I’ll admit it, Frankenmuth wasn’t my first choice for a honeymoon. And I don’t know how much of a honeymoon it was, considering we went with the neighbors and their kids, but it was fun and extremely needed. It didn’t start out as a honeymoon, either, our original plans were to join the neighbors (and good friends) Scott and Ashley and their kids – Haley, Kylie, and Clyde – for Kylie’s 8th birthday celebration. You may remember them from the wedding, Ashley and Kylie were two of my beautiful attendants and Scott was the guy cooking up a storm and taking care of the buffet line (which we owe him big time for.)
We were going to drive up with them on Saturday and stay the night in Frankenmuth, planning on a honeymoon in March or something, but after the wedding we decided that we really needed to get away for a night by ourselves, so we drove up Friday night instead.
I had to work later than expected Friday, so we got a late start, but we made it to Tony’s in time for dinner. I had mentioned the place several times in the past, and when planning this trip, told Dave a couple of times again, “We have to stop at Tony’s.”
The place has been there for as long as I can remember, my parents would stop there every time we drove up north, it’s a family tradition. I thought everyone in this area knew about Tony’s, but Dave had never heard of it. In regular Dave fashion, he asked about the food on the way up.
“It’s like a family diner, you know – Denny’s kind of stuff, breakfast and sandwiches….” I knew he was wondering why I was so excited about going there, but I wasn’t about to tell him it was because the joint is famous for its large portions, particularly a BLT with a full pound of bacon on it. You heard me. Full pound of bacon.
He also knew that I was trying to surprise him, so he didn’t ask too many questions, he’s getting used to this. I usually handle our travel itinerary, and so far, I’ve found some interesting places, so I guess I’ve earned his trust in that department. He calls me “Julie,” the cruise director from the Loveboat.
The outside of the restaurant didn’t give him any clues as to what was so special about the place, either. We pulled into a truck stop off of I-75 and he was still all, “Here? Really?” then he noticed the plain-looking diner next door. The parking lot was nearly full, so we found a spot at the back.
“This place is packed – must be good food?”
“Yeah, Dave…..you just wait…..”
There was a line at the door to match the parking lot, but it was more for organizing the crowds than for waiting. We were quickly to the front, with the hostess saying, “How many? 2? Take a 2-top on that side!” and pointing us down a row of two-seater booths next to the lunch counter. As we followed the couple in front of us down the aisle and took the last open booth, it made me think of Cedar Point and strapping into a roller coaster. The weekend was kind of like the food version of a roller coaster, and Tony’s was the first big hill.
I thought for sure Dave would catch on when I noticed that the waitress’s black t-shirt said “Got Bacon?” on the back, but he had a little buzz on and was still amazed at how busy the place was. We opened our newspaper menus and began discussing what we were going to have.
“Their BLT is good,” I said.
“I think I’m going to get eggs and toast,” says Dave. He’s gotta be messing with me.
“Are you sure about that?” I said, “Because, really, I think you might like the BLT…..” and then the guy sitting at the counter, drinking coffee (and also wearing a shirt that says “Got Bacon?”) turned around and said, “the BLT has a pound of bacon on it!”
He pointed to the cooks, who had a production line of BLT’s going, and the one closest to us was piling on the bacon two handfuls at a time, then placing the top slice of french bread and stabbing the whole monstrosity with a steak knife. So yeah, Dave went with a BLT.
The guy at the counter was Joe, the owner’s nephew, who told us that he had made hundreds of burger patties that day. He also told us about the massive amounts of food they go through, thousands of pounds a week. There was sign hanging by the front door advertising a “Hunter’s Special” – 1 gallon of chili, 1 gallon of stew, 1 stick of salami, and 2 loaves of french bread for $63. How could Dave have never heard of this place? The banana split has a half gallon of ice cream.
Our food arrived quickly and the madness began. I was pretty impressed that my half pound bacon cheeseburger was actually well done as I had asked, Dave was impressed by….well, bacon.
Once we tasted the food, we were happy to have so much of it, it was fantastic. The produce was fresh, everything was of good quality and cooked the way I had asked. There was also the entertainment bonus of watching everyone devise a plan of consumption. I went with a nibble-around-the-edges approach. We couldn’t have been happier with our visit, we left with full stomachs, a full takeout container, and a new favorite restaurant for Dave.
The next order of business was to find a hotel room. I pulled out my trusty google maps and found the cheapest ones nearby. The second one we stopped at informed us that it was a busy weekend, seeing that it was the classic auto show and whatnot. I’ll skip this part of the story, I really don’t want to talk about what the room cost, but we did find one and a few whiskey shots helped to lessen the pain. Someday we’ll laugh about it….but not yet.
