As I stand next to my best friend from high school, holding his wedding rings during the ceremony in which he is about to marry his soon-to-be wife, I completely understand why they have chosen Mackinac Island for their wedding. With the lapis-blue lake behind us, a lush green lawn with Adirondack chairs accented by colorful flowers to the side, and the Victorian charm of the Mission Point Resort in front, I instantly grasp how this small, car-free island at the tip of Michigan’s mitten captured their imagination and sense of fantasy. This is why they chose this island for their special day.
Mackinac Island, pronounced like the spelling of the town we travel through to get here, Mackinaw, is a roughly 8-mile circular-ish island in the midst of Lake Huron. From here, we can see the 5-mile long bridge that Michigan natives are so proud of, the Mighty Mac, that connects the lower mitten of Michigan and the Upper Peninsula, with Canada not far beyond it. To reach the island where no cars are allowed, we must take a ferry either from Mackinaw City or St. Ignace, on the lower and upper peninsulas respectively. We take the ferry ride from Mackinaw City and it is a great introduction to the crystal blue waters of the lake and the crisp fresh lake air as we arrive into the downtown of the island. Immediately we are struck by the absence of cars on the road, technically a Michigan highway which is populated only by horse-drawn carts and bicyclists.
In town, we find a bevy of coffee shops, fudge stores – Mackinac is famous for the fudge, bars, and restaurants. Grabbing a nice strong iced latte at Lucky Bean Coffee House to fuel up after the early ferry ride and stay cool in the early summer sun, we decide to tour the island’s island park. Above us sits historic Fort Mackinac which has defended the island since the 1700s. It’s changed hands a few times during occupations but now serves as a tourism site and home to a select group of boy scouts chosen by the state who exemplify the highest of their ideals to attend camp each summer. We continue past the fort and into the shaded interior of the island’s state park. We discover the massive Sugarloaf rock sticking up from the ground precariously as well as a cave where early inhabitants hid from the British. All told, we hike about 3 miles on comfortable paved roads hardly seeing another inhabitant, though the roads would be great for biking.
After our walk, we feel it’s time to explore and familiarize ourselves with the culinary scene in downtown Mackinac. Among the Victorian style buildings lining the thoroughfare in downtown is Mary’s Bistro and Draughthouse, known in town for their massive beer selection. We take a table outside right along the water where we can watch the ferries loading and unloading with our drinks. Though the beer selection is larger inside, it’s far too nice of a day to not be out in the sun with a craft beer, one of life’s greatest small pleasures. We also encounter excellent seafood and sandwiches here, paired with incredible fries, perfect to sit and forget about things like time and schedules and watch life on the island unfold.
Eventually, though, we do need to get to our hotel and the scene of the wedding rehearsal, welcome party, ceremony, and reception, Mission Point Resort. The locale is perfect for the event. It’s fairly secluded on the island since it’s the last set of buildings from downtown along the road, so not many tourists walk past it but still close enough to walk or take a horse-drawn cab from the ferry dock. The resort itself has a long and interesting history, just like the island. The site was founded as a mission settlement for converting the indigenous population of the island to Christianity. As the island grew in strategic worth, being well located along trade routes across the lakes, so too did it grow. Now a hotel and resort, it overlooks the lake from a slight hill. The inside of the reception is constructed from recovered wooden beams from the ships that once plied the waters of the lake. Hearing The Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald inside is a bit eerie. Still, the history leans a grandeur to the locale and makes it feel special.We spend the majority of the evening before the wedding outside, first on the patio for a reception and later on the lawn in the comfortable chairs overlooking the water as the sun sets. And this far North and this far West in the time zone, the sun stays up until 10 pm in the early summer. It’s not the land of the midnight sun, but it’s close. As we sit and watch the day fade away, we make new friends with those we don’t know and rekindle friendships with those we haven’t seen in a long time. Several embarrassing stories about the groom from high school are shared.
I wake early on the morning of the wedding with a warm sunny glow on my face thanks to the grand windows in the rooms. The groom, another friend of the bride, and I head out early to take the scenic 8-mile loop of the island; the groom on a bike rented from the resort, and us on foot. It’s marathon training season after all. Just past the resort is Arch Rock, a large geologic formation that acts as a window onto the lake from above for those who will hike up the hundred or so stairs to the top. We quickly leave the heavily inhabited part of the island and make a circuit around the northern point, the point where the British first landed when taking the island back from the small group of Americans who occupied it.
