Monday, June 13, 2011

Mackinaw City: What To Do, PT 3 - Mackinac Island

This post is a tad on the late side- I had the other two done and posted last month, but had not yet written this one. The trip is imminent! We leave this week, and I'm excited, and on packing over-load! The car is half way packed. Still have to install the roof rack and the car top carrier, though.

If you've never been to the Mackinaw area, you are certainly missing out- it's gorgeous! Mackinaw City is the very tip of the lower peninsula of Michigan, and is connected to St. Ignace in the upper peninsula of Michigan by the Mackinac Bridge- just a 5 mile drive across the gorgeous Straights of Mackinac, which connect Lake Michigan and Lake Huron together. As you cross the bridge, you'll pass the beautiful Mackinac Island. 

I'll repeat this one little blurb, because it's something a LOT of people get wrong- even those silly Michiganders (both trolls and youpers!).

For those who have ever wondered, there are 2 spellings of the word Mackinac.  The city is spelled Mackinaw City- spelled phonetically. The city was spelled this way due to the British occupation of the city. The rest of the biggies are spelled with an -AC at the end: Mackinac Bridge, Mackinac Island, Straights of Mackinac. The AC is still pronounced -AW. It's spelled -AC due to the French period of occupation. Regardless of spelling, pronounce it Mackinaw.

Today's post is going to focus on Mackinac Island.

Mackinac Island: What to Do

First off, it will cost you money to even get ON the island. You'll be taking a ferry, but leave the car behind! This island is unique in 1 feature. There are NO motorized vehicles allowed on the island (with a couple of notable exceptions- there IS an ambulance, and there are 2 fire trucks, even the police use horses and carriages!). To get to the island, you have a few choices- Sheplers, Starline, and Arnold ferries. 

Personally, I've only ever used Sheplers- they're the best! (In my totally biased opinion). There are few discounts to be found, but there are some. First off, buy your tickets online, as they are discounted a couple bucks each. You can print them off right at home, and hand the tickets over when you arrive. No need to schedule a time- they have boats leaving from 7:30am in Mackinaw City, and from St. Ignace. The last boat leaves for the island anywhere from 8:30pm to 10:30pm, depending on the day of the week, and the time of the season. For the most part, through the bulk of the day, boats leave every 30 minutes.

The boat ride is cold- if you ride, plan to either sit in the enclosed space down below, or wear a sweat shirt if you are up top. I recommend the up-top part ONLY if the departure is a "Mighty Mac" departure which goes under the Mackinaw Bridge. Or, if it's REALLY hot- then it would probably feel pretty good. 

  • Cost (Online prices): Adult tickets are $19.00 each. Children 5-12 are $10.00 each. Bike's & Bike Trailers are $8.00 each. Adult 3 Packs are $55.00 each ($18.33/ticket). 2 Adults and 1 Child tickets are $44.00. 

If you plan to take a carriage tour (described below), you can combine your tickets. 
  • Cost (Online prices): Adult Carriage & Ferry: $41.00, Child 5-12 Carriage & Ferry: $18.75
  • Time: The ferry takes just under 30 minutes to reach the island. After boarding, boating, docking, and unloading, figure on taking around 45 minutes. Some departure times are busier than others- the Mighty Mac ones can be busy. Check the website for all the times before heading out, so you know how long you will wait if you can't get on the boat you want to be on!

As I said earlier, there are no motorized cars on the island. The way you get around is via horse, carriage pulled by horses, bikes, or good old fashioned walking. One very popular way to tour the island, and get a little bit of history for the place, is to do a Carriage Tour. The carriage tours are very popular, and take some of the walking out of the day. The carriages are large, and drawn by 2-horse and 3-horse teams, depending on where you are in the tour.

These are fun tours, lead by the tour leader driving your carriage. The guides are funny, though they are reading from a script- if you've been on the tour before, the script does not change. It is funny, though, when you get a new person, because they don't have the timing down yet, and have to stop a lot more often to explain things.

I do recommend it for anyone who has never been to the island, or if you just enjoy getting further back onto the island than people tend to go otherwise. It brings you past a lot of historical sites you may not otherwise see, or know about.

Cost: Adult tickets are $23.50, Children 5-12 are $9.00
Cost when purchasing a Combo Ferry/Tour ticket: Adult Carriage & Ferry: $41.00, Child 5-12 Carriage & Ferry: $18.75
Time: The tour lasts roughly 1 hour and 45 minutes. There is a stopping point where you unload, and wait for a different carriage. This can add to the over all time frame.

I have never done the butterfly house. It is located on Surrey Hill, which is where the stop off on the carriage tour is. The butterfly house is pretty popular, and as you have unlimited time between carriage stops, you are free to peruse the house at your own leisure. 

  • Cost: $6.00 for adults, $3.00 for children 5-12
  • Time: Unknown

This is a Mackinac State Historical Park. This fort is the original fort, still standing from when it was built in the 1880's. This fort is similar to Colonial Fort Michilimackinac in Mackinaw City, but if you love history, it's a great stop. This fort offers re-enactments, hourly canon firings, and a fantastic view of the village, and Lake Huron. 

