A Festive Frankenmuth Family Getaway, And 10 More Ways To Go Great Lakes Bay This Holiday

Today, guest blogger Kirsetin Morello shares her tips for a Frankenmuth family getaway, plus ten more ways you can “Go Great Lakes Bay” this holiday season. 

Photo courtesy of Bronner's Christmas Wonderland

Photo by Bronner’s CHRISTmas Wonderland

The first time we visited Frankenmuth during the holidays, we knew what we’d seen on the billboards: that Bronner’s was a wonderland.

So while we expected—and got—lots of Christmas ornaments, we ended up experiencing so much more. Our trip started with a stop at what’s not only the largest, but arguably the best, Christmas store in the world. Not only is Bronner’s CHRISTmas Wonderland enormous (its square footage is bigger than 1 ½ football fields), it’s also gorgeously appointed.

All the advertising in Michigan couldn’t have prepared us for the wonderland that is Bronner’s. When we stepped into the first, exquisitely decorated room, our boys’ demeanor changed immediately. As you might imagine, at 10, 8, and 5 years of age starting the day by spending a couple of hours in the car wasn’t their idea of fun! But as soon as we walked through Bronner’s doors, their begrudging looks gave way to an excitement that was both electric and contagious.

Photo courtesy of Bronner's CHRISTmas Wonderland

Photo by Bronner’s CHRISTmas Wonderland

We all laughed as we looked and touched and looked some more, trying our best to take it all in. The twinkling lights hung from the ceiling created a merry mood throughout the store. As we checked our map (be sure to get one at the door) and explored the rooms of elaborately decorated trees, we felt more like we’d found the North Pole than like a retail outlet.

As we walked through the ornately decorated rooms, each one different, each one dripping with color and festivity, my heart warmed as I watched my boys together. This is why we do these types of things as a family—not because we really need more ornaments for our tree, but because the memories they’ll have and the bonds they build on these trips are the really important stuff in life.

Photo courtesy of Bavarian Inn Lodge

Photo by Bavarian Inn Lodge

Bronner’s is a wonderful stop in Frankenmuth, but it’s not the only place that makes Frankenmuth special. Families love to eat, stay and play at the quaint Bavarian Inn Lodge and waterpark, where you’ll often find the owners on site mingling with guests, says Jim Engel, Chief Operating Officer of the Bavarian Inn Lodge.

At the waterpark, you’ll find yourself relaxing as your kids laugh and play in what Engel calls “America’s only living-room-style waterpark.” Water play, video games, a lounge, miniature golf, and a children’s village all share one space. They even offer weekend karaoke for kids!

When you’ve worked up an appetite after all that waterpark fun, the Bavarian Inn Restaurant serves up chicken dinners in the finest German tradition, so your crew can fill their bellies right there.

Photo courtesy of Bavarian Inn Lodge

Photo by Bavarian Inn Lodge

To add a little more magic to your family time in Frankenmuth, be sure to stop by the beautiful Bavarian Inn Glockenspiel, whose components include a 35-bell carillon, figurine movement, and an illuminated clock, all imported from Germany.

If you can be there at 3 p.m., 6 p.m., or 9 p.m., your entire family will delight in watching the moving figurines appear to depict the story of the Pied Piper of Hamelin.

Photo courtesy of Bavarian Inn Lodge

Photo by Bavarian Inn Lodge

After you watch the Glockenspiel, head back inside to warm up inside the cozy Bavarian Inn Castle Shops, located in the lower level of the Bavarian Inn Restaurant.  My husband and I are always able to find something special to purchase and no visit is complete without a stop at the Castle Shop Bakery. Seriously! Go to the bakery. If you’re already feeling toasty and ready to walk off that chicken dinner, take a stroll through the Frankenmuth River Place Shops, where you’ll find over 40 unique shops and boutiques filled with specialty food and gift items.

If you or your kids are anything like our family, you’ll also want to head to the shops and bakery at Zehnder’s Marketplace, which are just across the street from the Bavarian Inn. Zehnder’s of Frankenmuth also offers world famous chicken dinners, so if you’re in Frankenmuth for more than a day or return more than once, it’s fun to try them both and experience the differences.

