Best Hotels for Afternoon Tea
in the U.S.
Laidback luxury and slow-paced days allow guests to travel back in time.
There is plenty of history in this neck of the woods. First, Jesuit fathers arrived in the mid-1600s, then French trappers, and by the late 1800s the industrialists, who decided to build Grand Hotel. Even though the property was expanded later, it was definitely a large project to establish this "grand lady" in the middle of nowhere — or at least in the middle of a big lake that freezes in the winter — at that time. When this magnificent hotel opened in 1887, it attracted wealthy travelers seeking a summer retreat.
Today, its busy season continues to be mid-June through the end of August. It’s particularly crowded during yacht races and festivals, and is also popular for large conferences and weddings. Still, no matter how many fellow guests check in, you’ll feel as if you’ve escaped to a gentler place and time. Cars are not allowed on the island, and guests can get around by horse-drawn carriage. The location is prime, a real haven of peace, where the clock stops and romance begins. In fact, the producers of the 1980 romantic movie "Somewhere in Time," featuring Jane Seymour and Christopher Reeve, shot on location at the hotel.
Once your carriage delivers you to the hotel, you will find everything from the carpeting to the shampoo done in a geranium flower theme. A 660-foot front porch, chamber music after meals and afternoon tea add to the feeling of being in a living museum. The all-wood structure harbors 393 guest rooms, which have been individually decorated by interior designer Carleton Varney. They feature antiques and striking furnishings, such as hardwood 4-poster beds. The hotel's most decadent lodging is the 4-bedroom Masco Cottage. A stay here includes full breakfast, lunch and a 5-course dinner each day, with the option of having meals prepared by a chef in your suite if you are staying more than one night. A very grand dining room, meeting rooms, shops, a salon and a tea room complete the manor house. Enhancing the appeal even further are eco-friendly efforts, from composting to recycling programs.
A Grand Luncheon Buffet is served from noon to 2 p.m. daily in the main dining room. This buffet offers hot and cold gourmet entrées, seafood, salads, pastries and more. For sweeping views of the island, head up to the Cupola Bar located at the very top of the property for cocktails, and to satisfy sushi cravings visit Sushi Grand. In addition, Woods Restaurant opens seasonally and is located in the upper wooded portion of Mackinac Island, accessible by bicycle, carriage or on foot. If you're in the mood for dancing after dinner, the Terrace Room awaits. Done in an Asian theme, this lounge features big band music nightly, compliments of The Grand Hotel Orchestra. While the island is a pretty casual place, things get serious at night, when men must wear coats and ties. Evening dresses, skirts, blouses and dress slacks are recommended for ladies.
Recreation includes the serpentine-shaped Esther Williams swimming pool, clay-based tennis courts and the 18-hole The Jewel golf course, whose original Grand nine dates back to 1901. Festivals abound on the island, and the hotel offers many packages tailored to travelers with specific interests. One of the best ways to explore is to rent a bike from the hotel, request a boxed lunch to go and head out for a day of visiting historic houses and the National Historic Landmark of Fort Mackinac. While the island is beautiful year-round, the hotel is only open from late spring to early fall. Springtime visits are particularly recommended, when the lilacs are in bloom.
A bastion of Old World hospitality and charm, this hotel is a good prescription for relaxation. The Musser family, now in its third generation of ownership, describes Grand Hotel as "the crown jewel of pristine, secluded Mackinac Island ... the world's largest summer hotel since 1887." Will they ever break tradition and open in the winter? We wish, but only time will tell.