Whether you’re preparing for your first stay at the Grand Hotel, or your 25th stay, below are a few things to keep in mind as you pack and prepare for your Mackinac Island adventure! Hopefully this guide will make planning your next visit that much easier. I’ll also be creating a sample packing list of things you may wish to bring along with you to ensure your stay is as carefree and enjoyable as possible!
1. No Tipping Inside the Grand Hotel:
In my opinion, this is one of the nicest things about the hotel. You don’t have to worry about whether you remembered to tip (or try to figure out how much your should tip) the bellhop, or the maids, or the waiters at meal times, nor do you have to tip the front desk clerks; tipping isn’t allowed at the Grand Hotel. This isn’t because they think their staff unworthy of tips, on the contrary, they pay the staff fair wages so that guests have one less thing to think about during their island retreat, which goes to show how much the hotel owners care for staff and guests alike!
2. Cars are Prohibited on the Island:
Part of the charm of the island is that motor vehicles are not allowed on Mackinac Island because they scare the horses and visitors, and they take away from the serenity of the island. This means that when you’re planning a trip to the Grand Hotel, you’ll need to consider how you want to get to the hotel, which is situated atop a hill roughly half a mile from the ferry docks. Your luggage will be brought up to your hotel room by hotel staff so you won’t have to worry about carrying it (again, you don’t have to tip them for this), but older guests, differently-abled guests, or those with young children, may wish to hire a taxi (a horse drawn carriage) to bring them up to the hotel for check in, instead of walking. Biking is also an option, however the hill is relatively steep and most people walk their bikes up the incline. The average person will have no trouble reaching the hotel on foot or by bike, but for those who fall into the above categories and their families, a bit of forethought may make the trip more comfortable. I prefer to ride my bike around the island or walk from shop to shop, although carriage tours are available if you’d like to learn more about the history of the island!
3. Where to Park Your Bike
Leaving bicycles in front of the Grand Hotel means they will be in the way of other guests and the carriages that bring luggage and guests to the hotel, so be sure to park your bike in the “parking area” off to the right of the road that leads up to the hotel. If you have trouble finding it, the hotel staff will be more than happy to direct you to it. Speaking of helpful staff, if your bicycle tires are low, simply ask the front desk and they will have someone fill them for you. They’re seriously a lifesaver if you’ve forgotten your tire pump!
4. Each of the 390 Guest Rooms are Uniquely Decorated and No Two Are Identical
The one and only Carleton Varney of the Dorothy Draper Co. outfitted each of the 390 guests rooms in bright prints and beautiful textures to create combinations the likes of which have never been seen before. A guest could visit the Grand Hotel 3 times a season for 100 years and still not see all of the beautiful, unique rooms. Every few years, rooms are updated or changed, such as the East End Cupola Suites that were redone for the Hotel’s 130th season this year, which means that even if you stay in the same room more than once, it may not be exactly the same. There’s nothing quite like walking up to the door of a room at the Grand and feeling the anticipation and excitement about what’s behind the door building as you turn the key and open the door. Simply exploring the room is a treasure to be enjoyed in and of itself! To see a few of the named suites I’ve had the pleasure of staying in in the past, check out this blog post.
5. Make Your Stay Extra Special or Surprise a Loved One With an In-Room Gift
The first time my husband and I stayed at the Grand Hotel together, after we had just gotten married, he had arranged to have a bottle of champagne, chocolate, and flowers waiting for us when we arrived. The hotel has lots of options for gifts that can be delivered ahead of your arrival or during your stay as a surprise for a loved one or just an extra way to celebrate from flowers, fudge, and chocolates to champagne, fruits, cheeses, cakes and just about anything you can dream of. I was so surprised and overjoyed at such a sweet gesture that I would absolutely recommend this extra little touch to anyone looking to be romantic, spontaneous, or just wanting to show someone how much they care.
6. Dress Code
The Grand Hotel is one of the most special places in the world, and that extends to the dress code set for guests. Keep in mind while packing that the dress code for ladies and gentlemen fits the relaxed yet elegant atmosphere of the Grand Hotel. The dress code prohibits crop tops, sweatpants or cut-off shorts before 6:30pm. After 6:30pm, ladies should wear dresses, skirts, blouses or oxford tops, pantsuits or slacks. Traditional resort attire such as dresses or blouses and skirts for ladies and girls, as well as chinos, and polos are appropriate for daytime activities as well. Gentlemen are required to outfit themselves in a suit coat, necktie, dress shirt and slacks for dinner, and are not allowed to wear denim or shorts to dinner. This dress code applies to all areas within the Grand Hotel. My husband and I enjoy the dress code and we enjoy the opportunity to celebrate our visit to the Grand Hotel by dressing up and mixing prints (my husband’s go to combination for bowtie/tie and kerchief combinations is gingham and stripes!) For a quick guide and 50 examples of how to mix prints, please check out this blog post! The Grand Hotel is one of the last remaining vestiges of a time where respect and excitement were expressed through fine dressing, and it’s a wonderful way to celebrate a tradition that’s over a century old!
