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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Get more posts like this delivered straight to your inbox twice a month. Subscribe to the FREE e-newsletter 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.

Website

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

Exploring Fort Mackinac with Kids (July 30)

Get travel inspiration in your inbox

Get more posts like this delivered straight to your inbox twice a month. Subscribe to the FREE e-newsletter here.

July 6, 2018

24 Hours On Mackinac Island With Kids

Mackinac Island, Mich., is almost too good to be true. This little, car-free island has been named by TripAdvisor the No. 1 summer destination and, at one point, one of the top islands to visit in the world. Imagine horse-drawn carriages, beautifully restored building, and spectacular views of Lake Huron, Lake Michigan, and the Mackinac Bridge. (Heads up: It’s all pronounced Mack-in-naw)

Mackinac Island was actually the inspiration for this summer’s epic Michigan road trip. We planned one full day to explore the island as a family. This itinerary includes a bike ride, plenty of fudge, exploring Grand Hotel, and breath-taking views.

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

Day Itinerary For Mackinac Island

24 hours on Mackinac Island with kids

First off, 24 hours is not long enough, even though the island is roughly 3.7 square miles. However, if budget is a concern, one day here will do. I’d recommend staying overnight on the island, if at all possible, to see what it’s like once the day-trippers head back to the mainland.

Soaking up the view of the marina and carriages on the Main Street on Mackinac Island.

Ferries drop you off at the main hub of activity, where you will find bicycle rentals, souvenir shops, restaurants and fudge shops. It’s as touristy as it gets, and chaotic, but the charm of the island is inescapable: As you soak in the scenery of colorful bicycles, horse-drawn carriage taxis and hotel shuttles, and then there’s that smell of fudge.

Once you’re done shopping and sampling fudge, get out of that tourist area to explore the rest of the island. There are a few ways to see the full island, including carriage tours, but I recommend getting bicycles if you’re able. If you are traveling with young kids, I have a section below that details what to expect if you’re going to bike around the island with them.

As beautiful as the architecture is at the port, the natural scenery on the rest of the island is truly remarkable. There is a paved bike trail that takes you past some of the key sights, like the British Landing and Arch Rock, plus the route is flat.

The route along the lake shore of the Mackinac Island frequently passed by stacks of stones like this.

My kids love hands-on activities, so two places on Mackinac Island to go for that are Fort Mackinac and the Mackinac Art Museum. Both are managed by Mackinac State Park. Fort Mackinac will take a few hours if you plan on touring. There is a kids area for dress up and activities to learn more about what life was like at the fort more than 100 years ago. There are re-enactors at the fort, and you’ll likely get to watch them fire guns and hear the cannon fire.

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.

If your kid is older than 13, he or she can fire the first cannon at Fort Mackinac for an additional fee and reservation. I tried it out, and my little kids could help prep the cannon. I’ll be writing about it soon.

The art museum is small and in a historic building. My kids headed straight for the kids studio in the basement, so I didn’t get to see much of the art. There is a fee to enter the museum, but once you’re in, the activities in the studio are included. This is a great rainy-day activity.

We stopped at the Stuart House Museum, as well. My son loves history, so he enjoyed it the most.

Biking Mackinac Island with kids

My kids wanted to take a horse-drawn carriage and ride bikes. Since our shuttle to the hotel was a carriage, we checked one thing off the list right away.

We decided to take a self-guided tour of the island by bike. You can rent bikes by the ferry drop-offs, but we opted to rent them at our hotel, the Grand Hotel. The fees were comparable.

The state highway around the island is a large, paved, two-lane bike path that’s mostly flat and along the beautiful lakeshore.

Our 8-year-old biked on his own, while our 6-year-old was seated in a tag-along. The route around the should probably take you about 2 hours if you’re with young kids, but plan more time if there’s a chance you’ll hike a trail or two. And how could you not? It’s beautiful here.

The bike path takes you by the Devil’s Kitchen, a little burnt-out looking cave; the British Landing site, a historically significant spot on the island; and Arch Rock, which you’ll need to get off the bike and hike a bit if you want a good view.

