Mackinac Island is ready for another summer.
The ferries are running, and hundreds of workers — not to mention horses — have returned to welcome guests back to the island’s hotels, shops, restaurants, historic attractions and outdoor activities. Many opened last week and others will open in the coming weeks.
But before you book your ferry ticket, there are things you need to know before venturing to Michigan’s Crown Jewel. Many of the same health and safety measures put in place last year because of the coronavirus pandemic remain intact.
“We began preparing for the 2021 high season even before the Island closed in October of last year,” said Tim Hygh, executive director of Mackinac Island Tourism. “It is immensely exciting to welcome back our beloved guess — whether they are legacy Islanders, seasoned visitors or newcomers.”
Passengers traveling by ferry to Mackinac are required by federal mandates to wear face masks while aboard.
About 1 million people visit Mackinac each year. Traditionally, late April and early May mark the island’s opening for the high season, which was delayed by several weeks last year because of the pandemic. The continued safety efforts follow a successful 2020 season. Island businesses spent the winter not only upgrading and maintaining their properties but also fine-tuning safety protocols to open on time this year.
“We followed the normal protocols last year and never had any pushback on it,” said Todd V. Callewaert, president of Island House Hotel and Ryba’s Fudge Shops, adding he expects all of the company’s 225 employees to be fully vaccinated. “It went pretty seamlessly last year and we’ll be following the exact same protocols this summer. I thought we did a really good job last year; we never had any incidents.”
Traditions such as the Mackinac Island Lilac Festival, the island’s largest summer event, held in June, and the Fudge Festival, in August, will return with modifications and virtual events.
Hotels reopen with changes
There’s plenty to look forward to with the island’s reopening.
The iconic Grand Hotel officially opens Friday. Hotel guests will discover new amenities, including a new shop called Grand Kids, stocked with merchandise for youngsters, as well as upgraded men’s and women’s boutiques. The Grand has also upgraded its famous serpentine-shaped pool — named after Esther Williams, the 1940s movie star and competitive swimmer. The renovated pool and expanded grounds include luxury cabanas, new pool furniture and a pool bar. The pool and grounds are expected to open by Memorial Day weekend.
Those changes mark the first improvements visible to the public since KSL Capital Partners purchased the 397-room hotel from the Musser family in 2019. Davidson Hotels & Resorts manages the hotel for the equity firm, which specializes in travel and leisure, which includes hospitality and recreation.
Like other island businesses, the Grand implemented significant changes across its historic property, including at check-in. Those measures will remain in place.
Mackinac’s other big hotel, Mission Point Resort, has completed the renovation of 30 guest rooms and opened Friday. Last summer the 241-room resort unveiled a $2 million renovation of its promenade deck and new pavilion. The resort recently received the Global Biorisk Advisory Council STAR Facility Certification for its extensive cleanliness and safety protocols.
The Island House Hotel completed a $4 million refurbishment this year with a focus on the lobby and three two-bedroom suites. The other 91 guest rooms in the 37,000-square-foot hotel have been refreshed with fresh coastal casual decor, hardwood floors, lighting upgrades, and high-speed WiFi.
“We’re expecting a great season,” the hotel’s Callewaert said. “Our reservations have been busier than ever. We are not full in any month right now but June, July and August are really moving along.”
All businesses are expected to open on Mackinac Island this summer; a few chose not to open last year because of the pandemic.
Among the new businesses is Winchester’s Whiskey and Bourbon Room at the Bicycle Street Inn. The whiskey-themed eatery and bar replaces Winchester’s Restaurant and Bar, which did not open last year because of COVID-19.
The upscale restaurant and bar features black booths, mahogany, cherry and dark wood tones and the island’s biggest selection of whiskey and bourbon. The atmosphere will be casual and family friendly during the day but more sophisticated at night with dimmed lights. Last season the hotel company opened Great Turtle Brewery & Distillery in the former Goodfellows Restaurant, an Italian chop house. The beer and spirits are not produced on the island because of infrastructure limitations but through partnerships with Traverse City’s Right Brain Brewery and Les Cheneaux Distillery in the Upper Peninsula, respectively.
“Brown spirits are really popular right now,” said Melanie Libby, a managing partner of the Bicycle Street Inn and Suites and Waterfront Collection. “It’s a neat concept to bring to the island and something that was missing. Winchester marries nicely with the Great Turtle Brewery & Distillery.
Pure Michigan launches campaign
The island’s reopening comes as Pure Michigan has launched a new warm-weather campaign to promote tourism. The campaign, returning after a hiatus last year, includes a new TV commercial, “Catch Up,” which invites travelers to catch up on lost time this summer in a place where time is not measured in minutes, but moments.
“We’re really excited about his campaign,” said Dave Lorenz, vice president of Travel Michigan, part of the Michigan Economic Development. Corporation. “Our winter Michigan campaign really helped tourism. With the warm-weather campaign we’re encouraging people to catch up with loved ones and places this summer — to reconnect with our favorite places and with ourselves, those things we lost in the last year.”
The spots are being shown in markets across the Midwest, including Chicago, Ft. Wayne, Green Bay, Minneapolis, Indianapolis, Milwaukee and Ohio’s largest cities. The nearly $8 million campaign also will be broadcast in Detroit, Flint, Grand Rapids, Lansing, and Traverse City. The campaign also includes more than 100 digital and static billboards in regional and in-state markets through May to promote Michigan as a getaway.
Even as Travel Michigan promotes tourism, the agency also continues to encourage businesses, visitors and local communities across the state to take the Pure Michigan Pledge, a promise to uphold local safety protocols and CDC travel guidelines to travel safely. To date, nearly 600 businesses and destinations in the state have taken the pledge.
“I think we’re going to see a great year in tourism. We know there are going to be a lot more people who want to travel,” Lorenz said, noting travelers should remember that businesses are still operating at reduced capacities on Mackinac Island and elsewhere. Some, he added, are also struggling to find help, which could dampen hospitality efforts and business operations. “The experience might not be exactly as they are expecting or they’ve had in the past, but they can still have a great time.”
Mackinac Island Tourism
Our special thanks to:detroitnews.com