On the shortest day of the year (December 21), we took a trip across Michigan to Frankenmuth, a little Bavarian style town. Find out our top picks and what to do with the kiddos!
I’ve collaborated with the Frankenmuth CVB for this post. All opinions and photos are my own.
Since Ricky wasn’t born in Michigan, I feel like I need to play catch-up with statewide must see locations. I love that most places aren’t more than a 3 hour drive. We’ve seen Detroit, Mackinac Island and Traverse City…obviously Frankenmuth was next on our list. Ricky is a total Clark Griswold for Christmas– he even gets up on the roof for the lights! I knew he would fall in love with Bronners, the world’s largest Christmas store.
If you’re not from the area, Frankenmuth is a small town on the Eastern side of the state here in Michigan. The moment you arrive, you’re transported to a Bavarian style town. Even the grocery stores and gas stations are themed! Many people go to Frankenmuth just for the famous family style chicken dinner at Zehnders…and it’s so worth it!
The girls were so excited to see Frankenmuth during the holidays, everything was decorated and the second we got off the exit from the highway, the snow started. It was absolutely magical! Even more exciting was we were staying at Zehnders Splash Village, which is right next to Bronners. The hotel was ideal because there’s a huge indoor water park and family suites, perfect for our family of 6. Believe it or not, most hotels aren’t accommodating for larger families.
We’ve never stayed at a water park hotel and I know it will be a top request from now on. It’s so convenient to have so much to do for your kids! Aside from the Splash Village, there’s an arcade and they even projected a movie (Elf!) in the lobby with popcorn at night!
Our suite had 2 queen beds, plus a fold-out couch, a fireplace, table area, fridge and plenty of counter space. The girls loved the jets in the bathtub, too! They have a pull out clothes line that you can dry your wet suits on…so convenient!
Tips for staying at Zehnder’s Splash Village:
- Bring a game or cards to have a family game night by the fire. It was super snowy and fun to have a night in as a family.
- Take advantage of the cafe in the lobby–plenty of snacks and treats available without having to leave the hotel. Heads up: they serve drinks for the parents until 10pm. Not necessary, of course, but a great touch!
- Don’t forget flip flops! My girls wore their socks, but flip flops would have been so much better. A t-shirt is great to have also, even with the provided towels.
- Bring snacks to put in the fridge for the kiddos. It will save a ton of money!
- You can enjoy the water park starting at 12:00pm, which is before the 4:00 check-in time! This allows you to take full advantage of the water park. You can honestly spend hours there! It’s a great way to work up an appetite for the chicken dinner.
- At the front desk, there are tons of guides, coupons and more. Be sure to see what’s available!
Going to Zehnder’s for their chicken dinner is a given when you’re in the area. Be forewarned: it’s a HUGE meal, served family style. Make a reservation ahead of time and be prepared to be there for at least an hour. It is a bit pricey, but worth the experience. Kids’ meals are only $8.95 and they get everything adults do. Olivia was determined to try everything! Check out the whole menu on their website…be sure to add the seasoning to the fried chicken!
While you are waiting, there is a great gift shop downstairs from the restaurant with a bakery and great gifts. I loved the Michigan beer selection, Michigan themed gifts (I found a cute winter hat for only $16!) and Zehnder’s spices (the Chicken Gravy one is ah-mazing, too!).
The hotel offers a breakfast buffet, which I heard was amazing. We weren’t super hungry the next morning, so I just drove down the street to Kroger for muffins, bagels and yogurt. They had many affordable options! I figured we would be sampling plenty of snacks during the day on our tour of the town–fudge, pastries and lunch for sure.
After a quick bite to eat, the girls wanted to return to the water park for one final hurrah. I came down with Liam in the stroller and Ricky took him in the baby pool for a bit. He LOVED it. I really like that they have so many different areas of the water park. Two separate lazy rivers, 5 slides and plenty of space for everyone. Even though it was crowded, you couldn’t tell at all!
In our welcome basket included a gnome map for downtown which the girls were excited to try. We weren’t quite sure what we were looking for at first, but the gnomes are scattered all over Main Street. It really helped keep the girls interest while we browsed the stores. There are quite a few FREE things to do in Frankenmuth, plus walking the downtown area racks up those Fitbit steps!
Even when it’s cold, I recommend dressing in layers. The stores are quite warm and it’s uncomfortable to be dressed in heavy coats. We loved the parking lot behind Zehnder’s, plenty of space and FREE.
There were many places recommended to us for lunch, but I knew we had to try Frankenmuth Brewery. It is the country’s FIRST microbrewery, started in 1862 and the food is delicious. I truly admire restaurants who don’t dumb down the kids menus. Yes, they have chicken fingers, but they’re homemade and the mac & cheese was epic! I honestly asked if it was a kids meal when the food was delivered!
Our final stop was Bronners. I figured we could hit it up after lunch to help walk off the food a bit more before the drive home. I’m sad that only one of my photos saved from inside the store: my battery died and there was no service. It’s hard to describe the store–make sure you grab a map! Just think wall-to-wall Christmas decorations and items in various rooms. You can find anything Christmas under the sun and the prices are very reasonable. In the first section, off to right, you can find ornaments and items that you can have personalized right in the store. The line moves quickly, 3 days before Christmas, I just had to wait 10 minutes.
Our 24 hour trip seemed way too short, there is still so much to do! Ricky and I decided we will make this an annual pre-Christmas trip for us…probably 2 nights next time. It truly started our holiday weekend off so memorable.
When I polled on Facebook and Instagram, here are places that people say are a must-see:
(I like to link to Yelp so you can save for future visits)
- Zehnder’s Bakery. It’s in the gift shop downstairs and it’s drool-worthy!
- Prost. I can’t wait to visit this wine bar next time!
- Slo Bones. BBQ, live music…YUM!
- Davinci’s. I saw cheese…that’s all I needed to know! 🙂
- Tiffany’s is where all of the locals go…my kind of place!
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