Last year’s winner: Hilton Head, South Carolina.
This year’s winner: Mackinac Island, Michigan.
Travel + Leisure magazine on Tuesday named the national landmark that sits in Lake Huron as the Best Island in the Continental U.S. in the 2022 World’s Best awards.
Visitors use bicycles and horses and carriages, no cars. Activities range from running the perimeter of the island to swimming in the crystal clear water.
Sitting on a hotel porch with a cocktail or sampling homemade fudge has been known to create memories that last forever. Small bands lead to late-night dancing, and floral scents fill the air.
“I’ll be honest, I’m thrilled,” Mayor Margaret Doud told the Free Press. “Everybody works hard to keep Mackinac pristine. It shows that if we work together on the island, as a team, we’re rewarded. I’m absolutely very grateful that we achieved this award.”
The unique ambianceof the historic site dates back to old Hollywood, including Esther Williams films, as well as the classic “Somewhere in Time” with Christopher Reeve and Jane Seymour.
Protecting history and ambiance is essential, said Doud, who added: “We have to remember that.”
The tiny island measures fewer than 5 square miles. It banned automobiles in 1895, becoming an exclusively horse-drawn community. Now more than 500 draft horses work on the island during peak season. Tourists from all over the world visit from April to November.
Even at the height of the COVID-19 pandemic, island shop owners and restaurant operators changed how to provide service. More visitors came from the Midwest, many who hadn’t been to the island. Island businesses said 2021 was “absolutely crazy” and set revenue records.
And this latest recognition is, well, a pretty big deal for a place with no Marriott or Hilton or Ritz Carlton. This is a place where a longtime customer bought one hotel and a billionaire bought a ferry service only to keep the original family owners in place with their team and continue tradition.
“When we get an award like this, it’s great affirmation that our privately owned hotels and small businesses are doing the right things. That’s hard in America today,” Tim Hygh, executive director of the Mackinac Island Tourism Bureau, told the Free Press.
Not Hawaii or Florida
In the past, Mackinac Island has been touted by TripAdvisor and Conde Nast Traveler.
Other favorite islands have included Nantucket, Massachusetts; Puerto Rico; Whidbey Island, Washington; Kauai, Hawaii; Dauphin Island, Alabama; Mount Desert Island, Maine, and the Florida Keys.
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This is the first season without island legend Victor Callewaert, owner of Ryba’s Fudge Shop. His son, Todd, continues the family legacy on the island.
“We work hard,” Todd Callewaert told the Free Press. “We’re humbled by the award. I think it’ll help us a lot in the fall.”
Travel + Leisure magazine awards are determined by a survey of its 9 million readers. The full list of the 2022 World’s Best Awards winners may be found in the August 2022 issue of Travel + Leisure, as well as online at travelandleisure.com.
Dave Lorenz, vice president of Travel Michigan, a part of the Michigan Economic Development Corp., said the latest Travel + Leisure recognition will spread the word to people seeking a simple, beautiful getaway during these stressful times.
Hiking and mini golf and the ability to dine outdoors with a view are key.
“There are some people from around the world who have started to get to know Mackinac Island as this really cool getaway,” he told the Free Press. “But not enough, frankly. We need to get the word out.”
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