Monday, August 6, 2018

Welcome to Great Wolf Lodge Illinois

When I received an invitation to bring my family to the opening of the first Great Wolf Lodge in Illinois, I was excited. I had never been to one of the chain’s properties and I’m always anxious for a press trip that keeps me in one place for food, lodging, and activities.

The Great Wolf Lodge in Gurnee was actually not a new structure, but the brand updated the resort to be similar to their others-a family-friendly hotel with non-stop fun for everyone in the family.

There was a check-in desk set up near the entrance for the press group, about a dozen of us with families. In my case, my “family” for the weekend was Brittany, Shaun, and Kyler.

Since Great Wolf Lodge is meant for family groups, they have 13 different types of suites. The largest suite can sleep 12.

Our had more than enough room for the four of us, with two queen size beds and a pull-out couch in the living room area.  

We explored the property and found there was more to keep us busy the entire weekend than we imagined.

Great Wolf encompasses a combination of games and activities, such as story time, yoga and character appearances, with attractions.

This Gurnee location also has nine different food venues, which range from a Ben & Jerry's to the Barnwood, where you can feast on steak, seafood, and craft cocktails.

The group was meeting for the first time at the bar in the back of the Indoor Water Park, so we decided to go early and check out the facilities.

There are three large slides within the waterpark, along with a lazy river (my favorite), and areas for younger children.

I was most impressed with the machine which brought the rafts (which are large enough for the whole family) up to the top, so you didn’t have to carry that heavy piece of equipment to the top.

We sampled some of the delicious food and cocktails at the bar and got to know each other a bit. Management from Great Wolf, as well as their public relations company, Agency h5, were on hand to great us and answer any questions we had about our stay.

When the group broke up, Brittany and I headed outside to the heated outdoor pool and whirlpool. In the summer, the bar opens its windows out there, so you don’t have to go inside if you want to get something to drink.

Everyone in the press group was given an all-inclusive bracelet so that we could experience everything Great Wolf Gurnee had to offer.

You do not need to purchase one of these packages to take advantage of the water park and daily activities, but it can save you a lot of money if you have kids who want to go to all the attractions.

The package included tickets to use in the arcade, so we headed there before going back to the suite.

It was a lot of fun, but we were pretty worn out from the drive and evening in the water.

There would be plenty of time the next day to explore and enjoy Great Wolf Lodge Illinois.

Saturday, July 21, 2018

Luxuriating in Bay Harbor

It didn’t take me long to feel relaxed and comfortable at the Inn at Bay Harbor, a hotel in the Marriott Bonvoy Autograph Collection. 

My suite was perfect, and I had slept well. I was ready to take the relaxation to another level.

My day was wide open with the exception of the start of it -- at The Spa.
I arrived a few minutes before my appointment for the Ginger Glow treatment. 

I changed into my luxurious robe and sat down with a cup of tea in the quiet waiting area.

The Ginger Glow is one of the signature offerings at the Inn at Bay Harbor, and I can certainly understand why its so popular. I could easily rename it “Heaven on Earth.”

It began with a scrub made of ginger, with a hint of eucalyptus, to get rid of the dead cells on my skin. 

After that was rinsed off, I had a full body massaged with a ginger oil and hot stones.

The next part was probably my favorite as arthritis always has me seeking warmth: my whole body was wrapped in a warm robe-like cocoon while I received a scalp massage.
When the spa experience was done, I was ready to take a nap, but I was too hungry to do so. It was late for breakfast at the resort and 

I asked one of the drivers to take me to the Marina.

It's a free perk if you are looking to go around Bay Harbor and don’t want to walk or bike along the beach path. 

I saw a sign in front of the Original Pancake House for their famous Apple Pancake. 
I decided to go inside and, with a side of eggs for some protein. 

I managed to get through less than half of the scrumptious treat. (Of course, I brought the rest back to my room.)

I asked the driver to give me a little tour on the way back to my hotel suite.

In addition to the main lodge, there are also 35 cottages on the property. 

They are two and three-bedrooms each, and popular for family reunions, girlfriend getaways, and golf weekends.

Guests have the option of playing at the Bay Harbor Golf Club, an award winner with 27 holes along the shoreline, or the 18-hole championship course at Crooked Tree.

Golf is available in three seasons.

 In the winter, guests can do cross-country skiing and snow shoeing, or arrange to head to the sister properties, Boyne Highlands or Boyne Mountain, for downhill skiing.

In the afternoon, I took a drive to Charlevoix (about 20 minutes away). I stopped at one of their beautiful beaches before heading to the quaint downtown to visit one of my favorite Michigan stores, Cherry Republic. 

I picked up two bags of cherry goodies (especially the Cherry Fudge Sauce my daughter loves).

Brittany and Jamie came back to the hotel to join me for our final night in Michigan. 

We decided to stay on property and relax with s’mores by the fire pit in front of the beach. (I also decided to stick with some leftover cheese for dinner as I had enough snacking.) 
It’s just one of the free activities the Inn at Bay Harbor offers its guests.

