Step back in Time with a Grand Mackinac Island Carriage Tour
I always listen to the radio in the morning. Voices are simply more soothing to the ear than an alarm clock buzz and frankly, the conversation is usually something to get my brain working after a night’s sleep. One morning on Q107 Toronto John Derringer, the main host of the show I listen to had just returned from a holiday in Northern Ontario and was discussing his family’s incredible adventures. He also added that while up in the area, they crossed the border and headed to a beautiful spot in Michigan that bans vehicles, has fudge recipes from the 19th century, a hotel that sparkles in Lake Huron’s mist, and horse and buggies to take you from one colonial house to another. This my friends is none other than the charmingly historic Mackinac Island.
A Little Bit About Mackinac Island
Until my morning show spoke of this island, I had no idea it existed. Shameful as a travel writer, I know. How I could I not know of this haven just 9 hours away from my home? Seriously I thought to myself, I needed to brush up on my USA geography.
So that you are more informed on this beautiful place, here are some facts and figures you should know to help you plan your beautiful holiday.
- Mackinac Island is a small island of Michigan State in Lake Huron- one of the five great lakes.
- Population of residents living year-round on the island is 492 as of 2017
- Cars and other Vehicles have been banned on the island since 1898!
- Only way to get around the island is via horse drawn carriage, bicycle, roller skates, and on foot
- Fudge is one of the island’s claim to fame and there are 16 shops selling multiple flavours
- 83% of the island is made up of the Mackinac National Park
- The Grand Hotel is the main attraction here and employs nearly 700 people
- If staying at the Grand Hotel, after 6 pm Men must wear jackets and ties and women must wear dresses or skirts as slacks are not permitted.
- The Jockey Club restaurant is the casual fine dining option for Grand Hotel guests not wishing to dress as formal. Review coming soon!
- The Mackinac Island Carriage Tours is the best way to learn about the island
- Accommodations are all independently owned with now chain hotels on the island
- The Mayor of the island has been in the position for 37 years and remains on site year round
- The Island has one of the four US cemeteries with a flag at half mast 365(366) days of the year to honour the unmarked soldiers. The other three are Arlington, Pearl Harbour, and Gettysburg
- To be buried in Mackinac Island’s cemetery, graves start at $15,000
- There is an imposed bicycle speed limit on the island of 25 miles per hour and tickets will be given if caught speeding
- The Grand Hotel is a 4-star hotel. It should be 5 stars but since valet parking cannot be offered, it will remain 4-star. (silly if you ask me!)
- The island is known for its gorgeous lilacs. Each year they host a Lilac festival the second week in May to show them off.
- The movie This Time for Keeps starring Esther Williams and Jimmy Durante was filmed on the Island in 1946. Memorabilia can be found in the Grand Hotel common area.
- The cult romantic classic “Somewhere in Time” starring Jayne Seymour and Christopher Reeve was filmed here in 1979. It is a huge source of tourism income for the island that a “Somewhere in Time” weekend is planned yearly with everyone dressing in turn of the century outfits. Jayne Seymour has returned to the island for this event on many occasions.
- In the Grand Hotel you can see various props and memorabilia from the film including Christopher Reeve’s bowler hat, the painting from the history room, scripts, photos, and more.
- There are more than 600 horses on the island. There are 4 vets and one GP. You can see who the priority is 🙂
- If you chose to drive your own horse carriage, horseback ride or cycle, you must abide by the horse code of etiquette: If a horse is trotting up a hill, they have the right of way. Horse have the right of way over pedestrians, cyclists, and skaters. Horses should not be patted unless drivers give permission. Helmets are required for inexperienced riders/drivers. And finally, horses are not allowed on the perimeter road of the island’s downtown area.
Things to Do
1 – Take the Mackinac Island Carriage Tour
So now that you have arrived on this lovely island, you want to make the most of your time here. So my #1 recommendation is to take a relaxing, educational, entertaining, and cultural horse carriage tour with our friends at the Mackinac Island Carriage Tours. Purchase your tickets at the booth on Main Street near Starbucks (happiness for my inner coffee-nerdiness) and head off on a 2-hour journey across the island. The guides are super friendly, hilarious, and full of great factual information to keep you entertained and learning about where you are visiting. There are various stops along the tour as well which will give you the opportunity to explore the important landmarks that shape the island to what it is today.
One of the stops that the carriage tour makes is at the Wings of Mackinac – a lovely place to see butterflies in all their glory. When purchasing your tickets for the tour, you can also opt for admission here as well. At this stop there is also a museum of vintage carriages, equestrian gear, stables, and my favourite, freshly baked donuts. Now, i’m not talking Timmy’s or Dunkin Donuts here. I’m talking soft, moist, warm, donuts that are beyond any sweet tooth’s comprehension. These little babies are baked at Aunt Mary’s and available in half, full, and baker’s dozens.
After your sweet treat, enjoy a meander through the vintage carriages and in the gardens to the Wings of Mackinac.
