MACKINAC ISLAND, MI – When the owners of Mackinac Island’s Grand Hotel started making plans to renovate their popular Esther Williams Swimming Pool area, they knew it would not be any ordinary construction project.
The resort’s pool, an elongated hourglass hugging the western edge of the property, had accumulated a lot of history in the century since it was first designed. When considering how they’d approach the needed $10 million makeover, planners had to factor in some big intangibles. How would they update a space that held a place in the hearts of generations of guests who had made memories by its serpentine curves? They knew they also had to carefully honor the Old Hollywood legacy of the pool, which was named after the star whose 1947 aquamusical, “This Time for Keeps,” is famously known for catapulting the hotel out of the red and reviving it as a premier vacation destination in the decades after the lean WWII era. They had to keep all this in mind while ushering the pool area into the modern age.
The result of that very delicate dance was revealed this summer. The new Esther Williams Swimming Pool area keeps roughly the same footprint as the one created 100 years ago, but marries it with the amenities today’s guests expect when they roll up to Grand Hotel in one of its signature horse-drawn carriages.
Some of the new features that have guests buzzing:
- 15 reservable poolside cabanas that offer food and beverage service.
- A new family-friendly area with a zero-depth beach entry, water jet play area and water slide.
- A new large heated whirlpool, and private adults-only pool area featuring an infinity edge with magnificent views of the island.
- New pool deck furniture, terrace and lawn area, allowing guests plenty of space to relax.
- Expanded pool house with state-of-the-art fitness center featuring Peloton bikes.
- A new pool bar and kitchen that offers cocktails and bites.
Want to see the new look for yourself? Grand Hotel is now offering special rates as part of its Celebrate Michigan package for this fall and next spring. (See all the details and dates below).
Hotel executives say they have been happy with this summer’s stellar reviews.
“Not only do the little kids love it, but their moms and dads do, too. And equally important to me, so do their grandmas and grandpas, and even their great grandparents,” said Doug Dean, executive vice president of operations for Grand Hotel, who has checked in with guests personally on their reactions to the renovation project. “We tried to be extremely respectful of the heritage of Grand Hotel and to what this destination has meant to so many people for so long, but also create something that could be a little bit more engaging.”
A Hollywood History
The swimming area has been a touchstone – and a savior – for the resort ever since Williams’ “This Time for Keeps,” was filmed there post-World War II.
The war years had brought most big resorts to their knees, and Grand Hotel was no exception. It saw a 90% drop in guests. While it never closed its doors during those financially devastating seasons, there was one particularly dark day when 400 hotel employees were on staff to serve just 11 paying guests, according to resort historian Bob Tagatz.
But the Esther Williams movie put Grand Hotel on the map, Hollywood-style. People saw the film and wanted to stay in the resort they saw on screen. And they wanted to swim in the same pool where Williams had. The years after the movie’s release saw Grand Hotel’s guest registers begin to swell. “The hotel filled up. We started making money,” Tagatz told MLive earlier. And the pool that was as curvaceously-shaped as Williams was named after the swimming star.
For more tidbits from Tagatz about the history of the movie – like why Williams went through so many swimsuits, and the genius way hotel staff heated the pool for her – see this story on the era, complete with vintage photos of the pool.
Months of Work Reveal a Modern Design
When a renovation list for Grand Hotel was drawn up a couple years ago, Dean said the swimming pool area landed near the top. Crews began prepping the area last season. The work continued as fall turned to winter, which led to the typical construction project challenges when you’re working on an Upper Peninsula island during a Michigan winter. As one might expect, horse-powered drays were the linchpin. They hauled supplies to the worksite, and took away the excess as phases were finished.
“We had a wide group of partners on this,” Dean, adding they wanted to keep as much of the budget local as possible. “We were fortunate that the winter was on the milder side. We were really pleased with how the project went.”
Like all stage parents after a fresh debut, Dean and other Grand Hotel leaders wanted to make sure the new pool was hitting the marks with guests. A recent poolside conversation Dean had with a longtime guest underscored what he’s been hearing. A woman whose family has been coming to the resort for years strode up to Dean, asking if he was a manager. She’d been concerned, she said, when she first heard Grand Hotel was renovating its pool. And now that she was here? “I love it,” she told Dean.
In particular, he said, parents and children have been really excited to try the huge new waterslide and water jet area.
“Based on the feedback we’ve been getting, it seems like we’ve succeeded,” he said.
Details of the Fall 2021 and Spring 2022 Celebrate Michigan package:
- Accommodations in a Grand guest room with option to purchase upgraded Lake View or Lake View Balcony room.
- Breakfast and dinner daily
- Admission for one visit per room to Fort Mackinac
- One complimentary round of golf per person with complimentary green fees (cart fee required)
- 25% off lunch at any Grand Hotel restaurant
- Discounted ferry tickets
Book during any of the following dates to take advantage of Grand Hotel’s best rates starting from $199 per person, per night based on double occupancy, with rates starting from $318 for single occupancy. Book online or call (855) 885-4107 to make your reservation.
September: 12, 19, 23, 30
October: 17, 18, 19, 20, 21, 28
May 2022: 9,10, 11, 18, 19, 20, 23, stay four nights May: 27, 28, 29, 30
Terms and conditions: Offer valid for new reservations only. Children 6-17 are an additional $99 per night, per child. Children 0-5 stay free. Taxes and fees are excluded from rates. Subject to 19.5% added hotel charge, Michigan 6% sales tax, 3% Mackinac Island assessment, and an $8.50 per person baggage-handling charge. Not applicable for group reservations. Limit two reservations per person. Dates subject to availability.
**Want to squeeze in a summer vacation still this month? From August: 24-29, rates are $249 per person, based on double occupancy, and $368 for single occupancy.
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