We started Saturday off with some shopping at the Old Navy outlet, which was actually kind of disappointing. They didn’t have the deals I expected and the clearance rack was pretty small, but I still found a few things, anyway. We picked up an outfit for Kylie for her birthday, which Dave pretty much picked out. He and Kylie have the same taste, anyway – conservative. “Aren’t those a little short for an eight year old?”
We ended up going with knee length jean shorts, a long-sleeve t-shirt, and big movie star shades. Because they didn’t have any burqas. Really, though, he was right, some of the little girls’ clothes were too mature.
By noon we felt that we had recovered enough from Tony’s to give lunch a shot, so we stopped at Sonic for a burger, breakfast sandwich, and tater tots. It had been years since either of us had been to a drive in, so we were pleasantly surprised to see that the carhops were still on wheels – albeit rollerblades. It must help add to the speed, because that meal arrived amazingly fast, as well. More good food and the realization that I need to start ordering from the children’s menu, and we were off to our next destination, with a brief detour to find a liquor store.
We met up with the neighbors at Zehnder’s Splash Village around two. They were already in the waterpark, an indoor area with a couple of tube waterslides, lazy river, kids’ play areas and a few smaller slides, so we unloaded our stuff, put on our suits, mixed up a couple of drinks and met them down there.
It was wonderful. For the next few hours, we lounged by the pool, soaked in the jacuzzi, and perfected our techniques for going as fast as possible down the water slides. Actually, Dave didn’t last too long in the jacuzzi, or “giant petri dish,” as he calls it.
After we tired of water play and started to get hungry, we all went back to the room to dress for dinner. The ad in the elevator was so unique, every time we rode in it someone commented on the chef’s googly eyes, so we had to get a picture.
More cocktails before dinner while we waited for the kids to get ready. I really wanted to wear my new dress I had just gotten at Old Navy, but, after a few minutes on the balcony, I remembered that this is Michigan and I put on pants…..and a sweater. I compromised by twisting the dress up into a shirt and reminding Dave what a resourceful wife he has.
Our dinner reservations were at Zehnder’s of Frankenmuth Restaurant. Having served over 30 million guests, it’s famous for its chicken dinners and hailed as “America’s Largest Family Restaurant.” It’s set in the Bavarian-themed village of Frankenmuth, surrounded by quaint shops selling various cheeses, wine, and beer steins. During our visit, there was also the classic car cruise going on, so people and their lawn chairs lined the streets, cheering as their favorite cars went by. http://www.zehnders.com/dining/zehndersrestaurant.htm
We were seated in one of the Bavarian-style dining rooms at a long table and our “family-style” dinner began. Our Bavarian-style waitress brought the first course of chicken noodle soup, coleslaw, cottage cheese, fresh cranberry sauce, chicken liver pate, cheese spread, and various breads. The second course consisted of fried chicken, mashed potatoes and gravy, egg noodles, carrots, and stuffing. Somehow I paced myself and made it all the way to the ice cream dessert (and half of Kylie’s birthday cheesecake.) And in case your chicken isn’t chickeny enough, they supply chicken seasoning at each table.
We hopped the shuttle back to the hotel so the girls could spend more time in the waterpark and arcade, and by sundown all three kids were fast asleep and the grownups were enjoying nightcaps on the balcony. Ashley commented that she felt sluggish after all of that food, which spurred a rousing chorus of “I feel feverish and sluggish…” from Dave and I. To both of our surprise, I even knew the moves. One of our favorite Japanese exercise videos
Sunday morning started earlier than we wanted (thank you, baby Clyde,) but it gave us time to enjoy the breakfast buffet that came with the package deal. Just what we need, more large amounts of food. We really enjoyed the package deal, though – dinner, shuttle to and from dinner, breakfast, waterpark, room – and Ashley made all of the arrangements, so it was completely stress free on our end. She’s so awesome.
By noon it was time to dry off and check out, so we loaded up our stuff in the van and wandered off to visit the other attractions. We spent a few quarters in the arcade on skeeball and claw machines, then cashed in our tickets for some Chinese handcuffs and a parachute soldier.
We took a stroll through Bronner’s Christmas Wonderland, the world’s largest Christmas store, open 361 days a year. The store hasn’t changed much since it’s opening in 1945, staying with the Bavarian theme in its decor.