Once back on the carriage, the guide will take you to Mackinac Island’s Historic Fort. Here you can enjoy a presentation, cannon demonstrations, and speak with guides about the incredible history. The carriage will let you off here and when done, will return to collect you and continue the tour.
Another stop on the tour that will have you whipping out your cameras is Arch Rock. This beautiful natural formation of limestone over Lake Huron is the perfect backdrop for photos and video. No trip to Mackinac Island would be complete without a stop here. The carriage guide will take you here and allow approx. 10 mins to grab a photo and restroom break. It really is beautiful.
The Grand Hotel
This mini version of the Whitehouse is the epitome of world class and definitely shows it. This 130-year old stately hotel brings thousands of visitors to its doorstep yearly impressing each one of them with unmatched hospitality. I knew when planning our trip here that I wanted to at least set foot into the royal hall and peek at the beautiful men and women enjoying their stay. The horse carriage tour ends here at this magnificent hotel. From here, should you wish a lift, the Grand Hotel’s taxi service will take you anywhere you need to go for a $5 fee. Wishing to see the hotel for yourself? Non-registered guests must pay a $10 entry fee. If you are staying for a meal, this fee will be credited to your chit.
This glorious hotel has been the setting for many a Hollywood film. Two in particular have brought much tourism to the island – Somewhere in Time and This Time for Keeps.
First, This Time for Keeps starring Esther Williams and Jimmy Durante was filmed here at the Grand Hotel in 1946. Famous for swimming, Williams was required to shoot some water scenes requiring a pool to be installed. Well, it was so cold to film there that she insisted to have those shots done in a warmer climate. The movie went on to bring much love and respect to Mackinac Island and the Grand Hotel honours this piece of their pop culture history by displaying memorabilia in the downstairs common area.
Then in 1979 Mackinac Island and the Grand Hotel were truly put on the traveller’s map. Cult Romance classic “Somewhere in Time” starring Jayne Seymour, Christopher Reeve, and Christopher Plummer was filmed here on site. This movie was loved so much by audiences that many flocked to the island to see the setting of one of the most romantic movies of all time. In fact, the movie is loved so much that a “Somewhere in Time” weekend is scheduled every year for devoted fans to make pilgrimage to the Island dressed in turn of the century clothing and quite possibly meet Jayne Seymour herself. In the Grand Hotel lower common room, you will find memorabilia from the film including Christopher Reeve’s bowler hat, the famed photo from the history room, scripts, photos, and the original Grand Hotel shaped music box that plays the memorable and lilting theme song.
The Movie Production company had to pay a permit fee to allow Christopher Reeve’s car to be driven on the island as vehicles are banned. They agreed to the tarif and had the car sent over by ferry.
If you are fan of the movie yourself, grab a Grand Hotel grounds map from the staff. The various film locations are marked with a special lock icon for you to see and reenact for yourself! See the “Is it really you” meeting place, lighthouse, and hotel grounds depicted in the film.
Signature Libations and Culinary Treats
You can only imagine that the Grand Hotel has some pretty fantastic gastronomical specials for its guests. They own several restaurants of various cuisines and formalities, have a fancy champagne afternoon tea, and have created their own in-house libations offered exclusively to their honoured guests. The afternoon tea of a traditional nature with freshly brewed tea, finger sandwiches, and gourmet sweet fancies, perfect for that late afternoon indulgence. If you are really feeling fancy, add a glass of your favourite champagne to the experience as you gaze out at the sparkling Lake Huron while the harpist plays a repertoire of classic tunes including the “Somewhere in Time” signature soundtrack.
The Peachy Grand & the Grand Porch Ale
Each of these drinks is only available here at the Hotel and is quite a refreshing treat after a day of exploring and sightseeing. the Peachy Grand mixed with rum, peach liquor and a variety of other flavours was a beautiful fruity blend perfect for people watching, relaxing, or simply daydreaming at the lake on the longest porch in the world.
The Grand Porch Ale, the hotel’s exclusive beer offering, was a refreshing and thirst-quenching drink that will satisfy any beer lover that comes for a holiday.
Shopping & Fudge
Mackinac Island is known for its fudge! The recipes used date back to the 19th century and continue pleasing fans to this day. Grab a sample, a taste, or even a few slabs and bring home some homemade confectionery that is sure to satisfy the sweet teeth of your family. You won’t have any trouble finding a shop. There are 16 to choose from on the island!
Getting to Mackinac Island
Travelling to the island is quite simple. The easiest way to get here if from Canada is to cross the border at the Sault Ste. Marie twin cities border and head to St. Ignace or Mackinaw City. From there you have two choices of ferry companies who both will take you on a half hour trip to the island. Departure times run all day and on Friday/Saturday evenings run until 10 pm. Just take my advice regarding the ferry and bring some seasick pills! I found it quite choppy on the lake.
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We were a guest of the Mackinac Island Carriage Tours while travelling to the island. All views expressed within this post are our own and were not influenced in any way.