Friday, July 9, 2010

Grand Beginnings

Magnet # 288:  Sites of Mackinac Island

Material:  Metal, Paper, Mylar Shell

Purchased By:  The Kibby Family

The lovely Grand Hotel at Mackinac Island, Michigan celebrates its anniversary tomorrow. It was back on June 10 of 1887 that the establishment first opened its doors.  And in honor of their 123rd birthday, they're offering a special - spend two nights and get the third one free, or stay one and get the second half off.  Considering their rooms start at around $240 a night, that discount ought to come in handy.  And breakfast, lunch, and dinner are included in most stays.  Still, this is the kind of place most people stay at once, maybe twice, in a lifetime.

Back in the late 1800s, Mackinac Island was becoming a very popular summer destination in the Great Lakes area of the country.  The affluent and fashionable flocked to the area, but there weren't many hotels to accommodate them.  But they'd have an ideal spot to stay soon enough.  In less than four months, the Grand Hotel was built on a hill overlooking much of the island.  If you're not familiar with it, it's pictured on the upper right hand corner of this magnet.  It featured 385 guest rooms in all, each one featuring a different design scheme, but its most striking feature was its Grand Porch.  It's said to be the longest of any porch in the world and is 660 feet long.  Before the century was over, it had become the most popular gathering place on the island and a favorite place for couples.  Later, to preserve Mackinac Island's unique charm, the Grand Hotel helped to pass a island-wide ban on automobiles that has lasted to this day.  This helped to transform the island into a truly unique spot, with the Grand Hotel as its most impressive feature.  Notable visitors began to stay at the Grand Hotel, including Mark Twain, Harry Truman, John Kennedy, Gerald Ford, George H.W. Bush, and Bill Clinton.  In fact, six suites have now been named and decorated in honor of six former First Ladies, both ones who have stayed there and others who have not.  The 1980 film Somewhere in Time, featuring Christopher Reeve and Jane Seymour, was partially filmed at the Grand Hotel and it helped to make it more familiar to audiences around the world.  Overall, the Grand Hotel has become one of Michigan's most beloved tourist destinations and helped set Mackinac Island apart from the rest of the country.

I traveled to Mackinac Island with my family when I was growing up and had a wonderful time there. And, yes, we stopped by the Grand Hotel for Afternoon Tea.  As they charge visitors ten dollars just to set foot inside the hotel or on its historic porch, some opt to simply buy a meal such as the Grand Luncheon Buffet there - but it only counts toward adults' meals.  And it doesn't apply at all toward the Afternoon Tea.  This somewhat greedy policy has drawn a certain amount of criticism for the otherwise classy locale, but it seems that they will never stop demanding at least ten bucks of any person who enters their historic hotel.  For what it's worth, my parents remember being able to visit the porch without paying anything before I was ever born.  But the hotel, and its Front Porch, are beautiful and they offer a stunning view of the island.  If you're willing to shell out the bucks, you should enjoy yourself there, whether you have a meal or stay for the night.  I've always wanted to go back to Mackinac Island someday, given that I had such a great time there before, and I may even go back the the Grand Hotel if I feel up to paying for it.  But if you only go to this idyllic spot once, I'm not sure if any trip to Mackinac Island is truly complete without seeing the Grand Hotel for yourself.

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