“America’s Summer Place” has been offering families the chance to escape since 1887.
The Grand Hotel is located on Mackinac Island between Michigan’s Upper and Lower Peninsulas in Lake Huron. The island itself is a step back in time with no cars allowed; horses and bicycles serve as the primary modes of transportation. The Grand Hotel is located in the middle of the island with incredible views of Lake Huron and the Mackinac Bridge. The resort also boasts the world’s longest front porch; the porch and lobby are accessible to only resort guests and day visitors, who pay a fee. Despite the overwhelming grandeur of the hotel itself and the fact that evening wear is required after 6:30 p.m. in all areas, this hotel welcomes families.
Where to stay?
The Grand Hotel is the ultimate in luxury, but you’ll never feel like you’re out of place with kids in tow. My three rough-and-tumble boys were in awe of the soaring porch ceiling, main staircase, beautiful seating areas in the lobby, and the meticulously manicured grounds. The hotel has 385 rooms, and none of them are decorated the same, which adds to the charm of the hotel. Each room has its quirks and seems to almost have a life of its own. My boys made up stories about the people who had stayed in our room before us and let their imaginations run wild with grand tales of vacations from 100 years ago. While the hotel has been around for more than a century, the amenities have been updated. You’ll enjoy air conditioning, large showers, and updated bathrooms. In additional to traditional rooms, suites and a four-bedroom cottage also are available.
KidTripster Tip: Request a room in the front of the resort, if possible. This part of the hotel is original and offers incredible views of Lake Huron and the Mackinac Bridge. My boys also enjoyed watching the horse-drawn carriages pull up to the front of the hotel in the morning and evening.
What to do?
The Grand Hotel offers something for everyone, no matter your interests or age. From Memorial Day to Labor Day, kids (5 and up) can take advantage of the Grand Hotel’s children’s youth programs during lunch and dinner. Activities include duck pin bowling, butterfly house visits, arts and crafts, playground games, and rock collecting on the beach. The program is complimentary for those kids staying on Modified American Plan (breakfast plus five-course dinner daily); other guests can pay a $30 fee. For children too young to participate in the programs, in-room babysitting is available.
The 220-foot long Esther Williams pool is a great place to spend a sunny day at the Grand Hotel. The heated pool is named after the actress Esther Wiliams, who starred in the 1947 movie This Time For Keeps, which was filmed at the hotel. Guests can relax on the many lounge chairs that line the pool deck or relax in one of the two whirlpools or sauna. The biggest draw for my kids was the large, inflatable snake in the center of the pool. After working up an appetite with all that snake wrangling, you can grab a bite from the Pool Grill or enjoy a complimentary snow cone. Life jackets are available for those swimmers needing an extra hand, and the staff was even able to help out my middle son with a pair of goggles, since someone forgot his at home.
For golfers, the course at the Grand Hotel may be the most unique 18 holes of your life. The Jewel is broken up into two different areas. The Grand Nine are played near the hotel with views of Lake Huron and Round Island. After you complete your first nine holes, you'll be taken by horse-drawn carriage (no golf carts on Mackinac Island) to the Woods Nine on the interior of Mackinac with views of the Mackinac Bridge and Upper Peninsula. The 15-minute horse drawn carriage ride also treats you to views of areas not normally seen by visitors.
The Grand Hotel also offers a variety of outdoor activities, including tennis, pickle ball, running trails, and lawn games. My boys loved playing bocce ball and croquet on the Grand Hotel Tea Gardens Lawn. The equipment is set out during the day for open play, and staff members are available to answer questions, if you aren’t quite sure what you’re doing.
Another popular outdoor activity is the oversized chess board on the longest front porch in the country. My chess skills are a bit lacking, so we actually used the board to play checkers. The 660-foot front porch is lined with rocking chairs. My boys enjoyed sitting in them and people watching (and horse watching). If you’re looking for an inside option, Rebecca’s Room off the lobby level offers a variety of board games for families to play, as well as a space for drawing with provided paper, coloring sheets, and markers. There's a small arcade next door that will give kids their video game fix (although mine were too busy with other activities to even check it out).
Bicycle rentals are a popular way to explore Mackinac Island, while you’re visiting. The Grand Hotel has bikes, trailers, and tagalong bikes available on property for rent, as well as helmets. We found that renting at the hotel was easier than taking a horse-drawn taxi downtown to rent from one of the bike vendors, and the prices were comparable.
Where to eat?
The Grand Hotel offers several different room packages, but the most popular is the Modified American Plan. This option includes breakfast and dinner for everyone during your stay. Both meals are available in the Main Dining Room. At breakfast, you have the option of ordering off the menu or eating from the buffet (or doing a combination of both). Dinner offers the same options, as well as an incredible kids’ buffet. My boys thought that they had won the lottery when they stood in front of the buffet table full of peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, chicken tenders, french fries, corn, fresh fruit, chocolate covered strawberries, and cups of dirt with worms (crushed Oreo cookies with Gummy worms). The wide variety of kid-friendly food allowed the adults to make it through the five-course meal with minimal complaints from the younger set.
Service in the main dining room is incredible, and the staff caters to both adults and kids. My oldest son especially was impressed with the pot of hot chocolate that they brought to him at breakfast and, when he asked for one at dinner, another one appeared. Gratuities are included with your stay, so you don’t need to tip, even for exceptional service.
Evening attire is required in the main dining room, as well as other public areas of the hotel. For children under 12, the guidelines state nice pants and shirt, but boys over 12 are expected to wear a suit coat and tie. Girls and women should plan on wearing dresses, skirts or nice pants.
KidTripster Tip: In the Main Dining Room, there's live music at dinner. The musicians are very entertaining for younger kids, but if you sit too close, it can make conversation a bit difficult.
If you choose to forgo dinner in the main dining room, you can use your credits from the Modified American Plan at several other on-site restaurants, including The Jockey Club, Woods, and The Gate House. At The Jockey Club, guests can order one appetizer, one entrée, and one dessert from a menu that includes steak, fish, and hamburgers. At Woods and The Gate House, guests receive a $20 credit towards their meal purchase. Gratuities are not included at these restaurants.
A popular place to visit during the day is Sadie’s Ice Cream Parlor. Located near the front of the hotel, the floor to ceiling windows offer great views of the downtown area, while you indulge in your ice cream treats.
Rooms at the Grand Hotel start at $304/night per adult, based on double occupancy. Children (11 and under) are free; older children (12 to 17) are $59/night.
KidTripster Tip: Rates are highest in the summer months (Memorial Day through Labor Day), but specials are available at times. The fall months usually see discounted rates; however not all children’s activities are available, and the outdoor pool is closed.
Mackinac Island is only accessible by water or air. Several ferry companies operate out of Mackinaw City in the Lower Peninsula and St. Ignace in the Upper Peninsula. Before you board the ferry, your bags are tagged to be delivered to the Grand Hotel. It does take a few hours for luggage to arrive, but the service is much easier than taking bags with you. From the ferry dock, it’s a short walk to the Grand Hotel or you can take a horse-drawn taxi. Mackinac Island does have an airport, but there aren’t any commercial flights available to the island.
Former journalist Jamie Farber lives in West Michigan with her husband and three sons, ages 2, 8, and 11. Her English degree has somehow led her to a career planning Disney vacations with Mickey Travels. In her spare time, she enjoys planning her family's many trips around the U.S. and the Caribbean.