Before leaving the next day, I had a delicious breakfast of Blueberry Pancakes and conversation with Erin Ernst, Director of Communications for the Boyne properties.

Then it was time to head south, back to Illinois. It was good to be going home, but I was also happy that I’d be going back to beautiful Michigan in just a few short weeks.

Friday, July 13, 2018

Sault Ste Marie to Bay Harbor

I had really enjoyed my time in Sault Ste Marie, Michigan, with Brittany and Jamie. We had seen a lot and learned quite a bit about this important basin that borders the U.S. and Canada.

We packed up our things at Superior Place and got ready to head south a bit to our next Michigan stop, but first we had one more Sault Ste Marie restaurant to try.

Antlers Restaurant gets its current name from the taxidermy display on the countertops and walls. It was previously known as the Bucket-of-Blood Saloon, a favorite in this area during Prohibition.

The original restaurant goes back four generations and we could see why it was so popular.

The Poutine (a French dish of fries in gravy) is very popular here.

Brittany and Jamie agreed it was one of the best they ever had since it had Wisconsin cheddar cheese curds mixed in.

For their main courses, they chose the Whitefish Po’boy and the Buffalo Chicken Sandwich, both of which were very good.

I wasn’t quite as hungry, so I nibbled on the fries with a cup of tasty cream of chicken soup and saved my appetite for dessert.

I had their famous apple strudel, with a side of ice cream, while they shared the Moose Track Sundae.

Before leaving Sault Ste Marie, we went downtown once more to pick up some souvenirs.

The trip across the Mackinaw Bridge and down to Petoskey didn’t take very long.

I dropped Brittany and Jamie off to visit relatives and I headed to my retreat for the next few days, the Inn at Bay Harbor, just a couple miles from Petoskey.

The Inn at Bay Harbor is part of the same resort family as Boyne Highlands and Boyne Mountain, both of which I visited during ski seasons.

This resort is very different than the two others were. 
First, it’s overlooking a beautiful beach instead of a mountain.

Then, it’s in the middle of a great complex, that includes restaurants and a theater.

One thing it does have in common with the Boyne properties is that it’s a resort for all seasons.  

Whether you want to enjoy the beach and pool, and local activities (like borrowing a bike to the nearby town) or take a drive and use the winter sports facilities at their sister hotels, the Inn at Bay Harbor is ready for you.

This resort also has a big assortment of accommodations so it’s especially friendly to families, even extended ones. 

All of the rooms, suites, apartments have been recently remodeled too.

I was given one of the Master Suites, which had a living room with a cozy fireplace and pull-out couch, a kitchen and dining area, and a separate bedroom.

There were two bathrooms, with a jacuzzi in the master one.

I also had a balcony overlooking the front of the resort. I sat out there and enjoyed the breeze, while nibbling on the Kilwin’s chocolates and cheese and charcuterie plate that was waiting for me.

While that was a special gift from the management, all guests at the Inn at Bay Harbor do receive a special nightly treat. On this evening it was a box of chocolates and a small bottle of Kahlua.

I took a walk around the property before heading back to my room. After the (fun, but) hectic few days in the Upper Peninsula, I decided I would take the night to just stay in and relax. My biggest appointment on the next day’s schedule was at the spa.

Friday, July 6, 2018

A Day at Tahquamenon State Park and Whitefish Point

It was our third day in Sault Ste Marie, Michigan, and we were taking a day trip.

When I decided to make the trip to Sault Ste Marie, one of the main attractions I was interested in was Tahquamenon State Park, just about an hour from there. 

The park is nearly 50,000 acres and home to wildlife and birds (including bald eagles, which we did see). It’s second to only Niagara as the biggest falls east of the Mississippi River.

Since I have physical limitations, we decided the best way to enjoy Tahquamenon State Park was to take the Toonerville Trolley RiverboatTour.

The tour is divided into two parts. The first is on land, on the ‘trolley.” It runs along a railroad track for five and a half miles.

While there is an opportunity to see many animals, we just saw a few deer and some birds.

The trolley then stops along the river, where you pick up a boat for a narrated cruise, 21 miles to the rapids of the Upper Tahquamenon Falls.

The falls themselves were not accessible enough for me to walk to. I waited on the boat for the hour it was stopped and enjoyed the tranquility of the river while Jamie and Brittany hiked up there.

Brittany took some great pictures, though they didn’t have time before the boat left to capture all of the beauty of the park.

The boat ride back to the trolley, and then our cars, was equally relaxing, but we then had to hustle to make it the half hour to Michigan's Whitefish Point with enough time to explore.

The Great Lakes Shipwreck Museum is actually a complex dedicated to the boats passing through Lake Superior since the 19th century. It is on the National Registry of Historic Places and definitely a must-see when in Michigan's Upper Peninsula.