We picked out 2 ornaments from the thousands to commemorate our first Christmas as a family, a newlywed s’mores couple holding champagne glasses for us, and a bass drum with a working kick pedal for Jake. Each checkout had two people working it, one to ring up our purchase and another to delicately wrap it in tissue paper and boxes, thoroughly adding to the nostalgic feel. They had ornaments of every kind, though, we even found something suitable for Dave’s brother, Scott.
Despite the other wonderful staff, one of the polar bears did get lippy with me on the way out. I had no choice but to defend myself.
We complained to the management and were granted a private photo shoot with Santa and Frosty, both of whom are much taller in person.
We ended up with time for one activity before dinner, so we fired up the Wander Project map (http://disruptthenorm.com/) on google maps and found a place nearby called Junction Valley Railroad. I wasn’t too sure about the place, which is why I had it pegged in the “maybe” category. The website wasn’t too heavy on pictures or information, but I knew it was $6.50, which meant it was also worth checking out.
Another wonderful thing about google maps is that by pressing a few icons I can have my phone directing us to our destination, taking the back roads without (much) fear of getting lost. We were only on the road for a few minutes, it was surprisingly close to Frankenmuth, and I told Dave what I knew of the place before we arrived.
“They have model trains….but I’m not sure if it’s the kind you ride or the kind you just look at.”
As we pulled into the small parking lot half full of semi-trucks and were greeted by the heavy smell of diesel, I said, “Oh yeah, they also have a truck repair shop.”
We hesitantly approached the train car by the road, glancing at the tiny tracks that circled the parking lot. In front of the train car was a miniature building, some old waiting room chairs, and not much else. The train car appeared to be the “museum” portion, and things became more apparent when we read the signs posted by the doorway.
One sign advised that the park was only accessible by train, that walking wasn’t permitted. “Aha! There’s a park in the woods, and we ride the train to the park! Where do I sign up?” Somehow a miniature train ride becomes instantly more fun when there is a destination involved.
We went inside to purchase our tickets and found a friendly cashier (and daughter-in-law of the railroad’s builder) who told us everything we wanted to know about Junction Valley Railroad. She told us about the “Spooky Rides” they have at Halloween every year while we looked at the pictures on the wall of past events. Dave asked about one set of pictures in particular, of a casket on the train, and she told us that the railroad’s builder had requested one last ride.
The inside of the train car was more of a gift shop than a museum, and while we waited we looked around at the railroad related items – patches, conductors’ hats, whistles. I was impressed not only by the reasonable prices, but by the selection they had of items under $5 that screamed “school field trip.”
Soon we heard the train approaching, as the woman inside said we would. The whistle blew, the railroad crossing at the parking lot dinged, and the train came into view, driven by an engineer and carrying a dozen or so passengers. A few were carrying picnic baskets and coolers, and they looked happy enough, so even though we still didn’t really know what we were getting into, we found a couple of seats near the front and our ride began. See it here.
What a cool place! We got off at the park and bought a can of pepsi and a bag of chips from the concession stand to serve as our picnic lunch and shared them while sitting in the sunshine and taking in the park. There were a few families there, almost all of them seemed to have three generations, and another couple who seemed like it was their first visit, too.
The first thing I noticed was the bikes and scooters scattered around, free for anyone to use. And you bet we did. With video.
Then we discovered that some of the playground equipment was adult-sized. First we took a run at the monkey bars – Dave made it all the way across, no problem, me – two rungs. Then we climbed on the teeter-totter, literally, it took some effort. I got on first and Dave had to hoist me up to get on his end, the thing was huge. We rode on that for a bit, but eventually the creaking and bending made us a little nervous, so it was short-lived.
We watched a guy try and fail at the monkey bars, and Dave informed me that from then on, I could address him by his new title, “Monkey Bar Master.”
We hung out there for a while, so impressed by our find. Besides the bikes, there are other toys for anyone to play with – basketballs, badminton, a sandbox full of trucks…even charcoal grills to do some barbequeing.
We played on the swings, shot some hoops, and talked about how fantastic our trip had been. We had visited the largest family restaurant, Christmas store, and quarter-size railroad. We had eaten large sandwiches and played in Mid-Michigan’s largest (and only) indoor waterpark. The only thing left to do was – what else – top if off with large quantities of food. More gorging at Bob Evans was followed by giant coffees at Starbucks before we both cried “uncle” and decided to head home.
We had so much fun, the whole trip was wildly successful. Luck was on our side, the weather was good and we inadvertently balanced out our eating with activity. Junction Valley Railroad was a great find (http://www.jvrailroad.com/) we highly recommend it and can’t wait to see what hidden gem we find on our next adventure.