We have one more full day and then a travel day from Hawaii. Our flight doesn’t leave until 8:45 pm, so our travel day will afford us some beach time. The latest checkout I could get was noon. Today however, is a full day. No dinner reservations on our last night. We decided not to repeat anything and evening dining options are limited without a car. We could always use UBER, but we are in relaxation mode and just don’t want to make the effort. Besides, we need to eat up what is left in the refrigerator tonight.
I spilt time at the beach and the pool today. After two poolside cocktails, we ate lunch at Off the Hook. Boris had gotten us breakfast sandwiches from the quick service Ulu in the morning. I am usually a fan of eggs, cheese, and bacon on a croissant, but we both agreed these were awful. Fortunately, lunch at the Hook was consistently good, even great. I will admit that after Boris’ two double shot pina coladas, his lunch hotdog didn’t go down so well. My shrimp tacos were fabulous.
Aulani has a lot of different pools and chair areas to chose from. Unfortunately during our visit there were not seating areas or even a pool that was limited to adults only. There were plenty of couples and groups of adults to justify this type of area. There were times when I put my headphones in just to take a break from the kid noice. Of the flip side, this is great news for families; you can sit and jump in anywhere you want.
Boris headed up after lunch. I stayed down all day. I discovered that they had Dole Whip on property, the beloved snack at WDW’s Magic Kingdom and the Polynesian Resort (our home DVC resort). It was probably a good thing that I didn’t realize they had it earlier or I may have made it part of my daily routine. One option for dinner was to go across the street for pizza. Ulu also offers it, but we hadn’t heard great reviews from the other guests. However, Boris wasn’t up for going out so we finished off the snacks that we had in the refrigerator and sat on the balcony enjoying the music from the lounge as the sun (quickly) set. The pools are open until 8 pm, but they normally clear out by 6:00 pm just before it gets dark. There are some fun lights that outline the lazy river that look particularly cool at night.
Our last morning, I did a little packing before our last visit to Eggs and Things for breakfast right when they opened at 7 am. We were the first in the door. I had the pork chop and eggs with pancakes as a side today. We both thought that our first breakfast there was the best. I got the most of the rest of my packing done after breakfast and then headed down to the beach for my last opportunity in the sand. It was a beautiful clear day and the water was refreshing.
One of the things I really haven’t mentioned, but you should be aware of before you go to Aulani is that although this is a Disney resort, you will see very little Disney decor or references around the property. Even the characters are kind of tucked away. You have ask for the character greeting schedule and often the meeting place is around the side of the resort. One of the few permanent Disney features is a carved Stitch statue. Guests like to leave their leis there. They get cleared off and will reappear again, sometimes on his head and sometimes around his neck.
I stayed out until 11:15 am and then headed up for a shower and to pack the last of my things. We were out of the room at 12:02 pm right on schedule. After we left our suitcases at bag check at the front of the resort, we headed across the street to the Ko Olina shopping center to look around a bit and grab lunch. I actually would have waited and coordinated our visit there with the Monkeypod happy hour from 3:30-5 pm, but Boris wanted to go right away. I took along my almost empty tote in case I wanted to buy something. They charge for bags under Hawaiian state law.
I should probably back up a little and explain Ko Olina. It is referenced often in relation to the resort and I had trouble when I was filling out my Safe Travels form for Hawaii because I thought that was the name of the city. Ko Olina is actually the name of the development. Ko Olina features three resort hotels: Aulani, The Four Seasons, and a Marriott. There is also a condo section on the beach and a housing section for permanent residents that is not on the beach, but does afford a lovely view of the mountains. It is rounded out with the shopping center and the Golf Club and Course where Roy’s is. (As an aside, the James Beard winning Roy Yamaguchi, the owner for the golf club restaurant, was featured as a judge on the most recent-20th-season of Hell’s Kitchen with Gordon Ramsey.) The developed features several lagoons waterside.
The land on which the development sits is the driest part of the island of Oahu. This land was formerly sugar cane fields. In fact the railway lines for transporting the sugar cane are still in place. You cross them when walking to the shopping center or the golf club. Today we saw the train passing with tourists taking the short ride. They got dropped off at the shopping center where the Ko Olina development office is.
Our shopping was limited but successful. Boris found two Hawaiian shirts that he really liked including a new Christmas design one. It is subtle enough that you might not notice the strings of Christmas lights, that is to the extent any Hawaiian shirt can be subtle in its design. I found a brand of sandals I love that I first got on a previous trip to Hawaii. I bought 3 pair and some fur-lined loafers in the same OluKai brand which are probably post-surfing shoes to warm the feet. Afterwards, we went to Pizza Corner for a late lunch. The pizza was just ok. There are only a few tables available outside. All of their indoor dining is currently closed. They do a lot of takeout. We saw many people walking back over to the resort with their Pizza Corner boxes throughout our stay.
Afterwards we went back over to the resort and looked in the shops there before finding a comfortable chair near an outlet (for charging). I had a dry swimsuit in my tote bag and was tempted to go out to the pool, but didn’t. I regret it. If I have a do over, or another visit, I would use that time to go outside. I just hated the idea of having to fly with my body covered in sun tan lotion. The complementary changing rooms are currently not available due to COVID protocols.
Sitting inside also meant we had to wear masks. This was on top of airport time and flight time where masks will also be required. I used the time to read and would look up periodically to enjoy the view. I have read quite a few books on this trip. We went out to the bag drop early so I could transfer my purchases and my tote into my checked bag. Our driver was also early and we had smooth travel to the airport.
I asked the driver if they were still doing agricultural inspections and he said sometimes. It has been a long time since my last visit to Hawaii, but all mainland passengers had to do them then. Well they are still in place now and it looks like a pretty permanent set up. So, as you enter the airport your first stop should be to run the bags you are checking through the scanners and get your agriculture inspection stickers. They will send you back if you try to check bags before they have been inspected. Carry on bags are not scanned there; they’ll get you when you pass through TSA security.
After we cleared security, I stopped and picked up something to eat. I prefer to avoid eating the food on the plane if possible. Then we camped out waiting for boarding. I snapped some pictures of our wrist band collections. It is obvious who spent more time in the pool and on the beach. You were issued wrist bands daily when you went to pick up your towels. The DVC members got the groovy sparkly ones. I was there long enough that some of my early ones-a bright blue and royal blue-had already had the color all washed off. I am kind of proud of my collection. I would have had one more if I had gotten one the day we arrived when we just went and sat on the beach. I will cut them off when we get home.
Because there were empty seats on the plane (and were some on the way out too), there was some confusion as people shifted around. There was a young man who was blind who was seated in the row in front of me. I was impressed by how well he adapted. He had an assistant getting on the plane and the flight attendant were very available to him. I don’t know if I would have felt comfortable traveling alone with his disability; kudos to him.
I was a shorter flight home, just over 7 hours. It is the time change that will really effect me plus the fact that I can’t really sleep on airplanes. I did some photo clean up and read during the flight. There were movies too. I got a nice surprise when we landed in Houston. IAH (Bush International Airport) in Houston is a five-terminal, huge international airport. Emma and Maggie were leaving from terminal E for California. They are going to Dapper Days at Disneyland. Our arrival gate was also in terminal E, so we were able to see each other briefly at the airport. It is pretty obvious from the picture which one of us is lacking sleep.
We are enjoying a 6 day-5 night stay at Disney’s Hawaiian Resort, Aulani, located on Hawaii’s most populous island Oahu where the capital Honolulu is located. Boris likes his sit-down-and-be-served breakfasts, so we started our day across the street from the resort at Eggs and Things. The Ko Olina location is relatively new, but the chain has been on Ohau since 1974. They operate four locations in Hawaii, one in Guam, and a special Japanese website. At 8:15 am on a Sunday the place was packed and we had a 20-minute wait for a table. You can put you name on the list online, but we didn’t know it until after this first visit. Upon arrival, we started with the vaccination card, ID, name and phone number drill. This breakfast spot opens at 7 am and serves until 2 pm daily.
Being the savory over sweet eater, I got the steak and eggs with potatoes as my side selection. With a meat and eggs, you could get a side of rice, potatoes, or three fluffy pancakes. Since I had the pancakes yesterday, I went with potatoes. This was already a large breakfast; pancakes would have set it over the top. Boris chose the pancakes as his side. It was really good food.
The couple at the table next to us had been at the resort for 8 nights and were heading home to Florida that day. Their greatest concern was staying awake for their 10:45 pm departure. They had chosen to “stay” on Eastern time for their trip, adjusting their activities to fit that schedule. Tonight they were going to be flying all night to get home to Florida. On the way to Hawaii, it was only one stop for them in Los Angeles. Going home, they were flying to Seattle, stopping in Phoenix, stopping in Atlanta, and then finally getting home to Tampa. They were celebrating their 40th wedding anniversary. They had met on Ohau when they were both in the military.
After breakfast, we went to the Island Market, an extended ABC store. The ABC stores are a chain that has been on the islands forever. I remember ABC stores as a place to get cheap souvenirs and inexpensive beach supplies you didn’t mind just leaving when you departed the island. All that is still at this store, but this location has an extended grocery section as well. I picked up bread, meats, cheese slices, crackers, chips, condiments, and drinks. You can even buy wine and hard liquor if you so desire. Boris did so desire.
So by the time we got back, put everything in the refrigerator, put on suntan lotion and our swimsuits, and headed down to the pool, it was already pretty packed. Since we started with the beach yesterday, we decided to start with the pool today. We were unable to find seats in the shade. Boris immediately headed off to the lazy river, Waikolohe Steam.
Waikolohe means mischievous water in Hawaiian. From our balcony, we could see the stream’s winding path, but when you ride it feels longer. You pass under several dated bridges, go through a short cave, and float under waterfalls. The date on the bridges is 1923, the year the Walt Disney Company was founded. There are single and double tubes to ride on, but the water is so shallow that all but young children could walk it with their head above water. There are multiple entrances where you can join the flow. Mid-afternoon, Disney characters stand on one of the bridges and wave to guests as they float by. During our stay, I saw Goofy, Max, Daisy, Mickey, Minnie, Chip, and Dale on the bridge.
It didn’t take long for Boris to decide that he had no interest in hanging out on a lounge chair by the pool in the sun. At one point during the trip, he commented that he had spent more time hanging out with me by the pool/on the beach on this trip, than he had in the last 40 years. It wasn’t much of an exaggeration. I hung in there longer than Boris, but eventually even I headed back in for an afternoon nap. We don’t have dinner reservations tonight; the plan is to stay in, enjoy the music from the balcony, and eat the snacks we bought at the market in the morning. With another gorgeous sunset, it was a perfectly relaxing evening.
The big surprise that evening were the fireworks that were shot from Ko Olina Lagoon. I hadn’t seen it advertised anywhere. We had a great view from the balcony. I asked the next day what the schedule was and found out that Disney does not sponsor the fireworks; they are hosted by the permanent residents of the Ko Olina community.
It was back to Eggs and Things the next morning. We learned our lesson yesterday and went shortly after they opened at 7 am so we had no wait. This time I tried the traditional eggs benedict, one of my morning favorites. Unfortunately, the hollandaise sauce was from a mix and not homemade which completely ruins this dish. After such a good breakfast yesterday, it was very disappointing. No market run today, so we headed straight back to the resort afterwards.
The resort offers multiple crafting opportunities for guests from stamping tee shirts to making your own Mickey Ears. You can find information on the Aulani App which they recommend you download before your arrival. I found the app information generally not up to date or incomplete. You also can not sign up for activities or restaurants on the app. I went down to the Pau Hana Room this morning to sign up for the ear-making class thinking I would need to attend the class one of the last two days of my stay because today’s times were booked and currently not showing up on the app (although they were there the day before). You must sign up in person. When I arrived (and after I waited in line), I was told there were three classes still available for today at 11 am, noon, and even 5 pm. The evening time slot had never even appeared on the app. I would not rely on the Aulani Resort Mobile App; just stop in and schedule the things you are interested in.
