Customer Questions on Mackinac Island

When I was 20 years old, I worked on a little island in Michigan called Mackinac Island. I was given a small notebook from my family when I started my job and used it to keep a record of the most insane customer questions and experiences that I witnessed during my seasonal position. Since I am currently in the midst of moving into an apartment with my fiancé and my best friend and her boyfriend, I have recently come across this notebook once again and figured I would do what I had always talked about doing: sharing what I wrote in that notebook. Please enjoy my experiences and explanations for why some of these customer questions were incredibly dumb.

1. “What time does the 6:30 boat leave?”

Shepler’s ferry boat.

If you are unfamiliar with any of my pieces of Mackinac island such as my in depth experience or the post of photos I took, Mackinac Island is a small island that has no vehicles other than emergency vehicles and can only be accessed by ferry boat. There are two ferry companies: Shepler’s and Star Line. While it’s completely valid to ask someone what time the last boat leaves from this island, asking someone what time something leaves while saying the departure time in the same sentence is rather silly. I figured I would give that tidbit of information now because it will be useful in the future.

2. “When does the Mackinac Bridge swing over to the island?”

Mackinac Bridge.

I wish I could say this was a joke but I can still remember this gentleman’s deadpan expression while he asked. Considering Mackinac Island is 7.2 miles away from the mainland and his bridge is 26,372 feet in length, having a giant bridge magically swing over to a different piece of land would be an architectural feat. Plus, there’s not really a need for the bridge to do this since no vehicles are allowed on the island.

3. “I know you guys have a secret elevator so you don’t have to walk up. Where is it?”

If you look at the image, you’ll notice that the island has some very steep hills that can be quite difficult to climb if you’re not accustomed to it. Some people really thought that there was no possible way the workers walked up these hills every single morning to get to work but we did. This question was asked many times to me with sheer disbelief when I said we walked.

To note, most of the workers specifically for the Fort and State Park lived in a very old building called Mission House that is located next to Mission Point Resort. For the guest service representatives (like myself), we had to walk up and down a very large hill just about half of the week. At first, it left me sore and irritated but I found it easier to climb after a week or so and ended up enjoying my early morning walks. It eventually started to boggle my mind why anyone WOULDN’T want to walk up it at least once.

4. “What do you mean my 2016 pass isn’t valid in 2017? It should be!”

Fort Mackinac.

For starters, the fort on the island cost money for entry. It is essentially a large museum and even had reenactors for the time period. There is a restaurant and gift shop located inside as well. For the island fort, we sold season long passes (where a season only lasted April to September/October of that year) as well as day tickets. However, people confused it for a “year long” pass and assumed they could use it for a full 365 days rather than just from spring to fall of that current year.

5. “I didn’t see a place to bring my car over. Could you tell me where it is?”

Bikes on Mackinac Island.

Again, this is an island without cars. The only way to get around is by walking, biking, or riding a horse. No vehicles except for 1 police car and 1 ambulance. The island is too small for any other vehicles besides those two. It’s still crazy to me that people don’t do any research on their vacation destination before going, especially a huge detail like that. It was also confusing to me why people would ask me that considering I only worked on the island. It always seemed like the kind of question you would ask before purchasing a ferry ticket to get onto the island.

6. “How do you get into the fort. You have to pay? How do you pay? With money? Oh.”

Reenactors inside of Fort Mackinac.

This was a real conversation I had. He seemed very confused as to why you would pay to go into a fort that was essentially a museum complete with reenactors. There are a lot of free things to do on the island as long as you like the outdoors. Plus, the fort tickets include access to small houses located in town that held reenactors and also gave access to an art museum all for a very fair price.

7. I watched as a 9 year old peed on a gate outside in public while his mother watched.

The main entrance to the fort.

We had a public restroom on the other side of the gate. There are public restrooms everywhere. Guest service representatives are actually told that we are allowed to let children into the fort to use the restroom if a worker goes with them and escorts them back out. I will never understand how someone was completely okay with allowing their child to urinate on a historic fort.

8. “I’m playing a game on my phone. It’s like Pokémon Go but not really. I need to go into the fort to complete this mission. Do I have to pay? Can I just go in to do this?”

Reenactors shooting blanks for guests.

