One of our all-time favourite weekend getaways is the lovely town of Frankenmuth, Michigan.
Approximately 3-4 hours from the GTA, Frankenmuth makes for an idyllic family weekend getaway. Known as Michigan’s “Little Bavaria”, there’s plenty to offer in this quaint little town. With a large water park hotel, a world-famous Christmas store (the size of a Walmart), and Prime Outlet shopping just five minutes away, what’s not to love?
The drive to Frankenmuth is pretty straightforward from the Toronto area. You cross into the US at Sarnia / Port Huron and then it’s about an hour drive once you get to Michigan. If you want to stop for lunch, there are all kinds of options in Port Huron.
For me personally, there’s an element of nostalgia as I have fond memories visiting Frankenmuth as a child with my parents and my two grandmothers. And, as a teenager growing up in south-western Ontario, this is often where my mother would take us for a couple days the last week of August to do our back to school shopping – especially since many of the hotels and restaurants used to honour the Canadian dollar at par (more on that below)!
Where to stay?
First things first – where to stay? There are many options for hotels in Frankenmuth, depending on what you need. There’s a Holiday Inn Express, Hampton Inn, Fairfield Inn, etc. However, if you have kids, you’ll want to stay at one of the two water park hotels – either the Bavarian Inn or Zehnder’s Splash Village. Our preference by far is Zehnder’s Splash Village. While the Bavarian Inn has two waterslides and a large arcade, Zehnder’s Splash Village is a complete water park that rivals a Great Wolf Lodge. The water park has a great kiddie area and “thrill” rides for the bigger kids – including a “drop capsule” body slide and a family raft ride. Our kids love the water park – especially the “fast” river. The newer part of the water park is in a large, bright atrium with lots of seating and there are water park facing rooms as well.
Prices typically range from $179 to $300+ USD/night depending on the time of year and the room type. It’s best to check the website and to sign up for their emails as there are often deals to save $20-30/night. It’s great family fun, but you might wonder if it’s worth the drive vs. going to Great Wolf Lodge…. well, in my opinion it is. While the hotel doesn’t have the ambiance of a Great Wolf Lodge, the water park is comparable and there’s a pretty good arcade as well (kids like it because they think the prizes are better than most arcades). There is also a casual restaurant and small gift shop on site. However, the best part is that Zehnder’s Splash Village takes Canadian dollars at par up to $100/night! In order to get this deal, you need to book your room over the phone (not online), use a credit card for the reservation and then pay with Canadian cash when you arrive. They used to allow you to pay Canadian for your entire stay but they changed their policy in January 2016. However, $100/night is still not bad – especially if you are staying two nights or more.
For dinner, they have an eat and sleep package that includes a Frankenmuth-famous all-you-can-eat family style chicken dinner at Zehnder’s restaurant. This restaurant is famous for their family-style chicken dinners and it is the largest family restaurant in the United States. There is even a shuttle that will take you there and back to the hotel (it’s a 3 minute drive – totally walkable in the summer). This is a great option so you don’t need to worry about parking (and also allows you to indulge in a large pina colada by the pool). This chicken dinner is served family style with a large platter of fried chicken, mashed potatoes, gravy, vegetables, buttered noodles, stuffing, coleslaw, and all the fixin’s. We’ve never requested second helpings but if you want more, they will keep it coming. It isn’t fine dining but it’s fun and the food is pretty kid friendly. There’s also a large bake shop and gift shop that’s not to be missed on the lower level of the restaurant that has AMAZING desserts and chocolates as well as local jams, jellies and wine.
After dinner, you can stroll through town and visit the old style cheese, fudge and toy shops – as well as a number of other specialty stores. You can also take a horse drawn carriage ride.
Of course a trip to Frankenmuth is not complete without a stop at Bronners (though my husband might argue differently). Bronners is the largest Christmas store in the world, and unless you have been there yourself it is hard to even imagine – except that it’s awesome. They have a huge selection of ornaments for every interest, hobby, and person you can imagine – plus all kinds of indoor and out door decorations. If you have never been there it is definitely something to see.
If you are a shopper (like me), the Birch Run Prime Outlets are about five minutes away. There you will find all your favourite outlet stores, plus a large Pottery Barn / Williams Sonoma outlet. I’ll write more about shopping trips in another post, but always make sure to go to customer service and show your CAA card to get extra savings at most of the outlet stores before you start shopping! If not everyone in your group wants to shop, there’s even a golf course (also owned by Zehnders) right in town (before kids, my girlfriends and I used to drop off our husbands off there before heading to the outlet mall).
With a water park, outlet mall, Christmas store, quaint shops, golf course and a brewery, Frankenmuth is a destination that the whole family can love.