The Pau Hana Room is a community space for events, but as it is enclosed so it is currently being used only for sign-up purposes. The ear-making classes are being held in the Ama Ama Restaurant. This is the resort’s fine dining restaurant that is currently closed. I am not sure why, it is an open-air facility. Perhaps it is a staffing issue or a choice given reduced capacity at the resort. There are stunning views of the beach and the water and you can see why the location was chosen for an upscale restaurant.
After the morning at the pool, I joined the noon class and was assigned a table with a view. Each participant is given a glue gun and a sack with their selections inside. When you sign up you choose the five items you want to decorate with, the color of your ears, and whether you want lights or no lights. The regular ears cost $25; lighted ones are $35. An assistant circulates giving instructions and helpful advise. When I was there, it was more adults than children. There were even men participating. The table next to me had two small girls with their father and grandfather.
Unlike Emma and Maggie, I am not a crafty person. However, I enjoyed the class and would recommend it. You have up to an hour to complete your project. I was pretty proud of my finished customized ears. I got lots of complements as I wore them poolside. I directed several people to signup who were unaware that the classes were offered. These ears will definitely be joining me on my next trip to the parks.
Maybe it was just because I was wearing my new ears creation, but unlike Boris I didn’t feel the need for a nap today and stayed all afternoon at the pool. One thing I have noticed is that the crowds have dropped off considerably now that the weekend is over. I learned that they are special incentives given to the locals on the weekends. I am sure they needed to drive in more traffic when they first opened back up. I wonder how long this program will last. I also noticed that about 2 pm the numbers by the pool and beach drop off considerably and continue to decline throughout the afternoon. This is a great time to try the lazy river or one of the water slides that are more crowded earlier in the day.
The two slides start at the top of Pu’u Kilo, the mountain-like structure that sits in the center of the resort amenities between the towers where the guest rooms are located. Disney describes Pu’u Kilo as the “craggy peak overlooking the Waikolohe Valley”. One slide twists and turns through the open air and dumps you out at one of the launch spots for the lazy river. You ride a single or double inner tube supplied by the resort. The other is a body slide inside Pu’u Kilo that dumps you out on the opposite side into an alcove of the Waikolohe Pool. Disney describes the body slide as “extreme”. Neither rivals the big attractions at water parks, but the slides are popular with all members of the family and are included in your resort stay.
Dinner tonight was at Monkeypod Kitchen by Merriman. Just across the street from the resort is the Ko Olina shopping center with Eggs and Things, the ABC Island Market, and the very popular Monkeypod Kitchen. Every person we talked to about eating out during our stay at Aulani suggested Monkeypod. The chain has three restaurants. There are two on the island of Maui; the Ko Olina location is the only one on Oahu. Chef Peter Merriman has been called a culinary pioneer; the Los Angeles Times referred to him as “The Pied Piper of Hawaii Regional Cuisine”. This is farm to table fare featuring products grown, raised, and captured in the area.
We had trouble getting reservations and had to wait until four days after our arrival to get in. Our reservation is also for a later time than we usually eat. Once again there is all the paperwork and documentation to go through upon arrival at the restaurant. By now, we know the drill. The restaurant is covered inside and out, but it is all open on the side. We were seated on the outdoor patio where a live musician performed.
The restaurant has a wonderful happy hour daily from 3:30-5 pm; both food and drinks are discounted. The restaurant is also family friendly. According to our server, they have been voted as having the best mai tai for seven years running. This is not usually my drink, but with that recommendation I had to try. It was fabulous, if a little strong. I loved how it was presented with the pineapple on the side and lots of foam on top. They will give you extra foam at no charge if you ask. I did.
The restaurant name comes from a tree. A monkeypod tree sits at the corner of the patio just behind where the musician was playing. The restaurant’s website offers the best description I found. The monkeypod tree is not only beautiful, but it has a really special presence in Hawaii. The monkeypod tree has a single stalk and branchs [sic] that spread into a wide canopy. They thrive in the Hawaiian Islands, more than any other place. Unlike other trees that kill the grass and other plants that live beneath them, the grass is always greener under the monkeypod tree, literally. Its leaves release nitrogen to naturally fertilize the soil beneath it.
Boris wanted the lobster deviled eggs as an appetizer so we shared that. I ordered the fish and chips with truffles fries (you can also just get salt and pepper on them) for my entree. I had heard about their truffle fries. They did not disappoint. Great dipping sauce too. We finished with a slice of banana pie and a slice of chocolate pie, also recommended. All the food was good. It was definitely a more casual menu than Roy’s and a location worth repeating. We had a great server whose father was in the military and she had lived all over the world with her family. When her father retired, she chose to return to Hawaii to live. She has a two-year-old son and wanted to give him the experience of living this lifestyle. She will stay as long as she can, but the cost of living in Hawaii is very high.
After dinner we didn’t stay up long after returning to the resort. Only one more full day at the resort. I went to sleep with the sound of the ‘Olelo Lounge Singer in my ears.
Boris and I are soaking up the sun in Hawaii with a trip to Aulani, Disney’s newest non-park resort. This will be our first full day on property and we are starting with a very unBoris activity, a character breakfast. Our Disney family group loves the photo op aspect of character dining. Rocky in particular likes the face character interaction when he can talk to “in character”. That said, Boris is really not into Disney.
Right off the bat, you are ushered into the outdoor patio with a stage (used as a popular lounge in the evenings featuring live entertainment). With COVID restrictions preventing the characters from going table to table for photos and autographs, Mickey and Minnie in their Hawaiian garb were on stage and you stood in front and took pictures with them behind you. Boris actually smiled for the camera. These photos are going on the Christmas cards.
Next you go into the waiting area to be seated for breakfast. On the way in, we were asked if we wanted a second photo opportunity this time with Goofy (in his chef attire) and Pluto. Same set up, they stood behind the empty buffet serving area, you stood in front whle the pictures were taken. They did some tricks with props. It was fun and since Pluto is Boris’ favorite Disney character-who knew??-even he enjoyed it.
Next it was another three-course meal in Makahiki where we ate last night. This morning we were seated on the patio. We started with a beautiful fruit plate, all very fresh. Coffee and your choice of juice was also served. When in Rome…I went with the pineapple juice and it was the finest I ever tasted. Tomato juice wasn’t one of the options, but our server was able to find some for Boris. Next came a basket with four pastries. What?? After the instance the night before that they did not serve bread baskets due to dietary restrictions, now the sweet bread basket appears as one of three breakfast courses? Apparently the attention to special diets only comes into play at night. Doesn’t make any sense to me. I suspect the dietary concern is only the excuse they give for not having to serve bread at night.
I chose the pancakes-very unNatasha like. I definitely have savory versus sweet taste buds. A pastry is never my choice for breakfast. If I am going to have breakfast, I want meat and eggs. However, these were macadamia nut pancakes. You had me at macadamia…and bacon.
Boris went with an omelet with Portuguese sausage which is a very common meat served on the island. It was a good breakfast and I knew we weren’t going to have to worry about eating again anytime soon. Another breakfast highlight for me was the wonderful music. The live performer was so good, I thought it was a recording.
I had worn a dress as a coverup over my swimsuit so I was ready to go right out to the beach. Who comes to Hawaii without a swimsuit? Well apparently, Boris who couldn’t find his swim trunks while packing. We checked out a couple of the shops after breakfast, but he didn’t see anything he liked. We’ll try the Lava Shack near the pool when it opens at 10 am as they supposedly have a larger selection. We went down to the beach, found open seats with an umbrella, and lathered up.
Aulani is set in a man-made lagoon along the coast line. It sits in the center edge of this lagoon with a condo project on one side and The Four Seasons Resort on the other side. Disney has a lot of chairs and umbrellas in place (and free) for guests. The calm waters of the lagoon cover a large area and the water tapers out to the natural coastline slowly offering lots of shallow water to enjoy. Eventually things get deeper so you can enjoy a swim or other exercise. The lagoon covers a large enough area that paddleboarders, boogieboarders, swimmers, snorkelers, boppers, and waders can share the area with some personal space in between. There were even a couple of sailing canoes the went out periodically with paying guests and I never saw any collisions among the various groups.
At the far end of the lagoon the area was roped off. Only the sailing canoes went beyond the marked area. The canoes set out to the sound of a tribal horn under manpowered oars without using a motor. They were equipped with motors for use in the open ocean when needed. Each ride lasted an hour. Significantly, there were no motorized water vehicles in the large lagoon.
The water was a little cool when I got in, but I adjusted quickly and enjoyed my swim and just treading water for a bit. Everything was very clean, but the water wasn’t clear enough to snorkel in my opinion. No way to know if this is always the case. The resort actually has a huge “aquarium” where guests can pay for the opportunity to snorkel with the beautiful fish that lives in the waters of the Pacific Ocean. There are multiple sessions at Rainbow Reef each day. There is a bottom level viewing so all guests can enjoy a look and in the evening you can see scuba divers cleaning the tank.
The sand was a nice tan color and very clean. There were no rocks or shells. Even though temperatures got into the upper 80s, the sand was never hot enough that you couldn’t walk on it in bare feet. At 10 am, Boris went up to find a swimsuit. By 11, he had not returned and all that lovely sand and clean water was reflecting some serious heat. After a text, he came down wearing one of the suits we had seen earlier. Apparently, the larger selections had not actually yielded a different option. There were two Aulani designs; he ended up with the one I liked least. The suit however, did serve its purpose. Boris spent a lot of time in the water.
Eventually, we ended up poolside at Off the Hook to enjoy some lunch. Their food and drink menu is the same fare that is served at your lounge chair by the pool or on the beach. Chair service begins at 11:00 am and continues until late afternoon. We were ready to get away from the heat, so we chose to eat on the open-air patio at a table. I can recommend their burgers and the shrimp tacos. Boris also liked their hotdogs and wings. It is not a cheap lunch. The burger is $21 before you add cheese ($3 more) or bacon. The shrimp tacos are $24. They also offer salads. They come with Maui chips, fries, fruit, small salad, or onion rings. On an all-out day, go for the onion rings with the spicy dipping sauce.
On the first day, I found that they serve my beloved Lava Flow, a pina colada with a strawberry puree and I had one almost daily. Boris ordered a regular pina colada and was offered the extra shot of dark rum on top. After having it with the shot the first day, he continued to order it that way the rest of trip. He also tried the local beers. Other than my daily lava flow, I drank tap water the rest of the time we were at the resort.
I have to admit that after lunch with a full tummy and the rising heat, the air conditioned room and an afternoon nap sounded like a good plan. I had wanted to check out the shopping center across the street for some grocery supplies and also take a turn on the resort’s lazy river. However, still feeling the effects of the time zone change, my short nap turned into an all afternoon nap. We eventually woke up in time to shower and change for dinner.
Tonight, we are going off property to eat at Roy’s, a Ko Olina restaurant at the golf course clubhouse. It was recommended to us for a “nicer” meal in the area. Chef “Roy Yamaguchi was born and raised in Tokyo, Japan. He is known as the innovator of Hawaiian inspired cuisine… He was honored with the James Beard ‘Best Pacific Northwest Chef’ Award in 1993.” royyamaguchi.com
It was a short walk (about 9 minutes) from the resort. Upon arrival and before you go inside, you have to show your COVID vaccination card and ID. You also had to fill out a medical form. This process was not unique to Roy’s. With a 6 pm reservation, we were able to walk over in the light and secure an outdoor table overlooking the golf course and the mountains beyond on the restaurant’s wonderful patio. You will definitely need reservations if you plan to go on the weekend.
