Rock the Bay City Fireworks Festival this 4th of July with These Tips for Families

Credit: Craig Sterken Photography
Credit: Craig Sterken Photography


In case you haven’t heard, the Great Lakes Bay Fireworks Festival is kind of a big deal (understatement of the century, anyone?)

With two parks absolutely bursting with festivities – including the Skerbeck family carnival, live performances, entertainment tents, a car & bike show and one of the largest fireworks displays not just in Pure Michigan, but in the whole Midwest – the waterfront community of Bay City is absolutely alive with Independence Day sights, sounds, tastes, and treats.

Will you and yours join the approximately 250,000 who make it a tradition to attend the 3-day festival each year? We hope so! That’s why we’re sharing our tried-and-true tips for making sure your family has a blast at this year’s Bay City Fireworks Festival, July 2-4, 2015.

Get Ready to Rock

Credit: Craig Sterken Photography
Credit: Craig Sterken Photography

Before we get into all the extras ready to be soaked up by you and your family on your trip to Bay City this 4th of July, let’s talk essentials – like just how many fireworks you can tell your kids they’ll see, and where you should set up camp to view them from.

  • Location, Location!  Fireworks will be launched from 3 locations: Ball diamonds in Veteran’s Memorial Park, barges in the Saginaw River, and from a location in Uptown Bay City.
  • Epic Display: While celebrating its 50th Anniversary in 2012, the Bay City Fireworks Festival (BCFF) fired off 50,000 shots in 50 minutes! For the grand finale on July 4, 2015, the BCFF plans to launch 35,000 to 40,000 shots in 36 minutes, creating an experience nearly on par with the commemorative blowout finale!

Your family could see the fireworks from just about anywhere in Bay City, but to truly soak up the action, Veterans Memorial Park (Westside, or west of the Saginaw River) and Wenonah Park (Eastside) are the places to be!

Eastside: Wenonah Park

The BCFF scene at Wenonah Park includes blankets spread about the grassy park as children and adults gobble up cotton candy, hot dogs and fresh-squeezed lemonade from the vendors and dance to live music- acts from Country to Blues begin at varying times each night.

  • Admission is $5 per person.
  • Coolers are welcome; pets, personal fireworks and alcohol are not. Hankering for an adult beverage anyway? Head to the entertainment tents to cool off and refresh with one.
  • Sponsored by AT&T, a VIP viewing area is available with multiple packages and options including a Thursday and Friday night $20 per person rate which includes a picnic-style dinner.  You can snag your spot now in the VIP area by calling 989-280-1591.

Eastside Family Secrets

  • There’s a Spot: Consider parking at the Dow Bay Area Family Y (paid parking, includes blocked off area to watch show from).
  • Eat Before The Show: Sorry, grillmasters. We know you were ready to flex that hotdog flipping, steak-charring muscle of yours, but no grilling is allowed in either park. Luckily, our Bay City restaurants are full of flavor and will help tide you over for the festival (but make sure the kids save room for some cotton candy!)
  • Slow Going: Be prepared for traffic afterwards – some say 1.5 hours, others say more. Fair warning. (And did we mention, totally worth the wait?)

 Westside: Veteran’s Memorial Park

Credit: Craig Sterken Photography
Credit: Craig Sterken Photography

Just across the river, the Westside scene is rockin’ at Veteran’s Memorial Park with live music, the Skerbeck carnivalTeen Zone Glow Party, Paint Party and Foam Party, the Car & Bike Show and more! John F. Kennedy Drive is closed to traffic for the festival, and “the main drag” is lively, colorful and packed with food vendors and entertainment.

  • Admission is $1 per person.
  • Coolers are welcome; pets, personal fireworks and alcohol are not. Again, if you’re looking to enjoy some adult beverages, cozy up nearby one of the entertainment tents.

