A Michigan Treasure

The waterfront charms and celebrated chronicles of Mackinac Island invite visitors to enjoy the classics and check out what’s new
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An inviting look at Marquette Park and the island’s Haldimand Bay harbor at sunrise. // Photo Courtesy Of Mackinac Island Tourism

It’s simply one of America’s most charming lakeside destinations. That’s why a million visitors every season enjoy a Straits of Mackinac ferry ride as their gateway to the delights of historic Mackinac Island. Ask any Michigander and it’s a good bet they’ve included this idyllic getaway on their summer travel list — whether it’s a family tradition, a repeat guest looking forward to trying something new, or a first-timer planning their inaugural visit.

This Great Lakes masterpiece is a special destination that really markets itself, according to Tim Hygh, the CEO of Mackinac Island Tourism for the past 12 years.

During that tenure, he’s often said the tourist season on Mackinac Island seems like the movie “Groundhog Day.” Every day repeats the previous day — record business, mostly perfect weather, happy guests, lilacs blooming on time, horse-drawn service drays and carriage rides adding a nostalgic touch, the enchanting smell of fudge, hundreds of bikes crisscrossing the island, and a sense of community that prides itself on bettering the customer experience.

“Who can ask for more?” Hygh says. “People are captivated with this island.”

He encourages visitors to adventure beyond the island’s main street and explore something new on the less-than-4-square-mile island, which features more than 70 miles of trails.

The Grand Hotel and downtown are spectacular at night. // Photos Courtesy Of Mackinac Island Tourism

Here are a few updates for the summer 2022 season:

  • After two years of construction required to fix storm and water damage, M-185 is now open the entire 8.2-mile paved route around the island, along the shores of Lake Huron. The detour signs are gone, and all the rough patches have been repaired and reinforced.
  • The Chippewa Hotel replaced its 25-person hot tub, located next to the deck dining area facing the marina, with a modern version complete with the famous Pink Pony restaurant/bar logo on the bottom. The Lilac Tree Suites, meanwhile, remodeled its lobby (read more about these hotels on the following pages).
  • Grand Hotel, celebrating its 136th birthday this season, introduced its Woodlands Activity Center adjacent to the Esther Williams Swimming Pool, which underwent a $10-million renovation last year. The activity center includes a greenhouse, an 18-hole miniature golf course through the forest, pickleball courts, and more.
  • Grand Hotel also takes it up several notches this year with its Grand Discovery Package, in partnership with Pentastar Aviation. This package is ultimate luxury from start to finish, with private roundtrip jet service from Pentastar’s major hubs, four nights at the Masco Cottage (immediately next to the hotel) with accommodations for up to eight guests, $100 daily resort credit, one dinner prepared by an in-home private chef, a fully stocked refrigerator and bar customized to the guests’ requests,  and a private island carriage tour and taxi airport service.Starting price: $95,000 to/from Chicago.
  • Mission Point Resort, on the island’s sunrise side, continues to add to its inviting amenities with renovated hot tub suites and private patios. There are new hot tubs in each of the 14 suites and an updated look for the patios. Another welcoming plus: The hotel introduced full bar service in its main lobby, which is available from 3 to 10 p.m. daily.
  • Mission Point’s new executive chef, John Clements, and its director of food and beverage, Mike Wilson, have enhanced the resort’s farm-to-ferry culinary program and dining options. The Chianti restaurant reopened with a five-course prix fixe menu featuring paired wines, curated menu options, and a focus on fresh, local ingredients. The team also created seasonal menus for Round Island Kitchen, while a Mediterranean-inspired menu and craft cocktails are offered at Bistro on the Greens, next to the Greens of Mackinac Putting Course. All of the resort’s dining areas are open to the public.

So, what makes Mackinac Island so special? “It’s close enough to be accessible, but feels like a totally different world. I think people like the pace of Mackinac and feeling like they have nowhere else to be,”  says Steph Castelein, content manager for Mackinac Island Tourism.  “We get to be ambassadors of our beautiful destination. I think people visit Mackinac Island because they’ve heard of it from someone or discovered it online, and they’re intrigued. But they also keep coming back because it offers something special — something that’s hard to explain.

“My favorite part of Mackinac is (when we) get to slow down and enjoy it. After doing all the things there are to do, it’s nice to take a break once in a while. So, grab an ice cream or slice of fudge and sit by the water.”

With the summer season in full swing, the stories on the following pages may help you discover a few of those different ways to explore this wonderful island.

PLAN IT!

