The Grand Hotel's front porch is the world's longest at 660 feet — Photo courtesy of The Grand Hotel
The steady clip-clop of horses' hooves. The distant tone of a ferry's horn.
It's morning at The Grand Hotel on Mackinac Island, where consciousness arrives with those subtle sounds. And one awakens to a cool breeze blowing from the Straits of Mackinac and walls covered in colorful lattice print or festive cabana striped wallpaper.
It's at that time of the morning, lounging in bed under a shiny green comforter, that you map out your day: breakfast in the expansive and elegant dining room is a given, perhaps followed by a stroll into town to shop, a horseback ride in the hills above the hotel, or a quiet walk through the garden and trails.
Bright colors, floral linens and cabana stripes create a whimsical, on-vacation atmosphere in the Grand's guest rooms — Photo courtesy of The Grand Hotel
Later, there will be a fierce game of croquet with the kids on the grand lawn, followed by a five-course dinner and, afterwards, dancing as a big band plays the standards of another era. The whole point of a vacation is to vacate your everyday life, and there's no better place to do just that than at the Grand, which has welcomed guests over hundreds of summers.
The iconic hotel is open just six months a year, from May to October, and welcomes 150,000 guests annually to this tiny island in the Mackinac Straits – just above Michigan's mitten-shaped peninsula, east of the state's Upper Peninsula. Once you visit, you might fall in love with the property like 10Best readers have; the Grand took top honors for Best Historic Hotel in our 2017 Readers' Choice Awards.
Watch boats navigate the Straits from your Grand perch — Photo courtesy of The Grand Hotel
I first discovered the Grand a decade ago. My children were 14 and 9 then, the ages where the eldest bossed around the youngest. It was a time when they protested the thought of spending three nights at a resort where guests are not allowed to wear jeans and one has to dress up for dinner.
That all changed when we parked the car at the Shepler's Ferry dock in Mackinaw City and boarded the high-speed boat alongside men pushing carts filled with trays of flowers, boxes of fine wines and deliveries for the residents of Mackinac Island. Twenty-ish minutes later, following a chilly ride on the top deck, wind whipping our hair and stinging our faces, we arrived to an island filled with sunshine, horse-drawn carriages and the promise of family adventure.
An instant transformation happened, as the kids took in the uniqueness of their transport to the hotel, as they explored the grounds with no supervision, discovering simple pleasures of playing croquet on a generously sized lawn and watching the horse-drawn carts make their deliveries to the hotel.
One of the simple pleasures of a stay at the Grand: Teaching your kids the finer points of lawn games — Photo courtesy of The Grand Hotel
The Grand is also where my then-14-year-old son fell in love in an oh-so-old-school-way, meeting a darling girl named Natalie, who was traveling with her grandmother on a coach tour. Last names were never exchanged, but they enjoyed a throwback of a teenage summer romance, bonding over ice cream in the old-fashioned Sadie's Parlor and dancing to a live orchestra at the post-dinner dance in the Terrace Room.
My daughter, the 9-year-old, was happy to abandon us – and the formal five-course dinner – for the lively children's dinner, complete with games and activities that kept her engaged for hours. (Kids 9 and under are included in their parents' per-person pricing and ages 10 -17 are $59 per person, per night.)
Best Michigan Attraction (10Best Readers' Choice Awards 2017)
Best Michigan Attraction (10Best Readers' Choice Awards 2017)
A decade later, my companions were colleagues, not my children. But the charm of that first visit hadn't changed a bit, thankfully. Motorized vehicles are still prohibited, save for a handful of emergency vehicles. The only way to explore the island is on foot, bike, horseback or horse-drawn carriage.
And a stay at the Grand is marked in delightfully un-digital ways. For instance, go for a swim in the Esther Williams Pool (she starred in the 1947 movie This Time for Keeps, filmed at the hotel). Or perhaps take a walk through the gardens, where a wooded exercise path – the Vita Course – meanders through the grounds and offers old-fashioned calisthenics and other exercises at stations along the half-mile route.
The Esther Williams pool is always refreshing – and a dip may lead to a warm beverage afterwards — Photo courtesy of The Grand Hotel
You can also go on a treasure hunt across the island – set against the backdrop of the straits, Fort Mackinac or the ferry dock – searching for replicas of the masterpieces from the Detroit Institute of Art (DIA) collection.
Or play a game of chess on a giant chessboard with oversized knights, rooks and royalty, which takes place on one end of the Grand's gloriously green front porch. At 660 feet, it's the longest front porch in the world, a romantic walk for couples, a "race-you-to-the-end" contest for kids, and a spot to sit in wide white rockers and watch the boat traffic from your perch high above the straits.
Ken Salmon is an almost-50 year employee of the Grand; he's the hotel's vice president of hospitality and the hotel's maitre d' — Photo courtesy of The Grand Hotel
Dining is a grand affair anytime of day. Breakfast, lunch buffet and dinner are included in the per-person pricing for the Full American Plan. And guests have the option of enjoying their dinner either in the main dining room of the hotel, or with a credit at one of the restaurants scattered throughout the grounds and the golf course.
While the Grand is outfitted with Wi-Fi and there are flat screen televisions in the rooms, the urge to check electronic and digital devices passes quickly. It's as if the remote location and lack of other modern amenities, like cars, were all the permission we needed to vacate our everyday lives.
Emails, jobs, news – it would all still be there when we crossed the straits back to Mackinaw City and reality. For three delightful days and nights, reality could wait.