Among the ships who are paid homage to here are the Samuel Mather, which went down in Marquette in 1891; the S.R. Kirby, that sank near Eagle Harbor 1916; and the Edmond Fitzgerald, lost with the entire crew just 17 miles from Whitefish Point.

While Brittany and Jamie climbed the lighthouse, I went through the crews’ quarters.

Inside was set up to depict exactly how the family of a crew member housed at Whitefish Point would live.

The house has been restored by the Great Lakes Shipwreck Historical Society with support from the Michigan Department of Transportation and the Michigan Council for the Arts & Cultural Affairs. You can even stay here overnight here.

The lighthouse is the oldest on Lake Superior. We didn’t have long enough before closing time to go through the Museum Store or the Whitefish Point Bird Observatory. We did walk along the peaceful Lake Superior beach.

Before we left Paradise, Michigan, we decided to stop at a local restaurant for dinner. The Inn Gastropub & Smokehouse was a good choice for delicious barbecue.

We were back at Superior Place in Sault Ste Marie in time to crash for the night. We still had one more day to enjoy some time in the city before heading south to the lower peninsula of Michigan.

Friday, June 29, 2018

History, Food and Kayaks in Sault Ste Marie

After a good night’s sleep in our spacious suite at the Superior Place in Sault Ste. Marie, Brittany, Jamie, and I got ready for our morning breakfast meeting.
We were getting together with Linda Hoath, Executive Director of the Sault Area Convention and Visitors Bureau.

She had graciously put together this trip for us last minute after one in a nearby area did not work out.

We met Linda at the Lock View Restaurant downtown. It was right across the street from the Soo Locks and you could see both the American and Canadian sides from the building.

Everything on the menu looked great, but our host recommended the pancakes and I went for the chocolate chip ones.

They were as good as she said.

The other ladies had eggs and we were all quite full as we learned more about the area and the plans about other activities on our list.

After we finished eating, we walked around town and looked through some more shops.

Linda pointed out the Michigan Made store and we went inside to pick up some souvenirs. (I bought some Michigan maple syrup and made a note to stop at Cherry Republic later in the week.)

From there, we all went across the street to see the Soo Locks again from the Visitors Center.

The Soo Locks Visitors Center, which is a National Historic Landmark, is overseen by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.

It was expanded in 1995 and provides an excellent lesson into the history of this important waterway.

We had gone through the Locks on a boat tour the previous day, but you can see the boats go through from an observation deck (which locks more like a stadium) behind the Visitors Center.

Both the deck and the center are free of entry fees, but be sure to bring your ID because you must show it to get in.

We left the center and drove down the road to the Tower of History. This 210-foot sculpture was finished in 1968.

There is an elevator to the top, where the view is spectacular.

We were lucky to have a clear day and were able to look from various angles – inside and outside on the balcony – at Sault Ste Marie in the U.S. and its namesake in Canada.

Before we got back into our car, we also saw a beautiful rainbow in the middle of the tower.

The River of History Museum was our next stop. This museum pays tribute to the Native Americans, who were the first to live in this land.

Here you can also look at the history of the land and the water, including the glacier from 8,000 years ago that eventually formed the St. Mary’s River.

We had learned a lot about the area’s history, it was then time to have a little fun on it.

Linda took us to Birds Eye Outfitters, a conglomerate of fun under one building that includes a bar, coffee shop, restaurant, and a place to buy and rent bikes and other outdoor equipment.

Our purpose was to get kayak equipment and a guide, but first we indulged at the Superior CafĂ© there. 

The menu was quite varied, and we filled our table with a ham sandwich, pulled pork and shells with cheese and Cheetos, and a quesadilla. There was also smoothies and lattes.

Lake Superior was the major body of water we had visited and talked about while in Sault Ste Marie

Our next one was the St. Mary’s River, where our guides set us up to kayak.

We were an interesting group: Brittany, who had done it a few times before; Jamie, trying it for the first time; and me, who had kayaked quite a few times, but was no longer able to physically do much of it.
The guides were patient with all of us. I didn’t want to hold anyone back, so I decided to just do a short jaunt across the lake to Voyageur Island Park.

The park is a small island which is not a government property. It is funded by donations and taken care of by volunteers.

I found a quiet spot and enjoyed the scenery, peace, and quiet, with the exception of a few colorful birds. I also followed Jamie and Brittany with the camera as they passed around the island.

We headed back to the Superior Place after the kayaking to shower and get changed for dinner at Karl’s Cuisine.

This restaurant has its own beer and wine selection and we all really liked the White Cranberry Pinot Grigio.

I was able to enjoy the Whitefish Dip since I was assured it came directly from the lake, which has no seafood.

In addition to the food, we were able to see a beautiful sunset from the deck of the restaurant.

We finished up and enjoyed the sunset a bit longer as we walked to the car. It would be our last view of the Soo Locks of Lake Superior.

After a few hours more in the area, we’d be heading down from the Upper Peninsula to the Petoskey area the next day.

Photos and videos on this page were taken by Marcia Frost and Brittany Lambright