Mackinac Island
mackinacisland.org

This season, the tourism bureau is adding more blog posts, informational and live videos, and social media posts to its website. Sign up to receive its emails.


Re-enactors in outfits representing the period, daily cannon firing demonstrations, and a picturesque front promenade add to Fort Mackinac’s appeal. // Photo Courtesy Of Mackinac Island State Park

Historic Sites and More

From America’s best-preserved fort to engaging demonstrations and trails worth exploring, Mackinac Island State Park introduces new offerings this season

My favorite old-time memory from Fort Mackinac is my two young sons standing at attention while holding replica rifles with the 18th century soldier re-enactors, then racing off to the fort’s cannon-firing demonstration, which they just loved.

While that was many years ago, I still enjoy visiting the Mackinac Island State Park’s collection of attractions, of which the fort shines as its key focal point. I’m not alone; about 200,000 visitors enjoy the park and fort every season.

More than 240 years of history, archival photos, fun special events, engaging demonstrations, and more are all part of an entertaining experience at the state park, which most visitors don’t realize encompasses about 82 percent of Mackinac Island’s total footprint. Sections of the famous island and fort were established as a national park in 1875 and, 20 years later, it became Michigan’s first state park.

“Fort Mackinac is arguably America’s best-preserved fort. It really allows for a peek into 19th-century history and how people lived in such a remote outpost as this. U.S. history can really be told through the lens of Mackinac, and so much of the history is still preserved on the island,” explains Dominick Miller, chief of marketing for Mackinac State Historic Parks, which includes the island sites and also the fort, lighthouse park, and Discovery Park in Mackinaw City.

“Moving the fort from the mainland to the island caused the hub of the fur trade to move over here (around 1779), which set off the events to make Mackinac Island the tourist destination it is now,” he says. “We present the history of the area, from pre-European contact to today, provide demonstrations and tours, and even have an opportunity for guests to fire the opening cannon salute of the day.”

Miller says the park is always changing and adding new elements, so there’s something different to see and do on each visit. Recent improvements at Fort Mackinac include updates to the Guardhouse, Office, North Blockhouse, West Blockhouse, and Kids’ Quarters, along with the introduction of new tours and programs.

Park additions included Fort Holmes at the highest point on the island, the Peace Garden in Marquette Park, plus the Native American Cultural History and the Mackinac Island Botanical trails. The Biddle House, home to the Mackinac Island Native American Museum, opened fully in 2021. A new nature center at Arch Rock is currently in the design phase.

Miller says visitors can spend anywhere from an hour to all day exploring the park’s offerings. Here are a few other highlights on tap this season:

Medical Anniversary — Two hundred years ago, the fort’s surgeon, Dr. William Beaumont, performed his famous experiments on a gunshot victim’s stomach. That research helped unlock the secrets of human digestion. To mark those discoveries, the Dr. Beaumont Museum inside the American Fur Co. Store at the base of the fort has been remodeled to showcase a new exhibit detailing Beaumont’s work.

Reading is Fun — The fort’s schoolhouse was completely remodeled and reimagined into an immersive Reading Room, to reflect how it might have looked in the 1880s. Visitors can see books, newspapers, and periodicals that were popular during that time, to gain a better idea of what it was like to be a soldier back then. The exhibit was funded in part by a major grant from the National Endowment for the Humanities.

Glance into the Past — New daily programs and tours highlight the changing face of Fort Mackinac, the role women played at the fort, and Mackinac’s time as a national park, and take a look at the army’s composition during the 1880s. Back this season after a two-year Covid hiatus are the popular drill program, and rifle and cannon firing demonstrations throughout the day.

Mackinac Design — The McGulpin House, another island park site closed during the pandemic, is open this season through Aug. 21. It’s one of the island’s oldest residential structures and a rare example of early French Canadian domestic architecture.

Supporting the Arts — The Richard & Jane Manoogian Mackinac Art Museum in Marquette Park features a new juried art exhibition called “Mackinac Journeys.” It’s a collection of artists’ memorable experiences on the island and is open through Oct. 9. Exhibits in the second-floor gallery change every season. The museum also is hosting seven artists-in-residence, who will offer free workshops on the second Wednesday during their residencies. New artworks are added to the museum every year, so that’s another reason to drop in again.

Participation Points — Check out the Vintage Base Ball game in July, guided history bike rides, night sky events at Fort Holmes, guided birding hikes, special July 4 activities at the fort, historic walking tours, archaeology programs, and more. Updates are available on the park’s website.