Up here, the island feels like something in the Pacific Northwest, dense tree growth gives way to small pockets of sandy beach shore with smooth rolling waves. Seagulls perch on driftwood stumps surveying the road, making sure the tourists know their place. Looping back to the town we pass several beautiful Victorian houses along the water, overlooking either the Upper Peninsula, Mighty Mac bridge, or the nearby smaller Round Island. I briefly question how much not having a car would save me and if I could live on the island for a year on it. Not even close. One day perhaps. The road widens up closer to town and we even cross a boardwalk. The bumpy ride is the first time we inflict a little revenge on the groom who had been coasting around the island while we sweat. From downtown it’s a quick jaunt back to the resort with plenty of time to get cleaned up and ready for the wedding.
The groomsmen prepare for the wedding in the Michigan suite, a huge room in the Straights Lodge, next to the still-standing original mission church. A unique 270-degree mirror around the bathtub provides a good way to make sure we are presentable.
We start preparing while we enjoy food from the resort, meatball sandwiches and some of the specially brewed Mission Point pale ale from Mackinaw Brewing, made just for the resort. It’s one of those pale ales with just enough hoppy funk to cool you down and refresh on a hot, sunny summer day. The groom, ever the sentimental one, provides individual cufflinks for each of us as well as a pocket square. Mine are dinosaur themed – I’ve rediscovered my love for sauropods since having twins – while our Star Wars loving friend from high school gets golden Yoda ones. This is the level of attention to detail both he and the bride have put into the entire event. We finish getting ready while reminiscing about stupid things we all did when younger – in some cases only a few days younger.
We head over to the main lodge for the first reveal where the groom gets to see the bride in her dress. This is held in a suite in the main lodge which opens up onto a hill overlooking the back of the resort’s property and a balcony. It’s a very Shakespearean or fairy tale type of place for them to see each other for the first time on this special day. Many pictures are taken, the green lawn framed by the blue lake making for the perfect background. Somehow we still finish on time and actually have a few minutes to wait for the ceremony to start. It’s the only wedding I’ve ever known to begin on time. Sara Wright and her fellow photographers at It’s Wonderful Photography get a ton of awesome shots of us while keeping us on time.
The ceremony takes place out on the lawn in front of the resort with the lake serving as a backdrop. We walk in with a cool lake breeze keeping us cool and the summer sun high above. The ceremony is the kind of special type that only happens when two people made for each other actually find each other and are surrounded by close friends and family. People are emotional, but not weeping because they are so happy for the lucky two. The bride’s mother and father even do a jumping high five after escorting her down the aisle. Conducted by the bride’s pastor from childhood, everything is perfect and runs like a dream. As we depart the ceremony, we head up to the deck for cocktail hour while others head inside to the ballroom to get a head start on the reception.
The deck makes for the perfect stop in between events to slow down and take a pause. I’ve got the best man speech coming up, so I stay clear of the strong custom drinks the bride and groom “commissioned” for the cocktail hour. Still, I enjoy the small plates of food and enjoy the view of the lake and distant islands beyond. Once we head inside, the bridal party is announced, the bride and groom have their first dance, and a hearty meal is served. After my speech which needs a doctor because I have the audience in stitches, we dance the rest of the night away on the large dance floor. It’s honestly the most I ever dance at any event. I barely leave the floor except to grab food. Luckily late in the night, the happy couple has thought of everything and provide a course of chicken and waffles to give us new strength to keep going. And go we do.
The next morning, a refreshing brunch is served up in a room above the lobby, again with great views of both the island and the water. We discuss what a great time we’ve all had and how much everyone has changed, but still somehow stayed the same since the old days. Old friends reconnect once more and promise to visit each other now. I say goodbye to old friends from high school, family members I’ve known since I was six, and friends who we’ve recently met but love. For us, it’s back to the mainland on the ferry, and then off to Traverse City, a small but important beer holy land in northern Michigan to explore their offerings.
Mackinac Island and Michigan in general were places we had never intended to visit and never considered a destination for us to travel to. For us, Europe, Asia, and even the American West more often draw our attention while the Midwest is overlooked. Traveling to Michigan and Mackinac, in particular, has changed our mind about this. Though we left our one-year-old twin boys at home on this visit, we already begin making plans to bring them back to the island for a relaxed but active summer vacation. We’ll bike around the island, enjoy the restaurants, and show them the historical sites. A visit to Mackinac might change your mind too.