Grand Hotel: classy survivor of genteel times

There is no escaping the geraniums. They are woven into carpeting, printed onto toiletries, planted in front of the rocking chairs outside.

There are about 2,500 of the live plants, a reddish-orange bloom called Yours Truly, and they are a brilliant symbol of what is excessive and remarkable about Grand Hotel on Michigan’s Mackinac Island.

The geraniums sit in 260 flower boxes and line the world’s longest porch (it is more than two football fields), on the world’s largest summer hotel. Built in 1885, Grand Hotel is one of only a dozen lavish U.S. summer resorts that still exist. About 1,200 had been constructed during the Gilded Age; one-half were gone by the time the Depression arrived.

The Mackinac Island hotel survives, in part, because of its novel location, insistence on refined ways and quirky decorating. The pace is slow and genteel, a place for Big Band music at nightfall and high tea in the afternoon

Our friends added to the mood by arranging for a grand picnic: smoked salmon, bagels, fried chicken drumsticks, sandwich wraps, boiled eggs, fruit, cheese, crackers, cookies, truffles, water and wine. It was $120, fed two and was packed in a sturdy basket that also carried necessities (lawn blanket to wine glasses).

My Guy and I landed at a table for two, in the formal dining room, after a morning bike ride past fields, shade, old cemeteries and cool views of Lake Huron. T-shirts and shorts, during daytime dining, are tolerated but much rarer than golf shirts and capris.

What else adds to the mystique? The island has horses and bicycles, no autos or SUVs. Couples play croquet or bocce ball on the tea garden lawns. Men on the hotel grounds must wear a jacket and tie after 6 p.m. Many women get poufed and shimmery, dressed to the nines.

“I think tradition is very important,” Dan Musser III, hotel president, says in a video. When guests dress up, “it turns dining into an event” and is “a way to class up the place without spending a dime.”

Beige is banned from decorating schemes, and each of the 385 rooms is unique in furnishings/style. Typical is a wallpaper of slender ash trees, with perfect green leaves and a gentle blue backdrop. You’d get tired of it fast at home, but it’s a good match here.

“You remember it,” challenges Musser. “You don’t wake up thinking you’re in a Holiday Inn in Dubuque.”

There are themed suites, some designed in consultation with presidential first ladies. The four-bedroom Masco cottage was $3,000 per night this season, for up to eight guests (all meals included).

Standard room rates were as low as $179 per person, during midweek this month, to $645 for single occupancy of a luxury suite. That includes breakfast and a five-course dinner, and there is no tipping of any hotel staff.

They present the property as a museum as well as a lodging option. The cost to enter the 160-acre grounds is $10, if you’re not a hotel guest.

The tour fee can be applied toward lunch, a stunning and enormous buffet that is $45 per person. Want to avoid the fee? Show up in nice clothes after 6 p.m. and have a drink at the bar.

Hotel guests pay for alcoholic beverages, room service, bicycle rental, carriage taxi rides to and from the ferry dock. There is golfing, too, $80 to $100 for 18 holes (with transportation by horse-drawn carriage between the first and last nine).

This four-diamond getaway has attracted U.S. presidents and Academy Award winners, Fortune 500 CEOs and Grammy musicians. Esther Williams filmed “This Time for Keeps” with Jimmy Durante in 1949; Christopher Reeve filmed “Somewhere in Time” with Jane Seymour in 1980.

Within the property are hideaways as well as history. The Cupola Bar, on a clear night, provides a tremendous coastal view. A twilight carriage ride makes dining at The Woods both rustic and romantic. The country’s oldest duck pin bowling alley is here, too.

“I gift wrap a summer experience,” Musser says.

One wing of the hotel was open last winter, but that experiment is unlikely to be repeated. Concierge Bob Tagatz described it as a frustrating experience because the hotel had to downsize its offerings and was unable to serve guests in the manner to which they are accustomed.

Grand Hotel closes for the season this month and reopens in spring. To learn more, go to or call (800) 33-GRAND.