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Ditch the Car for an Escape on Mackinac Island

Summer deals and activities drive visitors -- but not cars -- to this Great Lakes getaway.

Although Mackinac Island is officially part of the state of Michigan, the islanders use the French spelling of a Native American word, even if they insist on pronouncing it 'mack-i-naw.' The eight-mile island in the center of the Great Lakes waterway is home to horses, trails, a state park, and plenty of places, large and small, for visitors to stay. One thing you should know: you cannot drive around the island -- you can get around by horse-drawn carriage, trail riding, biking, sailing, or the old standby, walking.

Right now the island is in the middle of its 58th Annual Lilac Festival, which runs through June 17. The event officially kicks off the summer season and it celebrates the many varieties of lilacs that have been on the island since the Colonial era, along with some other activities of the region, such as horseback riding, horse shows, concerts, dining, and more. Other upcoming events to plan your trips around include Grand Hotel arts weekend, June 22-24, which brings guests and the faculty from Michigan State University together to learn more about the arts through seminars, performances, recitals and other productions. July sees several water sports activities, including the 99th Annual Chicago Yacht Club Race to Mackinac (, July 14 to 17, touted as the longest freshwater race in the world, and Port Huron Mackinac Yacht Race, July 21-24, and the month is capped off by a 50th anniversary celebration of the Mackinac Bridge, the world's third-longest suspension bridge in the world, complete with fireworks. Later in the summer, the 37th annual Mackinac Island Horse show takes place on August 12 at Great Turtle Park. Other events in the summer commemorate the island's various aspects of heritage, whether it's a fudge festival, a hickory stick classic that pays homage to 19th century golf, or a wooden boat show. The Mackinac Island Tourism Bureau's (tel. 800/454-5227; online guide has information about even more activities.

If you're completely unfamiliar with the area, and the type of person who enjoys history, you might be interested in the Mackinac Island Experience package (, which is priced at $59 for adults, $55 for youth 13-17 and $28 for children 6-12. You arrive by ferry, and then take a horse-drawn carriage tour of the island, visit the Wings of Mackinac butterfly conservatory (the island actually has two butterfly conservatories), Fort Mackinac, the oldest structure in Michigan, and the historic Grand Hotel, which opened in 1887.

Your stay at the 19th-century The Grand Hotel (tel. 800/33-GRAND; (don't worry, it's air conditioned) include all meals, and if you're 11 or younger, you stay and eat for free. In light of the upcoming arts weekend, currently the Saturday of the weekend is sold out, but cancellations do occur, so it is best to call them directly. Beyond the arts weekend, the Grand Hotel offers some special rates sporadically throughout the summer, such as the buy two nights, get the third free deal, available July 22-24 and August 5-8. The package includes accommodations, full breakfast and five-course dinner daily, gratuities, special discount on ferryboat tickets, and it's priced at $539 per couple, per night.

Other properties run periodic specials throughout the summer. The award-winning and historic Hotel Iroquois (tel. 906/847-3321;, for example, has a summertime escape special with rates starting from $245 per person, available June 17-19, 24-26, July 1-2, 8-12, and August 19-23 and 26-31, and it includes accommodations, baggage service, full breakfast, complimentary morning coffee and tea service in lobby, and a special discount on ferry service.

The Lilac Tree Hotel and Spa (tel. 866/847-6575; offers a romantic getaway package that includes a balcony suite with a Jacuzzi big enough for two, a bottle of champagne, box of chocolates, turndown service, breakfast each morning, two one-hour massages at the hotel's new spa, and shopping discount coupon book. The special is priced at $299 per night and is based on a two-night minimum stay August 19-October 18, later in the season. Regular rates for Sundays-Thursdays in June start at $200 for an island side suite and fluctuate up to a starting rate of $260 for a good portion of July and the first two weeks of August.

Mission Point Resort (tel. 800/833-7711;, which has plenty of activities for everyone and is located on the lakefront, offers a couple of specials for the summer The resort's family package is valid June 1 through September 3 and includes two nights' lodging, daily breakfast, dinner one evening, Tower tickets for one day, a family picnic basket, a bike rental, ferry tickets, and all taxes and fees, among other amenities. During the week the package starts at $325 based on double occupancy and weekend packages start at $375 per night; children ages 13-17 cost an extra $45 per night. The resort also offers a summer value package, valid for the same date range, and this one takes care of two nights of lodging, daily breakfast, luggage transfers, ferry tickets, tower tickets for one day, and all taxes and fees. This package starts at $275 for weekdays and $330 on weekends, based on double occupancy, with a supplemental fee of $25 for children 13-17.

Your point of entry to the island, coming from the lower peninsula, is from the ferry at Mackinaw City, which is actually a village of about a thousand people, with numbers swelling during tourism months. A slew of hotel, dining, camping and entertainment deals are offered by the Mackinaw Area Official Visitors Bureau (tel. 800-750-0160; The website lists hotels, motels, bed and breakfasts, cabins, cottages and even condo rentals such as the new Shores at Mackinaw, and tons of useful links. Families might like the Mackinaw City Infinity Package, good for unlimited use at six adventures for three days, all at one price. Choose from Thunderfalls Family Waterpark, Historic Mill Creek, Old Mackinac Point Lighthouse, Fort Mackinac, Colonial Michilimackinac and ferry service to the island. It's priced at $79.95 for adults; $69.95 for teens 13-17, and $54.95 for children 5-12, but you must book at least at two-night stay from the list of accommodations on its site, which will be added to the package price. The offer is valid until September 9, and you have three days to take advantage of the activities. When you book your accommodations you can select by type, from anything such as chain hotels like the Ramada Limited Waterfront, or convenient properties such as the Northpointe Inn, or stays at bed and breakfasts such as the Brigadoon Bed and Breakfast, located about a block from downtown.

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