Photo courtesy of Zehnder's

Photo by Zehnder’s Splash Village

Zehnder’s also has a hotel and waterpark, Zehnder’s Splash Village, which is located just outside of downtown adjacent to Bronner’s. If you visit this winter, you’ll be among the first guests to take advantage of Splash Village’s recently completed expansion. The waterpark now includes over 50,000 square feet of aquatic fun and features a retractable roof! Zehnder’s also added onto the hotel and if you book in time you might score a room that overlooks the waterpark extravaganza.

Regardless of whether you go for a day or a week, a holiday visit to Frankenmuth is an experience you’ll savor. On our first trip, after we ate our fill of sugary goodness at the bakeries, we headed back outside to walk off some of it off. As our boys frolicked in the fresh snow, my husband and I window-shopped, smiling at the serene, simplicity of the day. Frankenmuth at the holidays is like that: a little snowy, a little magical, and filled with memories that last a lifetime.

Here are 10 other great ways to Go Great Lakes Bay this holiday season:

- Watch PRIDE’s Christmas Parade or the Midland Santa Parade (both Nov. 22)

- Shop the traditional Frankenmuth Christkindlmarkt (Nov. 28-30 and Dec. 5-7)

- Explore Downtown Bay City and catch a Christmas flick during Sundays in the City (Nov. 16 – Dec. 21)

- Celebrate Holidays in the Heart of the City in Saginaw (Nov. 21)

- Visit Santa at the Charles W. Howard Santa House in Midland

- Treat the kids to lunch with Santa at Bavarian Inn Restaurant (Dec. 14)

- Take part in the Zehnder’s Holiday Show (Dec. 1-3) or The Reflections Holiday Dinner Shows at Bavarian Inn Restaurant (Dec. 2 -3)

- Witness the magic of Cirque Dreams Holidaze at the Dow Event Center (Dec. 3)

- Shop Holly Jolly Days in Downtown Midland (Dec. 7-8, 14-15)

- Relax in a horse-drawn carriage ride through Frankenmuth.

How many of these Great Lakes Bay activities have you checked off your list? 

Kirsetin Morello - Guest BloggerKirsetin Morello is an author, freelance writer, and mother of 3 boys from Grand Rapids, MI whose family loves to travel and explore new places. In addition to writing about travel, she writes about parenting, business, and specializes in writing profiles of interesting people. Among other publications, you can find her work in Parents, West Michigan Woman, and Teach and Travel, as well as lots of places online, but you’ll most likely find her playing basketball, hiking in a park, or cheering her kids on at their sporting events.

5 Extreme Winter Sports that Michigan Does Best

We’ve teamed up with Expedia Viewfinder to spotlight some of the most adventurous winter sports to try in the Great Lake State this season.

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Cold weather doesn’t bring life in Michigan to a halt. In fact, a whole new array of activities open up during the winter months. Strolling along the chilly beaches of Grand Haven or attending the Motown Winter Blast festival in Detroit can certainly be fun for visitors and locals alike. But those looking for something more rugged, more exhilarating, can push the envelope on adventure.

At Expedia Viewfinder, we love discovering adrenaline-pumping, thrill-inducing activities during our travels, so we joined forces with Pure Michigan to reveal some of the most extreme sports to try in Michigan this winter:

Ice Climbing

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When it’s too cold to scale a mountain, try a frozen waterfall instead. Ice climbing is one of Michigan’s more extreme winter activities, and it’s not for the faint of heart. With ice axes, a belay system, and pure grit, climbers methodically ascend these arctic pillars to reach spectacular snowy summits. Over the past few years, the sport has increased in popularity and Michigan is arguably the best location to ice climb in the U.S. In particular, Lake Superior in Munising is a climber’s utopia, with hundreds of frozen waterfalls ranging from 20 to 200+ feet in height.