We ordered a bottle of Cava, a sparkling wine from Spain. It was not particularly good and not nearly cold enough. That said, there was not a bottle on the wine list that was over $60, so you get what you pay for. On a return visit, I would probably just order a cocktail instead. For the first course, we shared the recommended crispy crab cakes with a wonderful sauce. Yummy; we both liked them. For my entrée, I had the macadamia nut-crusted Mahi Mahi. Boris stayed with the Spanish-theme and ordered the paella. It was an extensive menu. I am pretty sure I out-ordered Boris this go around.
It was dark for most of our dinner. The sun sets quickly here. I was disappointed I didn’t snap a picture of the hills before it got completely dark by 6:30 pm. We finished off with a chocolate souffle for Boris and the pineapple upside down cake for me. These are the special-order items that take 22 minutes to prepare. Our last glass of Cava from the bottle in the ice bucket was finally cold enough to enjoy.
After dinner, we wandered back to the hotel needing even that short walk to work off a little of that meal. I took some pictures of the lobby at night. Back in the room, we enjoyed the live music from the lounge below our balcony and the lights that highlighted the beauty of our resort.
It was a wonderful first full day at Aulani…Aloha.
Three weeks after our wedding anniversary, Boris and I made a 6-day, 5-night trip to Hawaii’s most populous island Oahu, where the state’s capital city of Honolulu is located. We are visiting Disney’s newest non-park resort and Vacation Club destination, Aulani. We plan to spend our time checking out the resort, so if you are looking for tips for places to visit in Hawaii or even just on Oahu, this isn’t the post for you. However, if you want to know general information about how COVID restrictions affect travel to Hawaii, whether to rent a car or not, or about this Disney Resort, read on.
With COVID upending many of my travel plans, I ended up with Disney Vacation Club points that I needed to use before the end of the month. We wanted to make the trip before the heavy Thanksgiving crowds descend on the island, so we traveled to Hawaii the weekend daylight savings time ended.
Hawaii still has strict COVID regulations in place. Its not too tough if you are vaccinated as Boris and I are. In fact, we both got booster shots just prior to the trip. You’ll need to go to their Safe Travels website and register yourself and anyone in your family under 18. Each adult has to do their own separate registration. Then you provide your trip details. Finally, you upload your vaccination card or recent test results. We did all this about a week before our trip. Just prior to departure, you also fill out a health questionnaire. Having completed this process, we were given special wrist bands in the airport in Houston and thus completed the screening process. There was nothing more for us to do for the State of Hawaii on arrival. If your departure city does not offer the wrist band clearance, you’ll have to make an extra stop just after you get off the plane when you arrive at the airport in Honolulu.
I found the website forms a little cumbersome to get through, but I think most younger people will have no problem with them. One tip, the places for signatures really are looking for you to use your finger (or perhaps a mouse) to create a signature. It is unlike some forms where you just type in your name.
Although we could have taken a cheaper flight with a California stopover, we flew directly from Houston to Hawaii on United Airlines. From Houston, it takes about eight and half hours to reach Honolulu and just over seven hours to get back. We flew over when daylight savings time was still in place, so there was a five-hour difference from Central Time. Hawaii does NOT observe daylight savings time, so by the end of our trip we will only have a four-hour time difference.
Boris and I have been to four of the Hawaiian Islands-Oahu, Maui, Kauai, and the Big Island of Hawaii. We have stayed at convention hotels (the worst), resort hotels, boutique hotels, condos, and rental homes (the best). In all instances, we rented a car and you almost always want one. (We could have done without one when we were at the convention hotel, but I hated Waikiki Beach and the excessive crowds who had no concept of personal space. I used the car to get away from that area of the island while Boris was in meetings.)
If you are staying at a rental property with a kitchen, you’ll want the car to get to the grocery store or for longer stays a warehouse retailer like Costco. If you are at a resort, you might want a car to go to “off property” restaurants. The resort dining options-Aulani included-are very expensive and you will get tired of the limited choices after a while. Additionally, to get to various attractions or shopping destinations around the island you will probably want a car.
All that said, since Boris and I are here for less than a week and we have visited Oahu several times, we decided to save the money on parking and a car and just got transportation directly to Aulani. Aulani also has an on-site car rental facility, so we figured we could just rent a car for a day or two if we wanted to visit anything in particular. If you are going to go this route, make sure the Aulani rental office is open. I found the car rental office while on property, but it looked closed.
I should also note that this past summer (2021) there was a severe shortage of rental cars on the islands. Actually, all over the United States. I have friends that were quoted ridiculous prices to rent a car on the Hawaiian Islands. I also spoke with someone who lives on Oahu and she said many people stayed home from work and rented out their cars to travelers because they made more money that way. I admit that factored into our decision to not rent a vehicle. Given the cost of onsite dining, a large family would probably still have been better off renting a car to access grocery stores and offsite restaurants. With just the two of us and Boris’ love of being served his meals, not renting a car worked for us.
Although this post is really not about all the very cool things to do on Oahu, I highly recommend a visit to Pearl Harbor, The Polynesian Cultural Center, Diamond Head, the beaches on the western side of the island and ok, probably the famous Waikiki Beach (only to say you have been there). You’ll need a car to get to these places if you are staying at Aulani. I also want to see the place where they filmed Jurassic Park which is also on this island. Boris didn’t want to go, but I know Rocky will go with me on another visit. You would need to rent a car or hire a driver/guide for that. Only other alternative would be to book a tour that picks you up at the hotel. I did see island tour buses arriving at Aulani.
Since we didn’t rent a car, we could have taken a group shuttle to Aulani, but most of what I read online warned that currently there are often excessive waits for the shuttles. We hired a private transfer service, Honolulu Airport Transfer. Aulani is about 30-40 minutes away from the airport depending on traffic. Our driver watched our flight schedule, called us directly after we landed, and picked us up just outside baggage claim. We went directly to Aulani and beat the crowd at check-in. Plus, since we arrived earlier than most new guests, our room was already available for immediate occupancy. We rolled our bags up, unpacked, and when we came down less than an hour later to make dining reservations. By that time, the front desk lines were very long and people were told that their rooms would not be ready until the normal check-in time. The private transfer was easy and worth the extra cost to start out the vacation in a more relaxed manner. I also recommended taking advantage of Aulani’s online check-in prior to arrival at the hotel.
If you are a DVC member, be sure to take your membership card for discounts. If you forget it, you can take a screen shot of the card after you pull up a temporary one on the Vacation Club web site. No discounts at the sit-down restaurants at Aulani like at the Florida resorts and parks, but there is a 10% discount in the shops and you get cooler wristbands at the pool.
You will also need to show your vaccination card at check-in. You’ll be given a special wristband. If you are not vaccinated, Aulani requires you to do periodic testing during your stay. We even got a call at home from the resort several days before trip making sure we were aware that masks are still required to be worn in all indoor spaces at Aulani (and they enforce that rule), that you need to be vaccinated or take frequent tests, and that you need to follow the State of Hawaii guidelines for entering the islands.
You will find that all of the local restaurants and shops require you to wear a mask inside. Additionally, you are asked to present your vaccination card at all restaurants whether you are seated inside or in their outdoor dining areas. They take the name of all the members of your party and a phone number, presumably for contract tracing and notification. Some places even have you fill out and sign a health form.
Another tip unrelated to COVID, the State of Hawaii requires all retailers to charge for bags. I have encountered this in foreign countries, but not in the US. Unaware, when I questioned the charge, I was informed that “it is the law”. Outwardly, this is an ecological policy to encourage people to reuse their bags. Retailers will tell you it is just another way for the state government to tax unknowing visitors. You will want to pack a beach tote for a trip to Hawaii anyway, so take the tote with you (empty) when you go shopping and save the cost of buying a bag.
That first afternoon at the resort after unpacking, we stopped at the concierge to make dining reservations. I usually do this online, but we wanted recommendations for the resort and the area. We found that the only sit-down breakfast option at the resort was the 3-course character breakfast. To Boris, this is THE way to start off the day-the served breakfast, not the characters. He agreed to go; I was shocked. We also made reservations for Makahiki, the one dine-in restaurant that is currently operating at the resort (in the same location as the breakfast) and some offsite places that had been recommended to us. The concierge was pleasant and made all the reservations for us, but she really didn’t offer any suggestions other than to mention the other Ko Olina resorts.
Next, we walked around the property to familiarize ourself a bit and ended up sitting under an umbrella on the beach just enjoying the view. Finally, we grabbed a drink at the Off the Hook bar while we waited for the restaurant to open for our 5 pm dinner reservations. I know that is really early, but we had eaten almost nothing in the last 24 hours.
Makahiki has a lovely setting overlooking the koi pond and fountains. There is indoor and outdoor seating, but the interior is completely open to the porch so everyone is essentially in covered outdoor seating. The restaurant was clearly designed for buffet dining (at least at breakfast) and there is a lot of real estate that is currently not being used. During our visit, there was a three-course fixed price menu. We found plenty of things that interested us, but it was an expensive meal so we ended up going with steaks to get the most bang for our buck. We were very surprised that no bread course was served and when I asked about it, the server told us that the resort prides itself on its ability to serve those with dining restrictions and it is just too hard to serve bread that everyone can enjoy. She did say they get lots of requests for bread. None is served, even on request.
Next door is the completely open and uncovered ‘Olelo patio. Service includes heavy appetizers and drinks starting at 5 pm. The inside ‘Olelo Room is a sushi bar and the décor includes beautiful carved wooden panels. In Hawaiian, ‘Olelo means word or to converse. Live music on the outdoor stage begins around 6 pm and continues until 9 or 10 pm. The patio lounge is very popular. No reservations are taken, so it is first come, first served. There is always a line.
We headed up to our room after dinner and from our balcony we can look directly down into the ‘Olelo lounge area. Boris and I enjoyed the music nightly without standing in line. I don’t usually spring for the waterfront rooms at our home resort at the Polynesian because we are not often in the room. However, this being our anniversary celebration and knowing we were going to be hanging around the resort, I booked a room with an ocean view. In this instance it was well worth the extra Disney Vacation Club points. We have a gorgeous view of the resort facilities, including the beach, and spectacular sunset views every night.
More resort details to come in my next post…Aloha.
Those of you that regularly follow the blog know I live in Houston, Texas USA. Our beloved Astros are in the World Series for the third time in five years. We have home field advantage meaning the first two games were in Houston. I sprang for a ticket to the second game. For my foreign followers, the World Series is up to seven baseball games with the winner being the first to get to four victories. It is top honors in professional American baseball, like the finals of the World Cup if you will.
My sister Emma and her husband are season ticket holders which means they had the opportunity to buy the series tickets before they go on sale to the general public. They can buy up to six tickets for each game; they have two tickets for the regular season. We had great seats for the second game of the series, section 110, row 7 along the third base line.
As a season ticket holder, Emma had the opportunity to carry, hold, and wave the huge American flag that they brought onto the field for the national anthem for game one. Maggie had the chance to do it with her. They had a three-hour rehearsal the day before. They said the flag was pretty heavy. In fact, one person fell and was pulled under the flag taking two other holders with her. This was actually covered during their training. At game two, I met one of the people that got pulled under. She said she could see it about to happen; the woman in front of her was struggling. My new friend Audrey is fine physically. As she put it, only her pride was bruised. She was back cheering the Astros the next night.
Unfortunately, the Astros didn’t do so well that first night and fell behind early, eventually losing the game 2-6. I was pretty glad that I didn’t fork over the money for one of those tickets. I went for game two hoping for better things. My niece Maggie had been put in charge of coordinating the evening. She took her mom Emma to work downtown (where the ballpark also is) in the morning. Maggie suggested picking me up at 2:45 pm for the 7:09 pm game so we could work everything into our itinerary. I negotiated her to make it 3 pm.