Westside Family Secrets

  • Start Early: Early to mid-afternoon is the best time for families to visit the carnival. As the nighttime sets in, the carnival gets busier and less fun for teeny people.
  • Let’s All Go: Located next to Liberty Harbor Marina, the Teen Zone’s free Thursday-night “Glow Party” or Friday-night “Paint Party” and Saturday-night “Foam Party” ($10 pre-sale/$15 at gate) are a blast for kids of all ages! Parental supervision is required for youngsters. Also, just outside of the teen tent is a foam pit for little ones. Take advantage of this unique spot, families! It’s sure to be a hit with the kids.
  • Have a Ball Here: Hang out and watch the fireworks near the ball diamonds by the Veteran’s Memorial Bridge. Live bands play, and it’s not as crowded as the main drag. Also, the ballpark lights remain on after the show creating a safe, well-lit place to hang out until traffic clears.
Credit: Great Lakes Bay Magazine
Credit: Great Lakes Bay Magazine

Before You Go

  • Multiple Options: The Bay City Fireworks Festival is a 3-day get-down, with the grand finale event – July 4, 2015 – drawing the largest crowds. Many families attend all three days, visiting the carnival one day and returning separately for the finale, or visiting Wenonah Park one night and Vet’s Memorial Park the second. Others attend only pre-finale nights. So, spread the love over all 3 days of festivities and make the most of your time on Bay City’s waterfront.
  • Stake Out Your Stay: Especially if you’re packing up the little ones for the trip, finding a place to crash (and finding it early) is a must. After all, there’s no length of ride home we could imagine going well after the kiddos have a little too much fun and sun and a lot of cotton candy. Even if you don’t make it into one of our Bay City hotels in the center of the action, you can still book your stay at any regional hotel (many within a 20-minute drive).
  • How We Roll: Parking is available, but finding it can feel tricky. (Shhh! Many families park along the side streets of neighborhoods, and walk in approximately ¼ mile to the festival). Consider bringing a wagon for little ones, which doubles nicely as a mobile bed later in the evening.
  • Keep Cooler: With carnival treats and food vendors galore – locals rave about That Guy’s BBQ and B&C Pizza, by the way – who needs a cooler? If you do feel the need to pack a snack or two, coolers on wheels are the ticket; ice cold drinks and finger foods are the fare.
  • Wipe Out: Portable bathrooms with kids? Indeed. Pack sanitizing wipes? You bet! (Thank us later?)  Heads up: Even local families rent hotel rooms during the BCFF, if for nothing more than a personal restroom and a place to call homebase before, during, and after the celebration, regardless of whether they sleep there! Book from your choice of Bay City hotels or claim your room at one of our nearby regional hotels (and do it soon!)
  • Plan For Fun: Feeling spontaneous? Normally, we’re all for it! But with the size of this event, we think it’s best if you refresh yourself prior to your visit at the BFCC website to double-check information, times, prices, etc.

One Last Tip

Consider decking your family out for the BCFF in “glow garb” (available all over the festival) and pick something easy to spot, like three neon blue necklaces or two neon green bracelets on each wrist. After dark, in a sea of people, you’ll be able to easily spot your family, the kids won’t have to beg for the latest light-up toy at every turn, and best of all – instant souvenir! Be sure to get a picture of your family all aglow for a little takeaway from your Bay City Fireworks Festival experience, and hashtag your photos on Instagram, Twitter, and Facebook with #GoGreat and #BayCityFireworks to share.

Credit: Great Lakes Bay Magazine
Credit: Great Lakes Bay Magazine

So you read this entire post of tips for families even though you’re not traveling with kids?

That’s okay.  We still love you (and we’d still love to have you here).  So, go ahead – treat yourself, your spouse, and your friends to a more adult-friendly version of the festivities. Try a Bay City Fireworks Dinner Sail aboard the Appledore IV Tall Ship (featuring a relaxing dinner aboard the ship, followed by VIP seating for the fireworks display), or a Bay City Fireworks Dinner Cruise on the Princess Wenonah on July 3rd or July 4th (featuring live entertainment and an Atrium-catered meal while aboard, followed by VIP Viewing Area seating at Wenonah Park for the fireworks show).

Want more insider travel tips from our local experts? Follow us on the #GoGreat Blog!

Meet The Blogger:

Jen Wainwright is a freelance writer in Bridgeport, Michigan. She specializes in marketing communications copy, feature articles and compelling content/blog posts. Jen enjoys experiencing multicultural opportunities in the Great Lakes Bay Region with her family, camping and laughing. You can find her at

10 Things To Do in the Great Lakes Bay Region

Bay City’s Tall Ship Celebration begins in just over a week! If you’re planning a trip to the area for the event, take advantage of your time there by seeing what else the Great Lakes Bay Region has to offer. Lindsay Gilbert of the Great Lakes Bay Regional Convention & Visitors Bureau fills us in on her top 10 must-sees in the area.

Will you be at the Tall Ship Celebration? Check out the blog post we featured last week on the event to learn more!