“I’m a broken record, but the history of the park is my favorite part of it,”  Miller says. “So take in a cannon firing, visit Michigan’s oldest building, build a fort inside the Kids’ Quarters, learn about the Battle of Mackinac Island, see how Fort Mackinac was a Civil War prison, visit the original headquarters of Mackinac National Park, or take a tour to find out what happened with the fort after the army left.”

From the sheer volume of history, artifacts, and preserved sites to a diverse collection of activities and special events, visitors will discover something for the whole family this season at Mackinac Island State Park. They won’t be disappointed.

PLAN IT!

Mackinac Island State Park
mackinacparks.com


The Adirondack chairs on Mission Point’s Great Lawn provide a relaxing way to enjoy the Straits of Mackinac and view lake life. // Photo Courtesy Of Mission Point

A Few of My Favorite Things

There’s always something new to discover when an island overnight stay becomes part of a Mackinac adventure

Daytrippers and overnighters definitely enjoy a different type of experience on Mackinac Island before the first ferry arrives, during the day, and after the crowds depart. I always recommend spending a night or two on the island (arrive early and leave late), as it allows more time to explore.

As a veteran of dozens of amazing Mackinac Island trips over the years, I’m often asked about my favorites, but that list includes so much more than I can detail in this roster of suggestions.

STAY & PLAY
  • How do you pick the right spot? Yes, everyone should splurge at least once on a dream vacation at the Grand Hotel, where the new owners are adding more of their own touches to the property. Lately I’ve been enjoying the spread-out and laid-back lakefront appeal of Mission Point Resort. I enjoy the sense of solitude there, removed from the bustle of downtown (you can actually walk up to the big lake) amidst an ever-improving look and feel at this historic sunrise site, which is under the direction of an energized generation of new ownership. A plus: Its event venues and decks, with spectacular panoramic views of the lake, add an inviting ambience to weddings, reunions, parties, and meetings.
  • I’ve enjoyed many delightful stays at the “hot spot” hotels — such as the Chippewa (love the upgrades), Island House (great porch with rockers), Inn on Mackinac (gluten-free breakfast muffins!), Lake View (nice streetside screened porches on every floor), and Lilac Tree (suites with balconies and a spa) — and you’ll appreciate them, too. Always opt for a balcony or a larger room, especially if you’re booking one of the island’s smaller properties. While they’re fun events, I usually shy away from the two big sailboat race weekends and the Lilac Festival because those headliners attract lots of guests.
  • Change it up: In July, I’m checking out, for the first time, the English and French country-style rooms (my wife’s pick) at Metivier Inn (built in 1887) on Market Street. For some peace and quiet, reserve a bed-and-breakfast-style getaway at the Inn at Stonecliffe. It’s an old Tudor-style mansion on Mackinac’s west bluff with plenty of green space to relax, especially if you bring your own bikes. Without your own wheels, it’s a long trek or taxi ride to downtown and island landmarks. It’s currently closed for renovations and will reopen in 2023.

Fun Fact: There are around 30,000 round-trip ferry rides to the island every season.