There aren’t many hills to worry about and the main route around the lakeshore of the island is strictly bike, so it’s great for families. However, if you’re doing a full loop, you will have to pass through the main street of tourist activity. There are carriages everywhere, walkers who are not looking, and other bicyclists. Still, my kiddo did fine navigating around things.

Staying the Grand Hotel with kids

This was a once-in-a-lifetime trip that I’d been dreaming about for 15 years, so I had to stay at Grand Hotel. This gorgeous, historic hotel is open to visitors for a $10 fee if you want to explore it but not stay there. But staying here? It’s an experience all its own.

The street that leads to the Grand Hotel on Mackinac Island.

First thing’s first, check out the pool with the kids. It is a walk from the hotel, but this large pool area is going to be a highlight for your kids. There are pool toys, two hot tubs, and complimentary sno cones. We hit the pool after our bike ride.

There are lawn activities for free, and things like foot golf for a fee. There are also drop-off kids programs that we totally would have taken advantage of if we were staying another day or two. They looked fun, and would’ve provided a little bit of a date night for me and Mr. Wonderful.

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

On check-in, kids receive activity cards. If they complete at least five items on the list — things like trying a new food, biking, playing over-sized chess, or swimming in the pool — they receive a free (huge) scoop of ice cream at Sadie’s Ice Cream Shop in the hotel. It’s a great, free program for kids, and really motivated my kids to fit in a lot of things during our short stay.

Dining on Mackinac Island with kids

I’m biased since I’ve been dreaming about the Grand Hotel for years, but our dining experience at the hotel-ran restaurants were better than what we tried in the touristy strip of restaurants.

Most hotel plans include breakfast, the Grand Luncheon Buffet and dinner at the Grand Hotel. I highly recommend not skipping the dinner; it’s quite the experience, with live music, five courses for the adults, and a beautiful view if you get near the windows.

While there is a dress code for dinner, my kids were absolutely delighted to play dress up for the night. For dinner, kids can order off a kids menu or get a buffet with things like deep fried mac and cheese, barbecue, and fresh fruit (not to mention an abundance of desserts). Don’t miss your chance to order their famous Grand Pecan Ball for dessert.

The famous pecan ball at Grand Hotel.

Breakfast was similar, though this time, kids could order off the adult menu or get the buffet. My daughter? She got the buffet and returned to the table with a box of Fruit Loops. I kid you not.

The other memorable spot for food is the Fort Mackinac Tea Room located inside fort (so you will have to pay the park’s entrance fee). The Tea Room is managed by Grand Hotel, and it has arguably the best view of the island. We just had coffee and hot cocoa, so I can’t vouch for the food. But the views? Unforgettable.

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

By the ports, you’ll find a lot of restaurants. There will be a wait at most meal times. We went to one facing the marina and the food was okay, the prices were expectedly high, and the service was a little sullen. On our way out of town, we grabbed picnic food to-go from Dowd’s, which claims to be America’s oldest family-owned grocery store. While the prices are higher than Omaha’s (it is an island, after all), the food I grabbed was fresh and satisfying.

If you’re looking for fudge, I’m pretty sure you can’t go wrong with any shop along the tourist strip. You’ll also likely see employees making the fudge. We bought some fudge at Murdick’s and received complimentary fudge from Grand Hotel. I loved the chocolate fudge from Grand Hotel, but everyone else in my family loved the caramel-y fudge we picked out at Murdick’s. Ask for samples, of course.

Main Street on Mackinac Island – fudge, bikes, tourist shops and horse-drawn carriages sums it up.

Itinerary for Mackinac Island with kids

Now that you’ve read the details, here’s how we fit all of that into 24 hours on Mackinac Island:

9:30 a.m. – Star Line Ferry from Mackinaw City, with pass under the Mackinac Bridge

10 a.m. – Walk around Main Street and visit Stuart House Museum

12 p.m. – Lunch at Mary’s Bistro

1 p.m. – Horse-drawn carriage shuttle to Grand Hotel; explore hotel

2 p.m. – Rent bikes

5 p.m. – Swim at Grand Hotel pool

7 p.m. – Dinner at Grand Hotel

Next day

8 a.m. – Breakfast at Grand Hotel

9:30 a.m. – Fort Mackinac to fire cannon

10 a.m. – Coffee and hot cocoa at Fort Mackinac Tea Room

12 p.m. – Ice cream at Sadie’s Ice Cream Shop

1 p.m. – Mackinac Art Museum

1:30 p.m. – Lunch to-go from Dowd’s

2:45 p.m. – Ferry back to Mackinaw City

OK, that was a little more than 24 hours. But, you get the idea.