The Tall Ship Celebration in Bay City will bring thousands to the Great Lakes Bay Region July 11th-14th.  And what a great time to visit other places in the region as well! There is so much to see and experience. Below are just some of the highlights that the region has to offer.  More can be found at

1. Saginaw Valley Naval Ship Museum USS Edson DD-946, Bay City

Welcome Aboard! Learn about life on the destroyer named after Major General Merritt “Red Mike” Edson USMC as you walk through the 418-foot historic memorial to those who have protected our nation’s freedom and independence. Tours are conducted daily from 9:00 am to 6:00 pm.

2. Delta College Planetarium, Bay City

Delta College’s planetarium is your passport to the stars in downtown Bay City!  Travel on a spectacular journey through space and time.  On the 360°, 50’ diameter dome shaped projection screen, you will see stars, planets and other celestial bodies as they appear from your backyard or from the window of a spaceship.  Experience 3-D starfield projection with audience interaction.  Call (989) 667-2260 or go to to begin your trip.

3. Dow Gardens, Midland

Open all year, Midland’s Dow Gardens is truly a garden for all seasons developed by Herbert H. Dow, founder of The Dow Chemical Company.  Discover a 110-acre botanical garden, a system of ponds, a maze, Children’s Garden and Conservatory.  Enjoy outdoor movies and a tour of the estate home.  Times and events can be found at or call (800) 362-4874.

4. Great Lakes Loons, Midland

Dow Diamond, in downtown Midland, is the home of the Great Lakes Loons, a Single-A Minor League Baseball affiliate of the Los Angeles Dodgers and member of the Midwest League. Scheduled home games can be found at their website:  Call 1-888-678-2255 for tickets.

5. Bronner’s CHRISTmas Wonderland, Frankenmuth

The world’s largest Christmas store the size of 1 ½ football fields, Bronner’s in Frankenmuth is a shopper’s dream with over 50,000 trims and gifts.  Open 361 days a year.  Visit their website at for directions.

6. Chesaning Showboat Music Festival

The annual variety show occurs the second full week in July. The Showboat serves as a backdrop to the stage for an audience of 6,000. Join in the fun with the Charlie Daniels Band and Bret Michaels.  You won’t want to miss this unique experience. The complete schedule can be found at Call (989) 845-3056 for tickets.

7. Birch Run Premium Outlets

Stroll through this outdoor center and discover savings every day at 145 designer and name brand outlet stores.  Located in Section F, the Information Center offers a VIP Coupon Book worth hundreds of dollars in additional savings.  Directions and a list of stores can be found at

8. Celebration Square, Saginaw

There is something for all ages when you visit The Children’s Zoo, Mid-Michigan Children’s Museum, Celebration Skate Park, Hoyt Park, The Dow Event Center, Saginaw Art Museum, Castle Museum, Anderson Enrichment Center, Old Town Saginaw and Japanese Cultural Center and Tea House, all part of Saginaw’s Celebration Square.

The Temple Theatre stage. Photo courtesy of Ryan Collier.

9. Temple Theatre, Saginaw

Celebration Square in downtown Saginaw is the home of the beautiful restored Temple Theatre known as “The Showplace of Northeastern Michigan”.  It has seating for 1,750 and houses the only Barton Butterfield Special organ in original condition.  Events are found on their webpage, as well as tour information, at or call (877) 754-SHOW (7469).

10. Wilderness Trails Zoo, Birch Run

This unique zoo experience with a mile long trail that winds past trees, ponds and over 50 species of exotic and native animals will be one that you won’t soon forget.  Open daily from May through October, the hours and admission prices can be found at

Lindsay Gilbert became the Digital & Print Marketing Manager for the Great Lakes Bay Regional Convention & Visitors Bureau following her internship with the bureau in the summer of 2011.  As a graduate of Western Michigan University with degrees in both Graphic Design and Business marketing, she utilizes her education and experience to promote the region through digital, print, and social media platforms.  With her hometown also being located in the Great Lakes Bay Region, there’s no better place to live, work, and play!

For more things to do in Bay City and the Great Lakes Bay Region, visit

Behind-the-Scenes of Bay City’s Tall Ship Celebration

Tall Ship Celebration: Bay City returns this July 11 to 14! Shirley Roberts, formerly the Executive Director of the Bay Area Convention & Visitors Bureau and BaySail (a non-profit organization that owns and operates the tall ship Appledore IV), conceived the idea of Tall Ship Celebration in 1999. She has been the event coordinator and producer since then.

