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.

How the Grand Rapids Ballet Put a New Spin on The Nutcracker

Is The Nutcracker one of your yearly holiday traditions? This December, see it live at the Grand Rapids Ballet! Today, our guest blogger from Experience Grand Rapids shares how Michigan-born writer and illustrator Chris Van Allsburg and team put a new spin on an old favorite.

TheNutcrackerArtworkChris Van Allsburg, the East Grand Rapids native known for writing and illustrating books including The Polar Express and Jumanji, can add another credit to his impressive list. He, along with Tony and Emmy award winning set designer Eugene Lee and renowned choreographer Val Caniparoli, are giving new life to the Grand Rapids Ballet version of The Nutcracker under the direction of Grand Rapids Ballet (GRB) Artistic Director Patricia Barker.

Barker is quite fond of traditions. She was a principal dancer in the Pacific Northwest Ballet (PNB) production of The Nutcracker with set designs by children’s author Maurice Sendak. The lavish production became a holiday tradition in Seattle, and upon her arrival in Grand Rapids, she knew she wanted to create a similar tradition here.

Photo courtesy of The Grand Rapids Ballet

Photo courtesy of The Grand Rapids Ballet

It was Barker’s dream for a new Grand Rapids tradition that set the ball rolling. The Grand Rapids Ballet asked Van Allsburg to design The Nutcracker with his own vision two years ago. Although his daughter Sophia has danced the role of Clara with Festival Ballet Providence in Rhode Island, he still needed some “encouragement” from his wife Lisa along with friend and co-designer Eugene Lee to take on the project.

While Van Allsburg is not in Grand Rapids currently, Barker said he was an integral part in creating the aesthetic for this re-imagined production and is still involved. “I have been in conversation with Chris weekly, sometimes daily,” said Barker.

With the help of Barker’s German speaking husband, Barker and Caniparoli spent more than a year going over the E.T.A Hoffman story that The Nutcracker is based upon in its original German. And although the set design, production and costumes are all new, the heart of The Nutcracker remains the same.

Photo courtesy of the Grand Rapids Ballet

Photo courtesy of the Grand Rapids Ballet

Van Allsburg and Caniparoli were steadfast in their determination to focus on the original story of The Nutcracker. Eugene Lee also played a large role in ensuring from beginning to end the audience sees the complete story line of Clara coming of age and going through a wonderful adventure for all ages.

“We uncovered interesting nuances that have been lost over multiple translations such as architecture, clothing, embellishments, etc.,” said Barker. “But with that being said, there will still be recognizable plot lines from modern renditions of The Nutcracker.”

The spirit of The Nutcracker isn’t limited to Grand Rapids Ballet.

Opening Curtain - Photo courtesy of Grad Rapids Ballet

Opening Curtain – Photo courtesy of Grand Rapids Ballet

Hotels will be offering Nutcracker Season packages along with special “Land of Sweets” desserts and a Nutcracker Cocktail contest at participating restaurants and bars.

For a more behind the scenes look, from November 20-January 15 the Grand Rapids Art Museum will have original artwork on display illustrating the process of this amazing production, along with costumes and set models that will give insight on how a production goes from conception to stage.

So get your tickets and plan a trip to Grand Rapids to the world premiere performance of the largest production in Grand Rapids Ballet history starting December 12. You won’t be disappointed.

Have you ever seen a performance at the Grand Rapids Ballet? Tell us about it!

Lions and Tigers and Wings, Oh MI!: Detroit Sports Hot Spots Roundup

10Best_Sports_FB_Share_v3[1]Detroit was recently named #1 among USA TODAY Travel’s 10 Best Cities for Sports! With four professional sports team centered in Detroit, we asked Visit Detroit to share some suggestions for pre-game excitement around the city.

Detroit’s roar is loud enough to be named the 2014 USA Today 10Best Sports City. We don’t take sports lightly in this town.

The Detroit Red Wings have reached the post season 23 consecutive years – the only professional sports organization in history ever to do so, while the Detroit Tigers have achieved four consecutive AL Championships.

Throw in a couple champion seasons from the Pistons and Red Wings in the last decade and a Winter Classic outdoor hockey game and you have the equation for sports city success!

Spirt of Detroit TigersPre-Game Tailgating
Eastern Market is the official home to Detroit Lions Tailgating. There are 750 tailgate spaces and it’s just a 10-minute walk to Ford Field or if you prefer to ride, hop on a shuttle to the game. Costs run $45 for a car, $75 for a camper or bus, $130 for RVs and $160 for Motor Coaches. General parking is also available for $15. Eastern Market also operates round-trip shuttle service to Ford Field for $5 per person.

Bar Food/Post-Game Celebrations
Having tickets to a game is the ultimate fan experience, but when you can’t snag some game seats, let your rump rest in a booth with some bar food and a stellar experience, bar none.

ComericaParkTiger_5395_BillBowenThe diner burger at Firebird Tavern is a house specialty. Two patties are smashed together and topped with cheese, lettuce, tomato, pickle and special sauce. Kick up the flavor by adding bacon.

There’s a reason this bar bears the name of the man with the team plan. Coaches Corner Bar & Grill is loaded with HDTVs and an outdoor patio, perfect for pre-game hype and post-game celebrations.

Irish pubs are always great and The Old Shillelagh is no exception. Add 25 TVs and a free shuttle to the game and you have a downtown game day experience, with or without tickets!

FordfieldAnother popular burger joint just outside downtown (located near old Tiger Stadium) is Nemo’s Bar and Grill. Nemo’s has been featured on many “best burgers” lists because of their sizeable burgers and mustard sauce. Be sure to take advantage of the free parking and $3 shuttles to Tigers and Red Wings games.

Stadium Tours
If you can’t attend the game, check out a Ford Field stadium tour for a behind-the-scenes look at the guest suites and team locker rooms and a chance to run through the tunnel and onto the field.

Sports are serious business in Pure Michigan. Do you follow any unique tailgating traditions to support your favorite Michigan team?

Dan Fuoco is the Interactive Marketing Manager for the Detroit Metro Convention & Visitors Bureau (VisitDetroit) and is responsible for building and engaging with VisitDetroit’s social media and blog communities.  You can find him geeking out over: social media infographics, muscle cars and Detroit. Follow him on TwitterInstagram and periodically on Pinterest.