Fort Holmes, the highest point on the island, offers panoramic vistas of Mackinac’s waterfront, as well as great star-watching opportunities. // Photo courtesy of Mackinac Island Tourism
FOOD & SPIRITS
  • Best bars? By far, the cozy Cupola Bar high on top of the Grand Hotel (Music with a  View begins at 8 p.m. nightly; the bar opens at noon) and Mission Point’s Round Island Kitchen bar overlooking the Straits of Mackinac/Lake Huron. The Island Kitchen  completely renovated its kitchen and features a seasonal farm-to-ferry menu with live music evenings in September and October. Another favorite: the high-tops in the resort’s main bar area along the tall windows, especially during non-peak times.
  • In town, overnighters eventually will discover (because of the noise, of course!) the hangouts I relish wandering into at various times after the day crowds ebb — Horn’s Gaslight Bar (for its music); the Mustang Lounge (for its burgers available year-round); the Pink Pony (for its reputation!); and Mary’s Bistro Draught House (50 on tap), where I just love sitting on the back deck sipping tall tonics and munching on their super house-made chips with bleu cheese dipping sauce while taking in the sights and sounds of the busy ferry docks.
  • My summer must-do: As a member of the famed Mug Club at the Jockey Club at the Grand Stand restaurant and bar, I’m honored every season to drink a rum and tonic from my personalize engraved mug while enjoying a lingering late lunch on the outdoor deck. It’s a fun spot to relax after the walk from downtown, and to watch the golfers (and the bikers and horse-drawn carriage traffic as they tackle the steep grade on Cadotte Avenue to the hotel).
  • At one time, the Ice House BBQ behind the Island House Hotel was a peaceful hidden gem and a favorite hangout. It’s now added an outdoor pizza oven and renovated its bar and outdoor seating areas to entice more visitors to enjoy its offerings. I’m revisiting it in July to see how the changes affect my little retreat.
The view from the Fort Mackinac Tea Room rates among the island’s best. // Photo courtesy of Mackinac Island State Park
  • Inventive breakfast or lunch fare: I discovered the charming Watercolor Cafe on the waterfront next to the Haldimand Bay harbor when it opened four years ago. Its signature wraps and sandwiches are healthy choices and delicious options to the standard island offerings. The lake laps right up to the sandwich shop’s window-framed indoor seating area. It’s a neat escape. A secret: One of this magazine’s team members, who’s also an artist, is teaching watercolor classes there in July. The eatery is also an art center.
  • Make it a night: Schedule time to be whisked away by carriage to the historic Woods Restaurant in Mackinac’s interior, near the Inn at Stonecliffe. This Grand Hotel restaurant, which is open for lunch and dinner (my preference), is a feasting treat complete with Bavarian charms and tastes. Inside, sip on a favorite drink from Bobby’s Bar while playing duckpin bowling on one of America’s last remaining alleys for this unusual sport.
  • Table with the best view? The Fort Mackinac Tea Room, high above downtown and overlooking the vast Straits of Mackinac, where lakes Huron and Michigan merge, with the Mackinac Bridge in the distance. The yellow umbrellas make it one of the most scenic photo opps on the island. To nab a seat, you need to purchase admission to the fort. It’s another restaurant operated by the Grand Hotel and, thankfully, beer and wine are available. In my opinion, it’s pretty spectacular.
  • Ready to relax? Back on the sunrise side, Mission Point’s Boxwood Coffeeshop & Café features an outdoor patio ideal for morning drinks or afternoon snacks, and it’s never been overcrowded when I visit. The resort’s cool Picnic Society spotlights chef-curated to-go picnic baskets (three different options and prices) to enjoy on an island adventure, whether you’re biking to a remote corner or eating outdoors on Mission Point’s Great Lawn. I’ve been known to purchase a bottle or two of house wine from the café and spend happy hours in the resort’s welcoming Adirondack chairs on that huge patch of green, watching the Great Lakes freighters pass in front of the hotel. At times, it seems that you can almost touch the 1,000-footers gliding by; the seaway’s fog bell, heard in the distance, adds a nifty nautical touch.

Fun Fact: The Grand Hotel celebrates its 136th season this summer and introduces Guernsey Farms Dairy as the new exclusive ice cream provider at its Sadie’s Ice Cream Parlor.

The entire 8.2-mile, paved M-185 route around the island has reopened after storm-damage repairs. It allows visitors a fun way to explore the island, on bike (rental facilities available along Main Street), horse, or foot. // Photo Courtesy of Mackinac Island Tourism
SPORTING LIFE

Many visitors are surprised about the golf offerings on Mackinac Island — or they don’t even think about it, because they’re sold on the many other things to do and see.

I’ve often suggested to friends a Mackinac golf weekend, where they can play three enjoyable courses totaling two 18s — at the Grand Hotel and the Wawashkamo Golf Club — and still have time to explore the island and enjoy its nightlife. A plus: Both courses rent clubs and are open to the public.

  • The Jewel, with the main clubhouse next to the Grand Hotel, features two different nine-hole tracks — the Grand Nine, located up front, and the Woods Nine, a carriage ride away into the island’s wooded interior. They’re two distinctive feels, are fun to play, and golfers can pick either nine or both.

A plus: The Grand, which earned Golf Digest’s Editor’s Choice as Best Grand & Boutique Golf Hotels, offers several stay-and-play packages. My favorite time to golf there is late in the season when the fall colors are changing, usually around the first week or two of October.

  • “There are very few golf experiences in the nation that have a history as long as Wawashkamo. Built in 1898, it incorporates a battlefield from the War of 1812. The links-style course has had no major renovations in its history, giving it an Old World feel. We’re proud that our guests tee off near a true-to-life cannon — those fired each day at the nearby fort,” says a welcoming Chuck Olson, the club’s PGA golf professional. “Natural. Nostalgic. A golf purist’s dream,”  he says.