7. Dining at the Hotel or Any of the 10 Restaurants Owned by the Grand Hotel
Breakfast and a luxurious 5-course dinner for each guest is included with nearly all guest packages. As vegetarians (we do occasionally eat locally caught fish), my husband and I always worry about being able to find something that suites our dietary needs, but at the Grand Hotel, this is no concern at all!. The staff are willing to help those who have special dietary needs, allergies, or those who require gluten free meals. We make a note on our reservations of our diets, and confirm it upon check in and we have never had anything less than an incredible dining experience! The staff truly goes above and beyond to accommodate guests, and it doesn’t go unnoticed. Food is brought up fresh every single day from markets in Detroit, and fish is brought in from local family owned fisheries. The Grand Hotel also owns 9 other restaurants around the island, which are perfect for lunch. My personal favorite is the Gate House just down the hill from the hotel, where I love the grilled whitefish sandwich on ciabatta bread with Havarti dill cheese and a side salad! It’s the perfect fuel for a bike ride around the island and a spot of golf at the Jewel! I’m very excited to try the new sushi place, Sushi Grand which is located right next to the Gate House. The other 7 restaurants owned by the hotel include the Jockey Club, Village Inn, Woods, Carleton’s Tea Store (inside the Grand Hotel), Fort Mackinac Tea Room, the Pool Grill (by the hotel’s pool), and the newest addition to the Grand Hotel family, Sadie’s Ice Cream Parlor also located inside the hotel. By the end of the summer I plan to try all of these places, and I’ll be sure to report back on which dishes from which eatery were our favorites!
8. Afternoon Tea
Another grand tradition is afternoon tea, which is served each afternoon in the hotel’s parlor from 3:30-5:30. For $40 per person, guests may help themselves to drinks such as tea, champagne, mimosas, and sherry, light snacks such as finger sandwiches, pastries, scones and fruit, all while listening to live music! It’s the perfect way to take a break from the summer heat, or relax after a day of biking, swimming and tennis. Afternoon Tea is also a fun place to meet other guests and make new acquaintances. It’s certainly something everyone should try at least once! While studying at the University of Michigan, I lived in the all girls dormitory called Martha Cook next to the Law Quad, and we had afternoon tea each Friday afternoon, so this Grand Hotel tradition holds a special place in my heart as it reminds me of my college days!
9. Live Music
As mentioned above, the Grand Hotel offers live music performances throughout the hotel and its restaurants daily from noon to nearly midnight. Bands regularly play at the Gate House and the other eateries owned by the Grand, during afternoon tea, and music is played throughout dinner and demitasse (after meal coffee). After dinner, dancing in the Terrace Room ballroom is accompanied by the hotel’s very own orchestra, which is an experience unlike any other! Be sure to bring your dancing shoes! After dancing, my husband and I enjoy heading outside to gaze up at the stars, or down to the water to listen to the waves wash against the shore before turning in for the night.
10. Golf Course, Tennis Courts, Pool, Spa, and Much More
I’m convinced that a person could spend an entire summer on Mackinac Island and never run out of things to do. Grand Hotel guests have access to the entirety of the island’s activities as well as the island’s only golf course the Jewel, the Grand Hotel’s tennis courts, the massive Esther Williams swimming pool (kids can get free snow cones from the Pool Grill!), sauna, two large hot tubs, and the Astor’s Salon and Spa. The Grand Hotel has lots of ways for guests to stay healthy during their stay, including a fitness center, healthy food options (just ask!), and the meals and dancing listed above! There’s so much for people of all ages to do here! I’ve visited the hotel at least once a summer every year of my life, and no matter how old I was, there has always been plenty to keep me busy and having fun!
Hotel guests can receive discounted ferry tickets (just show proof of your Grand Hotel reservation when purchasing tickets), as well as discounted admission to many attractions around the island including Fort Mackinac Admission and the hotel also offers lots of vacation packages depending upon the time of year (see them listed here) to make your stay positively splendid! There are so many benefits to staying at this incredible hotel, some tangible, many intangible, which is why my family and I return year after year!
I’ve lived in Michigan my entire life, both up north in Bay Harbor, and down state in Ann Arbor and Troy, and I can tell you from experience than Michigan weather can be unpredictable. I believe this unpredictability is part of the excitement and charm of my state, but for those unaccustomed to its sudden shifts in weather or temperature, it can feel daunting to prepare for the unexpected. Be sure to check the average temperatures for the time of year you are visiting, and check the weather updates often. Between May and June, I recommend bringing a light jacket, a fleece jacket, a knit hat, and a pair of gloves just in case things get chilly. By late June and into July, temperatures typically even out and remain a beautiful and refreshing 70-80 degrees, with a lovely breeze from the lake. It can get cooler in the evening even in the middle of the summer, so those who are not used to cooler temperatures may wish to bring a light jacket with them.
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Thank you so much for reading! Please let me know if you’ve ever stayed at the Grand Hotel, and which of these tips was most helpful in the comments below.