My family (my wife and our two teenage boys) just returned from a wonderful family Christmas-time getaway in Detroit, Michigan. If Detroit doesn't pop into your mind when it comes to preferred destinations read on!
We are last-minute travelers and prefer to frame our trips around elite sporting events. Having been to four Olympic Games (Athens, Beijing, Vancouver and London) has made us very good at planning these types of trips, and the kids know that nothing beats flexibility when the demand for tickets has everyone in a frenzy.
With the NHL lockout dragging on, finding some elite Christmas hockey to take in was a little more challenging, but Detroit served up a special treat - the NCAA Division I 'Great Lakes Invitational.' This two-day tournament is in its 48th year, and it features four elite NCAA D1 teams - this year's edition included Michigan State, Michigan, Western Michigan and Michigan Tech - with all games at the Joe Louis Arena in Detroit.
We have seen many, many high-calibre hockey games including Memorial Cup Finals, World Junior games, IIHF World Championship games, NHL games, Canadian university games and minor hockey games at every level. NCAA D1 is simply superb hockey - fast, intense, physical, but with no fighting; definitely a very enjoyable product for any hockey fan! Add in loyal fans and boisterous school bands and an NCAA hockey game is a treat.
Tickets were reasonably priced at $25 for lower bowl seats with lots of seats available. We took in day two of the tournament and watched all four teams in action - a ticket provided admission to both games that day - so we saw both the final and consolation final. Parking is ample around Joe Louis Arena; we paid $10 for a spot in a parking garage that was no more than a safe, 5-minute walk from the rink.
We like to mix in a little culture into our city vacations, and Detroit offered up many options. We spent an entire afternoon at the fabulous Detroit Institute of Arts. For families with younger kids, the DIA serves up countless workshops such as Holiday Week 'Puppet Drop-in Workshops' and Cozy Christmas stories.
The DIA has works on display from the likes of Pablo Picasso to Andy Warhol. Our top recommendation is to take a tour; we find that this is the best way to see the top attractions and the expert commentary adds to the experience. At the DIA, our free guided tour with Sharon which began at 1 pm was both entertaining and informative! Our boys enjoyed the medieval suits-of-armour displayed in the Great Hall. Admission was under $10 per person, and we recommend a visit to the DIA as part of your visit to Detroit!
In major cities, safety is a priority; we wanted to take in a New Years' Eve family activity, but wanted to feel safe while doing so. The perfect choice was a family skate at the downtown Campus Martius Park! This outdoor square is turned into a rink in the winter time and is adorned with lights, decorations, an outdoor fire pit and a huge decorated Christmas tree! Rental skates are available, and the rink offered holiday atmosphere at dusk on New Years' Eve!
TV crews and security personnel were present, so we felt safe the entire time. Street parking was ample and provided us with only a 5-minute walk to the park. We brought our own skates and bags, and were able to check and store them for a minimal charge. Being Canadians from southern Ontario, we are accustomed to skating outside for free so the $7 per person charge caught us by surprise, but it was definitely worth it!
For a short evening trip outside Metro Detroit, we enjoyed a short drive up to the Town of Rochester, Michigan, its downtown stores and shops decorated from top to bottom in thousands of Christmas lights. The decorations reminded us of displays that we have seen during the Christmas Holidays at Walt Disney World in Florida. We were able to walk the entire strip in
30 minutes one evening, and it was a novelty to see a town decorated in such a way!
We recommend touching base with the staff of the Detroit Metro Convention & Visitors Bureau as you plan your Detroit getaway. The Bureau is aggressively targeting Ontario travelers. For example, we were made aware of a promotion called "Shop the Greater Detroit Area" which offered a $50 VISA card for staying in a Greater Detroit area hotel in December. Their site provides valuable information on activities, entertainment and accommodation options in Detroit.
We packed a lot of family fun into a very short stay!
Downtown Rochester, Michigan Christmas Lights
Fred Masters and his wife Kathy reside in Kitchener. Fred has performed technical review work for a major Canadian textbook company. Both are avid "last minute" travellers who have attended three Olympic Games. (Athens in 2004, Beijing in 2008, Vancouver in 2010 and London in 2012)