After picking up Emma from her office, we parked in a metered spot over by the courthouse. There is a 3-hour limit for the for-pay period which ends at 6 pm, so we made the window. We paid $5.05 to park there until 6 pm and the rest of the evening is free. Not surprisingly, parking prices in the private lots are inflated for the World Series. To park in the lot across the street from our street parking was $60. For the AL series last week, the price was $40; it is $20 during the regular season.
From there we walked several blocks to get an early dinner.We are going to Irma’s a downtown, a Diners and Dive type eatery that serves homemade Mexican food. In fact, I saw a picture of Irma with the Diners and Dive host in the restaurant. The place has been added on to over the years and contains all kinds of family nicknacks. They is quite an extensive doll collection on display, including in the woman’s bathroom.
The servers are known for their surly attitude so don’t go expecting pleasantries, especially on a busy game day. You can also expect that regulars will be given priority in the line and plucked to be seated before any who might be waiting in the queue. We arrived early and waited only briefly. Getting parking and a table at Irma’s were our primary reasons for leaving for the game so early.
The restaurant had just finished serving 300 Fox Sports workers and the servers were already in a bad mood. I offered to take a picture of Irma with one of the Fox hosts as the host was leaving. This apparently put me in the good graces of the wait staff who were very attentive and friendly to me the rest of our visit. Emma and Maggie were shocked at how well I was treated (they were not). Right place, right time.
This is authentic Mexican food, not the best I have eaten, but good. Maggie and Emma love the beef fajitas. I liked the tamales (which Emma ordered) better. There are no menus; they just tell you the few items that are being served that day. I think the tamales are an unusual offering, but they were made fresh that day for the Fox newscasters and they had a few left over.
There are no prices posted or quoted at Irma’s, so they can pretty much charge you whatever they want at the end. I picked the wrong meal to treat; it was very expensive. I will say the best part for me was the wonderful on the rocks margarita. I can highly recommend the bar.
They don’t bring a ticket to your table. It was suggested to us twice within about 4 minutes that we could go up to the counter to pay. We got the hint. Irma herself cleared our table when we got up to pay. There was a long line at Irma’s when we left to make the short walk over to the stadium.
After clearing security, there was an interior “street fair” at Minute Maid Park. There were picnic tables set up on the lawn and cocktail tables around the perimeter. Big Screen video and a live band on stage entertained you while you enjoyed lawn games, food booths, and plenty of beer. There were a couple of fun places where you could take pictures.
While we waited in line at one of the photo op spots, the Budweiser Girls came up and asked us if they could take our picture holding a beer bottle. We each got a free beer. I don’t drink beer; Emma doesn’t drink beer. Maggie was happy to enjoy all three. We probably would have stayed outside longer, but I was ready to find a restroom, so we went inside the stadium. After our potty stop, we took another free photo inside and then headed to our seats in the field boxes.
We were in section 110, field box seats along the third base line. Technically, this is the visitors section. However not surprisingly, Astros fans far outnumbered the Braves fans. We were in row seven so there was a great view. A temporary stage was up for broadcasting a pre-game show. The energy in the stadium was amazing.
Just yesterday, Houston was experiencing really hot temperatures pushing 90 degrees Fahrenheit. A cool front came through and the weather was incredibly pleasant for this second game of the series. The roof was open and it was perfect baseball weather.
Our seats were just a few rows behind Dr. Barbara Moon. I have known Dr. Moon for a long time. She was Rocky’s pediatric dentist (and Rocky is now 30). Even when Rocky was little, she worked her appointments around being able to go to the games and has been a season ticket holder for countless years. Dr. Moon originated the specialty signs for players at the Astros games. When he was just a new player with the team, she would hold up the “J-O-S-E” for Jose Altuve, now an Astros veteran and one of our very best players. She has expanded her sign collection to acknowledge all of the players. Her “King Tuck” for outfielder Kyle Tucker is one of my favorites.
You have to be dedicated to snag one of her seats which she reserves for family members and close friends. You also have to “sign” an agreement that you will attend and participate in holding up the signs at the appropriate times. All the players know Dr. Moon. You can’t miss her in her blue sequined Astros hat. Her daughter was one of those pulled under the flag the night before. Emma also works with her niece who gave Emma the skinny of the seating “agreement” you have to make. You also better show up or lose your opportunity to sit in her seats again. We were just a little too far away to participate, but if you sit close you might get drafted.
Everyone was out of their seats for the National Anthem and the introduction of the players. When they stayed standing for the top of the first inning when the Braves were batting, I started to get a little worried we might be standing for the whole game. By the second inning we looked around and our section was the only one standing. Finally by the third inning we got to sit, but it wasn’t very often.
I will admit I do love to cheer and I will stand if some exciting happens. Come on, its the World Series!! Best of all, we played well and had something to be excited about. The first game, our starting pitcher was just off and we got in a hole we never recovered from. The backup pitchers all did really well. Tonight’s pitcher wasn’t who were were expecting to see, but for the most part all of the Astros game two pitchers did really well.
It is said that the team follows Altuve’s lead in batting. When he hit that double I had a feeling we were going to have a good night. Jose Altuve went on to hit a homerun later in the game. There were some terrific hits. Sometimes we left too many men on base-second and third, even bases loaded, but we still scored well.
The defense was great too. Sometimes what you get to enjoy depends on where you are sitting. Michael Brantley made a great catch on the edge in left field, but the angle was wrong and I couldn’t see it from my seat. While the rest of the fans and presumably those on television watched Brantley’s terrific catch, right in front of me was Carlos Correa urging him on to throw him the ball. Correa was literally jumping up and down. The throw came from Brantley; Correa fired it to first; the base runner, already on first, never advanced. Outstanding!
The mascot Orbit was also in the zone and played a variety of games during the night. The multi-flag one right in front of us was particularly good. We were also looking straight on to the big screen. One of my favorite shots was of the Rally Nuns. Mattress Mack, a local furniture store owner and a great supporter of the Astros, gave the group from a convent in Shiner, Texas (where my great grandparents are from and near where my dad is buried) tickets to a previous game. They were so popular that he has bought them tickets to the whole series.
Although they never showed them on TV the night before, they highlighted the nuns up on the big screen all the time for this game. Waving their rally towels, they got the crowd going each time. I could see them in their high box in the outfield, but the close up shots on the big screen were what got the fans excited. Every team needs Rally Nuns. Go Sisters!!
I guess you are noticing that my pictures are not from the play of the game…I was watching and not focusing on taking pictures. Also my text is about the rest of the experience; there are plenty of sport writers that can give you a better play by play and expert analysis of the game. All I know is that the game was fun for an Astros fan; the crowd was infectious; and there is nothing like the experience of being there. Bottom Line, we won 7-2 to tie the series. Now the play shifts to Atlanta. I am ok if the Astros take it all on the road. But if we end up back in Houston for a game 6 or 7, I’ll try to be there.
We took our time leaving the stadium, given the crowd and traffic. Stopped to take a few pictures with the mural and even a costumed fan. I might be floating on this fan cloud for a while. Go Astros!
The is the last day of our rebooted family vacation in Michigan. We are heading south back to Grand Rapids taking the longer route along Lake Michigan. We had driven around Manistee last night to find a place to eat. Everything was already closed up at 9 pm. The city did have a charming downtown. We finally found a A&W drive-through open and we took the food back and ate in the hotel lobby. We did another city drive by in the morning to see everything in the light of day.
Driving by the harbor we saw the unique looking SS City of Milwaukee. The Milwaukee is the last of six sister ships designed in the 1920s and built by the Manitowac Shipbuilding company out of Wisconsin. The SS City of Milwaukee was built in 1931 for the Grand Trunk Milwaukee Car Ferry Company. This Great Lakes railroad car ferry travelled primarily between Muskegon, Michigan and Milwaukee, Wisconsin. It is the only pre-1940s ship of this type to survive.
The SS city of Milwaukee is available for tours and facilities rental. It contains a bed and breakfast (May through early Sept.) and hosts the annual GhostShip Haunted House every Friday and Sat in October at 7:30 pm. If I had known about the B&B ahead of time, that is where we would have been staying. I already want to go back in October for the ghost ship tour.
Leaving Manistee behind, we were headed into farmland along the lake on our way to Ludington. I had lobbied for a beach stop. The real kind with chairs, swimsuits, towels, the on the sand getting in the water kind. I was outvoted, but it was agreed that we would make a stop at the beach in Ludington to take a look.
Arriving in Ludington, we went straight to the city’s most popular beach at Stearns Park and it did not disappoint. Mom just wanted to sit and look, so she and I found a bench in the shade and just soaked up the atmosphere. It was late morning and heat hadn’t set in, so it was exceptionally pleasant. Emma and Jack walked down to the lighthouse, which was a lot farther away than it appeared.
When Emma and Jack returned I could wait no longer. I went down to the water’s edge and put my feet in. Wonderful. If I had brought a swimsuit, I would have gone in. The lake water is cold, but in the heat of August I just felt refreshed. After I got in, Emma ventured in as well. I could come stay here for a week or so. If it was the summer, I would do the beach in the morning and then head to my lodgings for lunch and to wait out the heat of the afternoon. I would go out again in the evening. Mom liked that plan. She never learned to swim and won’t go in, but she does enjoy the beach.
Stearns Park Beach had excellent facilities. There lots of benches, many in the shade. There were ample and strategically placed trash cans near the parking lot and mid beach. They had a wonderful ramp installed so that the handicapped could go down to the water’s edge. The pathway could also be used for a cooler on wheels. There were volleyball nets, bathrooms, and a snack bar. All that was in the small section of the beach park that we were on. The park also features a playground, skate park, mini golf, and shuffleboard. Parking is free.
Mom had a magazine that outlined all the beaches in the area so we drove through town on our way to the next Ludington beach. There was a small one tucked away near the cliffs. The surf was rougher here and the sand rolled a bit, but it was more private and quiet. Another nice spot…a week in Ludington is looking like a greater likelihood.
Finally, we went up on the cliff to a camping spot in the trees which had beach access via a wooden staircase. Mom thought it looked pretty steep and she didn’t want to go near the edge. There were benches to rest on near the top and midway down. There was a metal bench a few steps away where you could just sit and look out over the water. We didn’t stay long because there really wasn’t a place to park and I think the area was designed for those overnighting in the park.
I have always known Ludington as the city where the car ferry that goes across the lake to Wisconsin leaves from. I had no idea that the city was so pretty and the beaches were so fabulous. The Stearns Park Beach has incredibly calm water, while the Ludington State Park has a more rugged beauty. I liked the quiet and cliff side seating of Buttersville Beach. So now I want to come stay here for the beaches and travel from here to cross the lake in style.
“Ludington is the home port of the largest carferry to sail the Great Lakes. The S.S. Badger carferry makes its voyage from Ludington to Manitowoc, Wisconsin mid-May to mid-October. This 410′ ship carries up to 620 passengers and 180 vehicles. Onboard you can play Badger Bingo, watch a movie, shop, or enjoy a meal in one of their two restaurants.” visitludington.com. There are also scheduled children’s activities. The crossing takes four hours and there are two roundtrips daily in season. One way pricing is $69 for adults with discounts for seniors, teens, and children. Take your car one way for $75.
Between Ludington and Pentwater, we hit a stretch of road where the fog was rolling heavy off the lake and moving inland. It was beautiful as it made its way across the farms and trees. At one point we crossed a bridge and I was glad there were other cars to follow, making it easier to see the road.
Just before coming into Pentwater, we passed a local fishery that has been there since 1898 (or so the sign says) They are open seasonally from early May to Labor Day. It was a popular place, the parking lot was full and cars were also parked along the roadway. The possibility of fried perch loomed, so we had to stop. Everyone else sat in the car while I went in for a 1/2 lb. of fish just so we could all try it. You could buy fresh or smoked, but it was about 12:30 and the “lunch crowd” was buying fried. They pulled it out of the fresh fish case and cooked to order. Outside on the posts they had pictures of family members from years past with their catch.
