I have updated this blog for the 2012 season. Click here.
Mackinac Island isn’t cheap – ask any parent with children travelling there in July. After working on the island for over a year and having travelled the world on a (very tight!) budget at times, I will dispense some advice for the money conscious and ways to save on the tourist attraction that is Mackinac Island.
Main Street, Mackinac Island
Ferries and Tours
The first step to saving money on anything is to google coupons. I always end up at this site, where I found a current coupon, “facebook” for Sheplers that will get you a round trip for $16 instead of $19. (I tried a “mock” version to see if the coupon worked -it did happily!) Sheplers also has give away competitions for tickets on their facebook page as well as a ‘Fan Friday’ competition that will give away tickets to the fan of the week on the same site. Another way to get discount tickets through Sheplers is to use your AAA card which entitles you to a saving of $3. ($19 instead of $22)
If you know you will travel to the island for 2 days, instead of buying 2x return tickets, buy the Sheplers 2 Day Ferry pack. You will save $7.60 per person. ($36.50 instead of $44). A final way to get discounted tickets? The front desk of the hotel you stay at will probably has some form of association with the company and offer a promotion. Make sure to ask when you check in or make a booking if they do discounts. (I know a few Main Street hotels do discounts for Sheplers so I suggest you ask)
You can buy a return trip on Star Line for $13 with this coupon.
If you would like to go on the Carriage Tour of the Island, they accept AAA and military discounts which will entitle you to $1 off your ticket price. They also have this coupon which saves you $2 off the joint Butterfly/Carriage Tour. Note: they will not combine discounts. But $1 is better than nothing, for a family of 4 that’s $4 off your total! You can also try here, as occasionally they have carriage Tours for $19.
Surprise! Dont stay on the Island.
The Colonial Inn at St Ignace
A secret I use: stay at the Colonial Inn at St Ignace instead of the Island. While every other hotel in Mackinaw City and Mackinac Island almost triple their prices in peak season, Colonial stays roughly the same. (Depending on your room) One thing to bear in mind when travelling to Mackinac Island is the season is an incredibly short one. I have worked on the Island and most people view the season as June-August as being “peak” and the rest is quite slow in comparison. Having said that, you can now see why business almost triple their costs during peak times – to cover their expenses and make enough profit in those 3 months to make up for the rest of the unpredictable season and winter closure. Three months out of every year to make money isn’t much, but believe me, they do make up for it. I know a bellman from one hotel on Main Street who brags he earns $40,000 in 4 months every year.
A night in peak season at The Grand will run close to $300-400 and the once $45 a night Mackinaw City motels/hotels (which many are in dire need of an upgrade) are now pushing $129-$350. I would suggest you skip them and head to the Colonial Inn. Not only will you save big on accommodation costs, it’s directly across from the Arnold Ferry Line and minutes from Sheplers. If you stay at the Colonial Inn in a Queen room for $69 for 3 nights and booked return tickets to the island for all 3 days for 2 adults it would be $264 which is $486 cheaper than staying on the island for $250 a night. With discounted Sheplers ticket, you could take an extra $15 off that.
The hotel is Victorian style, with its mid 1800′s architecture and furnishings but it’s charming and clean. You can book online at http://www.colonial-house-inn.com . It is also located next to a fairly cheap and decent Diner. And surprise! I have actually stayed there!
You want to stay on the Island?
I would suggest, if you don’t have to, don’t visit during June/July or August. You will be overpaying for the same room someone was in for about 1/3 of what you’re paying only a month earlier. Here is a secret I learnt while at the Grand. The best time to visit the Island is in October. Sure, there are no festivals going on but the tourists have gone for the most part and rooms can be almost 75% off peak season rates. An added bonus? October is when the island starts to commercially shut down for the winter, so all merchandise is also on clearance. Last year I found a $160 North Face Ski jacket for $55. And you can still use your AAA cards for further discounts. The downside is it is starting to get cold here around then. (But the jackets will be 75% off!)
If you were to book online, the hotels that accept AAA on the island are The Grand Hotel, Harbor View Inn, Hotel Iroquois, Island House, Lakeview Hotel, Mission Point Resort and The Inn at Stonecliffe. Always ask about military discounts, most places have them but don’t advertise them. (At one front desk I worked at it was almost 40% off!) Also ask in advance for AARP discounts. The bottom line is discounts mean less money in their pockets so most places will not advertise it.
The Inn’s on the Island are slightly cheaper than the hotels (though not by a lot) The best tips are to book directly from the hotels websites and stop using the third-party sites, you are paying sometimes triple what the room is worth. My tips:
1. Go directly to the website of the company you want to stay at for discounts and packages 2. Search Google for coupons and discounts 3. Compare your top 3 choices for price, coupons and AAA discounts. One will always end up being a surprise catch. 4. Sign up for the hotels newsletters for promotions if you are booking well in advance
If you know someone who works at a hotel and are a legitimate friend of theirs they often have employee rates. For The Grand it was $100 for a standard room (plus taxes and baggage fees etc at restricted times) The employees can book this special on behalf of their family and close friends. Most employees work at the hotel up to 14 hours a day so I have rarely heard of someone using the deal for themselves.
Bike racks at Stonecliffe.
