It’s an easy walk along the trail that runs through Bear River Recreation Area in downtown Petoskey.

Our best luck with the Petoskey stone hunt was at Petoskey State Park, which you’ll need a park passport to enter (an additional fee). The lake has a great beach area and an abundance of smooth stones washed ashore. We did luck out and found a few beauties!

The look of a happy kid, satisfied that he found an elusive Petoskey stone while at Petoskey State Park.

The sandy beach was wonderful but the water was frigid, so we kept the stone hunt close to shore.

The final place we enjoyed nature was in Alanson, a very small town near Petoskey. Our hotel, Stafford’s Crooked River Lodge, felt removed from everything in a good way. It was beside a river, where if we had time, we could’ve used the hotel’s kayaks to explore down river.

This was the entry point at the hotel for kayakers.

Instead, we sat on the stone patio, near the fire pit and soaked in the sunset’s reflection on the clouds over the river. Bliss.

If spending a lot of time outdoors is not your thing, Petoskey has a charming downtown area that’s full of local shops.

Downtown Petoskey has a mix of retail and restaurants. It’s very near the waterfront.

Our favorite stop was the bookstore ,McLean and Eakin. The kid’s department there was large.

Dining with kids in Petoskey

We didn’t have a lot of time to spend in Petoskey, and so, I only have two recommendations. They’re good ones, though.

The City Park Grill is an old Hemingway haunt in Petoskey, Michigan. He usually sat in the second seat from the end of the bar.

Petoskey has some Ernest Hemingway connections, including one bar that he had visited. You can go there today and sit in his seat, which was the second seat from the end of the bar. The place is called City Park Grill (though in Hemingway’s day, it was the Annex), and it’s in the heart of the very charming downtown area. I was with my family, so instead of saddling up to the bar, we sat at a dinner table and ordered lunch. There is a kids menu, so, it’s totally fine to bring well-behaved kiddos along.

We had parmesan fries, ice cream bars and beer at Petoskey Brewing Co. The brew pup is near Petoskey State Park.

Close to Petoskey State Park is our second food recommendation, Petoskey Brewing Co., though we can only vouch for the exquisite, tiny homemade ice cream bar there (and the beer, of course). There are several flavors to choose from, though my family all picked one that involved mint ice cream and Butterfinger candy bars. I dined on some parmesan fries, because that sounded way better food to accompany a craft beer than ice cream.

Where to stay near Petoskey

Our hotel, Stafford’s Crooked River Lodge, was about 10 miles away from Petoskey. It was a lodge-like getaway without really being too far from modern conveniences like book stores, fancy shops, and microbreweries, then take a look at this hotel.

Dusk at Stafford’s Crooked River Lodge in northern Michigan. If you look closely, you can see a bit of the fire that was crackling in the hotel’s fire pit.

If you’re set on staying in the quaint town of Petoskey, you might want to check out another of the Stafford’s properties: Stafford’s Perry Hotel in the heart of downtown Petoskey. It was built in 1899.

Anyway, back to Crooked River Lodge. The room we stayed in was spacious—the biggest on our entire trip. There were two bedrooms each with a king bed, plus a living room area and kitchen. And, then, the best part, there was also a private patio for our room.

The pool and hot tub were indoors, and included a little waterfall that delighted my kids.

The view of the lawn at Stafford’s Crooked River Lodge. Just beyond the lawn is the river.

The hotel had lawn games to check out, as well as the kayaks mentioned above. Additional kid-friendly things included a fish pond (with free fish food), hiking trails, complimentary popcorn in the lobby, and my daughter’s favorite thing of all: A little playhouse with toys and a play kitchen. She loved that space almost as much as she loved getting gobs of free popcorn.

There is a complimentary breakfast included with the stay.

Read more about Petoskey area

Family-friendly things to do in Petoskey if you only have 24 hours in Petoskey #PetoskeyArea #Michigan #PureMichigan #familytravel #outdoors

The Petoskey area was in the middle of an epic road trip for my family. To plan your own epic road trip through Michigan, read my Michigan road trip recap featuring restaurant highlights, sights to see, and where to stay.

For Petoskey Area highlights, read these posts:

A Nature Getaway Near Petoskey – Stafford’s Crooked River Lodge – Aug. 20

My Petoskey Area/Little Traverse Bay Bucket List

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July 22, 2018

Detroit Museums For Families

Detroit has a rich history and an abundance of family-friendly cultural institutions. Our visit was meant to be a full three days of good food, good music, and world-class museums – I mean, I planned a HUGE Detroit bucket list and everything. And, we did manage to visit several great Detroit museums for families, however…

In the end, an unexpected family emergency meant some of our items got left off the itinerary and the ones we did manage to visit were clouded with tension. But, read on, friends, because we did see some amazing things in Detroit!