Many of my cousins like to camp at Pentwater. It is apparently a very hard park to get a reservation for and you have to know the sign up system and be quick about it (kind of like signing up for the Disney Princess Run, at least before COVID). It was a cute beach town. They must have flooding issues; there were lots of temporary barriers up.
Next we are going into Grand Haven. It is very close to Grand Rapids and we go often. I am going to stop into Jean Marie’s while Jack and Emma get something to eat. Mom tried the fried perch, but I ended up eating most of it.
We made one special stop in Grand Haven. Years ago we stayed at a Lodge with my grandmother, aunt, uncles, and cousins. We wanted to see if it was still there. We easily found the lodge. The Khardomah Lodge is a different color and a tepee and trampoline have been added to the yard, but it otherwise looks the same. Jack likes to tease about its “rustic charm of a bygone era”. Coming from Jack that is not a compliment.
Our last stop was a incredibly large garden center just outside of Grand Rapids. Mom picked up some flowers to fill in a space that Emma had cleared out for her in the front flower bed. I had been moved to the front seat today. For the last leg, I was alone in the front in the driver’s seat with the flowers beside me. Mom, Jack, and Emma got their selfie in the back seat.
Wow. What a trip. Our redo vacation in Michigan took us from Grand Rapids to Gaylord, the Soo Locks; Machinac Island; Indian River; Charlevoix; Ludington; Grand Haven; and back to Grand Rapids. There was also lots to see and do in between. Mom isn’t the only one that is tired. On to the next adventure…
Today we will make several stops as we leave Mackinac Island in the Straits of Mackinac in Lake Huron between the upper and lower peninsulas of the state. After a ferry ride, we will collect the car in St. Ignace and cross the Mackinac Bridge before heading south from Mackinac City. After a stop at the Indian River Shrine, we will wind our way along the shore of Lake Michigan.
We didn’t have any special plans for our second morning on Mackinac Island. We enjoyed the hot breakfast at the Inn. I really liked the daily special of peach French toast, but the rest left a lot to be desired. The eggs looked like pellets and didn’t taste like much either. Afterwards, Mom wanted to sit on the porch and I headed out to take pictures before the day got too hot. I wanted to snap a few things on and near our street, check out the boardwalk and take a look inside St. Ann’s before we caught the noon ferry back to St. Ignace. We have a couple of other stops to make today before we spend the night just north of Luddington on the shore of Lake Michigan.
We saw a few things on our carriage tour that I wanted a better picture of than I could snap in the moving carriage. We went back to Bluff Trail Lane and I saw the parsonage and the Little Stone Church. I am still considering that online clergy certification. This is the route up to the Grand Hotel and the way the hotel’s guests walk into town.
Jack and I also walked down to the boardwalk and a chance to walk along the lakeshore. On the way, I spotted a primitive fence and gate made from twigs. Along the shoreline, there were more colorful houses. These homes are smaller than those up on the bluffs.
Some of the houses had unobstructed views across a road to the water. A few people had space right on the water. Must have been some trespassing though; I saw an interesting sign designating some of the rocks as private. The island strives to prevent overdevelopment. You won’t see any major chains on the island and new construction is very limited. If a house burns on Mackinac Island, the home cannot be rebuilt unless there is at least one wall left standing. If there is not, the land is divided among the neighbors on either side.
This walk was the first time I saw homes made with cedar shakes on the island. Some had left them natural allowing them to turn gray, while on another home they were treated to retain the brown coloring. The detail work on the houses is really amazing. The residents also put a lot of effort into their beautiful landscaping. Another thing I thought particularly attractive was the beautiful fencing (often white) and gates (often with arbors).
Coming back around to the main street, I saw the Iroquois Hotel and the Carriage House patio where we had dinner last night. Jack headed back to the hotel to sit with Mom and I texted Emma to meet her in town where she was shopping. While I waited to catch up with her, I walked down Main Street and was reminded of the main ingredient in fudge and why it wasn’t a good idea to take some home. I did not hear from Emma, so I walked down to St. Ann’s in hopes of seeing the inside of the church.
I made it down to St. Ann’s. No Mass today; the ladies of the church were cleaning, including scraping wax off the candle stands. I loved the stained glass windows. Some of the lower panels were even operable. Outside, the stations of the cross were displayed in individual covered boxes in a side garden. Ste. Anne de Michilimackinac Catholic Church was established as a mission in 1695. The church maintains baptismal records back to that date.
From St. Ann’s, I took one more look at the beautiful homes and gardens across from the marina. I walked around Marquette Park and went back to the inn via Market Street to take one more look at the historic buildings there. Just before turning on Market, I saw one of the oldest wooden structures on the island and a reproduction of the housing favored by the native people when the colonists came here. I was reminded that some of the infamous Astor family made their fortune through fur trading headquartered here.
On Market Street, I passed the first traders building right on the corner. The hair salon was a cross the street in a beautiful purple home. I spotted the Post Office. Jack was planning on making several stops here today to pick up stamps and then return the completed and stamped postcards. Emma is buying the postcards in town for Mom to send. Mom has always loved postcards, a dying form of communication. Outside I spotted another one of those unique signs that is so Mackinac Island-“Private rocks, no saddled horses in cemetery”, etc. The parking sign at the Post Office referred not to cars, but the bicycle racks it sat behind.
Once back at the hotel, I checked out of the room and made arrangements to have our luggage transferred to the dock. He will have an easier time of it on the way back; its downhill. We are going to enjoy the porch and garden until it is time to make our way back down to the docks. The Metivier Inn back gardens are accessed off the third floor due to the slope of the yard as the house sits on a hillside. Ground level varies from the first to the third floor as you move back on the property.
Emma and I went up to the back gardens. It was already too hot to sit out for long, but it was a lovely spot that I am sure many of the guests enjoy in better weather. From the back fence you can see the Grand Hotel. Looking back toward the house, you can see the water just to the side of the house from this higher vantage point.
Mom and Emma decided to take their time and walk down to the dock early. Jack and I stayed behind to make sure the luggage got picked up. Emma texted us later to say the noon departure had been cancelled because two of the Star Line boats had problems. The next departure was at 12:30 pm. Jack and I stayed around a little longer, enjoying the front porch and watching the horseback riders come and go from the stables across the street. Once the porter came for the luggage, we walked down to the dock.
While waiting for the boat, I noticed there were two lines. One was for commuters and residents and the other line was for visitors. Courtney had let us know on the tour that the city/island government subsidizes annual passes for the residents. There contract is with the Star Line ferries. Commuters like Courtney who work on the island can buy a seasonal pass. The residents and commuters were allowed to board first. This departure was too full; I was not surprised. If we hadn’t had other destinations on today’s agenda we might have stayed longer. The last ferry is at 9:00 pm.
For the return trip, they did scan our tickets and collect them. The ride back to St. Ignace was direct and pleasant. As we left the dock, we saw the umbrellas and flowers of the Carriage House patio where we had cocktails the other night. Emma saw a weasel in the bushes there while we waited for our table, although none of the rest of us saw it so who knows. I told her it was probably a wolverine. This is Michigan after all.
From the ferry, I got another look at the shoreline road. We did not make it down there on this trip. Would have been fun with a bicycle. I did see one of the handicap tour carriages (or maybe it was a taxi) making its way down this road. As we approached St. Ignace, I saw the hotel we stayed at the other night and “s’mores beach”.
Jack got the car. No special help from the porters this time. We all just had to pull our own bags off the cart. At least I saved the tip money. We loaded up and were off. Emma has decided to conquer her fears and will be driving us back across the Mackinac Bridge. She probably wouldn’t have done that if she had known ahead of time that portions of the bridge were under construction. She did a great job. Just as we got to the end, I saw Colonial Michilimackinac off to the side.
Our next stop will be the Indian River Shrine that we visited as children. The Cross in the Woods National Shrine (the official name) features Calvary Hill and the world’s largest crucifix. The figure of Jesus is made of bronze; the cross is made of redwood. The Cross in the Woods is celebrating its 75th birthday this year. I was last here over 40 years ago as a child. It is a place of great peace and beauty.
For the 50th anniversary, a church was also built on the site and it is the parish church for the Catholics who live in Indian River. Originally only outdoor services were held which meant usage was seasonal. The church has a lovely setting looking out on the cross. If you look back at the church from outside, the cross is reflected in the glass.
We entered the shrine through the church entrance so that Mom could use the elevator. In spite of being there during the heat of the day, in the shade of the trees it was a comfortable and comforting setting. We spent some time outside sitting, looking at the cross, and reflecting. While I sat with Mom, Emma toured the stations of the Cross that you follow from a path through the woods. The appropriate station has you stop at the foot of the large crucifix.
The shrine also features additional monuments, most notably that of Saint Kateri Tekakwitha. Her image at the shrine was placed in direct line with the crucifix and within the congregational seating. Saint Kateri’s mother was a member of the Algonquin tribe; her father was the Chief of the Mohawk Tribe. As the nearby marker noted, she converted to Christianity at age 18 and suffered many hardships “because of her wish to live a celibate and Christian lifestyle.” Saint Kateri was known as the “Lily of the Mohawks” and her image is often shown with turtles as her father was Chief of the Turtle Clan. She died at age 24 and was declared a Saint by Pope Benedict XVI in October of 2012. Saint Kateri is the fourth Native American to be venerated in the Catholic Church and the first to be canonized.
There was one more stop to make at the shrine before our departure, well besides the gift shop. The shrine has a doll museum. My sister remembers it from our earlier visit. Orders of Sisters from around the world have sent in a doll with the (traditional and/or modern) clothing of their Order. While there are some with the dress of male religious orders, the majority of the representations are of nuns. It is “the largest collection of dolls dressed in traditional habits of men and women religious communities in the United States.” The Cross in the Woods.com.
I located the doll with the clothing of the order which taught at the Catholic School I attended in Victoria, Texas. The representation was exactly as I remember the clothing that the older sisters wore when I was growing up. Most of the dolls were of a normal size, but the Hall of Sisters contained life-size dolls which made Emma uncomfortable.
Leaving Indian River and the shrine, we headed toward the coast. Mom wanted to drive through Petosky and Charlevoix. In an older section of Charlevoix along the water, we decided to drive in a little and were charmed by some unique houses we found. They were shaped like mushrooms and looked like little hobbit houses. It was only later that we saw the historical marker for this special district of the city with a collection of houses by designer Earl Young.
Earl Young was a master builder who worked without blueprints. His goal was to design a structure that would fit the site, rather than designing a home and working the land to accommodate a design. Over a 50-year career, he designed 26 residential properties and 4 commercial ones. Most of the privately owned structures are composed of limestone, fieldstone, and boulders from northern Michigan. “Earl Young’s houses feature his signature designs, along with wide, wavy eaves, exposed rafter tails; cedar-shake roofs; and a horizontal emphasis in design. These buildings are creatively known as Gnome Homes, Mushroom Houses, or Hobbit Houses.” VisitCharlevoix.com
What a fun find. Most of the houses were not large. One looked like it may be a rental for vacationers. They also sit near the water, so a perfect setting. Driving out of the park on the edge of the neighborhood, Emma spotted a bronze dragon statue on top of one of the houses in the neighborhood. It totally fit right in. That picture immediately got texted to Rocky.
We hadn’t had much for lunch, just a quick bite before the shrine, so we stopped at a local ice cream stand for a treat. Dairy Grill looked like a much-loved neighborhood hangout. My go-to for evaluating an ice cream shop is to test the pineapple malts. This was a good one. After her excellent dragon spot, Emma out-ordered us all with a “to die for” strawberry sundae.
