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.

Ten Ways to Take On the Outdoors in Frankenmuth

You may already know Frankenmuth for its Bavarian charm. However, you may not have known that Frankenmuth is also a prime destination for some outdoor summer activities. Today, guest blogger Christie Bierlein from Frankenmuth Convention and Visitors Buereau shares ten ways that you can take on the outdoors in Frankenmuth this season.

Photo courtesy of Thomas Warner at Bavarian Inn

Photo courtesy of Thomas Warner at Bavarian Inn

No doubt Frankenmuth is known for their beer, chicken and having the largest Christmas store in the world, but most visitors don’t know all of the scenic outdoor adventure it has to offer. Below are ten hidden gems off the beaten path from the regular bustle of Frankenmuth. Sure to provide days of fun and entertainment for the whole family. That is the magic of Frankenmuth.

Great Views

Fun Ships is a business that thrives on creating unique experiences along the beautiful Cass River for thousands of guests per year. They are a recipient of a “Keep Michigan Beautiful” award for their stunning patio views that are built right into the hill and wind all the way down to their docks along the shore. Fun Ships offers quaint, historical boat rides on an intimate 12 person electric Duffy boat; you can even experience a wine and chocolate pairing while you take in the scenery of the Frankenmuth countryside.

Paddleboard and Kayak

One thing you might notice as you cruise down the river is Frankenmuth Outfitters, a trendy new company to Frankenmuth offering kayak and paddleboard rentals. They also have bike trail maps available if staying on land is more your thing.

Cast a Line

Michigan is obviously a great place to fish with all of the Great Lakes but Frankenmuth is quickly becoming a popular place to drop a line. This fall, construction will begin on the fish passage project at the Cass River Dam in the heart of downtown. The fish passage project is a constructed rapids or rock ramp that will allow sport fish to pass over the dam, returning to spawning area further upstream. The project will benefit the Cass River through the increase in fish populations, with regional benefit to the award winning fishery in the Saginaw Bay.

Fly through the Trees

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Photo courtesy of Frankenmuth Convention and Visitors Bureau at Frankenmuth Adventure Park

If you’re looking for even more adventure, make sure to stop at the Adventure Park. This aerial forest adventure course is a fun family outing. They offer five different levels of climbing and zip lining so there’s no need for excuses to try it!

Hike through the Hills

Frankenmuth has many parks but their two most popular are Heritage and Memorial Parks. Memorial Park is surrounded by hills which make for great family fun. Look for toads in the creek or walk along one of the trails in the woods. Heritage Park is located on the Cass River and is home to the Frankenmuth Outfitters and the canoe launch. There is a one mile paved walking/running path around the park which makes is perfect for the active traveler.

Take a Riverboat Ride

The Bavarian Belle Riverboat is another great way to experience Frankenmuth by water. Feed the ducks and watch the Frankenmuth countryside float by as you get a historical narrated tour on how Frankenmuth came to be on this authentic Stern Driven Paddlewheel boat.

Get your Fitness on!

Screen Shot 2014-07-28 at 11.48.59 AM

Photo courtesy of Frankenmuth Convention and Visitors Bureau

Quickly becoming known as a “race town” Frankenmuth offers many different sporting activities throughout the year. Kicking off August is the Bavarian Inn Experience Triathlon continuing to the Bruckläufe (Bridge race) half marathon in October. Other races and events throughout the year include the 8K Winterläufe in February, the Zehnder’s Tour de Frankenmuth bike race in May, the Volkslaüfe 5K, 10K, 20K (on the fourth of July) and the newest event, the Frankenmüdder (an obstacle style 5K) which debuted July 19th 2014.

Have a Beverage… Outside!

Frankenmuth offers a variety of beautiful outdoor beer gardens. Try out the Fischer Platz under the “glockenspiel” at the Bavarian Inn Restaurant, offering German music and entertainment daily. The Frankenmuth Brewery is another do not miss in terms of outdoor dining and drinking, their patio overlooks the Cass and Heritage Park. Tiffany’s is a local favorite in Frankenmuth, especially known for their pizza and laid back style night life; their outdoor patio has a great view of the downtown area. Prost is the newest addition to Frankenmuth, opening in August they boast a rustic chic atmosphere both inside and their outdoor beer garden. What sets Prost’s patio apart is its gazebo (equipped with a chandelier), fire bar all the wine, craft beer and unique cocktails you want with charming downtown views.

