Tuesday, August 21, 2012

The Grand Hotel, Mackinac Island, MI

After enjoying breakfast and champagne in the Presidential Suite at the "Center" in Kalamazoo, E. and I drove north on our first journey as husband and wife to Mackinac Island on 7-8-07. We parked the rental car, loaded seven (seriously, seven) bags of luggage onto the ferry and enjoyed a five minute journey to the most incredible vacation I've ever experienced.

We spent our honeymoon at the Grand Hotel on Mackinac Island. It is an idyllic destination where cars are forbidden. This video shows it off beautifully. Anyone who has been to Mackinac Island understands it's magic. Bikes and buggies are the only form of transportation. Even the UPS truck is a drawn horse and carriage.

Our story begins a bit further back, however. When I was the Director of Catering at the George Town Club in Washington, DC I planned many events for a member from the Great Lakes state. Mr. R. D. Musser, III is the President of the Grand Hotel and his family has owned it for the 125 years it has been in business. They just celebrated their 125th this year. I planned a few events in the fall of 2006 for Mr. Musser at the GTC. I worked often with his Executive Secretary, Sarah Finn, and wrote her a note checking if the hotel had any availability the week of July 7, 2007...an extremely popular date. I had no hopes of availability. Sarah wrote back immediately and said that Mr. Musser not only had the date available but that he'd like to extend a special rate to us. We were overjoyed and couldn't pass up this opportunity. I had been dreaming of a trip to the Grand Hotel since I was in high school. My dear DeNooyer family went often and always brought back stories of great joy. This trip was beyond my WILDEST dreams.

A carriage for the Grand Hotel met us at the docks and we clip-clopped all the way up the hill. Our bags met us later. When we checked into the front desk, the manager's face lit up and said, "You are in the Woodfill Suite." We had been upgraded. The most cherished word in traveling.

We learned later that this was Mr. Musser's uncle's apartment during the depression. The family moved back into the hotel to save it from being closed back then. When we got to our room I nearly fell out. Not only was the view incredible, but we had a gorgeous fresh flower arrangement, a huge Grand Hotel box of Mackinac Island fudge, wine, cheese and a card from the Musser family welcoming us. It was incredible. Our precious friends, McCall and Tyson, also had a card waiting for us with an extremely generous wedding present, a gift card to the Grand Hotel. What a smart and glamorous present! My face hurt from smiling and even E. agreed this was not at all what he expected, but a thousand times more.

The Woodfill Suite is the curved area with windows, above the large porch columns. The sky was this blue each day of our visit.

There isn't a filter on any of these photos. The water in Northern Michigan (cue Kid Rock) is simply just this beautiful and crystal blue! This is the area where Lake Michigan and Lake Huron meet.

I loved everything about the Woodfill Suite. The view of the water was simply off the charts gorgeous and the weather in July was mid-seventies. We left the windows wide open and wore sweaters during the day. No wonder my great grandparents summered in northern Michigan!

We had a foyer, for heavens sake, with a piano. The decor is so bright and cheerful. Hopsy wrote a perfect description here about the visionary interior designer, Dorothy Draper, who decorated the Grand Hotel.

We had a great view of the carriage topiary below our window.

We had seven bags of luggage! This was due to the fact that each night you are required to dress for dinner and wear a jacket and tie on the historic porch after 6:00 pm. I was in heaven!  E. was not that thrilled. I thought it was a blast to dress up for my new husband each night and experience fabulous service and five course dinners for five nights in a row! E. actually got into after a while. Hell, the man has more pocket squares than anyone I know.

Dinner was an experience in itself. Our first night there was a line out the door of the Salle a Manger. The servers gave us complimentary wine as we waited in line to be seated. We lucked out and were given a porch view, window seat with a view of the water. The next morning we received an early morning call asking if we had joined them for dinner the night prior. We confirmed that we absolutely had dinner and enjoyed it immensly. The maitre d' instructed us to "jump the line" and check in with him on our second night. He said that the Musser Family wanted us to dine at their private table for the rest of our stay. This is the equivalent of the "Captains Table" on a cruise I'm guessing. We were honored and floored by their hospitality. 

We hung up and not two minutes later received another call. The front desk informed us that the Musser's wanted to offer their private carriage for a tour of the island that morning. It was hands down the most romantic ride ever. We learned about Arch Rock and had a great introduction to the island. This carriage has carried presidents as far back as Truman. We were blown away and so appreciative of their hospitality.

