Monday, May 20, 2013

Mackinac Island: Michigan's Paradise


Michael had been longing to explore Mackinac Island together from the moment we returned from our honeymoon and I moved to Michigan. Unfortunately we were so busy moving into our first apartment together and getting our lives sorted out (you know - all those newlywed things like writing Thank Yous, changing my name, getting added to his health and car insurance, combining our bank accounts, acquiring furniture, etc.) to make it there in the autumn. He jokingly likes to blame it on me, claiming I am the one who held us back and said we were "too busy" and that he would have gladly gone in October...but God's timing is perfect and this past weekend was undoubtedly the time we were meant to experience this Michigan beauty together.

Saturday afternoon we packed our overnight bag, some water and snacks, and began the drive upstate to Mackinaw City where we would catch our ferry to the island. Michael did all of the driving that day which is a testament to how good of a husband he is/how supportive he has been about the pregnancy - because he strongly dislikes driving for more than a couple hours but knew all the back pain I've been experiencing lately on long car rides would prevent me from comfortably taking the wheel.

As we headed north we enjoyed watching the scenery change and gawked at the thermostat while we lost more than 20 degrees of warmth in a matter of only a few hours. After arriving in Mackinaw City, buying our ferry tickets, and eating a quick dinner we hopped on the last ferry of the day and enjoyed this view of the Mackinac Bridge:

The 5 mile-long "Mighty Mac" - connecting the lower and upper peninsulas of Michigan

As we rode the jet-ferry boat and took in the views I was overcome with absolute giddiness. I could do nothing but hold my husband's hand and continuously turn and grin at him as if we were about to experience a wonderful treasure together (which we were!).

For those of you unfamiliar with Mackinac Island (I was until I finally did some research last week), it's a small Michigan island in Lake Huron that has an approximately 8-mile long coastline. About 80% of the island is the Mackinac Island State Park and only about 500 people live there year-round...and it absolutely provides a "different" way of life. There are no cars/motor vehicles allowed in order to preserve the park and nature of the island (just bicycles and horse-drawn carriages!) and everything about it is reminiscent of "simpler" times. Nearly all the buildings functioning as hotels or shops in the quaint and bustling (with tourists) downtown area were built in the 1800s or early 1900s. The island has quite a rich history ranging from Catholic Jesuit (and later) Presbyterian missionaries, the lucrative fur-trading industry, Fort Mackinac, the filming of a couple famous movies, and more. The island is also now well-known for their fudge and you can't walk even 100 feet (my not-very-exaggerated estimate) without passing one of their many fudge shops.

Stepping on the island certainly felt like stepping into a different time period and Michael and I were immediately blown away by the amazing location of our hotel. We knew the entire downtown is only about a mile long, but arriving in person and seeing everything for the first time was another story. After checking in we immediately headed down the strip to begin exploring the fudge and souvenir shops. :)

Our hotel, Michael's brand new glasses (love!), Mackinac Island Fudge ice cream, and an adorable pillow we admired in one of the shops

Pretty soon the wind picked up and the temperature dropped more, so after we spent a couple hours peeking in almost every shop we retreated to our hotel for the evening. We then planned out our schedule for the next day - the day our "real" excursions would begin!

Sunday we were up bright and early to do some exploring before 10:30 Mass at historic St. Anne's (the only Catholic Church on the island). We walked from our hotel to the opposite end of downtown in order to check out Mission Point Resort. The resort is one of two hotels used in the making of the classic Jane Seymour and Christopher Reeves movie "Somewhere in Time." We saw the theater used in the movie then headed to the observation tower to soak in the view. Their observation tower functions as a museum (including info on the making of Somewhere in Time) and the highest look-out point of any of the island's buildings. We looked out upon the entire downtown as well as the lake before heading back down the street for church.

Photos from St. Anne's and Mission Point Resort

After celebrating Pentecost with about 120 other Catholics (the vast majority of whom I would guess were also tourists) we strolled down the street to get lunch at a waterfront restaurant. The fresh, grilled food was delicious and the view was so tranquil - except perhaps when we witnessed two horses hitched to a carriage relieve themselves in the middle of a boardwalk (but that gave us a good laugh).

Next we got some hot chocolate and bought our tickets for our group carriage tour of the island (definitely the way to go!). The carriage ride meant we would get a tour of nearly all tourist attractions downtown and in the state park without having to hike or bike (something I definitely could not have done/would not have been allowed to do at this point in the pregnancy). On the tour we learned a lot of island facts and history, explored the butterfly conservatory, saw notable locations in the park, and went past Fort Mackinac. At all of the notable locations we were able to get off the carriage and explore for a bit before moving on.

Our view at lunch (upper right) and images from our horse-drawn carriage tour

We were then able to end our ride at the Grand Hotel (yes the Grand Hotel used in Somewhere in Time [I can hear my mom swooning]), which is what Michael and I opted to do. Even though the hotel charges a fee of $10 per adult to enter and tour the hotel (a complete rip-off they know they can get away with) we knew we had to see this historic place. If nothing else, we needed to get some photographs for my mom because she is a huge Somewhere in Time fan. Fortunately for us, though, a generous couple sitting behind us on the carriage handed us their already-purchased day passes for the hotel! This meant we could get in and walk about freely without spending an extra $20 - which was a happy incidence that made me feel like God was watching over us and blessing us in yet another small way on our trip!

We had fun admiring the elegant decor of the hotel, the classy servers that waited on guests' every need, and made sure to sit on the famous front porch for a few minutes and soak in the gorgeous view. We also headed up to the Cupola Bar, which we had learned from the couple who gave us the tickets was the highest point in the hotel and had the best view of the Straits of Mackinac. The views were so breathtaking and peaceful....

Images from the Grand Hotel (we sat on the porch in those chairs!)

We ended our visit at the Grand Hotel by checking out the ice cream parlor and purchased a praline pecan cone to accompany us on our ten-minute walk back to the downtown area. We then made our final purchase before leaving the island - fudge, of course - and caught the 5pm ferry back to the lower peninsula.

Even though we were on the island for a little under 24 hours Michael and I agreed that we felt as if we experienced a much longer vacation. Enjoying just one day on an island with no cars, no distractions, and nothing but beauty, history, and all things charming (horses, carriage rides, fresh fudge, historic architecture, wilderness, the friendliness of a very small town, etc.) made for a rejuvenating, romantic, fun-filled trip! I can absolutely understand why the people of Michigan rave about this place...and why they love to return to this place with their families year after year if possible.

Our last trek down Main Street before leaving Mackinac Island

I truly thank God that we made this trip a priority site to visit before the baby is born and am so happy we crossed another item off our "Michigan to-do list!" Even though this place is within our own state it was every bit as exciting as all of the other weekend trips we've taken in recent months. I think becoming pregnant and realizing we wouldn't be headed to Europe this year as originally planned has been such a wonderful blessing - because the weekend trips we've taken instead to D.C., Chicago, Canada, Boston, and now Mackinac Island have given us memories I wouldn't trade for the world. God is so very good!

"The whole object of travel is not to set foot on foreign land; it is at last to set foot on one’s own country as a foreign land." 
-G.K. Chesterton


  1. Replies
    1. I knew you'd love this! haha. I have more photos I can show you, too.

  2. It sounds magical!! My sister used to live in Michigan, and this was definitely one of her favorite places! I'm so happy you guys were able to experience it!

    1. It was wonderful! I'd certainly recommend it as a quaint vacation spot to others! :)