Disclosure: Our visit was hosted by Visit Detroit. All thoughts, opinions and typos are my own. 

Favorite family-friendly museums in Detroit

Must-Visit Detroit Museums For Families

If you are short on time and only got to visit one or two places, I have my favorites for you. The favorite museum of the kids was The Henry Ford, located in Dearfield, Mich. This museum is BIG, and full of so much history, and it’s all done in such an engaging way that both kids and adults just love. People told this was a must-visit and I agree.

We dined at the restaurant Lamy’s Diner located in the lunch car behind these iconic neon signs at The Henry Ford.

While there are historic items that you’ve got to see, like the Abraham Lincoln chair and Rosa Parks bus, the more appealing things for kids were hands-on exhibits, like the one dedicated to flight, the chance to sit in old cars and farm machinery, and the opportunity to work on an assembly line to build a (toy) Model T.

The Henry Ford is one of the top Detroit museums for families.

Who let my daughter behind the wheel of the 1917 Overland Car? There several photo opportunities throughout The Henry Ford, and we found them all.

While you’re in the area anyway, I highly recommend including a visit to Greenfield Village next door. Each place could be a day in itself to visit, but we visited both in one day. It was exhausting, but manageable. It was also ridiculous hot the day we were there, so we only spent a couple hours in the morning at the village. I wish we could’ve lasted longer, but summer won that battle.

Greenfield Village was a picturesque walk through time.

I loved the picturesque Main Street at Greenfield Village. Guests can pay a little extra to ride around in in a Model T.

It’s quite different, in that it’s like a living history museum. There’s so much to see and do there, from re-enactments to riding in a real Model T. You can walk into the Wright Brother’s bike shop, watch farm hands work at a Victorian era farm… and my kids’ favorite, eat delicious custard. Don’t skip the playground, too. It’s open seasonally, mid-April through October, and there’s a water play area to cool off.

Kids play area at Greenfield Village in Detroit

My kids could’ve spent an hour climbing, crawling, and digging at the village playground at Greenfield Village. It’s got an industrial feel to it.

The other must-visit museum is in Detroit itself: Detroit Institute of Arts. This would probably be more of my favorite than the kids’, however, they definitely loved the special exhibit that there this summer, “Star Wars™ and the Power of Costume.” The exhibit is there through Sept. 30, 2018. It’s an additional fee to see the exhibit, and it does sell out so it’s recommended that you purchase tickets online in advance.

The “Star Wars and the Power of Costume” exhibit is at Detroit Institute of Arts through Sept. 30, 2018.

So that exhibit is impressive and has a great kid’s audio tour that engaged my family. But, there’s a lot more to see at the museum (and you should allow more than two hours to see its collection of 6,000+ artworks on display, like I did).

The frescoes by Diego Rivera are one the highlights of the Detroit Institute of Arts. My kids stood still for about 5 seconds to let me admire them.

Highlights include the Diego Rivera’s “Detroit Industry” frescoes, the knights armor, and this really fascinating projection called “Art of Dining” of a fancy French meal from the 18th century. And too many priceless paintings I’m embarrassed to say we only paused to glimpse at.

More Museums For Families To Visit

Detroit, more than any other city on our trip, had an abundance of museums and cultural opportunities to explore. It was hard to choose where we should go.

One of my kids’ other favorite stops was the Michigan Science Center. At this point of the trip, I was pretty wiped out by stress, so I wish I could say I enjoyed it more. Don’t let my stress stray you from visiting with your kids, though. There was a ton to see and do at the museum, and many of it catered to the city’s history in the car of industry.

Playing with the assembly line at Michigan Science Center in Detroit.

We were able to make use of the reciprocal membership perks of our Omaha Children’s Museum membership in order to visit the Michigan Science Center for free. Read more about how that program works here.

Since the city is the home of Motown music, I thought it was important to go to where it all started: Hitsville U.S.A. I had big hopes for visiting Motown Museum, but unfortunately, it just wasn’t the best fit for my kids, who at age 6 and 8 just weren’t quite ready for an hour-long guided tour. They typically do well at museums where they can go at their own pace. I would recommend this museum for families with older children.

Took the Motown Museum tour and got the T-shirt to prove it.

Me? I thought it was great and enjoyed learning more of the history behind the stars. The highlight was standing in the studio where so much magic was recorded. It was like hallowed ground.

Know that the tour groups are kept small and do sell out, so it’s recommended to buy tickets online well in advance of your visit.