The course is located in the middle of the island near the airport, which usually means a carriage ride for most players. The welcoming “Wawa,” as the locals call it, is the longest continuously open golf course in Michigan. It’s a nine-hole track that plays as a short 18-hole layout, with the second nine tees located in different positions. It’s a noteworthy experience, with trees on the outside borders and deep fescue rough (where I’ve been many times, and lost a ball or two). Nice touch: Olson is always ready to share stories about the course.

Downtown’s Main Street, as seen from the elevated area around Anne’s Tablet Trail, continues to add new stores and sightseeing options. // Photo Courtesy of Mackinac Island Tourism
  • Mackinac Island is 82 percent state park, and has more than 70 miles of hiking and biking trails. With hundreds of bikes on the streets every day, during the buy season, there’s a sea of people — meaning lots of potential for accidents. A visiting ER doctor at the island’s medical center once told me that I’d be surprised at all the injuries. So be careful, bring your own bike helmet, keep kids in tow, watch out for others, and mind your possessions. Enough of the safety stuff.
  • When I rent a bike or need service on mine, I head to Mackinac Wheels, east of downtown. I like the staff, the bike shop, and the rental options. Mission Point offers a custom fleet of Detroit Bikes, and the Island House usually has a good selection. Another reason I like these options is because they’re located away from the commotion and busy section of town.
  • Where do I ride? Into the interior of the island during the day, a few times around the 8-mile island loop in the morning and late afternoon, and off the pavement onto the trails as often as possible, especially the ones that follow the top of the bluffs along the east side. I avoid downtown traffic. Each ride provides interesting views of scenery and birds. Leisurely counter-clockwise sunset outings that include several stops to savor the surroundings are the best.

Fun Fact: The website mackinacisland.org contains a great printable color island map (in PDF format) detailed with street names, sites, and other listings that will help lead visitors off in new directions. Download it to your mobile device for on-island reference.

PEACEFUL FEELINGS
  • Pontiac’s Lookout and the little dirt Pontiac Trail off Grand Avenue along the west bluff, with flights of wooden stairs down to the water and Lake Shore Boulevard. It’s a comfortable walk back to town.
  • An Anne’s Tablet Trail loop of three sites east of the fort that includes the Somewhere in Time Gazebo, the Anne’s Tablet memorial, and a panoramic look at Mackinac’s best view from the east bluff’s tree line. I first photographed an island overview from this secluded spot decades ago and return often to just stare.
  • Sunsets at various points along the boardwalk west of Windermere Point, where the business district ends — and beyond the Mackinac school grounds. The vistas of brilliant oranges, pinks, and reds filtering through the trees, with the glistening lake and the Mighty Mac, are postcard-perfect.
  • Take a ground cover/blanket, snacks, a few pops from Doud’s Market (its amazing selections prove you don’t always need a restaurant to eat well on the island), and someone special to the west end of Lake Shore Boulevard to watch the sun set and listen to the waves pounding on the rocks. Perrot Point is about two miles from downtown. Find a spot beyond the M-185 roadway noise and guarded by some trees. It’s Pure Michigan!
A ferry zips through the Straits of Mackinac as it nears the wondrous Mackinac Bridge. // Photo courtesy of Mackinac Island Tourism
  • Reading time in an Adirondack chair on the peaceful back deck of the impressive Mackinac Island Public Library. Kites flying to the left, waves breaking in front, and a lake breeze luring you to stay longer.
  • My favorite? It’s hard to pick between the overlook off the Sunset Rock Trail Overlook (I shouldn’t mention this one, to avoid it becoming more popular) near the Inn at Stonecliffe on the west side, and the top of the Fort Holmes hill on the sunrise side. Sun up or sun down?
  • I also like to pack a picnic and lounge around the renovated Fort Holmes grounds, the highest point on the island, with 180-degree views of the Mackinac water wonderland. Biking there involves a climb up the paved incline. Walking there includes the option of hiking up the hill or taking the 170 or so wooden steps (near the cemetery) to the top. It’s an ideal place to watch the northern lights in the spring and fall, observe a billion stars at night over the great lakes, participate in a state park program, or just sit and unwind.

Fun Fact: Michigan author Kathy-jo Wargin, painter Gijsbert van Frankenhuyzen, and Sleeping Bear Press published a great children’s book called “The Legend of Mackinac Island.”  Its colorful pages detail the folklore of the gentle turtle Makinauk, who lent his back for the creation of Mackinac Island. It’s a special gift and a permanent part of my library that I like reading to Mackinac-bound kids of all ages.