Photo courtesy of Frankenmuth Convention and Visitors Bureau

Photo courtesy of Frankenmuth Convention and Visitors Bureau

Smell the Flowers

Boasting over 380 hanging flower baskets, 40 annuals and 50 perennials Frankenmuth is a plant lover’s dream. Along with the 90 plants and flowers planted each year they plant 15 varieties of tropical plants, one of which is a prized “Bird of Paradise.” July and August are great months for a walk downtown to enjoy the color, perhaps even while you enjoy a beer at one of our beer gardens.

Give Disc Golf a Whirl

Rounding out our top ten is another Frankenmuth local favorite; disc golf! Played in Memorial Park and rated as one of the top 20 disc golf courses in Michigan, the course offers 18 holes of hilly and wooded fun that will challenge beginners to the most advanced players.

Planning on visiting Frankenmuth this summer? Join the conversation and share your photos using #muthfun on Twitter and Instagram or share your photos on Facebook.

How A Cocktail Napkin Crafted Michigan’s Largest International Beer Sampling Event

The World Expo of Beer in Frankenmuth is May 16 – 17, 2014. Today, guest blogger Blair Giesken and Go Great Lakes Bay tell us how a simple cocktail napkin helped set Michigan’s largest international beer sampling event into motion. 

Screen Shot 2014-04-09 at 2.39.12 PMThey say some of the best ideas start on cocktail napkins.  J.K. Rowling’s famous Harry Potter book series started on one. So did the idea for the flight route that later became the basis of Southwest Airlines. And the World Expo of Beer in Frankenmuth is no different.

This 2-day beer-centric festival of international proportion all began back in 1996 with one small sketch on a Bavarian Inn Roof Garten cocktail napkin and one big idea – to celebrate the beauty of spring in Frankenmuth.“In Germany, new seasonal beers are brewed and celebrated during their annual Maifests (Spring celebrations),” said Annie Rummel, who originated the World Expo of Beer and now serves as CEO of the Great Lakes Bay Regional CVB.  “We thought, why not honor the German Spring tradition with our own beer tasting event?”

And honor it they did. With the Great American Beer Festival in Colorado already highlighting domestic beer products and the strong relationship Frankenmuth already had with its sister city of Guzenhausen, Germany, the idea for this new beer-tasting event naturally evolved beyond local and domestic brews to embrace beers from around the globe.

As if coordinating an international beer festival for the first time wasn’t a tall enough order, Rummel and her talented team (along with countless community supporters) took the World Expo of Beer from a concept on a cocktail napkin to a full-blown festival in less than 5 weeks!

Screen Shot 2014-04-09 at 2.45.52 PMHoping to see a turnout near 5,000 people, the crew behind the first-ever World Expo of Beer could do nothing but smile and pull the tap that year as over 15,000 thirsty beer lovers streamed into the tents at Frankenmuth’s Heritage Park, commemorative tasting mugs in hand.

Each year, the Frankenmuth Jaycees and the entire community continue to welcome thousands to shout and sing “Ein Prosit” (German for “A toast to you”) and raise a stein in celebration of beers from around the world.  The festival has even expanded to tap into the hearts and minds of true beer connoisseurs everywhere, with great additions like the Fine Food & Craft Brew Pairing Event and Beer 101 “Basics of Beer” Course.

This year, the World Expo of Beer will tap countless kegs for the annual celebration – May 16th and 17th – bringing nearly 300 brews from the furthest corners of the earth (and right from our own backyards!) – to the tasting mugs of thousands.  Feeling thirsty already?  You can pre-purchase an admission package to this year’s festival with beer tickets included so you can skip the long lines!

Screen Shot 2014-04-09 at 2.47.11 PMLearn more about the World Expo of Beer, check out other things to do while you’re in the Great Lakes Bay Region, follow the World Expo of Beer and Go Great Lakes Bay on Facebook for updates on the free World Expo of Beer shuttle buses, and be sure to book your overnight stay nearby to cap off a day of tasting with a great night’s rest.  You’re going to need it!

Location: Frankenmuth Heritage Park – 601 Weiss Street, Frankenmuth, MI 48734 (just 500 feet from the Bavarian Inn Lodge)

Dates & Times: Friday, May 16th from 5-10 pm and Saturday, May 17th from 3-10 pm

Admission: $10 (includes a free commemorative beer sampling mug); Proceeds will be donated to charitable causes; 21+ only; Admission packages available here.

What unique brew are you most looking forward to sampling at this year’s event? 

Blair Giesken was born and raised in the Great Lakes Bay Region and now resides in Grand Rapids.