Photography is not allowed throughout the Motown Museum…except for a couple minutes inside the recording studio. Our tour group sang “My Girl” at the conclusion of the tour.

What else can you do in Detroit

Detroit is so much more than those four museums, and so I recommend you check out my Detroit Bucket List. I was going to do a lot on that list while on this trip, but as I mentioned earlier, we had a family emergency (involving an extended stay in a hospital). As a result, all the extras I was going to do, like visiting parks and exploring downtown and eating at the classic restaurants…well, I didn’t make it to them as I had been planning.

Kresge Court was a nice place to have a light lunch at the Detroit Institute of Arts.

Of the unique dining experiences we have, I can point you toward two places. First, if you’re at the Detroit Institute of Arts and hungry, try Kresge Court for a beautiful setting for lunch. They serve salads, sandwiches and desserts, like huge cookies kids cannot resist. There wasn’t a kid’s menu.

The kids made their own pizzas at the local pizza chain, PizzaPalis.

The other place my kids liked was actually a local chain restaurant near our hotel in Troy, Mich. Since there isn’t one in Omaha, I feel fine recommending it. It’s called PizzaPapalis, and the draw here is that kids can build their own pizza at the table and they’ll bake it up for them.

The comfy bed at the Fairfield Inn & Suites in Troy, Mich.

As for hotel recommendations, we stayed at the Fairfield Inn & Suites By Marriott in Troy, Mich. Troy isn’t the most centrally-located part of Detroit, and as such, I can’t really tell you that it’s the best one to book for your trip to Detroit. However, it was pretty near my husband’s hospital. And, it was near a mall, a Target, and an abundance of familiar chain restaurants, which is appealing to some.

If we return, I’ll aim for staying closer to downtown Detroit (and not have any family member end up in the hospital).

Read more about things to do in Detroit

Planning a visit to Detroit? Start with the Detroit Bucket List, and then check out these posts for further details about Detroit museums:

“Star Wars and the Power of Costume” At Detroit Institute Of Arts

Things To Know Before Taking Kids To The Henry Ford – Sept. 7

What To Expect At The Motown Museum – Oct. 5

This was the final stop of an epic Michigan road trip. Learn about all of our fun stops here.

What to expect at top Detroit museums for families, including The Henry Ford, Michigan Science Center & Detroit Institute of Arts

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Subscribe to the FREE twice a month(ish) e-newsletter sharing what’s new in Omaha, giveaways, family travel ideas, and more! Subscribe here.

July 16, 2018

Family Vacation At The Grand Hotel

If you’re planning a family vacation to Mackinac Island, there’s a good chance you’ve heard of the Grand Hotel. It’s won a ton of awards over the years, and have been included in countless lists like Travel + Leisure’s Best All-Inclusive Hotels in 2018. So, what’s it like to stay overnight at the Grand Hotel with kids? I’ve stayed there this summer and wrote about my family’s experience. It’s a tough job, but someone has to do it.

Family vacation at the Grand Hotel on Mackinac Island, Michigan

Disclosure: My visit was hosted by the Grand Hotel. All thoughts, opinions and typos are my own.

What to expect in Grand Hotel rooms

The Grand Hotel is so large, it’s easy to spot from the ferry as you make your way to Mackinac Island, Mich.

The Grand Hotel is a luxury, all-inclusive resort on the car-free island, Mackinac Island, located in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan. It’s a National Historic Landmark that dates back to 1887. It’s impressive. It’s full of tradition, like Afternoon Tea in the Parlor and dressing up for dinner.

There are several levels of rooms to book at the Grand Hotel, plus some suites. Each of the 393 rooms has its own unique look. Each room is exquisitely decorated. I swear, every detail in this hotel is exquisite, so I’m not surprised the each room has an artistic touch.

Our Category I room at the Grand Hotel included two queen size beds and an interior view. It was large enough to accommodate a family of four. The interior designer Carleton Varney of Dorothy Draper & Co. decorated the hotel and its rooms.

We stayed in a Category I room, meaning it was smaller and had an interior view (AKA, it overlooked a roof and another wing of the hotel). Category II is a higher price point and means you either get a larger room with an interior view or a smaller room with a lake view. Category III is yet a high price point, and included a deluxe room with a view (some have balconies). See all the room options here.

Most room rates include breakfast and dinner; the Full American Plan also includes the Grand Luncheon. The good news is that kids 9 and younger stay for FREE at the Grand Hotel. Obviously, they’ve seen how little my kids eat. j/k If you have a child between ages 10 and 17, the rate is significantly lower for him or her, too.

