Sunday, October 20, 2013

My Great Homance - The Grand Hotel, Mackinac Island, Michigan

Everyone has heard of romance.  I am sure you have even heard of 'bromance', I have been in a serious 'homance' since the fifth grade.  Yes, I have a major crush on Mackinac Island's Grand Hotel.

Right after lunch my fifth grade teacher would read a chapter or so of a book.  (That was the double whammy year of Charlotte's Web AND Where the Red Fern Grows, amazing I didn't need therapy, but I am getting off topic).  The book that would have the longest effect on me, I can't even remember the title.  It was a young adult mystery set on Mackinac Island, Michigan.  It involved a missing doll and a large fresh water pearl.  That is all I remember....except the Grand Hotel. This was a fairy story I could relate to, a castle right in my home state, with the world's longest front porch to boot!    Then came Somewhere In Time.  I read the book in anticipation of the movie's release.  Christopher Reeve!   Jane Seymour!  And the Grand Hotel!  I agree the story was cheesy, but the Grand Hotel shined!  My love affair with a place I had never been was in full force.

St. Clair County is a long way from Mackinac Island, almost five hours by car.  It would be many decades from fifth grade before I ever took the 16 minute ferry ride from Mackinaw City to Mackinac Island.  (Full disclosure, I was supposed to be checking out northern Michigan hotels for a work retreat.  But, when I saw the sign that said 'Mackinac Bridge' 19 miles - the island's siren song was too great for me and I found myself at Shepler's Ferry buying tickets. Don't feel too bad for my former employer,  I got my comeuppance and got  laid off...12 years later  :) )  As soon as David and I disembarked the ferry I made a beeline for the Grand Hotel.  As I wound my way around Mackinac's twisty streets I could see it glowing in the distance... until I reached the sign that said unless I was a registered guest, it would cost $10.00 per person to continue.  We took this photo and dejectedly headed back to the mainland and work.

As do the seasons so does life change.  Several years later, my company folded and now David and I had summers off together.  We decided to celebrate and return to Mackinac Island and the Grand Hotel.  We saved our pennies and were able dinner there (hey at least we got in this time).  After we checked into another, (not grand at all) hotel, we quickly changed and took a horse taxi to the Grand Hotel.  The evening began with a stroll on the famous porch and ended with dancing to the Grand Hotel Orchestra til early the next morning.  That night remains one of my personal bests.  It wasn't the food, it wasn't the service, it wasn't the decor it was all of it.  From the twinkling chandeliers, the ice -cold champagne, the diners dressed in their finery and the waiters dressed in their white tie and tails, it was like literally stepping back into the Roaring 20s. For one short evening David and I got to be Daisy Buchanan and Jay Gatsby!  The following day, just before our departure we returned to take our ritual, half way up the path in front of the Grand Hotel,  photo.

Number one FAQ for a travel agent "You get deals, right?  You travel for free,right?  Can you hook me up?"  The answers are:  "Sort of, no and yes."  I do get deals, and often they are the same ones that you can get too.  The difference is, I get them first.  Vendors will run specials and before they publish them to the general public, they email travel agents.  So while you may stumble upon a great deal on the internet, I was able to book it two or three days earlier.  One Sunday this August I opened my email to find an unbelievable treasure, on specific dates the Grand Hotel was offering "Celebrate Michigan Days"  approximately 85% their regular price!   Included in the hotel rate a full breakfast, five course dinner and entrance to Fort Mackinac!

There was a catch (of course), the deal was only available in specific weekday rates in September and October.  David was out and my Mom was in as a travel partner.  When we stepped off the ferry last week, my heart gave a funny thump when I spotted the mahogany carriage with its matching chestnut horses and top hatted driver waiting for me!  Mackinac Island's appeal to me is the opportunity to travel back to a more genteel time in  history. I have always felt Main Street with its fudge and t-shirt shops definitely miss the mark.  However, arriving at the Grand Hotel in a horse drawn carriage, being met by a pill box hat bell hop to take your bags, followed by a champagne reception and five course dinnered served by waiters in white tie and tails is spot on.

I am happy to report we made the best possible use of our time on the island.  From a private carriage ride (about double the cost for two people; but worth every cent not to be crammed in the same sized carriage with 20 of your  new best friends, and we got to determine the route as well), to visiting Fort Mackinac and those ubiquitous fudge and t-shirt shops.  Our afternoon was spent tasting all the Grand had to offer.   From drinks at the Cupola Bar (the highest point of the Grand is a 360 all window lookout, where you can see the entire island), afternoon Tea in the lobby, and finally as the sun set on the that famous porch our final five course meal in the dining room, we had it all.

A "Pam +  Grand Hotel" photo as we wound our way back to the ferry dock  headed home (our bags already transported to the ferry).  In this photo, I wasn't on the outside looking in or on the inside but not an insider,  I was a Grand Hotel Guest and I experienced all she had to offer.