Leaving Charlevoix, we headed to Manistee, Michigan where we are spending the night. Tomorrow is our last day on the road; we will be back in Grand Rapids by the evening. Still more to come on our rebooted family trip.
While my mom was most looking forward to the Soo Locks, today’s visit to Mackinac Island was at the top of my list. The island sits in the Straits of Mackinac in Lake Huron and embraces the romantic notions of a by-gone era. While there are some motorized emergency and utility vehicles on the island, transportation is primarily by horse and buggy, cart, or bicycle. 80% of the island is a protected forest and the island boasts some of the most beautiful Victorian architecture in the United States. The fact that my favorite romantic film from 1980-Somewhere in Time-is set on the island adds to its charm. My movie tastes are a little more sophisticated now.
To reach the island you can take a ferry from Mackinac City on Michigan’s lower peninsula or St. Ignace on the state’s upper peninsula. We chose the 9:30 ferry from St. Ignace because it is one of the few that makes a loop under the Mackinac Bridge before heading over to the island. It will make the trip a little longer, 30 minutes instead of 18. Coming from Mackinac City it takes about the same amount of time, but you avoid the time and toll of the bridge if you are already on the lower peninsula.
The Shepler’s Line is the larger ferry company; the Star Line is the older one. We are taking the Star Line because of price and schedule. There are no reservations, so we arrived early. After checking in our luggage and parking the car in the overnight lot across the street, we waited for the departure. Bags and bikes were loaded first and then passengers were allowed aboard. They just looked at our tickets but didn’t scan or take them. They also serve for our return trip. There is downstairs enclosed seating and upstairs outside seating. Given I wanted to take pictures and we were passing under the bridge, we all went for the upstairs seats.
We brought jackets, but it was already so hot that I didn’t even put it on. Mom wears a hearing aid and wore her hood to protect against wind and spray. It was a clear day and we had beautiful views of the Mackinac Bridge. It was a pleasant ride to the island. The ferry company’s porter had tagged our luggage for our specific hotel. When we arrived, all the luggage was taken to the city-side end of the pier. We simply identified it there and a porter from our inn/B&B (his logo shirt identified him) loaded all our bags in the basket of his bicycle and took them to the hotel for a tip. Since we didn’t want to leave anything in the car overnight, each of us had two smaller bags. I couldn’t believe he got all 8 bags at the same time. The ferry company must have alerted the porter; we hadn’t called ahead to let them know about our morning arrival.
Heading onto the main street, we were surprised at how crowded it was given the boat was not full. We decided the day-trippers all took earlier boats to maximize their time on the island. The bike rental places were flooded with people trying on helmets, deciding if they wanted a single or tandem, adding child or luggage carriers, or negotiating a price. In spite of how many people were there, the bike businesses looked well stocked. Apparently unlike the car rental agencies on the mainland, they didn’t sell off their stock during the pandemic.
The line for the horse-drawn carriage tours was also very long (and out in the sun) and we were glad we had secured a private tour for the four of us. The group tour is considerably cheaper, $42/person for an hour and 45-minute tour plus entrance to The Wings of Mackinac where you make a stop versus $160 an hour for a private tour for up to 4 people. The price of the group tour goes down to $34 for an adult or $14 for children age 5-12 if you eliminate The Wings of Mackinac. A child under 5 who sits on a lap is not charged. Group Touring is available through Mackinac Island Carriage Tours which was established in 1948. If you take the morning tour, they pack them in. They put four adults in a row and on some of the tours we saw people who looked pretty uncomfortable. You cannot make a reservation for a public tour. The one exception is booking for the handicapped tour. However, with Mom’s limited mobility and comfort in mind, the private tour where we could structure the time ourselves made more sense. We could have arranged to have the carriage meet us at our hotel, but we had an hour and a half before it started and decided to walk around in town a bit first.
Given the number of tourists there, it was actually rather hard for Mom to maneuver down the sidewalk. If you step into the street, you took your life in your own hands. The danger wasn’t from a horse-drawn vehicle-plenty of warning on those-but from the bicycles. They are everywhere and some of the riders looked like they haven’t ridden in a while or ever. Jack said that even though it didn’t look like there were more people on the island than on our last visit, the bicycles took away from the atmosphere and really ruined the feel for him. We saw a lot of crashes.
I had been assigned the task of securing us a place to stay. We had ruled out the Grand Hotel, which is fabulous but considerably more expensive (and the rooms throughout the island are already pretty expensive). To really enjoy the full Grand Hotel experience, you also want to book one of more of their special dining venues and that means dressing up. Jack said early, “no coat and tie”. In fact, after 6 pm, even hotel guests not in evening wear are directed to side entrances when they return to the hotel.
We decided we were all going to stay in a single room like we did as kids, so that further limited options to places that could provide two queen beds. However, even with our limitations, we still had plenty of choices. Ultimately I selected the Metivier Inn on Market Street, one block behind Main Street, quieter, but still very close to all the main attractions. The Metivier hosts serve a hot breakfast, rather than just a continental one, and the inn is known for its beautiful gardens. It also has wonderful front and side porches that I knew Mom would love.
Walking down Main Street I was really glad I didn’t chose one of the hotels along this street. There was just a little too much chaos and I suspect the noice starts early in the morning. If you like to sit on your balcony and look down at crowds or just love the smell of fudge, you might prefer one of these rooms.
Even with Mom taking breaks on strategically placed benches and her morning ice cream indulgence break, we still made it to the Tourist Office across from Marquette Park, our meeting point, with 45 minutes to spare. It was pretty hot if you were in the sun. Mom found a shaded bench and we took turns sitting with her. Jack and I walked down past the marina toward the Mission District where the crowds thinned out, but the beautiful lake view homes were still plentiful. We also passed St. Ann’s church. Morning mass is at 11 am and was currently ongoing, so we were unable to go inside.
We passed one home with a burned-out copula and I made a note to ask our tour driver about it. Marquette Park sits between Fort Mackinac and Main Street. Jack and I returned to the park to meet Mom and Emma for our private tour. We booked our private tour through Gough Livery Carriage Inc. which takes early reservations. Mackinac Island Carriage Tours also offers private tours for the same price, but you can only call two hours prior to when you want to start and see if they have availability. Our noon tour set out right on time. We had settled on an hour and a half timeline. Courtney took us down Market Street where many of the historic buildings are situated-the courthouse, the post office, the art museum, the Biddle House (the oldest house on the island), and the city hall. We also passed our hotel so we got our first look at where we would be staying. This was a great orientation to the city and now I know that I can just walk down the street and get some pictures when I am ready.
As we rounded the corner and turned onto the street leading up to the Grand Hotel, Courtney pointed out the Mayor’s house. The family has had a home on the island for many generations. We passed the vicarage for the Stone Church and the thought of an on-line clergy license occurred to me as a way to have a summer stay on the island. The Stone Church is itself was on the right further up the road, while the Grand Hotel and its grounds were to the left.
Though hilly, you could walk to most of the main attractions if it weren’t so hot. I think a fall visit might be perfect, although I would miss all the beautiful flowers. We drove right by the front doors to the Grand Hotel and then made our way up a steep street with more beautiful homes in the $2 million+ range. One was for sale and Mom quickly revised her housing choice. Not so sure she would like it much in the winter months though. Regular ferry service stops and becomes more sporadic and many things close at the end of the season in late October.
With spectacular views, Courtney rested the horses at the top of the ridge after their long climb. When we went forward, we were venturing off into areas where you need a ride of some sort. In fact, it would have been pretty tough to reach with a bicycle. Our next stop was one of the carriage yards so our horses could get a drink.
This is the part of the wooded area of the Island. Forest covers about 80% of Mackinac. The homes here (without a water view) are more modest. Courtney told us that if we saw a house with lots of bicycles it was probably staff housing. Because of the time many of these homes were built, along with the fact that most motorized vehicles are prohibited, most of the homes have a stable and grassy yard for the horses. Many have been renovated for other purposes, but some retain their original function.
We passed the Skull Cave-nothing much to see now. It has caved in. We also passed an area I don’t remember from our last visit with three beautiful cemeteries. The largest is St. Ann’s; it is the Catholic cemetery and is affiliated with the church I walked by earlier before the carriage tour. We saw a sign that I have never seen at a cemetery before-NO SADDLE HORSES. Apparently it is a problem. St. Ann’s Cemetery has charming metal gates at its various entrances along with beautiful stone arches and stone fencing. Very picturesque.
There is also an “everyone else” cemetery for the non-Catholics. The third and smallest cemetery is a military one with neat rows and uniform white markers. As a lover of history, I enjoy going to cemeteries and reading the inscriptions; they can also be wonderful places to take pictures. Mom can’t walk easily on the uneven ground and it is hot, so we told Courtney that we wanted our tour to be more riding than stops with walking. Otherwise, I would probably have spent more time in this area.
There is a small fort in the main part of town to mirror its counterpart in Mackinac City. A steep ramp from Marquette Park takes you to Fort Mackinac. For a great visiting experience, I recommend the one in Mackinac City, Fort Michilimackinac. It is part of the Colonial Michilimackinac Complex They do reenactments there; I still remember the experience from my childhood. We won’t be visiting this time, but I do recommend looking into it.
Established in 1715, this 18th-century fort and fur trading village has been “reconstructed based on historic maps and more than 60 years of archaeological excavations. As you walk through the site, you are stepping back in time to 1778, when rumors of war and peace swirled around Michilimackinac…you will see and hear how soldiers, civilians, and Native people responded to threats real and imagined as they attempted to maintain their livelihood, the fur trade. Historical interpreters representing voyageurs, British soldiers, and French-Canadian merchant families are stationed throughout the fort to answer your questions and perform demonstrations.” State Historic Parks: Mackinac I highly recommend the experience if you are traveling with children or history lovers.
When I was looking for things to visit on Mackinac Island, I also noticed that there was a Fort Holmes. On our carriage tour I saw a sign and wooden staircase and asked Courtney about it wondering if it was worth returning to later. She said there was little there now and it is more visited for the views. There is some suggestion that the fort may be rebuilt at a later date. “Fort Holmes is a small, wood and earthen fort on the southern end of the highest ridge on Mackinac Island. The fort was constructed by British soldiers in 1814 during the War of 1812…When United States soldiers peacefully reoccupied the island after the War of 1812 the fort was renamed Fort Holmes in honor of American Major Andrew Hunter Holmes who was killed in the 1814 battle of Mackinac Island.” State Historic Parks: Mackinac
We also passed by the military practice range on the island. You could still see the deep ruts. We were en route to one of the most viewed sites on the island, the Arch Rock. Courtney rested the horses just by the entrance while we went for a look. She warned us to look down at the ground and reminded us that the trails of liquid were probably not water. Fortunately for Mom, you could walk right up to Arch Rock. You just needed to wait your turn for a photo. You can also go up a few stairs and enjoy the view out across the lake.
The Arch sits 146 feet above the water level and is more than 50 feet wide. The naturally occurring arch is formed of limestone. The Native Americans had many legends regarding the Rock; Courtney shared one about a maiden in love with a mythical creature her father forbid her to wed on the ride back into town.
Just before we headed back down the hill, Courtney rested the horses at another beautiful spot overlooking the water. A few houses away, the children had set up a lemonade stand to capture the tourists-very smart. As we went down, I saw the staircase the locals use when they don’t want to have to go around the curving road. I imagine you would be in pretty good shape after a summer season here.
We had seen groups of horses out and about and one of the stable offices is just across the street from our B & B. On the way down the hill, we passed a children’s riding school. As we came around we were on the straightaway back to Marquette Park. I think the horses could sense it was almost time for a break. We passed the large white Island House Hotel and Courtney shared that it was established in 1852 and is the oldest hotel on the island. It is family-operated and the only hotel located within the boundaries of the Mackinac Island State Park. The simple center section had been added to several times and the hotel is now rather large and has perhaps one of the best flower displays on the island.