Mission Point’s theater shows movies every Tuesday and Sunday during the summer season. // Photo courtesy of Mission Point Resort
SEE & DO
  • Need another read or  a shopping fix? It may be small and set back off Main Street, but The Island Bookstore offers full-service and online ordering, plus Mackinac regional finds and a variety of great titles, including “The Legend of Mackinac Island.” Next door, buy a kite at Great Turtle Toys to fly off Windermere (Biddle’s) Point. Or head to Little Luxuries, a top gift shop on the island with artist-made goods and more.
  • Showtime: See a movie in Mission Point’s huge theater that was built in the 1950s and is one of the property’s original structures. In partnership with the Mackinac Arts Council, movies are shown every Tuesday evening and Sunday afternoon. The island’s classic,  “Somewhere In Time,” is among the featured movies.
  • Plan a December visit to participate in the annual tree-lighting ceremony. Invite some friends, especially if there’s lots of snow. Or schedule a late-fall adventure when the island rounds up many of the horses and marches them down Main Street on their way to the ferry and their winter home in the Upper Peninsula and beyond.
  • Worth a look: The Surrey Hills Carriage Museum at Surrey Hill. I like to bike the back roads and stop there for a picnic. Or see the exhibits or take a class at The Richard & Jane Manoogian Mackinac Art Museum, Watercolor Cafe, Lilacs  and Lace gallery, and, new this season: Pointe of View Gallery on Astor Street.
  • My island farewell? It’s always a purchase of my fave slices — Chocolate Caramel Sea Salt, Chocolate Cherry or Double Chocolate Dark, if the cherries aren’t in season, and Salted Toasted Coconut Double Chocolate — from the island’s Original Murdick’s Fudge shops for the car ride home (if it makes it that far). And I pack a gift box of Chocolate Peanut Butter for my younger son. It’s another family tradition. A never-say-goodbye plus: The island’s best fudge online store is open year-round!

Fun Fact: Several webcams offer year-round views of Mackinac Island. The cameras on Horn’s Bar and the Chippewa Hotel show the action along Main Street. The one on Mission Point showcases its Great Lawn and the freighter channel between Mackinac and Round islands. Visit their websites for the views.

PLAN IT!

Mackinac Island Tourism
mackinacisland.org

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Passengers aboard one of several distinct themed cruises on the Isle Royale Queen III take in Round Island sights. // Photos by Jeff Garland

Queen of the Lakes

Eight themed cruises offer an entertaining way to relax and savor the Straits of Mackinac

By: Diana Stampfler // Photos by Jeff Garland

In 2021, nearly 4.4 million vehicles (and even more individual passengers) crossed the five-mile-long Mackinac Bridge, but only a select number of people had enjoyed the pleasure of motoring under this modern marvel during one of the popular Mackinac Island-based Sip n’ Sail Cruises.

Eight distinct 90- to 120-minute themed trips are being offered this season (through early October) aboard the 81-foot Isle Royale Queen III, owned by Veronica Dobrowolski, co-owner and CEO of Arnold Freight Co., and Andrew and Nicole Doud, owners of Doud’s Market, The Mackinac House, and the Little Luxuries retail shop.

Co-owners Andrew Doud and Veronica Dobrowolski flank Captain Preston Allers and prepare to greet mateys. // Photos by Jeff Garland

Running from morning through sunset, these excursions around the Straits of Mackinac, which depart from Mackinac Island, are ideal for small groups, couples, and families looking to get out on the water beyond just the quick round-trip ferry rides to and from the mainland.

Two of the most popular outings are the It’s 5 O’Clock Somewhere and the Sip n’  Sail Sunset cruises (the start time for the latter fluctuates, based on the actual time of the sunset).

These voyages also showcase the musical talents of several regional entertainers, who add to the festival environment of the trip. Among those returning this year are veteran singers/songwriters Michelle Chenard and Pete Kehoe, who co-founded the Mackinac Island Songwriters Workshop; Paul BeDourt; the Myk Rise Band; Chris Calleja; and Mike Ridley, among others.

The Isle Royale Queen III awaits its next cruise.

A History Cruise was added to the lineup last year, featuring local author and historian Phil Porter, retired director of the Mackinac Island State Parks. Passengers aboard these outings learn about the area’s rich history, from the early Native American settlements to military forts and previous foreign occupations, commercial fishing operations, and today’s thriving tourism industry. Only four of the History trips are scheduled this summer, with upcoming 4 p.m. departures on July 19, July 26, and Aug. 9.

