The iconic Grand Hotel (286 Grand Ave., 800/334-7263), a gracious edifice built on a scale appropriate to its name, has become practically synonymous with Mackinac Island. It is one of the largest summer resorts in the world, operating from early April through late October. Its famous 660-foot-long covered front porch gets decked out each spring with 2,500 geraniums planted in seven tons of potting soil. Its 12 restaurants and bars serve as many as 4,000 meals a day. The resort’s impeccable grounds offer guests every amenity, from saddle horses to designer golf to boccie ball to swimming in the outdoor pool made famous by 1940s actress Esther Williams, who filmed This Time for Keeps here.
Unlike other resorts from the Gilded Age that burned to the ground or faded, the Grand Hotel has managed to maintain its grace and dignity.But opulence was the goal of the railroads and steamship companies when they formed a consortium and built the Grand Hotel in 1887, dragging construction materials across the frozen water by horse and mule. The wealthiest Mackinac Island visitors stayed here, on a hill with a commanding view of the Straits.
Yet unlike other resorts from the Gilded Age that burned to the ground or faded, the Grand Hotel has managed to maintain its grace and dignity. It still hosts all manner of celebrities and politicians—five U.S. presidents to date—and still offers a sip of a truly bygone era with high tea in the parlor each afternoon and demitasse served after dinner each evening. Room rates still include a five-course dinner in the soaring main dining room. For men, the evening (6pm) dress code calls for jackets and ties, and for women, skirts, dresses, or formal pantsuits.
The Grand Hotel’s time-capsule setting prompted director Jeannot Szwarc to choose it as the location for the 1980 film Somewhere in Time, starring Christopher Reeve, Jane Seymour, and Christopher Plummer. For whatever reason, the movie has developed a huge following; its fan club reunites at the hotel each year in late October.
While room rates can get outright absurd (from $475, with doubles from $275), they include breakfast, lunch, and dinner, and perhaps can be considered a worthwhile splurge if you’d like to experience a level of hospitality reminiscent of the Gilded Age. A more affordable option is to stay just one night for the experience and then book a room at a cheaper lodging on or off the island for the rest of your visit.
Enjoy this moment in time—take tea, loll in the beautifully landscaped pool, or dance to the swing orchestra in the Terrace Room. Nonguests can sneak a peek at the hotel’s public areas and grounds for a mildly unreasonable fee ($10 adults, $5 children, free under age 4). It’s used to thin the sightseers more than anything. Highly recommended are a stroll through the grounds, which are filled with Victorian gardens, with 25,000 tulips in spring; and a visit to the snazzy Cupola Bar, with views halfway to Wisconsin.
Each of the 385 rooms is decorated differently. Since 2007, and for the first time in its history, the entire hotel is air-conditioned.
Excerpted from the Third Edition of Moon Michigan’s Upper Peninsula.