I also asked her about the burned out copula and she said the fire had happened a few months ago and started in one of the old chimneys. The fire had taken out the entire third floor of the house. The home immediately had to be protected from further damage to the lower floors and they were taking advantage of the warm weather to get as much of the repair work done as possible before the end of the season.
We said goodbye to Courtney at Marquette Park and went in search of lunch; we debated whether we wanted waterside dining or a recommended place near our hotel. The thought of a quick walk to check in after lunch meant the Yankee Rebel Tavern won out. We all enjoyed more comfort food for lunch today. I think I out-ordered everyone with the roast beef sliders.
After lunch, we had a short walk to Market Street and our hotel. We received a warm welcome at the hotel. They have done an excellent job of keeping the original charm of the house while adding on additional spacious accommodations. Our room with two queens was around the corner and looked out over the beautiful sloping backyard. Our bags had been taken directly to our room by the dockside porter. There was also a lovely side porch just outside our room.
We arrived just before 3 pm which is cookie time at the inn. It was clear that the regulars or those staying a few days knew the drill and people were there right at 3 to grab the warm delights. They are out until they are gone. I recommend the molasses cookies. They must be the favorite; they were gone first.
Jack stayed with mom on the porch and Emma and I went and checked out the dining options for the evening. We wanted a relatively nice dinner. We narrowed it down to two options, The 1852 Grill Room at the Island House Hotel or waterside dining at the Carriage House at the Iroquois Hotel on the beach. We had seen both spots having passed the Grill Room on the carriage tour and having seen the Carriage House from the ferry. The Carriage House is also where mom had sat in the pretty arbor seat.
The available time at the Carriage House was better and we would be right on the water so that ended up being our choice. Both restaurants had wonderful menus. We spoke with an couple staying at the inn after dinner that had gone to the 1852 Grill Room. They said the food and service was excellent but you were removed from the water and there isn’t much of a view after dark anyway. I would still like to try it on another visit.
Having had the chance to walk around on my own and take pictures before lunch, I stayed in the room with mom and cooled off while Emma went shopping and Jack took a walk and enjoyed the inn’s front porch. That evening we dressed up a bit for dinner and headed down early to give mom plenty of time and to perhaps have a drink before dinner.
While we waited for a table, we enjoyed cocktails (I went with the French 75) on the outdoor patio right at the water’s edge. We had a wonderful view of the lighthouse from this vantage point. When our table was ready, we transferred over to a side patio for dinner. The sun had gone down just enough that it was comfortable to be outside. From the side patio, we had a better view of the rock beach and the sunset opposite the water.
It was a fabulous menu. I started with the crab meat “tower”, followed by the scallops, rounding out with a daily special-a caramel sundae with caramel made homemade in their kitchen. Given the good fudge makers on the island, I just knew the caramel would not disappoint. It was fabulous. In fact, all the food was excellent and we enjoyed wonderful service.
The only down spot was when a engaged couple and their parents who were on the island for the wedding spotted some of their wedding guests on our small patio of just six tables. They were all loud and obnoxious and acted like they were the only ones there. Fortunately, they eventually left and the volume subsided. People can be so thoughtless.
It was dark by the time we left the restaurant, but we had a very short walk back to the Metivier Inn. The main street was almost deserted. We walked down French Lane and Jack spotted a “hidden Mickey” on a fence post. When we arrived back at the inn, we sat on the front porch for a while. A large portion of the porch was roped off. We found out later that that section was closed at 9 pm, respecting the guests whose rooms faced onto the porch.
What a fabulous day on the island! More to enjoy on Mackinac Island tomorrow before our midday departure. One of the things that happens when you are the photographer is that there are not many pictures of you. Just so you know I was really there, I am sharing a selfie I took at Arch Rock. Until tomorrow…
This summer with us all fully vaccinated, my mom suggested that we recreate a trip that we took as children. My brother, sister, and I all met in Grand Rapids, Michigan for a four-day road trip “up north” with Mom. Early Monday morning we set out for the Soo Locks in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula.
Emma did an early stop at Van’s bakery. My brother Jack had already done the oil change and filled up the car with gas the day before. After loading mom’s three pillows-neck, seat belt cushion, and footrest, the bakery goodies, and the rest of our luggage, we set off. We are going to take a bit of a scenic route, hoping to arrive in Sault Ste. Marie in time for the 3:30 pm tour. On this tour, you actually pass through the locks. After living in Texas, the driving distances just didn’t seem that far to me.
Mom had four things on her travel bucket list: A ride on Route 66, another trip to Hawaii, the Panama Canal, and Morocco. Given COVID concerns and her age, we have modified things a bit. She wanted to travel in the continental United State, but thought route 66 might be too tiring. That is when we hit on retracing a trip we took as children in 1978. We’ll drive through her home state instead. It is not the Panama Canal, but today’s visit to the Soo Locks does attempt to stay with the theme.
When we were children, my mom would take a large scrapbook and draw lines to create 4 squares on a page for each day of our trip. We then each drew a picture of something we did that day. We hated it at the time and often had to go back and fill in a couple of days in one sitting. However, now those drawings are treasured memories. We won’t be employing our sketching talents on this trip-extremely limited in my case. Rather, with Emma as our scribe, we are writing down our favorite part of each day, the biggest surprise of each day, and one thing we didn’t like.
Emma’s surprise came early in the day. While passing through farm land, we spotted a training facility. We didn’t know it was a training facility at first. We just saw lots of guys going up and down on poles. I told Emma I would be happy to record pole dancing as her favorite activity of the day.
We stopped in Gaylord, Michigan for a drink and what the tour guides always refer to as a “necessary stop”. A local brewery offered a highway icon so you can’t miss it while heading north. We all noted the ski lodge look to the town and mom said she had come her once with a friend from school. The friend’s father was the manager of the local resort at the time when the wealthy would fly in for golf and skiing in the area. The locals think of their town as an “Alpine Village”. More recently, the area has acquired a reputation for its many cycling trails. It was a charming city and I asked Jack to drive down a few streets so I could get pictures. I don’t always bring my better camera when I come to visit Mom, but I had on this trip.
At one point we drove down a street and passed a beautiful traditional church and my mom announced that that had been her friend’s church and that they had gone there decades ago on her visit. We weren’t looking for it, but somehow for me that was a wonderful start to this trip knowing the connection the city and this church had with my mother’s past.
The upper and lower peninsulas of Michigan are joining by the Mackinac Bridge, a long beautiful structure that is sometimes shown as the symbol for the state. My sister Emma hates crossing bridges, especially when driving or sitting on the side facing the open area outside the bridge. Since my mother had decided to “nest” in the seat behind the driver, my brother Jack, Emma was in the outside position sitting next to the driver. She decided to film the bridge crossing as a distraction. There are multiple lanes crossing in each direction but the inner lanes have annoying ridges that can cause you to slide a little. (This is rather ironic given the purpose of the grooves is to assist in poor weather.) We were traveling in the outside lane, with Emma and I closest to the water.
My brother kept up a running commentary the entire way across the bridge, pointing out how far we had gotten, the continued possibility of plunging to our death, and the icy temperature of the water. The result is a hilarious video with Jack and Emma’s voices, his as a monotone narrator, and hers fluctuating between fear and laughter. I did not share with Emma that one car, a 1987 Yugo, had been blown off the bridge. “The Life and Death of Ugly: No, You Go”, Los Angeles Magazine.
The Mackinac Bridge is the 5th longest suspension bridge in the world and the longest in the western hemisphere. Like all suspension bridges, “it is designed to move to accommodate wind, change in temperature, and weight…the deck at center span could move as much as 35 feet (east or west) due to high winds. This would only happen under severe wind conditions. The deck would not swing or ‘sway’ but rather move slowly in one direction based on the force and direction of the wind. After the wind subsides, the weight of the vehicles crossing would slowly move it back into center position.” Mackinac Bridge Authority
The Straits of Mackinac (between the upper and lower peninsulas) in Lake Huron historically had been crossed by boat, but that was only a seasonal option. Ideas for a bridge or tunnel were floated for over 75 years. In 1923, the highway department began operating a ferry service, but within 5 years that service was overwhelmed. The bridge opened to traffic on November 1, 1957.
There is a toll charge (currently $4.00) each way. The bridge is open 24 hours a day and only closes occasionally for falling ice or on Labor Day from 6:30 am to noon for the annual Bridge Walk. The Bridge had been closed just 5 weeks before our visit because of a bomb threat. MLive. For current conditions including weather and traffic, you can log into the Mackinac Bridge Authority’s website or tune into their radio channels. There is also a bridge cam for a visual view.
After we crossed, we went to a lookout point featuring a statue dedicated to the five men who lost their lives while building the bridge. Mom had known a girl who was engaged to one of them. The views from the park were spectacular. We also loved the wonderful flowers that were showcased at the park. It is far too hot at home for this sort of floral display. One of things I love about Michigan in the summer is the beautiful gardens.
Back on the road, we realized that we may not have enough gas to make it the additional 50 miles it will take us to get to Sault Ste. Marie where the Soo Locks are located. The three of us distracted Mom so she wouldn’t get nervous while we looked for a gas station on this stretch of the upper peninsula highway that is rather barren. Of course we had just crossed the straits, but I guess I had anticipated a wild and beautiful landscape. Perhaps that lies a little farther north.
We found the gas and made it to Sault Ste. Marie-sometimes called Michigan’s First City-without having to ride in on fumes. The Ojibway people that first lived in this area called it Bahweting, the gathering place. When a French colony was established in 1668, it was called Le Sault de Sainte Marie, the rapids of St. Mary. Today is sometimes referred to as the Twin Saults for the American city of Sault Ste. Marie, Michigan and the Canadian city of Sault Ste. Marie, Ontario, just across the St. Mary’s River. Growing up we just called it “The Soo” as the locals do today. Sault and Soo are pronounced like the girl’s name “Sue” and not like the table spice “salt”.
When we arrived in Sault Ste. Marie, Michigan, we went to find the boat launch. We did make a few stops so I could get pictures. Afterwards, we went back into town for lunch at the Lock View Restaurant. The Lock View opened in 1945 with only about a quarter of the space it occupies now. We got a table near the window with a narrow view of the locks. A viewing platform had been built since our last visit over 40 years ago and it was right in our line of sight. That said, the viewing platform does offer an nice alternative for anyone wanting to see the locks in action.
Mom and I got fried lake perch. This is one of her favorites and not something I can get back home in Texas. Emma and Jack got hot turkey sandwiches. After lunch we had just enough time to go back to the docks and board our boat for the 3:30 pm tour. It was a steep climb for mom, but we went to the boat’s upper deck for a better view. Many of the Michigan schools are back in session, so the crowd was lighter. Of course it was a weekday too. Our server at the cafe said that Sunday is the busiest day and Friday is the lightest. For the cafe, on Friday the locals clear out for the weekend before the tourists come in and the tourists have not yet arrived.
We are on the St. Mary’s River between the United States and Canada and the middle of this channel is the international border. The Ojibway Indians used canoes to travel the rapids on the river to reach Lake Superior. The name of city comes from the French word sault meaning rapids. You can still still some evidence of the original rapids which spread the length of the River. Later, it was the Northwest Fur Company that constructed a navigation lock on the Canadian side of the river. This lock, built in 1797, was destroyed during the war of 1812. In 1852, the State of Michigan was granted compensation to built a lock to allow for commerce to flow through the Great Lakes. Construction on this first chamber State Lock was completed in 1855.
