Michigan's Grand Hotel, Since 1886
I have wanted to stay at this appropriately named hotel for a long time. The grand-ness wasn't the only thing that lured me. I was initially drawn to the size of the porch, which is 600 feet long! Evidently, it's the longest porch in the world.
Arriving by Ferry
Since the hotel sits on Mackinac Island, we headed by ferry across the Straights of Mackinac, to reach the hotel. This is what we would have seen, had it been a clear day.
It was actually pouring on the day Don and I ferried to the island. We only had one night at the hotel, so I should have been grumbling. But I was so giddy about our stay, that I hardly cared. Besides, I love sitting on a porch when it's raining.
The Island and Town
If it hadn't been raining when we arrived, we could have seen the sweet "village" as we traveled from the ferry station by carriage.
The island, which covers less than 4 miles, became a tourist attraction and "summer colony" in the late 19th century. Cars have been banned on the island, practically since the time they were invented. Instead, the island guests and 600 residents use horses, carriages and bikes to get around.
Our carriage/taxi kept us mostly dry with the plastic flaps. We didn't luck out with one of the hotel's enclosed carriages. But a bellhop, wearing one of those wonderful little drum-shaped caps, did usher us towards the lobby.
From Rain to Sun
The rain stopped as soon as we arrived. Even with puddles and soggy flags, the hotel was stunning. When the sun came out, it was even more delightful. Best of all, the rains scared the crowds away from the wonderful porch.
Keeping Tourists Away
Actually this is about as close as tourists (who aren't hotel guests) can get to the hotel, if they don't pay $10. for a visitor's pass. This elite-sounding rule made me cringe for a moment. Then I thought about all the guests staying in 393 rooms, and I pictured about 800 people rushing to enjoy the porch after the rain. I suddenly was okay with that rule.
The Parlor Floor
After checking in, we strolled throughout The Parlor floor. My 6 a.m. photo doesn't show all the people who were enjoying Afternoon Tea that day. But my photo does show the bold colors and decor of designer, Carleton Varney, who transformed the Grand's style in 1976. The gigantic red, geraniums on the carpet matched the 2,500 geraniums, planted along the porch railing. (someone else did the counting)
Flowers, Tea and Harps...
Don and I wandered a bit before finding our room. We passed by a table covered in flowers, sweets, tea and iced Champagne. We paused to enjoy the harpist, performing near a painting of a harpist.
As we studied the framed artwork and mural covered walls, I thought about how much my grandmother would have loved this interior. She would have thought it, "grand indeed!" Of course, grand was a word Daw used frequently, for often less exciting things. "Oh, it would be grand to go on a drive!" But oh, she would adored the classic style!
We followed the geranium carpet down a hall, just off the Grand Parlor. I was curious to see our room, since I'd studied the website photos. At first, I thought the Carlton Varney decor looked a little garden-clubbish. But the more I studied the photos, I chose to see a bright and whimsical, Dr. Seuss-look.
I was ready to open our door to stripes and florals, pinks and greens! But we both paused in front of our door and noticed how it was framed with an extra flair! We learned that our room, was one of the 40 or so "named suites"! How did we get that?
The Lincoln Room!
Our corner room was missing all the bright fun of the C. Varney decorated rooms. But it felt calm and dignified, with about 20 portraits of Lincoln! Our spacious, themed room was quite a surprise, since we had booked with a special low rate offer.
Yea for Lincoln!
It's hard not to feel important when you're staying in the Lincoln room. Were they doing random upgrades when we arrived? I wondered if the desk clerk looked at us and thought, "No they don't look like they'd choose the Betty Ford Room or the Pat Nixon Room." Did the woman just sense that I had grown up in a house with a huge portrait of Lincoln? I did, actually. So I felt right at home.
Room to Get Ready!
Since The Grand has a dress code after 6:30 pm, it was nice that we had lots of space to spiff up for dinner. There was a cute little dressing area and a glamorous chandelier in the bathroom!
A third floor view would have been nice, but our porch level, corner room gave us two views. Our windows facing the porch showed us the rockers, geraniums and Lake Huron beyond. The side window gave us a peek towards a quiet road, lined with Victorian houses.
The photo with yellow awnings, shows our windows at the end. Since the rain scared guests away from the porch, we felt like the whole end of the porch was ours.
Happy Hour on The Porch!