The Easy Like Sunday Mornin’ cruise heads out most weeks, traveling past noted landmarks such as Arch Rock, the British Landing, and the West Bluff, where the Grand Hotel has stood proudly since 1887. Other cruises, including the Bloody Mary & Mimosa Bridge Tour, Bourbon Under the Bridge, the Michigan Craft Beer Cruise, and the Great Turtle Voyage run on select dates.

“We’ve enjoyed the Sip n’ Sail cruises occasionally since they started,” says Kem Green, of Des Moines, Iowa, who ventured out most recently in July 2021.  “We noticed an expanded beverage menu. We learned new details about the bridge and just generally had a great time. Veronica and her crew have made several upgrades from when this started, and we’d highly recommend this experience for anyone.”

The Porthole Bar graphic indicates what’s to come for cocktail-time cruisers.

Every cruise features a fully stocked cash bar, onboard restrooms, a state-of-the-art sound system, and plenty of opportunities for making memories and taking photographs. All excursions depart from the Arnold Freight/Coal Dock on Mackinac Island.

Passengers can settle in the heated indoor cabins or gather on one of the outdoor deck areas. Given that the temperature and wind can be significantly cooler on the water than on land, it’s recommended that guests bring along a light jacket, wrap, or lap blanket.

In addition to the themed cruises, the Isle Royale Queen III can be chartered for private events such as birthdays or anniversaries, wedding parties, retirement celebrations,  and company outings, including reception-style or sit-down catered events.

Prices for the public cruises start at $49 per person, plus tax (passengers under age 4 are free). Space is limited to about 70 guests per trip, to allow more room and comfort for all. Reservations are required; call 844-906-9006 or visit the website below.

PLAN IT!

Sip n’ Sail Cruises
sipnsailcruises.com


The iconic pink umbrellas offer shade for al fresco diners at the Pink Pony restaurant in The Chippewa Hotel. The “Pony” is a hot spot come spring, summer, and fall. // Photo by Sara Wright

Chip, Chip, Hooray!

As the Chippewa Hotel evolves, it remains one of the island’s most popular gathering spots

By Amy S. Eckert

“I’ll meet you at the Pony.”

It’s a ubiquitous greeting among frequent visitors to Mackinac Island, who love relaxing with a sandwich and a cold drink at a pink umbrella table on the deck of the Pink Pony restaurant.

There, on bright summer days, overlooking the Straits of Mackinac and the island’s harbor, watching the ferries slide into their docks and the sailboats bobbing in the nearby marina, all feels right with the world. On rainy days, surrounded by the vibrant pink-and-white décor and amused by a painting of four vaudevillesque pink pony entertainers inside the bar, everything still feels right with the world.

The vintage Chippewa Hotel gets spruced up regularly, preparing to greet its visitors season after season. A lovely lobby and bar update embraces a sailing motif. // Photo by Jeff Garland

Mackinac Island’s regulars have gathered at the Pink Pony since its opening in 1948. Located within the historic Chippewa Hotel Waterfront and adjacent to the Mackinac Island State Harbor’s 70 slips, the Pink Pony’s patio is a favorite among boat owners who moor there. The bar becomes doubly popular in July, with the running of the annual back-to-back Bayview Mackinac Boat Race (Port Huron to Mackinac) and the Chicago Yacht Club Race to Mackinac.

The Chippewa Hotel, built to accommodate an influx of island visitors, became a Mackinac Island waterfront landmark when it opened in 1902. It underwent extensive renovations and modernization in 1995, adding televisions and air conditioning, and converting its waterfront rooms into luxury suites. The hotel currently houses 31 guest rooms and 26 suites.

Whether they’re hotel guests, boaters, or visitors from elsewhere on Mackinac Island, patrons of the Pink Pony enjoy the Chippewa’s waterfront locale and dining on locally sourced whitefish dip, Michigan-grown green salads, and burgers. And while they sip the Pony’s signature cocktails — Lilac Lemonade, Mackinac Mules, and Pink Pony Punch — they soak up the water views.

Photo by Jeff Garland

“The Pink Pony denotes happiness and summertime, ” hotel co-owner Leslie Luciani says, “and people often want to take a piece of that experience home with them.”

Luciani, along with Cheryl Jacquis, are two of seven hotel co-owners in a two-family business partnership. The two women also manage and operate the hotel’s Pink Pony Boutique, a lobby shop that sells Pink Pony-themed apparel ranging from T-shirts to cashmere sweaters, as well as jewelry, Pink Pony barware, and handbags. The shop also sells Helly Hansen outdoor gear and Lilly Pulitzer resort wear.