There was originally a toll to pass through the locks. In 1881, control was passed to the Federal Government and assigned to the Army Corps of Engineers. Since that time, no toll has been charged. Sault Ste. Marie, Pure Michigan Today, there are four locks on the American side and one Canadian lock. The Canadian lock is for smaller, recreational boats and is currently closed due to COVID. The mostly commonly used American Lock is #3, the Poe Lock, which was originally built in 1896 and rebuilt in 1968 to accommodate larger and more modern boats. It is 1200 feet long. It uses 22 million gallons of water to lift or lower a boat. Most ships that pass through it have only about 2.5 ft clearance on each side.
The smaller MacArthur Lock, lock #4, is 800 feet long and was built in 1943; we will pass through it twice today. The Soo Locks do not use pumps. They are 100% gravity fed. When on the viewing platform of the Visitors Center we saw from the restaurant, you look down into the MacArthur lock. The large ships in the Poe Lock are also visible. Locks #1 and #2, the Davis Lock built in 1914 and the Sabin Lock, built in 1918 were the first locks to utilize concrete walls and electricity to open and close the gate. Both gates are currently out of service. The Sabin Lock has been inactive since 1989 and was officially decommissioned in 2020. The Davis Lock was used by the Soo Area Offical Vessels.
Both of the Davis and Sabin locks are currently being dismantled to make way for a new, larger, single lock that will be able to accommodate ships of a larger size. We saw the dredging for the new lock. Completion is expected in 2023. A rendering of the new look for the Soo Locks is on the webpage for the Army Corps of Engineers. The importance of the locks cannot be overstated. 90% of the country’s iron ore passes through the Soo Locks. The existence of the locks means transport ships can travel from Duluth, Minnesota to the Atlantic Ocean. The trip takes 7 days.
Traveling toward the locks from the tour boat dock, the State of Michigan is to your left; Canada is to your right. Sault Ste. Marie, Michigan is the smaller city with about 15,000 residents to its Canadian sister’s 80,000. Most of the landscape along the water’s edge on the American side is marine support and utility services. The city on the Canadian side bears the same name and is located in the Canadian Provence of Ontario. The two were once a single city until the treaty that ended the War of 1812 divided them. Today they are joined by the Soo Locks International Bridge.
I have to admit that the Canadian side of the river was prettier. There was a manicured shoreline and a welcoming structure that reminded me of a circus tent. We also saw the Bushplane Museum. On the American side near our tour boat dock, we saw a bunker used to lift ships out of the water and facilitate repairs. There are also Coast Guard vessels and ships that assisted with the retrieval of the Edmund Fitzgerald of pop music fame.
The “SS Edmund Fitzgerald was an American Great Lakes freighter that sank in Lake Superior during a storm on November 10, 1975, with the loss of the entire crew of 29 men. When launched on June 7, 1958, she was the largest ship on North America’s Great Lakes, and she remains the largest to have sunk there. She was located in deep water on November 14, 1975, by a U.S. Navy aircraft detecting magnetic anomalies, and found soon afterwards to be in two large pieces.” Wikipedia.
The Edmund Fitzgerald was sailing under the American flag, but sank in Canadian waters. “The disaster is one of the best-known in the history of Great Lakes shipping. Gordon Lightfoot made it the subject of his 1976 hit song “The Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald“. The sinking led to changes in Great Lakes shipping regulations and practices that included mandatory survival suits, depth finders, positioning systems, increased freeboard, and more frequent inspection of vessels.” Wikipedia.
This side of the St. Mary’s River is the lower level so we entered the lock at a depth of 33 feet. The crew threw anchor lines up to the shore to attach us to the side. Hooks to tie off on were also visible on the concrete sides of the lock. I thought the locks were smooth, but you could see the ridges in the concrete as we entered. There was also a large freighter in the Poe Lock next to us. The water rose so smoothly if you weren’t watching the sides you wouldn’t even notice you were going up. The locks do not use pumps, but are activated by gravity.
When we were high enough, the gates opened on the opposite end and we headed out to pass underneath the International Bridge. Due to ongoing repairs, a cover had been removed and we were able to get a look at some of the gears that work the locks. We could also see the decay that betrays the age of these long-working structures. As we passed by the opening to the Poe Lock next to us, we could see the freighter inside. On the walkway between the Poe and the MacArthur, supports that will be used to secured the locks during the winter months had already been set out. The Soo Locks are closed from January 15 to March 25 for repairs.
One of the most fascinating things I saw while passing under the Soo Locks International Bridge, was the railway line. Through one channel, the rail line splits and raises up on both sides to let ships pass. For the other channel, the railway line is lifted up instead. Even in inclement weather, an individual must climb up the outdoor ladder to the top to operate the controls to raise or lower the structure.
As we sailed out on the upper St. Mary’s River, we saw the dredging operations for the new deeper lock. Construction on the new lock is advancing, although I am not sure if the weather will halt work in the winter months or not.
Traveling a little farther on the river, we were able to see operations at a large iron ore production facility. Our captain’s brother-in-law works there and the captain has had the opportunity to tour the facility. He shared that it is quite impressive. We also could see the Canadian lock used mostly for recreational watercraft which is currently not in operation. The tour operator is looking forward to its reopening and I wondered if perhaps the tours often go through that lock on one leg of the journey.
It was late afternoon and a nice time to be on the water. It was not yet cool, in fact it was rather hot for being this far north. I had expected colder temperatures. The light played nicely off the water and we listened to the captain’s stories about animals that got caught in the lock. Given the number of visitors and the places they come from, I was surprised he assumed that everyone had seen a moose. Rounding the last bend for our return trip through the lock, he pointed out rocks that still had the holes where dynamite had be inserted from back when the older locks had been constructed.
We made a return trip through the MacArthur Lock. Beside us in the Poe Lock was the Rt. Honorable Paul J Martin, the large Canadian freighter we saw waiting its turn to pass through the lock when we were on the lower part of the River. There were fewer people on the viewing platform this late in the day.
We passed out of the locks and I spotted a few birds making their home on the lock gates. We got another lock at the Rt. Honorable Paul J Martin in the Poe Lock before making our way back down the lower St. Mary’s River toward the boat dock.
When we passed through Sault Ste. Marie earlier in the day one of the most intriguing things I saw was a long building so large I couldn’t photograph the whole thing except at an angle. I thought it was an old warehouse at first until I saw the sign. The older sign said Edison. The more modern one read the Cloverland Hydro Plant listing an original operation date of 1902. It is an impressive and beautiful brick building with wonderful glass windows from the Sault Ste. Marie side. At the end of the boat tour, I got a chance to see it from the water. It was even more beautiful from this vantage point. The captain pointed out that the arches were formed to resemble lighthouses, but only from the water side.
“At the time of completion, the plant was the second largest hydro facility next to Niagara Falls.” Contrary to my original thought, the plant is constructed of steel and red sandstone. The stone was excavated from the power canal which runs 2.25 miles under the city of Sault Ste. Marie. The plant itself is a quarter-mile long. There are actually 74, 3-phase generators in the plant operated by a team of 12 employees. It supplies 20% of the power for Michigan’s Upper Peninsula. Sault Ste. Marie, Pure Michigan
After disembarking, we drove back to St. Ignace. We will spend the night here in order to catch a ferry over to Mackinac Island in the morning. The island sits in the Straits of Mackinac and can be reached by ferry from St. Ignace on the upper peninsula and Mackinac City on the lower peninsula. Our plan is to ride the 9:30 ferry which goes under the Mackinac Bridge before going to the island. We have tickets, but the ride is first come, first served and there are no reservations taken.
Our hotel in St. Ignace was close to the ferry launch and sat on the water. We had a partial view of the lake from our balcony. At 8 pm, Jack, Emma, and I went down to the rock beach for s’mores and the view. Mom was tired. It was a nice evening and a good end to a full day. Off on another Michigan adventure in the morning…
Our last night on board, we had to do our packing. Luckily breakfast started at 6:15 am, so we were able to enjoy one last scrumptious meal before our 6:45 am disembarkation from the ship. If you arrive and depart the same day as the cruise, Uniworld provides free transfers to the airport even if you are a city or two away.
We had a really long wait at check-in, but fortunately with Gold status on Star Alliance we had a shorter line and our early arrival meant we were at the front of the line. Uniworld gave us additional paperwork with a QR code related to our COVID testing and with that document and what I had uploaded, we had no problem checking into our flight at the airport. The lines were rather ridiculous by the time they finally started checking in luggage for our flight. There are lots of passengers making connections. Although boarding started on time, we sat and sat on the plane while people kept coming on long after our departure time. We left 40 minutes late. Again, we only had a 1 hour and 10-minute layover in Frankfurt.
This time in Frankfurt it was not to be. We had to cross three terminals to get to our second flight and were near the back of the passport line. Time was ticking away. One ridiculous man was trying to cut the line saying “I am going to miss my flight”. We were all going to miss our flights and we were not going to have it. All along the line passengers refused to let him cut. He had to wait like everyone else. We arrived at the gate 7 minutes before the flight was set to take off, but they had already closed the flight. Since we came in on Lufthansa and were connecting to a United flight, they didn’t hold the plane for us even though we booked everything through United.
Boris was furious and let them know it. The gate agent booked us for the same flight on the next day. There were no other connections to the states that day even though it was just after noon. Because the fault was with Lufthansa, we then had to go stand in a long line at their service center for compensation. Luckily our negative COVID tests will still be within the appropriate window for entry and we can use those tests on the rebooked flight tomorrow.
We were given two meal vouchers and a hotel stay at an airport hotel. There was another long wait for the hotel shuttle-about an hour. The hotel appears to serve all the Lufthansa passengers who miss connections. Frankfurt is their hub, but something is wrong if you need a whole hotel to house passengers you displaced.
We were given a room with a double bed, a duvet cover which wasn’t wide enough to cover the double bed, a single bath towel, and a single hand towel. We turned the duvet the opposite direction so at least we could cover our complete upper bodies. There were no toiletries except for a hand soap dispenser attached to the wall. Our bags had been retained at the airport.
Don’t get me started on the food. It was barely edible. I broke into the olive oil cookies I bought yesterday as a backup.
The next morning, I dried off as best I could and put back on my dirty clothes. I never thought to bring extra for the way home. With shuttle reservations, we went back to the airport as early as we could. We hit the lounge there for the wait. Of course, we both had a lot of rescheduling to do since we missed a day. Fortunately, the plane took off on time.
We arrived in Houston late because bad weather in the area meant we had to circle. There were super long lines at immigration. Unfortunately, at some point during COVID my global entry had expired, so I ended up standing in two lines. The customs officer asked a lot of questions, but mostly seemed interested in what the health conditions were in France and what measures they were taking.
Since so many flights were held in the air due to weather, everyone landed at the same time. I have never seen the international luggage claim area so crowded. We waited 45 minutes after clearing immigration (which had already taken a while) for the luggage to start coming down. Finally, Boris’ bag showed up; the dirty clothes duffle showed up; and of course, my bag did not. We filed the luggage claim and was told it would come in the next day. The bag was in Frankfurt. This was the same bag that spent an extra 36 hours in Frankfurt on the way to France. I am beginning to think the bag just likes it better there.
Just when we thought we were through the worst, we went outside. The weather had also delayed traffic and airport construction had compounded the problem. It took Rocky forever to reach us. In the end, we didn’t leave the airport until 2 hours and 35 minutes after our plane had landed.
My bag did arrive in Houston the next day, but wasn’t delivered until the day after that. Luckily, there were no dirty clothes inside. One of our Uniworld perks was free laundry service on board the ship so I had come home with mostly clean clothes. Our to and from travel on this trip was the pits. Fortunately, the cruise was fabulous.
Hope you enjoy these additional pictures from our French river cruise. I am off on some domestic travel to Michigan in 4 days so stayed tuned for more adventures.