Getting to Mackanic Island

To get to the island, you need to take a ferry (or perhaps you own a boat or small plane). Star Line Ferries ran almost every 15 to 30 minutes at the peak of summer when we traveled. We left fairly early in the morning and lucked out with the ferry making a pass under the Mackinac Bridge. Check the schedule to time your trip to the island to include that! Ferry rides take about 20 minutes, and for small kids, the ride itself is pretty exciting.

We sat on the upper deck of the Star Line ferry to Mackinac Island to get this picture of the Mackinac Bridge at our backs.

You will have to leave your car on the mainland, of course. We took Star Line, which offered a couple of levels for parking, including a free one. The most convenient is the valet parking, which seemed like a pretty good deal so we took. It was $14, included a secured lot, and they’d deliver the car to the ferry when we returned.

If you’re staying at a hotel on the island, there’s a good chance there’s a porter who will pick up your luggage from the ferry and deliver it to your room. The Grand Hotel did, and the convenience is much appreciated.

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

Family Guide To Staying At The Grand Hotel

Exploring Fort Mackinac with Kids (July 30)

Get travel inspiration in your inbox

Get more posts like this delivered straight to your inbox twice a month. Subscribe to the FREE e-newsletter here.

May 17, 2018

My Mackinac Island Bucket List

Mackinac Island has been on my wish list to visit for about a decade now, ever since I read “Best of the Midwest: Rediscovering America’s Heartland.” There’s something about an island that doesn’t allow motorized vehicles that draws me to it. It sounds like a throwback to yesteryear. This summer, I’m finally going to Mackinac Island! The visit inspired an entire Michigan road trip, actually (here’s my bucket list for ALL of Michigan). Side note: I learned it’s pronounced mack-in-naw.

Mackinac Island sits in Lake Huron, between Michigan’s Upper and Lower peninsulas. Most motorized vehicles are not allowed except for emergency vehicles. Photo courtesy Mackinac Island Tourism Bureau

Disclosure: This post contains affiliate links. Oh My! Omaha is a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to amazon.com.

Mackinac Island is the vacation destination of 2018, by the way. According to TripAdvisor, it’s the No. 1 vacation destination in 2018, beating out Martha’s Vineyard and Jackson Hole. 

I’ve been dreaming up all the things to do on Mackinac Island, if time and money were not an issue. So go ahead and make your own Mackinac Island bucket list!

My Mackinac Island Bucket List

Why Mackinac Island? Imagine arriving by ferry, then taking a horse-drawn carriage to your hotel. Your main mode of transportation during your stay will involve a horse or two wheels, or if you’re motivated, your own two feet. To me, it’s unlike any place I’ve ever been to. Here’s everything I wish I could do during our very brief, 24-hour stay there this summer:

Take a hike – There are trails throughout Mackinaw State Historic Park, which covers 80% of the island. Arch Rock looks like a particularly beautiful sight to see, and is accessible by foot, bike or horse-drawn carriage.

Arch Rock is one of the most iconic natural wonders on Mackinac Island. Photo courtesy Mackinac Island Tourism Bureau

Have a “Grand” lifeThe Grand Hotel on Mackinac Island looks majestic – and no two guest rooms are alike. You probably recognize it if you’ve seen the movie “Somewhere in Time.” It’s also remarkably family-friendly. It’s one of the Top 10 kid-friendliest resorts in the U.S. and Canada according to Travel + Leisure Family magazine. I’ve got plans to stay night; those without accommodations can visit for a day fee.

Grand Hotel has been open since 1887. The Mackinac Island hotel is a National Historic Landmark. Photo courtesy Don Johnston

UPDATE: We stayed at the Grand Hotel! Read about our experience in this post, Family Guide To Staying At The Grand Hotel.