Our room at the Grand Hotel was a Category I, meaning it was smaller than others and had an interior view instead of lake view. On the plus side, it was a lower price and still included all the meals.

Our Category I room was quite comfortable for our family of four. We didn’t spend a whole lot of time in the room, anyway, so the we did not require something more spacious. The amenities, by the way, were quite luxurious and smelled wonderful. I may have pocketed the lotion.

What to expect dining at the Grand Hotel

The price you pay for your Grand Hotel room covers most meals – the full breakfast and dinner. There are more than one restaurant on hotel grounds where you can dine at with your family.

There was live music in the Main Dining Room during dinner at the Grand Hotel.

During our visit, we had breakfast and dinner in the Main Dining Room. This was quite the experience! First, let’s talk about breakfast.

Kids and adults order from the same menu at breakfast, plus there’s the option of going to the buffet. The kids opted for the buffet, but both me and Mr. Wonderful wanted to try all the great stuff on the breakfast menu. I had a bagel and lox, plus a berry salad topped with homemade whipped cream.

Part of my breakfast was a berry salad topped with homemade whipped cream.

Breakfast was the most casual of all meals. It was a little frustrating to watch my kids grab a single-serve box of Fruit Loops when there was an abundance of dishes, fresh fruit and pastries to choose from. If your kid has a similar palate, brace yourself to bite your tongue.

Dinner is an experience not to be missed at the Grand Hotel. I prepped the kids ahead of time, explaining expectations and how there was a dress code for dinner. They loved the idea of dressing up, surprisingly, and getting ready went without a hitch.

The kids in their dinner clothes – a suit coat and slacks and a little black dress. After dinner, they wanted to play with the giant chess board on one end of the Grand Hotel’s porch.

There was a kid’s menu for dinner, though both kids preferred to head straight to the buffet. Again, Mr. Wonderful and I ordered from the menu and enjoyed an elaborate five-course dinner.

There’s a lot of activity in the Main Dining Room at dinner time. The live music was a nice touch, and the kids loved watching waiters come and go. One carried a tray on his head, much to the delight of every kid in the dining room.

The famous pecan ball at Grand Hotel. I ordered it for dessert the night we were there. Don’t leave the dining room before you had a chance to try it.

I’d mentioned before that there were other restaurant options at the Grand Hotel. There are a few not on hotel grounds. If you dine at one of them (I mentioned The Woods in this post), know that the dining plan probably doesn’t cover a full meal but, instead, covers a portion of the dinner.

There is also a daily afternoon tea that is an additional price. It runs from 3:30 to 5 p.m. I skipped it on our visit, but then passed through the lobby as it was occurring and regret it terribly. The desserts looked delicious and there was a harpist performing during the meal. It looked utterly charming, and I would book it in a heartbeat to attend with my daughter if we return.

Sadie’s Ice Cream Parlor had its own entrance in the Grand Hotel.

You can’t really stay at the Grand Hotel and skip visiting Sadie’s, the ice cream shop on the ground floor, especially if you are staying at the hotel with kids. Read the next section to see how your kids can get a FREE scoop of ice cream there.

What’s fun for kids at the Grand Hotel

We traveled all over Michigan for more than a week, and the highlight of the entire road trip? The Grand Hotel’s pool. It ranked that high in my kids’ memory.

The Grand Hotel’s pool was the largest my kids have seen. There were inflatables available and goggles for kids to use.

The Esther Williams Swimming Pool is quite large, with two hot tubs to boot. It gets its name because the movie star filmed a movie at the hotel long ago. Anyway. The big draw for my kids, though, were the collection of colorful floaties and pool toys that were free for guests to use.

Pool staff was also handing out free sno cones to kids on the day we were there. Pointing it out to my kids was the only way I could get them out of the pool.

Cooling off after a swim with a complimentary sno cone at the Grand Hotel.

One things to note: This is an outdoor pool and it is a bit of a trek from the hotel building. Bring pool shoes or flip flops, plus a cover up if you think your family is going to be taking a dip in the pool. And you’ll want that cover-up if you close down the pool, too. The pool closes at 6 p.m., which also happens to be the time when the formal dress code starts to apply in certain lobbies. I was a bit self-conscious returning to the hotel with the kiddos when everyone else was strolling around in chic clothes.

We rented bikes from the Grand Hotel and took an 8.5-mile, self-guided tour around the island. They had kid-sized bikes plus tagalong attachments. The bike ride was one of my favorite parts of our visit to the island.

You can rent bikes from the Grand Hotel on Mackinac Island. You can ride around the island via the state highway, a large, paved, two-lane bike path that’s mostly flat and along the beautiful lakeshore.