Today Shirley gives us a behind-the-scenes look at what goes into the Tall Ship Celebration.

Tall Ships arriving to Bay City. Photo courtesy of Patrick Hadley.

Tall Ship Celebration is a magnificent beast and it’s my job to wrangle her. She’s very much like a giant octopus with many arms, each important and each moving in a different direction. The challenge is to get them all moving in unison.

The ships themselves are, of course, a critical part of what we do. The tall ship fleet that visits Bay City every three years is organized by Tall Ships America, a non-profit membership organization based in Newport, RI. But while Tall Ships America identifies the vessels that are interested in visiting the Great Lakes every three years, as a host port, we have to negotiate contracts with each of them individually (including such glamorous things as when and how often we will pump-out holding tanks).

In 2013, our major sponsors are Dow Corning, MLive Media Group, St. Mary’s of Michigan, Dow Chemical, Consumer’s Energy, First Merit Bank, Wildfire Credit Union, Independent Bank and The F. P. Horak Company. Together with these groups, we are letting people know about Tall Ship Celebration, to encourage them to put us on their summer calendars and of course to buy tickets. If you travel certain sections of I-75, I-69 and US-10 in Michigan, I know you’ve seen one of our billboards. It’s hard to miss a 20 ft. tall ship on the side of the highway with canon fire off her port side. Like so many others who want to inform the masses, we’ve put a lot of time and effort into our website (, we regularly post updates on Facebook (find us and like us, please!), and this year we’ve commissioned our very own mobile app. It’s ready now for Android users but we’re still waiting for the folks from Apple to release it for i-Phones.

The Pride of Baltimore. Photo courtesy of Patrick Hadley.

Because our marketing is so successful (I say with fingers crossed), we expect lots and lots of tall ship fans to arrive for the weekend. The more people you have congregated in one area, the more steps you put in place to make sure everyone is safe and that they all behave themselves. For TALL SHIP CHALLENGE® ports like Bay City, security and other regulations rise to a whole new level. The CHALLENGE® is a “Marine Event of National Significance” as designated by the Commander of the United States Coast Guard. And the Coast Guard no longer falls under the Department of Transportation; we’re talking Homeland Security now. But the USCG is just the beginning of the alphabet soup. We also work with the BCES, BCPD, BCSP, BCSPMP, DNR, FBI, NOAA and others. If you’re not a first responder or are not directly involved in providing emergency services, it can be difficult to communicate. But we’ve figured it out and I think now we work incredibly well together.

We also work incredibly well with a dozen local non-profit organizations that partner with Tall Ship Celebration to provide hands-on experiences for our guests. They manage activities ranging from face painting to building mini-tall ships to operating a pirate school. Craft activities compliment world-class musicians who this year will travel not only from other places in the US but from Ireland, Poland, Belgium, and the Netherlands just to be with us.

Add to that a million other things that need to be taken care of: tents, tables, chairs, banners, signs, golf carts, tread tracks, parking passes and badges, wrist bands, food concessions, volunteer orientation sessions, fencing, trash dumpsters, crew games, courtesy vans, parking lots, shuttle buses, VIP receptions, media interviews, paying bills, making deposits, launching new endeavors (looking forward to Ballads & Brews)…the list goes on and on. All of these things, big and small, amount to a grand event that happens three and a half days every three years. It’s enough to keep you (or me) up at night.

The Sorlandet. Photo courtesy of Patrick Hadley.

I have become a master list maker. My favorite symbol is a check mark. I will stay focused and make check marks on my many lists. I will calm the arms of this magnificent beast and, one by one, I will get them working in unison.

I will declare in a state of sheer exhaustion “I’m too old. I can’t do this anymore.” And then like childbirth, I’ll forget how painful it was and, remembering only the site of the beautiful ships lined up in the river and the rapt faces of the people who are drawn to the ships like magnets, I’ll start saying things like “Next time when we do this…”

Will you be at the Tall Ship Celebration this year? Share with us below and visit to learn more.

Shirley Roberts is a habitual multi-tasker who was the Executive Director of the Bay Area Convention & Visitors Bureau and BaySail (a non-profit organization that owns and operates the tall ship Appledore IV) when she conceived the idea of Tall Ship Celebration in 1999. She has been the Event Coordinator/ Producer since then, managing five successful maritime events and proudly welcoming hundreds of thousands of people to Bay City and the Great Lakes State.