Ice Luge

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On the shores of Lake Michigan, the Muskegon Winter Sports Complex offers ice luge for mere mortals who’d like to pretend to be Olympians. Not to be confused with the bobsled, the ice luge is flat with two steel runners; it’s built for riders to recline on their backs and steer with their legs and shoulders. One of only four luge tracks in the U.S., the Sport Complex’s track welcomes the general public and provides a rare opportunity to try this velocious sport. The experience is exhilarating as riders hurtle feet-first down the 850-foot track, reaching speeds up to 30 mph (Olympic athletes reach speeds of 80 to 90 mph).

Ice Diving

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One little-known fact about Michigan is that it offers some of the best shipwreck diving in the world. Thousands of sunken ships rest quietly at the bottom of the Great Lakes, some dating back to the 1600s. And it just so happens that the best time of year to view these wrecks is in winter, when the ice coating Lake Michigan acts a sealant against wind, boats, and people who stir up the lakebed. In other words, visibility is best in winter and that’s when you’ll see formidable ice divers chainsaw their way through the surface to sink into the watery world below. An advanced form of scuba diving, ice diving requires a special suit and equipment (and yes, a dive certification is mandatory). But the gear is well worth the experience of drifting through the water to view an elegant schooner or hulking freighter, eerily peaceful and frozen in time.

Ice Sailing

Photo 5 - ice sailing

Called “wind dancing” by some, ice sailing pairs a wing, kite, or sled with a snowboard, skis, or skates. This adds complexity and speed to some favorite winter sports and makes for an addicting challenge. Ice sailing can be done anywhere there is wind and snow or ice, but Michigan is a paradise due to its many frozen lakes—there’s lots of space to play. Ice sailors describe the feeling as energizing and sublime as they harness the wind’s power to glide across the ice.

Snowmobiling

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In the Great Lakes State, hiking boots are swapped out for snowmobiles during the winter. With over 6,500 groomed, interconnected trails, Michigan takes its motor-powered adventures seriously. One of only three states that offers such an extensive system of trails, snowmobilers can explore miles and miles of picturesque, exciting terrain. Ideal for an extreme winter group activity, visitors can speed over frozen lakes and through national forests to see sights that are often hidden in warmer months.

As the weather cools and the snow falls, Michigan turns into a magnificent playground for the outdoor adventurer. Plan a visit this season to try out (or watch) these extreme winter sports in beautiful Michigan.

Written by Expedia Staff Writer

Ten Cherished Pure Michigan Holiday Traditions

Are you ready for the holiday season in Pure Michigan? Today, our guest bloggers from The Awesome Mitten, plus a few of our Facebook fans, share their most cherished holiday traditions. 

As we move in to yet another holiday season, the staff of The Awesome Mitten thought it best to take a look back at some of our most cherished holiday memories and traditions. This special compilation would not be possible without the contributions of Team Awesome members Hayley Serr, Rebecca Calkins, and Rachell Weeks.

Rachell

Christmas has always been one of my favorite holidays. It’s also one of the few days of the year I wish for snow. My parents made the decision when I was a baby to relocate from England to the United States for work and we’ve been here ever since. Holidays have always been quiet for us, given that all of our extended family still lives overseas, but my parents did an excellent job of keeping with tradition; needless to say, I grew up with Christmases that were different from all the other kids.

Christimas Eve is hands down the busiest day of the year in the kitchen! Every year, we get up early, head to Meijer and do all of the food shopping for the feasts of the next two days. Once the mad dash around the store is finished, we head to Downtown Holland for some coffee at JPs Coffee House, and in recent years lunch at New Holland Brewery before stopping at the Holland Peanut Store to pick up chocolates for Santa.

Once home, we spend the afternoon prepping food for the next couple of days. In British tradition, this means a full feast of: Brussels sprouts, carrots, potatoes, sausages wrapped in bacon, dates wrapped in bacon, bread sauce, cranberry orange sauce, chestnut stuffing, sausage rolls, turkey, Christmas pudding, and mince pies.

Before going to bed, we make reindeer food (oats and glitter) and run around the yard scattering it everywhere. The glitter helps Rudolf find the food!