Most direct websites have promotions on them under “specials” or it could even be on their homepage. Be smart and if you want to travel here, know what dates will be peak periods (which means the rooms will be the most expensive and some even need a minimum stay during those periods such as The Pink Pony)
If you still want to visit during the heavy times book as early as you can in advance and use your discounts and look for specials. Also bear in mind the island connections – the Lilac Festival will mean pricey rooms, but there is a Lilac Parade which means The Lilac Hotel and Suites will fill up the fastest as they have the best direct views. The yacht races are all about the The Pink Pony. It’s the “it” place during the race which means of course, The Chippewa Hotel will sell out, their rooms will be twice as expensive and they also start minimum stays during peak weekends. The Pink Pony will be full every night of drinkers, yachtsmen and those girls looking for a honey with a yacht.
For hotels, I do recommend going to the hotel website directly but you can also try this reliable site.
Another tip? At the Grand Hotel (daytime only) there is a $10 entrance fee if you are not a staying guest. There are two ways to get around this. The first is go there after 6pm. There is no entrance fee but formal attire is required (or the bars will not serve you) you can walk around freely. Once in, look around and head to The Cupola Bar for a great view and free piano player after 8pm. The second is High Tea if that’s your thing. It is more expensive at $25 but you get tea and finger food and entrance to the hotel all in one. It starts in peak periods at 3pm. You do not need to be in formal attire. Also, one last note on The Grand, if you do stay in October when the rooms are cheaper, the merchandise found in the stores downstairs is also on sale. Glasses that were $25 are now $10 or $15.
Waiting for the fireworks on the 4th of July
Do the free things, sometimes they are better than those you pay for
The archaeological sites, Arch rock, Skulls Cave and Devils Kitchen are all free and within walking distance from downtown. You can also walk around the island instead of hiring a bike. It takes about 40 minutes to bike so assume around 1.5 hours for walking. The bonus is you’ll burn more calories, you’ll take in more scenery and can easily stop for pictures or experience the beaches. Even pack your own picnic and bring it with you and then sun-bake on the beach. Another idea is to spend an afternoon lazing around at Marquette Park, walking around the docked yachts, or visiting the Island’s Museum (a resident is curator and has an interesting Titanic/Island reference.) The back of the library has a great view, to sit and watch the ferries go by and sometimes….just sometimes you can pick up a decent wi-fi signal there too.
Thirst and Hunger:
While the Grand Hotel itself is no tipping, their outlets stores are tipping places. The Gatehouse, The Jockey Club and The Woods. If you want to experience the Grand and not eat the 5 course $75 dinner, go to the island resident favourite The Woods out by Stonceliffe. Bavarian style menu, one of the oldest wood bowling alleys in the US, a popcorn machine and an elegant out-of-the-way atmosphere.
You can save 10% on Joanns fudge by heading into Mighty Macs burger place (next to Joanns) for a discount card and for the month of July pick up free Joann fudge for riding with Sheplers. If you purchase your ticket online during July, Sheplers will give you a voucher for free fudge. Most fudge shops have the buy 2 pounds get one free. It works out $7 cheaper than buying 2. Around Lilac festival and the 4th July, they offer other discounts.
Millies on Main, another local favourite has $3 domestic beers during their happy hour and it is a quieter alternative at night than their neighbour – Horns. The food is mostly made from scratch.
If you are bringing your own car, stop at Walmart and bring some food with you. Food on the island is expensive (and gets hard to buy fresh food, and Douds is aways busy) bring some fresh food to put in the fridge, and most of all, if bringing kids buy some sweets or snacks. Otherwise once you hit the island they will want fudge from every fudge shop and to go to Douds every four minutes where you will buy the same thing for twice the price from Walmart.
If you need to buy bottled water on the Island go to Douds instead of stopping in at a restaurant. Most sell a small 300ml bottle of water for $2; at Douds a Smart Water litre bottle will be $1.89. You can buy 1 gallon water bottles for $1.69 at Douds also. Before getting on a tour or biking the island, stop in and buy your stuff from Douds. It’ll end up cheaper.
All prices were correct for Saturday, July 8th booked 1 week in advance without any discounts, room type varies
The cheapest hotel on the Island during peak times is; The Murray on Main Street ($149*)
The most expensive hotel on the island during peak times; The Grand and/or The Iroquois (followed closely by The Lakeview)
Cheapest Inn/B&B on the Island during peak times is: The Harbor View Inn ($160) and The Inn at Mackinac ($160) (I have since been informed thats it’s actually the Bogan Lane Inn, I had never heard of it and it didn’t come up in my Google searches. Find it by googling their name directly. $85-$125)
Cheapest Bike Rentals on the Island: Orr Kids (Near Sheplers, based on hourly adult and day rental one adult) $5 an hour or $30 day with NO deposit. If putting a $30 deposit down doesn’t bother you then try Lakeside Bikes $5 hour and $25 day.
Cheapest place to have lunch on the island: Mustang closely followed by Horns and Millies on Main.(A bit more expensive -the Wings at Goodfellows and the patio seating at The Pink Pony are local favourites. I like the Mussels at Seabiscuit.
Cheapest/best all round ferry service: Sheplers.
If I was to book one of these rooms with discounts and made an effort to look for specials I could have gotten the Harbor View Inn for two nights for $240. Still cheaper than a night at The Grand. Look for Discounts it can save you hundreds – literally.
Is there anything in particular you want to know about Mackinac Island?