  • COST: Adults are $10.50, children 5-17 are $6.50. Children 0-4 are free. You can also buy a family pass, which will get you into all of the historical parks for just $65 per family. The pass is good for the entire summer.
  • Time: If you are a history buff at all, or like old fashioned parks like this, you could easily stay for several hours exploring the buildings, listening to the presentations, and such. But, you could also get through the entire park in about an hour.

Historic Downtown comprises of 5 historic buildings in downtown Mackinac Island. 
  • Biddle House - 10a - 6p
  • Benjamin Blacksmith Shop - 10a - 6p
  • American Fur Company Store & Dr. Beaumont Museum - 10a - 6p
  • McGulpin House - 10a - 6p
  • Mission Church - 12p - 4p
These buildings are set up as a recreation of what they looked like in the 1800's. I have not yet had a chance to explore these, though I do hope to this time around.

Cost: Admission is included with your Fort Mackinac ticket.
Time: Unknown

Bike Rentals

There are several shops that offer various bikes for rent, including tandem bikes, bike carts, tag alongs, child carriers, and more. You can also rent strollers and double strollers at the bike rental shops for use through out the day. 

I have not used one of these services, but there are 3 shops that offer this. Below are the links to their websites. The pages show the same price at each shop, so it's simply a matter of finding the one you want!
Costs: Bike rentals start at $5.00 for a 1 hour rental, and start at $30.00 for an all day rental. Priced depend on bike style. Strollers are $3-$5 for an hour, and $20-$30 for all day use. 

The Haunted Theater is located right on the main 'drag' of downtown, and is fun even just to look at. We have not yet gone, but plan to go this year for the first time. This theater brings to life the "monsters" of Michigan's history. The building was originally built in 1885, and used as a Roller Rink, followed by a dance hall a decade later. In the early 1900's, it was turned into a theater showing "moving pictures". The theater was turned into the Haunted Theater in the 1970's. 

  • Cost: $7.00 per person- Active military are FREE, and senior citizens are half price. They discourage children 6 and under.
  • Hours: 11am to 6pm
  • Time: Unknown- hour or under estimated.

Looking to do some horseback riding? Try Cindy's, which allows you to take a tour of the island without exerting yourself on a bike.

Cost: $40/hour per horse
Time: You can rent by the hour

You can visit the world famous Grand Hotel. The hotel boasts the worlds largest covered porch, and can be seen from great distances, due to it's high stance on the island, and it's long, white body. Built in the 1880's, this hotel has long been a hotel that prided itself on excellence. The movie Somewhere in Time was filmed on the island, and largely, in the hotel.

You can not, unfortunately, just wander the hotel. You can, however, pay a small admission to enter the hotel at certain times without staying there. I can not, unfortunately, seem to find that info on the website. You may wish to call and inquire about this before going! Should you wish to dine at the Grand, please be aware that there is a dress code after 6pm.

Interesting tidbit- you'll notice that the ceilings in all the balcony's, and on the covered porch, are painted Robin's Egg Blue. Before this, the hotel had a lot of problems with birds nesting and creating a large mess. When they first painted them blue, they realized the birds no longer nested. They think it's because the birds think it's open sky.

There are more things to do, however, this is the bulk of the major things to do. My favorite past time on the island? SHOPPING! There is a large shopping district downtown, and you'll find a lot of bargain shops.

Quick tale of WOE:

On our last vacation, I wanted to buy a tie-dyed sweatshirt. On day 1, I looked, and found one. I was hustled! It was a t-shirt stand where you buy a blank t-shirt (for a really high price), then purchase the design you want, and have it added to the item. There is at least 1 in Mackinaw City, and 2 or 3 on the island. Walk away! The sweatshirt I wound up buying, I paid over $40. The BLANK hooded sweatshirt was $25, and I thought that was the price- $25. I was OH SO WRONG.

On our last day, we wound up on the island, and I found a souvenir shop that had a lot of everything. Including tie-dye sweatshirts embroidered with "Mackinac Island" on them. I paid $14.99 for it, and I like it better! It's true to size (the other was an XL that fit like a M), and it's rainbow tie dye (the other was pink/green/white). I love both shirts, but had I seen the $14.99 one first, I never would have bought the other. Shop wisely! And don't listen when the shops in Mackinaw City tell you that everything is more expensive on the island. It's not!


Jaime said...

It is $10 to go into the Grand Hotel. I did it this year instead of seeing the Fort. It is almost like a museum tour. If you eat at one of the resturants/or bars you can get the $10 taken off, but the food is pricey.There are some new shops on Mainstreet, and I am happy to report a starbucks, but the prices for drinks run about a $1.00 higher than on the mainland. The best places and prices I found for shirts was on the Island.

Phyllis said...

A few years ago we toured the Grand Hotel. Our carriage driver had mentioned that Jim Nabors was staying at the hotel. While we were in there he actually came in. We were able to talk to him. Ask around - there are a lot of celebrities that come there.