Multi-generational travel. The idea alone causes some people to shudder and say “no way, no how, no-uh”. Traveling with extended family can be a serious challenge – you can’t find a date that works for everyone, your kids are on different nap schedules, everyone’s budget is a little different, there’s too many cooks in the kitchen, no one can agree on where to go…etc, etc. Sound familiar? These are all real concerns and can lead to major frustrations when planning, or even in the midst of, a family vacation.
But if you can get past all that – agree on a place, agree on a date, settle on accommodations (or hire an expert to save you from the hassles!) – I have to tell you, it’s simply the best. We love to travel in my family. We always have and try to make it a priority as often as possible. This year my dad’s turning 65 and we wanted to celebrate the occasion together by getting away for a long weekend. Fabulous! Enter said conflicts above. To put it in perspective, our group is not even that large. There’s 6 adults and 3 children under 3 – so it’s a chaotic crew, but manageable in numbers. I mean, 2 adults per child is a pretty great ratio. But there was a LOT to consider! What kind of distance did we want to go? Were we hoping to fly or save $$ by driving? If we drive, where could we go that wasn’t too far for the kids but far enough to feel like a getaway? Would there be enough to do wherever we end up? What was going to be child-friendly there for 3 children under 3? Would we be able to rent a house/apartment or would we have to stay in a hotel? How would we get around and would we need car seats? Would my dad be able to get around alright considering his bad back?
After some deliberation back and forth, we finally settled on the small, but well known, destination in the tippy-top of Michigan – Mackinac Island [for those who (like me!) weren’t sure – it’s actually pronounced Mackinaw]. It’s a good 7 hour drive from Milwaukee up to Mackinac – and in order to get to the island, you have to take a 20 minute ferry across from either Mackinaw City or St. Ignace, Michigan. Not gonna lie – the 7 hour drive was pretty brutal, but the kids LOVED taking the boat over. The beauty of Mackinac for families? There are NO cars allowed! The entire island – which is very small, mind you – is car free! How do you get around, you may ask? Well, step back in time to a world of horse-and-buggy, bicycles, and simply…walking. The island sits pretty much right where Lake Michigan and Lake Huron meet and not only is it completely charming and nostalgic in feel, but the scenery and views are absolutely lovely. You won’t believe all the shades of blue you will find in the water!
For such a tiny island, there’s plenty to do to keep a family busy for a weekend. If you can, try and base yourself in one of the many accommodations that line Main St. Main St. is where so much of the action happens on Mackinac – it is lined with fudge shops pouring out the delicious smells of freshly made fudge, ice cream shops, quaint restaurants, charming boutiques with unique local products, and beautiful hotels that sit right on the water where you can grab a meal or a drink while watching the ferries move in and out of the harbor. If your kids are anything like ours, they will LOVE watching the horse-and-carriages go up and down the street and the boats ferry in and out. For a larger group, I would highly recommend a stay at the Lilac Tree Suites & Spa. It is perfectly located (although it’s on the other side of Main St. so does not look out on the water) and every room is a suite. This allowed us a ton of space to put the kids down in different parts of the room, and still have a central gathering place for the adults to chat/play games/have a glass (or 3!) of wine/etc in the evening without waking them up. Honestly, there are so many great hotels lining Main St. – the Iroquois and the Chippewa were two other favorites that are definitely worth checking out.
You can hardly talk about accommodation in Mackinac without talking about the Grand Hotel. The Grand is world-famous for its part in the movie Somewhere in Time, but also because it boasts the world’s largest covered-porch at 660-feet long! It is truly an impressive sight to see, and a great place to relax and have a cocktail on a lovely Mackinac day. If you aren’t a guest at the hotel, there is a $10 entrance fee to see and utilize all of the facilities that are inside. The Grand has been rated by Travel + Leisure as one of the 50 best resorts in America for families due to their extensive Children’s program and host of activities available to enjoy. There’s an ice cream parlor, lawn games, stables, carriage rides, golf, biking, Afternoon Tea, Tennis courts, a 220-foot heated pool, beautiful gardens, and more. The Grand Hotel is a worthy stop on any Mackinac getaway – it also boasts 5 on premise restaurants for dining, 4 additional cocktail lounges/bars, and live music almost every night. A great place to watch the Sunset is at Cupola Bar at the very top of the hotel giving you a panoramic view of Mackinac bridge and the water.
Another must-do in Mackinac is a horse-and-carriage ride around the island. You can take one of the public tours, or rent a private carriage for you and your party. With our sized party, and 2 crazy toddlers, we opted for a private ride and it was absolutely the right decision. Our driver/guide was super patient through toddler shouting and fussing, and we saw so much of the island in our hour and a half ride – including breathtaking victorian mansions with stunning landscaping and views, quaint shops and Bed & Breakfasts, the Grand Hotel, awesome Arch Rock, and peaceful tree-lined streets through Mackinac State Park. I honestly could not believe the amount of gorgeous flora we saw all around the island – I can barely keep two potted plants alive on my front porch, so I was in serious flower-envy! If you aren’t 8 months pregnant and feeling ready to pop, another fantastic (and easy!) way to see the island is by renting bikes at any of the bike rental shops on Main St. This is a great family activity even with littles as all of the shops had bike equipment that made riding with babies and toddlers fun, and a breeze!