Afterwards, the Irish driver asked if he could he could do anything for us. I asked what they did with the horse shoes when they changed them? He was a farrier actually and had a shoe waiting for us when we returned to our room. It was the nicest gift and we have the horse shoe catching luck for us at our front door at Stone Hill. It is a daily reminder of our honeymoon.

That evening we were seated at this very special table. The Musser's table had a phone, at the ready, I'm guessing to call the White House. We felt like royalty. They spoiled us rotten with a fantastic view, the best waiters, an amazing white Burgundy one evening, and champagne to boot. The food was also extraordinary. Each night we were treated to a five course meal with choices. I saved the menu with our choices from our first night (marked by our initials). 

Wild Mushroom Pate en Croute
Celery Root Slaw
Cranberry Drizzle

Smoked Duck Breast
Hazelnut and Parsley Oil

Black Bean and Merquez Soup
Cilantro Oil

Crisp Romaine with Garlic Croutons
Parmesan Dressing

Spinach with Caramelized Pecans and Strawberries
Thyme Honey Dressing

Pork Tenderloin with Crispy Bacon
Roasted Corn Souffle, Velvet Chile Sauce

Black Angus Prime Rib of Beef with Parsnip Puree
Natural-Beef Jus

Grand Pecan Ball
Fudge Sauce

Their larger family table was next to us and had three generations of Musser men seated one evening. My favorite is that Dan Musser calls his son Quatro! How cool is that?

Their "normal" table is the first one to the right of the main entrance that they let us enjoy. The Salle a Manger seats 900 guests. Each night there was a small line and they insisted we jump it as this table was being held for us. Can you even imagine? It was a little embarrassing but oh so divine. You can see the signature red geraniums outside of the window.

Every meal was more wonderful than the next. Each night there was a full band playing in the restaurant, music in the lobby and then a full orchestra playing in the ballroom. For all of you darlings who feel like you were born in the wrong era, this destination is for you. The traditions are held so firmly, and yet it didn't feel a bit stuck up. It just felt like a place you wish you could stay forever.

After dinner, a harpist played over cordials in the parlor each evening.

We retreated to the porch for cigars and after dinner drinks most evenings.

The ballroom featured big band sounds and there were couples dancing who looked like they could win ballroom competitions. We were way to newly married to know how to dance with each other but loved watching the varsity on the dance floor.

Our days were filled with tennis matches, long walks and searching the island. You can bike 8 miles around it.

We couldn't believe there was a labyrinth!

We walked into town, shopped, found my bicycle charm and visited Ft. Mackinac.

We played tennis almost every day. Health and fitness is so important to us. Starting our marriage off right with this sporty routine was a huge blessing. And as I've said, tennis is my love language.

It was the most relaxing trip. Seriously, can you believe the color of the water?

Each day you have the choice of breakfast in bed (or casually served in the dining room) and dinner included in the room rate. Lunch was on our own. There were tons and tons of restaurants to choose from within the Grand Hotel campus, as well as the restaurants down in the main village on the island. We decided to take a carriage ride to The Woods for lunch one day.

This was the typical view of the streets of Mackinac. The golf courses don't even have carts.

Eric loved having the Big Porch Ale from Bells for lunch. 

He had a burger and I had a steak salad, which were both out of this world.

There was even a duck pin bowling alley at The Woods.

On our walk back we saw a teepee as a nod, I'm sure, to the Indian heritage on the island.

The nightly sunsets brought rainbows, lots of photo opportunities, patriotic music, and the striking of the flags.

I was taken with the Audubon's and the art galleries on property.


You can dress casually at breakfast in the main dining room. We loved having breakfast and enjoying a game of Scrabble on the historic porch.

We had the most wonderful time and I had fat tears in my eyes when we walked down the hill for the last time.

I couldn't get over the printed menu cards, business cards and details on every bit of paper printed. 

Even the postmark has a carriage from the island. I wrote thank you notes to Mr. Musser and Sarah. The hospitality we were shown was beyond our wildest imagination. Everything was done perfectly. We are hotel snobs. We met while working at a five star hotel in DC. We were blown away by the service.

We were so appreciative of receiving letters back as well.

Thank you to all the staff, the Musser family, and the good people of Mackinac Island. We look forward to returning on our 10 year anniversary.


LPC said...

Sounds wonderful. Great photos, and what a good looking couple you two are.

Nelle Somerville said...

Thank you Lisa!