Hayley

In the Serr family, we have one tradition that many of my friends have never experienced: each year, we go to Niklas Tree Farm in Metamora to cut down our own (real) Christmas tree. Likely because we’ve done this every year for as long as I can remember, rumbling down the hill toward the fields of Christmas trees on one of Niklas’ tractors feels to me like the beginning of the holiday season. There is always some debate as to the tree (needs to be nice and conical, not too bushy or too sparse), but eventually, we always find “the one.” And after that perfect tree had been selected and cut down, we’d load it up on the top of the car and head for home.

Once inside and snugly in its stand at home, my dad would hang the lights, my mom the garland, and then each of us would open our box of ornaments (most wrapped in some sort of Christmas-themed napkins or tissue paper for safe keeping). As my two sisters and I got older, our boxes grew to the point that we began needing to cut down two trees just to fit them all.

Other bits of the tradition changed as we aged, as well—for example, we are absolutely not allowed to wake our parents up until 8 AM on Christmas morning, and are only allowed to LOOK at the tree with our presents underneath starting at 7 AM. But we still pile in the car every year to head to Niklas Tree Farm to bring home our perfect tree.

Rebecca

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I am a big fan of Christmas Lights. Even though my family was never the biggest of decorators, I love to drive around the neighborhoods that always took it to the next level. I remember piling into the minivan to drive through the Nite Lites at the Jackson County Fairgrounds; at a full mile long, Nite Lites is one of the longest light shows in Michigan.

We’d tune the radio to 106.9 Home.FM for “All Christmas Music All the Time,” programming that always starts on Thanksgiving Day (but let’s face it, in our house the Christmas Music starts playing right after Halloween). The van would slowly crawl through the grounds as we were ooo-ing and aww-ing at the newest decorations, laughing, joking and/or fighting about the silly lights. Is it a cat or a chipmunk? We were never really sure.

Then, we’d park and going into the American One Events Center for a hot chocolate and to stroll through the decorated Christmas Trees, each one decorated by a local non-profit. We would vote for our favorite tree with donations, usually just change from our mom’s purse. The littlest kids would wait in line to visit Santa or if they were lucky pet the live reindeer too. To this day it is an annual tradition that continues even if we don’t continue to stare with childlike wonderment. We have to visit our favorite chipmunk, right?

Each one of us has a holiday tradition that ties us back to home. Spending the holiday season in Michigan is one thing that so many of us have in common — that, coupled with our love for the Great Lakes State, helps us stay connected to one another.

IMG_0836Compiled by Erin Bernhard, Managing Editor at The Awesome Mitten. Erin considers herself a simple northern Michigan twentysomething who loves good microbrews, great wine, summertime grillouts, well-roasted coffee and Traverse City.

 

 

From Our Fans:

Our Facebook fans hold special holiday and traditions near and dear to their hearts. Check them out below. 

We have to watch the Lions on Thanksgiving with a traditional dinner and then turkey sandwiches with mayo on squishy bread in the evening! – Facebook Fan Carol DeVore

Hosting dinner for anyone we know without family in the area. my husband attends the Maritime academy, so we pack the place with anyone who needs a surrogate ‘home’ for the day or weekend. Guest beds & couches are always available & usually get filled! – Facebook Fan Whitney Fisher Miller

1497721_10152475224943289_675394493_nMine is a trip to Frankenmuth. A great dinner at Zehnders, and just enjoying the beauty of the town. -Facebook fan Kimberly J. Pachey

Church attendance and gathering with family on the holiday for a meal. – Facebook fan Rita Gerstheimer

Lions football is a tradition! Even after we were uprooted to the Chicago area, Thanksgiving is food, drinks, and Lions football. – Facebook fan Cait Stephanie

My folks had a hunting cabin on 40 acres in West Branch. Other than a pump in the sink there was no running water. Out house. Fire place, battery operated radio and comic books. My Dad was a meat cutter so he dressed out his own deer. There was always snow on the ground when we sent up and it looked like a Christmas Card. Thinking of it makes me smile! – Facebook fan Margaret Proulx

During hunting season, my mom and I always put up our Christmas tree and decorations when the men were gone and not under foot! -Facebook fan Vicki Goodwin Meisel

Where in Michigan do you spend the holiday season? What is your favorite holiday tradition?