Seven Michigan Holiday Movies Worth a Watch

Photo by Heather McFarland, Garland Resort

Photo by Heather McFarland, Garland Resort

With the holidays just around the corner, what could be better than an evening spent curled up on the couch with a steaming mug of hot cocoa and some classic holiday flicks?

If a cozy night in is on your agenda in the coming weeks, give this list of holiday movies with ties to Michigan a look. Dianna Stampfler of Promote Michigan shares seven Michigan holiday films worth a watch this season. 

The Polar Express
Written by Grand Rapids native Chris Van Allsburg and prominently featuring the city and noted businesses like Herpolsheimer’s downtown department store, this classic movie celebrates its 10th year in 2014.

Polar_expressThe star of the show is the Pere Marquette 1225, a steam locomotive which was recently restored and put back in operation in 2013 at the Steam Railroad Institute in Owosso. Seasonal excursions aboard the “North Pole Express” are extremely popular with families, selling out in advance of the holiday season.

One of the animated elves was played by actor Ed Gale, who graduated from Plainwell High School in the 1980s. (Ed also appeared in “Call Me Claus” and “Santa, Jr.”).

The world premiere of The Polar Express was held in 2004 at Celebration Cinema IMAX in Grand Rapids, with an elaborate post viewing party at DeVos Place downtown. Actor Peter Scolari (who played the “lonely boy” Billy) and Van Allsburg were both in attendance for the festivities, along with Santa Claus (of course).

Prancer
Filmed in the Berrien County town of Three Oaks, this 1989 film starred Sam Elliott, Cloris Leachman and young Rebecca Harrell—an eight year old farm girl who discovers one of Santa’s reindeer has fallen from a downtown decoration and come to life. She later nurses the wounded reindeer, hoping to bring it back to health in time for Christmas, while inspiring the community with her spirit. Prancer celebrates its 25th anniversary this year!

The Santa Clause (I, II and III)
SantaClause2All starring Tim Allen, who was raised in southeast Michigan, attended Western Michigan University, has owned several homes around the state and is the voice of the Pure Michigan TV and radio ads. The movie itself is actually set in Chicago.

The trilogy was first introduced 20 years ago in 1994 (followed by sequels in 2004 and 2006), the story follows the life of Scott Calvin—who inadvertently kills Santa on Christmas eve and magically finds himself taking over the role of the big guy himself.

Sequel #1 shows Scott Calvin settling well into his role as Santa, but a new twist may bring his reign to an end if he doesn’t find a Mrs. Claus before Christmas Eve. Sequel #2—The Escape Claus follows Santa and Mrs. (Carol) Claus and the pending arrival of their first child together, as well as a plot by Jack Frost to take over the helm at the North Pole.

The Christmas Bunny
Filmed entirely in Michigan, this is the story of a lonely foster child who finds a lost, injured rabbit in the woods on Christmas Eve. The animal is nursed back to health by the eccentric “Bunny Lady” (played by Florence Henderson), who runs a rabbit rescue in an old barn behind her Michigan farmhouse.

The movie was filmed during a snowy February and March, 2010 in several West Michigan rural towns—including Lowell, Alto, Wyoming and Zeeland. It was directed by Grand Rapids native Tom Seidman (Ordinary People, Dead Poets Society), and was his first movie filmed in West Michigan.

Silver Bells
SilverBellsProduced in association with the Salvation Army and filmed in Manistee, Grand Rapids and Ludington, this 2013 film stars Bruce Boxleitner (Scarecrow & Mrs. King, Babylon 5).

According to a production release, the holiday story revolves around a hyper-competitive feather and overly win-driven sportscaster who goes too far and must perform community service as a bell ringer. Through his work with the Salvation Army, he discovers the true meaning of Christmas. The charity played a pivotal role throughout the film as the family volunteers with the organization in various ways.

Michigan filmmaker Harold Cronk directed the project and 10 West Studios lead the prost production efforts to keep the entire project in Michigan, qualifying it for state film incentives.

Do you know any other holiday favorites that have ties to Michigan? 

Dianna Stampfler is the president of Promote Michigan and former board member of the West Michigan Film Video Alliance. 

Three Ways to Save on Lessons and Lift Tickets in Pure Michigan

The official start of winter is still a few weeks away, but Michigan ski areas are already open for the season! If you or someone you know is a first-time skier or snowboarder, Mickey MacWilliams from the Michigan Snowsports Industries Association shares some tips for saving on lessons and lift tickets in Pure Michigan this winter. 

Photo courtesy of Crystal Mountain Resort

Photo courtesy of Crystal Mountain Resort

You may not know this but Michigan is steeped in skiing history. Michigan is home to the U.S. Ski & Snowboard Hall of Fame and some of the first and largest ski jumping competitions originated here back in the early 1900s.  While you may not want to hurl yourself off an Olympic regulation ski jump, getting out on Michigan’s 900+ slopes and trails is something everyone can enjoy.

Kids in fourth and fifth grades can ski for free all across Michigan this year with the Cold is Cool Ski & Ride Passport.  Twenty-seven ski areas have each contributed up to three lift tickets for this passport booklet, so students can ski all winter long, all over Michigan for free!  Applications are available online at goskimichigan.com.  There is a $15 printing fee for the passport booklet.

Photo courtesy of MSIA

Photo courtesy of MSIA

For those who don’t know how to ski or snowboard and want to learn, January is the month.  That’s when ski facilities all across Michigan offer an exciting and affordable learn-to-ski or snowboard program called Discover Michigan Skiing.  Beginners receive a lesson, equipment rental and a lift ticket or trail pass for just $20 for cross-country skiing or $35 for downhill skiing or snowboarding.  To get started, a Discover Michigan Skiing voucher is needed.  They are available at participating Michigan McDonald’s restaurants or online at goskimichigan.com.

Ski areas across the state offer packages, special events and discounts that can be a lot of fun while helping to reduce the costs of getting out onto the slopes and trails.

Screen Shot 2014-12-01 at 1.51.32 PM

Photo courtesy of Marquette Mountain

A page on the goskimichigan.com website called Events & Discounts is updated frequently and offers a wide assortment of options. Plus, the Ski Areas and Conditions page provides up-to-date snow conditions and direct links to ski areas all across the state.

So whether you are an experienced skier or rider or just want to give it a try, there is something for everyone on the ski slopes and trails of Pure Michigan.

Do you remember your first time skiing or snowboarding? Tell us about it!

Screen-Shot-2013-11-25-at-4.57.24-PM-150x150Mickey MacWilliams is the Executive Director of the Michigan Snowsports Industries Association, which represents the ski and snowboard industry in our state.  She is an avid downhill and cross-country skier and a very timid but enthusiastic snowboarder.  You can reach her at info@goskimichigan.com.

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.