Home to six hundred horses, unspoiled beaches and the famous but by all accounts fictitious peaches that Kramer rapturously described and coveted on Seinfeld, Mackinac Island is an eight-mile long island with only five hundred permanent residents, located in the center of the Great Lakes waterway. It's officially part of the state of Michigan, but the islanders use the French spelling of a Native American word; either way, it's pronounced mack-i-naw, like the nearby city in Michigan.
With multimillion-dollar homes, the island has historically served as the summer playground of well-heeled Midwesterners seeking to escape from the cities and suburbs. The island is a well-preserved Victorian enclave most easily accessible by ferry from Mackinaw City or St. Ignace -- cars are not permitted; you can get around only by foot, bike or horse and buggy. Some also arrive by private plane -- it's served by the Pellston, MI airport -- or by private boat. Established in 1817, the first people who populated the island did so because it was a sacred space in the Anishinaabe-Ojibwe tradition where the great chiefs were buried and celebrations to honor the Great Spirit Gitchie Manitou took place. The island has also served as an inspiration for writers. Constance Fenimore Woolson, novelist and friend of Henry James, wrote her best-known book Anne based on the story of a young girl's adventures on the island. Edward Everett Hale wrote Man Without a Country on the porch of The Mission House.
A good place to start is the Mackinac Island Tourism Bureau online guide, (tel. 800/454-5227; www.mackinacisland.org) which lists events, entertainment, maps, attractions and the like. One of the most popular summer activities, the 56th Annual Mackinac Island International Lilac Festival, signals the start of summer on this island and takes place from June 10-19. Attendant activities include a 10K walk/run, a lilac queen and court, live music, line dances, a sunset blues cruise, daily bike and walking tours and educational sessions about, of course, lilacs. Other events include the Grand Hotel Wine Appreciation weekend June 17-19. This family-friendly hotel is expansive, features over 2,000 geraniums on the front porch and Big Band music during dinner (which is included in your stay; so is breakfast), among other niceties. During this weekend there will be a cocktail reception, wine and cordial dinner, and opportunities to learn more about specific types and vintages in a casual, laid-back setting sans snobbery.
As with any location that is a National Historic Landmark, you can expect a big deal on the Fourth of July. Mackinac Island is Michigan's first state park and the second national park. The Independence Day celebration, called "A Star Spangled Fourth" are revolutionary styled, with re-enactments, cannon fire, patriotic music, Victorian children's games and an American Picnic at Fort Mackinac, catered by Grand Hotel (tel. 906/847-3328; www.mackinacparks.com). The Race to Mackinac (tel. 312/861-7777; www.chicagoyachtclub.com), July 16 -- 20, is the Chicago Yacht Club's well-known 333-mile race from Chicago to Mackinac Island; it's the world's longest freshwater race.
Packages for two popular places to stay, the Murray Hotel and Inn on Mackinac, can be found online (tel. 800/4-Mackinkac; www.4mackinac.com). There are ongoing offers such as the "Family Adventure" package (good through October 15) as well as packages throughout the summer in conjunction with specific holidays or events. The "Memorial Day" package, offered May 26 through June 1, includes lodging, deluxe continental breakfast and a VIP card for discounts at area cafes, a fudge shop (it's a big deal here) and other shopping. If you buy two nights, you get one night for 50 percent off. The "Lilac Package," good from June 12-30, includes lodging, two round-trip ferry tickets, free overnight mainland parking, deluxe continental breakfast and VIP card and starts at $102 per night for a two-person stay. The simply named Mackinac.com site rounds up offers from nearly a dozen spots, including deals at the Lilac Tree Hotel (tel. 866/847-6575; www.lilactree.com), with a spa package for two starting for two nights starting at $716. The Inn at Stonecliffe (tel. 906/847-3355; www.theinnatstonecliffe.com) offers special deals during the week from $69 for select days in May and June that also include complimentary bicycle rentals and a hot breakfast and dinner buffet. The aforementioned Grand Hotel (tel. 800/334-7263; www.grandhotel.com), the world's largest summer hotel since 1887, is also offering Internet-only specials, such as the "Buy Two Nights, Get the Third Free" for select nights in mid-August. Non lake-view accommodations are from $499 per night per couple; those with view are $699 per night per couple. The website also lists group tour rates, romantic getaways and other special packages involving golf, Memorial Day, Lilac Festival, Wine Appreciation weekend, and so on.
A slew of hotel, dining, camping and entertainment deals are offered by the Mackinaw Area Official Visitors Bureau (tel. 800/750-0160; www.mackinawcity.com). The site lists over fifty hotels and resorts and tons of useful links. Current packages offered include the Mackinac Island package, which gives you two nights lodging at your choice of hotel in Mackinac City, a round-trip ferry ticket to the Island, a carriage tour while you're there, and admission to Fort Mackinac.
The prices vary according to availability and date, but select dates in May and June, for example, start at $97 per adult for an economy room to $130 per adult for an economy room for weekends in June through late August. The schedule is a little tricky. Other offerings include the Mackinac Island combination package, with three nights stay at hotel of your choice in Mackinaw City, a round-trip ferry ticket to the Island and a carriage tour, trolley tour, and admission to four separate historic sites. Rates are not cheap by any means though; they start at $153 per person per night for select weekends in May and June, for example, and the most expensive weekends are in the height of the summer; Friday and Saturday night rates from June 24 through August 27 are $204 per adult per night. And these are economy rates. The rates drop a whopping $70 if you opt for an early season trip or late season trip from Sundays through Thursdays, September 5 through October 9.
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