by Dave Weiman
Midwest Flyer Magazine – Aug/Sept 2016
The next time you want to do something special for a friend or your significant other, jump in your plane, fly to Mackinac Island, Michigan, and stay at the glorious “Grand Hotel.” The Grand Hotel is by far the most lavish hotel on the island, and priced accordingly.
Once only accessible by ferry, visitors today have the option of flying to the island and landing at a top-notch, state-owned airport – Mackinac Island Airport (KMCD). A spacious ramp awaits you, but there are no services, other than a state park ranger who will call for a horse-drawn taxi and collect a $15.00 per night tie-down fee. Bring your own tie-down ropes, and stakes if the ramp is full and you have to park on the grass, which is seldom.
Refreshing is the fact that there are no automobiles on the island. Transportation is by horse-drawn carriage, horseback, bicycle or you walk. During the summer, there are 500 horses on the island. Year-round, there are only 600 residents.
If you need fuel, the closest airport with 100LL and Jet A is 5 nm across the bay at Mackinac County Airport (83D) in St. Ignace, Michigan. Nice, friendly people, and it is self-service. The common traffic advisory frequency for both Mackinac County Airport and Mackinac Island Airport is 122.7, and Mackinac Island Airport has AWOS, as do a few other airports in the area.
Mackinac (MACK-in-awe) became one of our nation’s favored summer resort destinations during the Victorian era. Vacationers arrived in large lake excursion boats from Buffalo, Cleveland, Chicago and Detroit seeking the cooler weather on the island. They danced to Strauss’ waltzes, listened to Sousa’s stirring marches, dined on whitefish and strolled along the broad decks.
Mackinac Island became a summer getaway beginning in 1886, but accommodations were limited. To accommodate overnight guests, boat and railroad companies financed the construction of the Grand Hotel, which opened in 1887. Room rates then were $3 to $5 a night.
In the 1890s, the front porch of the Grand Hotel, said to be the longest in the world, became the principal meeting place for all of Mackinac Island, as well as a promenade for the elderly and a “flirtation walk” for island romantics.
In 1895, Mark Twain gave a lecture in the Grand Hotel Casino. Admission: $1.
In 1897, the West Wing was added to the hotel, and by the turn of the century, the automobile found its way onto the island until the 1930s when an island-wide ban on any motorized vehicle was put into place.
In 1919, W. Stewart Woodfill was hired as a desk clerk, and later purchased and became the sole owner of the hotel.
In 1947, Mackinac Island and the Grand Hotel was the site of the film “This Time For Keeps,” starring Jimmy Durante and Esther Williams. The outdoor pool was built especially for Ms. Williams, and the room she stayed in is named in her honor.
The Grand Hotel was also featured in the motion picture “Somewhere In Time” in 1980, starring Christopher Reeve, Jane Seymour, and Christopher Plummer. A hat worn by Reeve in the movie is on display off from the main lobby.
In 1951, R.D. (Dan) Musser joined the hotel staff and in 1960, W. Stewart Woodfill appointed him president. The Mussers purchased the Grand Hotel in 1979.
R.D. (Dan) Musser III was named president of the Grand Hotel in 1989, the East Wing was added, and the U.S. Department of Interior designated the hotel a national historic landmark.
In 1998, five new rooms were named in honor of former First Ladies Lady Bird Johnson, Betty Ford, Rosalynn Carter, Nancy Reagan, and Barbara Bush. In 2002, the Jacqueline Kennedy Suite was added.
Construction began on the Millennium Wing in 2000 – a 200-seat addition to the main dining room and 42 new guest rooms.
While many of the original timbers used to build the foundation of the hotel are still in use, the Grand Hotel has made numerous improvements since then and was certified as a Green Lodging Michigan Leader by the Michigan Department of Energy, Labor & Economic Growth in 2009.
In addition to the excellent biking, hiking and running trails; horseback riding; island carriage tours; garden tours; tours of Fort Mackinac and the Govenor’s Mansion (Wednesdays, 9:30 to 11:30 a.m.) on Mackinac Island, the Grand Hotel offers additional activities.
The hotel features an 18-hole golf course called “The Jewel,” with unparalleled scenic beauty, lush landscaping and meticulously manicured tees, fairways and greens. The “Grand Nine” is located across the street from the hotel, with views of Lake Huron and Round Island. The “Woods Nine” is set in the interior of Mackinac Island, with views of the Mackinac Bridge and the Upper Peninsula.
The hotel has a clay-based tennis court called the “Four Har Tru” that overlooks the Straits of Mackinac. If you could use some pointers, there are clinics and programs based on your skill level, equipment to rent, and a pro shop.
The Esther Williams Swimming Pool, named after the actress and competitive swimmer, is 220 feet long, heated and serpentine in design. There’s also a sauna and two whirlpools on the pool deck.
Poolside food and beverage service is available at the Pool Grill (seasonal), and complimentary snow cones are served daily (while supplies last).
Pickleball is one of the newest additions to the Grand Hotel with the only clay pickle ball court in Michigan. Don’t worry if you have never played the sport… instruction is available.
The Vita Course is a half-mile outdoor exercise course on the hotel grounds. Along the jogging trail, exercise stations are designed to challenge and motivate.
Make your stay at the Grand Hotel even more relaxing with a visit to Astor’s Salon and Spa – a full-service Aveda Salon where you can get facials, massages, manicures, pedicures and many other rejuvenating, nurturing and relaxing services. Hair styling and other services are also available.
At the Grand Hotel, live music is provided for your listening and dancing pleasure. The full-time staff of musicians includes skilled veterans from New York City, and some of the finest vocalists and harpists in the country.
An evening at the Grand Hotel can begin with the sounds of a jazz quartet while you enjoy dinner in the hotel’s main dining room. After dinner, a harpist will perform classical standards and popular songs in the parlor. And for a nightcap, move to the Terrace Room for a dance or two as the Grand Hotel Orchestra plays your favorite requests.
If you desire more rest, sit on the front porch, overlooking the Mackinac Bridge and the Straits of Mackinac.
Like most vacation destinations, the Grand Hotel offers special packages, and depending on the time of the year you visit, there are deals to be had for couples and families.
Rates begin at $129.00 per night per person, including accommodations, full breakfast, five-course dinner and free admission to the Richard and Jane Manoogian Art Museum, and there is absolutely no tipping allowed! A dress code applies in the lounge and dining room after 6:30 pm: a suit and tie for the men, and dresses or pantsuits for the ladies.