Other fun ways to fill your days on Mackinac are by visiting any of the 6 State Parks either right on the island, or across the way in Mackinaw City, taking a Ferry cruise to see the lighthouses with Shepler’s Ferry Company, or one of the Sip n’ Sail cruises with Pure Michigan Boat Cruises. In our short stay, we only had time to visit Fort Mackinac, which is right in the heart of the island and has 14 great historical and interactive exhibits, including a Kid’s Quarters that our toddlers, and older children, thoroughly enjoyed. It sits high up on the hill, and was a real Fort once occupied by 18th century British Redcoats and 19th century American Soldiers. There’s also a whole schedule of interactive demonstrations, tours, and special activities each day so make sure to check out the schedule and plan around what you and your kids will most enjoy! There is an admissions fee – $12 for adults, $7.50 for kids 5-12, and kids under 5 are free! And definitely don’t forget to bring your camera – based on it’s hilltop setting, the Fort offers fabulous views of the island and the harbor, and the Grand Hotel operates an adorable Tea Room where you can pick up snacks, beverages, and desserts and relax tableside with a beautiful view in front of you.
When you are on Main St., make sure to check out Little Luxuries of Mackinac and Poppins on Mackinac for unique and trend-right souvenirs. And lastly, we can hardly talk a summer vacation and not talk about food! To be honest, there were so many places on our list of must-eats that we didn’t actually make it to for various reasons – nap times, couldn’t get a table for a group our size, etc. I’m sad because I think we missed out on some great food and really atmospheric restaurants. However, we did manage a few really great meals, and left with definite places to make sure to check-out next time. The places we went that I would highly recommend were:
Pink Pony at the Chippewa Hotel – we went for breakfast, but I think it would be a great spot for lunch or dinner, as well.
The Carriage House at the Iroquois Hotel – this was by far and away our favorite meal. The restaurant was beautiful, sits right on the water and we were given an awesome private enclosed patio for our table which made it so much more enjoyable with the kids. We had a gorgeous view, our server was top-notch, and the food and cocktails were outstanding. Also – the entryway! To die for!
Pancake House was where we had breakfast our last day in town, and the food was awesome, the service was friendly and quick, and the location can’t be beat right on Main St. Also, it’s next to a Fudge & Ice Cream shop so…there’s that.
The Murray Hotel has been in business on the island over 135 years! They do an incredibly affordable breakfast buffet (hey – when you travel with young kids, you get up early and eat a lot of breakfasts!) that also has a TON of options. Can’t say there’s a lot of atmosphere in the dining room, but if you are looking for something fast, easy, and cheap with the kiddos, it really can’t be beat.
We enjoyed quick drinks at the Mustang Lounge – which has absolutely adorable patio seating if you can snag a spot!
On our last night we had dinner at the Inn at Stonecliffe. I SO badly wanted to love this place, and this meal. When all was said and done, I’d say the food was a B+/A- but the experience was lackluster for what we had expected. The Inn is in a pretty secluded spot on the island – you have to call the horse-and-carriage cab to take you there, and even then it’s about a 30-40 minute ride. The outside is beautiful – it truly looks like an old English Manor home – but inside everything could have used a little bit of a facelift, and while our waiter did a fantastic job despite the restaurant being significantly understaffed, the rest of the staff was not very helpful or friendly. It was a long way to go for an average-at-best experience.
I highly recommend Mackinac Island as a family/multi-gen summer getaway, despite the long drive. When you arrive you’ll feel as if you’ve left your cares and stresses behind, and entered a whole new world where everything’s a little slower, a little more charming, and a little more relaxed. You’ll find plenty to do to keep all ages entertained and having a great time, and when you leave on the ferry to return home your bound to feel a little nostalgic for life in a simpler time. If you’re interested in following my family and I on our adventures, or looking for help planning any sort of family or multi-gen travel, check us out or give me a shout at @adventurishjourneys on Instagram or Facebook.
Hi there! I’m Angela – I recently turned 30 and have determined that this is going to be my year to embrace change and chase new dreams. My husband and I are going on 5 years married this Fall – we grew up not 10 mins from each other (Greendale/New Berlin) but never met until college (Go Badgers!). We have a spunky little girl who’s 1.5 years old, and another baby on the way this September. We are brand new members of the Lake Country community and are so excited to start this next chapter of our lives here. I’ve spent the past 8 years working in the tumultuous retail industry which has had major ups, and more recently, major downs. At this moment I am in flux – reflecting and re-evaluating what is best for me and my family as I make a career change. Personally, our lives revolve around family – we are lucky to live close to both of our parents, and adore spending time with our siblings, and nieces & nephews. I love all things Disney and know almost every lyric to every song. I’ll always remind my daughter it’s okay to believe in Magic. I adore a good book, a steaming cup of tea, any bowl of soup, a glass of Red, and putting pen to paper. I enjoy elaborate party planning, and wasting too much time on Pinterest and Instagram. I love eating more than I love cooking, and going out and trying new restaurants is a favorite way to spend our evenings or weekend afternoons. I am passionate about traveling the world, and exploring as much of it as possible together as a family. When I “grow up”, I want to plan incredible trips that excite, inspire and fulfill people’s travel desires. We adventure together as much as we can both near & far. I am honored to be a part of this community, and hope you will join me as I share fun things to do, local places to check out, and travel tips & inspiration for the family on the go! You can follow me on my personal instagram account or at my new, travel-focused account (or both!). Thank you!