Mackinac Island is one of those places that I’ve always heard a lot about but never visited until this trip. Whenever people talk about it, they wax poetic about its beauty, the lack of cars, the horse-drawn carriages, the Grand Hotel. After one day on the island, I can say that it is all that – and more – and less.
We took Shepler’s Ferry from St. Ignace to get to Mackinac Island. That, and the Star Line Ferry, are the two best ways to get to the island and they aren’t inexpensive. Tickets are $30 round-trip per adult with $16 extra if you want to bring your bike. The two ferry lines are the same price. We chose Shepler’s because they had a morning ferry trip that went under the Mackinac Bridge. We thought it was pretty cool to go past our campground and then under the bridge. It took a little longer, but it was worth it.
We bought the combination ticket for the ferry and carriage ride. It was the same cost as buying them separately, but we thought it would save us standing in line for the carriage ride when we got to the island. When we got to the island, we had to stand in line for an HOUR to get our carriage ride boarding passes. I don’t know what the point of getting a combination ticket is if you still have to stand in line for so long once you get there.
It was about 11 when we finally got our boarding passes but our carriage ride didn’t begin until 12:30. We decided to get an early lunch so that we wouldn’t be hungry during the two-hour carriage ride tour. By eating early we also hoped to avoid long lines in crowded restaurants. We were partly successful. The first two places we tried to eat already had long lines. The third place didn’t open until noon, which was too close to our carriage tour. We finally found a deli-style restaurant that was open and had a table available.
Our lunch spot was the Good Day Café. We were able to get a table next to an electrical outlet so Bob could charge his portable oxygen generator. We all ordered our sandwiches and enjoyed them very much. Tom and I both got a Breakfast bagel and Sandy and Eric got Island Cubans. Bob got an Avocado BLT. All the sandwiches were very good and not too much. The baked goods looked wonderful, but the real attraction at Good Day Café seemed to be the ice cream. We were surprised at the number of people who came in to get ice cream so early in the day. The café serves MOOmers Handmade ice cream and it looked delicious.
Finally it was time for our carriage ride. All five of us climbed on the carriage tour and off we went. The carriage tour is an absolute must the first time you go to Mackinac Island. There is no better way to see the island and get oriented to everything. The Mackinac Island Carriage Tour provides a great overview with wonderful guides. It turns out waiting in line at the beginning for our boarding pass was the only downside to the tour.
We had several different carriage tour drivers through the day, which made tipping a little difficult. We started with one driver who took us around downtown, past the Grand Hotel, and then up Carriage Hill. After spending some time in the Surrey Hills Museum, we boarded a three-horse carriage for the rougher roads of the state park. That driver took us to Arch Rock, past the cemetery, and on to Fort Mackinac. We got off there to spend some time at Fort Mackinac (more on that on Thursday).
When we done at Fort Mackinac we went back to the carriage tour stop and waited for a carriage to have room for all five of us. Because Fort Mackinac was an additional fee, not many people wanted to get off to see it. Finally, the third carriage to come to the stop had enough room for all of us to get on. That carriage took us back to Surrey Hill where we boarded a two-horse carriage to finish our ride back to the boat dock.
With our stop at Fort Mackinac, the carriage tour took most of the afternoon. By 4:30 our enthusiasm for the island and the crowds of people was flagging. Bob also needed to charge his oxygen generator. Sandy found an outlet at the boat dock and parked him in a wheelchair there while the rest of us went to get some fudge at Murdick’s. Then we got in line for the ferry ride back to St. Ignace.
Because the return ticket doesn’t have a time, you get in line and wait for the next ferry. Once you get in line you can’t get out of line or you might lose your place on that ferry. Although the ferry’s are fairly spacious, we were on the second to last ferry leaving the island for the day. We didn’t want to get stuck there for the night, so we waited in line longer than we probably needed to. Fortunately there were benches and it was a nice day.
Tom and I rode on top of the ferry both directions. This is the part of the ferry that is open to the wind but has the best views. I got splashed a little in the morning because I was sitting in the front row. Eric and Sandy decided to ride on top on the way back to St. Ignace and they got splashed a lot. How much you get splashed depends on where you sit, how much the wind is blowing, and how big the waves are.
We had a fun day on Mackinac Island but none of us was interested in going back for a second day. We felt exhausted from fighting crowds of people all day and climbing on and off the carriages. I’m not sure if there is a time of year when you can visit the island without there being crowds of people, but September 14 was not one of those times. There were parts of our day we really enjoyed but we were glad to get back to tiny, uncrowded St. Ignace and our campsites.