This summer, the boutique is branching out, opening a Pink Pony Club shop in the courtyard of the Chippewa’s sister property, the Lilac Tree Suites just across Main Street. Whereas the Pink Pony Boutique features lots of bold pink tones, the new shop embraces a pastel color scheme and features an array of items that promote self-expression and self-empowerment, and can be easily customized to reflect a customer’s personality.

Photo by Jeff Garland

Guests at the Pink Pony Club can choose from a selection of 3-D chenille, fabric, and glitter patches — monograms, hearts, stars, local icons like the Mackinac Bridge, lighthouses, bicycles, and, of course, pink ponies — from a glass-topped design bar. The patches can then be used to customize the purses, totes, jackets, and notebooks sold within the store.

The addition of a new Pink Pony shop comes in the wake of another Chippewa Hotel development: The renovation, expansion, and redesign of the hotel’s lobby and lobby bar in 2020. Mary Dakin, IIDA, president of Dakin Design of Birmingham, Harbor Springs, and Naples, Fla., and herself a longtime Mackinac Island visitor, was brought on to the project to provide her design services.

“I love bringing the outdoors in,” Dakin says of the historic building. She removed an interior wall to expose floor-to-ceiling views of the straits, then recast the entire lobby space in nautical blue-and-white hues. Island-themed, locally made art further enhances the building’s sense of place. Dakin says she was careful to preserve elements such as lead glass and an eye-catching tin ceiling.

“The architecture and the water view are the stars of this building,” she says. “All that was left to me was to emphasize them.”

PLAN IT!

Chippewa Hotel & Pink Pony Restaurant
chippewahotel.com


“Four Seasons of Mackinac” is one of a series of books photographer Jennifer Wohletz, who’s lived part-time on the island for the past 16 years, has created. She and writer Glen Young adore the region’s many seasons. // Photography by Jennifer Wohletz

Year-Round Magic

New coffee table book pays tribute to the island’s perennial and timeless pleasures

By Khristi Zimmeth // Photography by Jennifer Wohletz

Choosing a favorite season on Mackinac Island can be difficult, say Jennifer Wohletz and Glen Young, the photographer and writer behind the just-released coffee table book  “Four Seasons of Mackinac.”

The book pays tribute to the year-round pleasures of the timeless northern Michigan destination.

“In spring, it’s the delicate yellow lady’s slippers and trillium that offer a sign of hope and renewal that we all desperately need in this crazy world,” Wohletz asserts. “In summer, it’s the rhythmic clip-clop of horses that puts a bounce in my step. In fall, and every season in between, I love to explore the woods and connect with nature — watching a barred owl swoop overhead, or seeing a red-breasted woodpecker chip away at a tree, searching for food.”

Whether you’re on the island in the spring, when tulips take your breath away; summer, when sailing is de rigueur; fall, when changing woodland colors enthrall; or winter, when ice sheets take on sculptural appeal, magical Mackinac is always a feast for the eyes.

Her favorite time of year, however, is winter,  “when a hush settles over the island and daily walks to the shoreline reveal ever-changing ice patterns that are fun to photograph.”

Young, who wrote the 184-page book’s text, says every season on the island has its advantages and challenges, but he’s partial to fall, when midweek days are quiet, the days are long, and the weather is still comfortable.

Both have personal ties to the island. Wohletz has a cottage in Sunset Forest that her family built in 2006;  Young calls Mackinac Island home for seven months of the year and lives in an 1880s house that’s been in his wife’s family for more than a century.

The book is part of a series the photographer has produced that focuses on the iconic island. “People worldwide share my love of Mackinac, but most don’t have an opportunity to visit in the off-season,” she explains of the reason behind the book.

“That’s when you get to truly know the place. ‘Four Seasons of Mackinac’ allows me to share the island’s magic with them — opening a door to the island year-round, to discover the beauty of the changing weather and learn how the different seasons bring both benefits and challenges to the people who live there.”

 

The book also will help support the community. For each copy sold, the Mackinac Memories Books publisher will donate to the Mackinac Island Community Foundation to help fund arts and environmental initiatives.

Perusing the pages will soon have you planning a trip north. “Photographs in the book will remind you, though, that there are still places that can take your breath away,” Young writes in the book’s introduction.

And on Michigan’s island that time forgot, that’s true whatever the season.

“Four Seasons of Mackinac” (sample pages from the book are shown here) is available at Main Street Art in Milford and on Mackinac Island at The Island Bookstore, and other island hotels and retailers. Order it online at mainstreetartmilford.com.

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