The hotel has an excellent health program courtesy Blue Cross Blue Shield. Kids get a card at check-in, and if they complete at least five activities, they receive a FREE scoop of ice cream at Sadie’s. The scoop, mind you, is huge. Activities include swimming at the pool, taking a bike ride, playing a round of FootGolf and playing chess on the porch. Some activities were an additional fee.

My kids had no problem completing the needed activities during our brief stay.

Children’s programs at the Grand Hotel

Given our short timeframe of staying, we did not take part in any of the complimentary children’s programs at the Grand Hotel. These programs are held daily on hotel grounds and include drop-off options for kids ages 5 and older. In 2018, the program runs from June 2 through Aug. 31.

All kids programs at the Grand Hotel start and end in this room located near the hotel’s arcade.

There are afternoon and evening programs, and all of them begin and end in Rebecca’s Room located on the Lobby Level of the hotel. Afternoon programs include:

Afternoons – Arts & Crafts (Mondays), touring Fort Mackinac (Tuesdays), kite decorating and flying (Wednesdays), tennis court activities (Thursdays), touring the Butterfly House (Fridays), rock painting and skipping (Saturdays), and visiting the Manoogian Art Museum (Sundays)

Evenings – Chicken dinner, ice cream at Sadie’s and FootGolf (Mondays), dinner in the Main Dining Room and arcade games (Tuesdays), pizza and movie night (Wednesdays), dinner in the Main Dining Room and story telling games (Thursdays), dinner at The Gate House and school yard activities (Fridays), sandwich buffet with arts & crafts and ice cream sundaes (Saturdays), and dinner in the Main Dining Room and bingo (Sundays).

Kids aren’t the only ones with activity options. The list of daily activities is found in the lobby and a paper version is delivered to your room each day. 

There were also a number of activities for adults. No doubt, if we were staying longer at the hotel, we would’ve registered the kids for one of the programs and joined in one of the activities for adults scheduled at the hotel. What an easy way to sneak in a date night while on vacation!

Overall impression of a family vacation at the Grand Hotel

In the words of my 8-year-old, “This is one classy place.” Staying here has been on my bucket list for more than a decade, so the expense, in my opinion, is worth it. But I can see how it could be difficult to justify the expense if you have a large family.

The view of the Grand Hotel from the lawn.

Having said that, meals are included and there were a good variety of complimentary activities. Having dined elsewhere on the island, I have an idea how much we’d spend as a family having dinner out, so having it included is a selling point to me.

If we had another day or two at the hotel, I would’ve felt comfortable registering the kids for one of the daily programs. This would have allowed a couple hours for me and my husband to chill out together, either taking a walk or having a drink at the hotel’s wine bar (or on that spectacular porch).

If you can budget a stay at the Grand Hotel, I highly recommend it for your family. If not, you can still visit the hotel for the day. The cost is $10 per adult, $5 for kids ages 5-9 and FREE for children 4 and younger.

The Grand Hotel on Mackinac Island had free activities on the lawn and on its famous porch.

Having said all that, are you wondering about your comfort level at a place like this? Is it too nice? Sure, there’s a dress code for part of the hotel after 6 p.m., and that can be intimidating. Call it “dress up time,” and your kids will get behind the idea. My daughter wore a little black dress and my son wore his First Communion outfit.

There are exceptions made when it comes to the dress code, so relax. For instance, I forgot a tie for my son and that was no big deal. Also, my husband was injured and in a wheelchair. Due to his injury, he could not wear his dress shoes. The dining room staff graciously did not make a fuss.

Family vacation guide to staying at the Grand Hotel on Mackinac Island, Michigan  #familytravel

If you go

Grand Hotel

Where: 286 Grand Ave, Mackinac Island, Mich.

Getting there: Most people take a ferry from either Mackinac City or St. Ignace. The Grand Hotel will pick up your luggage from the ferry and deliver it to your room. The hotel also brings your luggage to the ferry for your departure.

About tips: Tipping is not allowed at the Grand Hotel, except at the salon. It is expected at most off-site locations like some of the restaurants and at the pool.


Read more about Mackinac Island

Mackinac Island inspired an entire road trip through Michigan (more on that to come). To plan your own awesome road trip through Michigan, I’ll be sharing a road trip recap soon featuring restaurant highlights, sights to see, and where to stay. You can start planning now with this ultimate Michigan Bucket List.

For Mackinac Island highlights, read these posts:

My Mackinac Island Bucket List

24 Hours On Mackinac Island With Kids

5 Things For Kids To Do At Fort Mackinac 

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