Dress code hadn't kicked in so Don and I grabbed drinks and headed out to the porch before dressing up. A couple strolled by and offered to take our picture if we would take theirs. We were game for that. Then we made a toast to our 16th president.
From our rockers, we could frequently hear carriages passing by below the porch. I jumped up to watch a few carriages pass, before heading up the hill, with all the lovely homes.
I Want Them All!
At some point, Don and I walked up the road and tried to pick out the house we thought was most impressive.
Porches With a View
I tried to imagine living in any of the houses and having this as my porch view.
Parade of Families
From our rockers we had some fun watching the earliest diners, strolling the porch before dinner. I had the fun of helping out 2 different families as they corralled kids to take family photos. The family of 9 was the trickiest. I did some stunts to get the little boy laughing. I was hoping they would invite us on their yacht as a thank you, but maybe everyone who stays at The Grand isn't rich after all.
The Cupola Bar
Before dressing for dinner, we made one more stop. The 2-story bar in the rounded cupola was worth the price of an expensive drink. We climbed to the upper floor, with an opening that held an impressive, colorful chandelier.
The view was pretty amazing. A church steeple here, the hotel garden there, the Mackinac bridge and Lake Huron...
Before the dining room opened I had a peek and saw the tables being meticulously set. The mirrored columns made it look like an infinity dining room. I don't think I've ever seen such a large dining room in my life. It takes a kitchen staff of 100 to serve up to 4,000 meals a day.
Don Makes a Fashion Statement
Here is Don looking at the wine list after he gently talked his way past the fashion police at the dining room entrance. "I'm sorry Sir," The young woman had begun apologetically. "But we require jacket and tie in the dining room." When Don explained cheerily that a bolo tie was a special kind of tie, he sounded a little bit like The Grinch talking to Cindy Loo Hoo. I tried not to laugh when the sweet woman turned back from her phone call to tell us she had gotten the okay to let us enter.
I'm wondering if they gave the young man with the green hair a hard time.
Once again, I was stunned with our luck. Even with Don's bolo tie, we were given a window table, without asking. Our 5 course meal was heavenly from start to finish. I'll put more details in the dining blog for that!
Dressed Up Diners and Dancers
There was something so oddly delightful about dining in such a huge space with couples and families, all dressed up. I studied them in the dining room and later in the Terrace Lounge, where Don and I danced a few... to the tunes the Grand Hotel Orchestra. It was easy to be reminded of a cruise ship, or an elite country club, or even a wedding reception. But the midwestern crowd was actually pretty down to earth. I didn't see kids playing video games at the table or couples checking their Facebook. It was a treat watching families celebrate together.
About 200 sailboats had arrived the day before. They were involved in a race that ended in Mackinac. It was pretty wild seeing the equipment and sails "drying out" after the stormy race.
We had to check out at 11, but were able to store our bags and enjoy the beautiful day. It was hard to decide how to best make use of our time. Staring down at the garden would have been enough.
Pool or Croquet?
It was tempting to stop for a game of croquet or bocce ball as we strolled past the rose bushes. It would have been memorable to have done a few laps in the 500,000-gallon, Esther Williams Pool. The movie "This Time For Keeps" was filmed here in 1947, starring the swimming/movie celebrity.
For the remainder of our time, we chose to rent bikes and take in the heavenly scenery on the 8-mile island loop. There were tots with training wheels, grannies on tricycles and horse carriages to dodge, but we had no mishaps. We relaxed on the porch one more time before catching a ferry back to our car. We'll save the fudge shopping and fort tour for next time.
The grand size of the hotel and the charm of the historic island made for such a magical combination. The top hats, tails, harps and carriages could have seemed a little corny or Disney-like in another setting. But this hotel has been entertaining guests for 130 years. It all worked!
The porch itself would have been enough to please me. All the rest, was icing on the cake!
My New Year's Resolution for 2014 was to start documenting some of the memorable overnights I've had in some very odd and curious motels and hotels. Like the adventures in my Dining Blog, I have learned to enjoy the surprises that happen when you step out of the comfort zone, far away from the well-known chains.
I began with a few entries recalling my very first home away from home memories from my youth. Then, I started sharing about some of the quirky and unforgettable motels, hotels and inns that my husband and I have discovered in recent years.
The best part about this challenge was making some lists with Don and getting on the road in search of new overnight adventures. I gave myself a 2-year goal to write up 90 stories and the goal was met. Now we just keep on adding!