Eat all the food – It wouldn’t be an Oh My! Omaha bucket list without a lengthy list of food I want to eat. For a small island, I’ve found a good list of restaurants to visit. I started with this list of 10 Foods To Try On Mackinac Island, from which I’ve decided I’ve got to try the famous smoked whitefish dip from Round Island Bar and Grill; breakfast at The Chuckwagon; High Tea at The Grand Hotel; For drinks, I hear a rumrunner hits the spot The Thrillist’s designated as the Most Iconic Bar in Michigan: The Pink Pony.

Sweet Treats – Mackinac Island is known for its fudge shops, as I’m discovering while planning for this trip. Which is the best? Who knows? It might be my job to find out. Side note: I found out the islanders call tourists “fudgies.” I will be one of them. Beyond fudge, I’ve read on a couple blogs that the dessert of choice (after fudge) on the island is the famous pecan balls at the Grand Hotel. But then, reading Deb’s Mackinac Island tips on her blog Just Short of Crazy, I learned there was one more to add to my snack list: Popcorn balls at Stonecliff Hotel. Duly noted.

An up-close photo of fudge made on Mackinac Island. Photo courtesy Mackinac Island Tourism Bureau

Kayak – If the kids were a little older, I think it would be fun to take them kayaking through the Straits of Mackinac. You can get a pretty unique view of Arch Rock from the water. Maybe on a future visit, we could hit the water with the kids. 

Kayaking near Arch Rock on Mackinac Island. Photo courtesy Mackinac Island Tourism Bureau

Explore history – My son is a big history buff, so we like indulging him on vacation. The National Historic Landmark Fort Mackinac would be great for him. There are people in period costumes and the kids (and, let’s be honest, I) could dress up as soldiers and learn marching drills. You can also sign up early to fire a cannon, which I am definitely going to do when we’re there.

Mackinac State Historic Parks includes the historic Fort Mackinac, where people are dressed in period costumes and there are a variety of interactions. One visitor each day can sign up to shoot the cannon at the fort, too. Photo courtesy Mackinac State Historic Parks

Carriage ride – Since cars aren’t allowed on the island, there only a few ways to get around. My kids aren’t the steadiest on bikes yet, so carriage rides will suit us nicely. You can do a tour by carriage, or use it to go from Point A to Point B.

Transportation on Mackinac Island is limited to horse (or horse-drawn carriage), bike or foot. Photo courtesy Pure Michigan

It’s interesting that since no motorized vehicles are allowed on the island, even the UPS guy has to deliver by horse-drawn carriage. Check out this photo Tim from he Walking Tourists shared with me from their visit to Mackinac Island. Yep, that’s the delivery guy.

Since most motorized vehicles are allowed on the island, even deliveries are made by carriage. Photo courtesy Tim Trudell

Dinner at Woods Restaurant – Speaking of carriage rides, my ideal ride would be in the evening to Woods Restaurant, which is styled to look like a Bavarian mansion in the woods (and happens to have a duck pin bowling alley). Read about it here.

The Woods Restaurant on Mackinac Island is designed to look like a Bavarian lodge, and has a duckpin bowling alley. Photo courtesy Grand Hotel

Bike ride – I’d love to see this whole island by bike – which is super manageable since there are no cars to contend with (though I guess there are carriages to watch out for). We might attempt a ride with the kids since they are now fairly steady on bikes. Wish us luck. Here are some of the things we might encounter on a ride around the island.

Biking is a very popular way to get around Mackinac Island. Photo courtesy Mackinac Island Tourism Bureau

Butterfly House – This beauty keeps popping up on bloggers’ reviews of Mackinac Island, so I’m beginning to think I ought to have it on this list. I have nothing against butterflies, it’s just that we have an exceptional one at Omaha’s zoo. Anyone have any strong opinions in favor of The Butterfly House?

What Should Be Add To This Mackinac Island Bucket List?

What’s missing from this list? Where should we dine when we’re there? What should we skip, what should we not skip? Leave me a comment with your tips!

wish list of things to do in Mackinac Island

 

Start pinning Michigan travel ideas with me! I’ve started gathering all the family-friendly, foodie and adventurous travel posts about Michigan onto my Michigan Road Trip With Kids board. Happy pinning!

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