I still can not comprehend how difficult it is for some people to realize how weird these requests are. We don’t know you and we don’t trust you. Why would I let you in somewhere that costs money so you can “just” do this “one” thing?

9. “Where are the lilacs? Is there a lilac farm here?”

One of my roommates smelling the lilacs.

One of the seasonal things Mackinac Island is famous for is lilacs. They are scattered all over the island and bloom for a short period, causing the island to become even more beautiful and smell fantastic. Considering they’re plants, we don’t have a lot of control over when they bloom. Plus, the island is about 8 miles around and doesn’t have the space for a farm. I had to explain this to the customer who got surprisingly upset as though I should control nature for her to see the lilacs.

10. “I keep hearing things about turtles. Where are the turtles? Are they at Turtle Park?”

Book cover for Mackinac Island.

Mackinac island has a lot of lore and Native American backstory. The turtles are part of that lore. There are no physical, living turtles but to respect the island’s history, there are some turtle emblems that you can find as you explore. I was told “that’s misleading” when I explained this to the woman that asked. Again, please refer to my statement about not researching your vacation spot.

11. “Can you take a picture of my niece’s yellow emoji hat?”

That photo did not stay on my phone for longer than 30 seconds and I’m still confused as to why I was asked to do that.

Fact Break

My fiancé at the fort.

To keep with the actual layout of this notebook, I’ll separate these customer stories with some facts about the island that you may or may not know. In order for me to do this job as well as I did, I had to spend a lot of time reading and researching the island so I knew what I was talking about and so I could help guests better. I wrote some of the more interesting facts in my notebook so when guests asked for interesting facts (which they did), I could tell them some interesting facts.

1. The island is 8.2 miles around if you travel on the paved road. It’s 8.3 miles around if you stick to the shoreline.
2. The Mackinac State Historic Park was the 2nd national park and the first in Michigan.
3. Approximately 600 horses are brought to the island every season.
4. The Grand Hotel’s porch is 660 feet long and each room inside is different. The Grand has 390 rooms.
5. Arch Rock is 146 feet above sea level.
6. 7,000 people live on the island in the summer. 400-500 people live on the island in the winter.
7. There is actually a K-12 school on the island. The 2016 class had 5 students.
8. There are 14 fudge shops on the island, which means that over 10 tons of butter is brought to the island every year.
9. Presidents have visited the island such as Truman, JFK, Ford, H.W. Bush, and Bill Clinton

And now back to the customer stories.

12. “Can I buy a national park pass at a state park?”


13. “What’s the island WiFi password?”

Map of Mackinac Island.

Yes, the island is pretty small but it absolutely is not small enough to have a WiFi signal that reaches the entirety of the island. When I tried explaining this to the guest, he just couldn’t understand it. I don’t know about you but my WiFi barely reaches both ends of my apartment. Why would you expect it to reach out over 8 miles away?

14. “Can I trade you a highlighter and a roll of scotch tape for this snow globe?”

Mackinac snowglobe/

I still laugh about this one. This boy came in wanting to buy a snow globe for his mother. He was absolutely old enough to know that you cannot just trade some junk you have in your pockets for something in a retail establishment but he sure tried anyways. He was extremely upset when I told him no and we would only “trade” it for money. My manager and I talked about that one for weeks. My other immediate thought was why someone was just carrying around a highlighter and a roll of tape in their pockets when they were supposed to be on vacation.

15. “We can do whatever we want, right? Cause we’re guests and you want us happy?”

I can happily say this one happened one time only. If you are this kind of person, please stop going on vacation. There are rules in place to keep everyone safe and happy, not just you.

16. “Do you have a free map to the blue kiosk?”

The visitor center for the island.

There are two different kiosks on the island. One of them is for the fort and you can purchase your fort ticket from the kiosk and you will be given a fort map with your ticket. The other kiosk, the blue kiosk, had a free map of the island. Someone came up to me asking if they could have a map of the island. I directed them to the blue kiosk and they really wanted a map to find the kiosk that would give them a map.

17. “Was a squirrel tail turned into lose and found? My kid lost it.”

A photo I took by the fort.

Look, I get it, I was a strange kid as well. I cried over a Jack Skellington doll from Nightmare Before Christmas that my mom wouldn’t let me have at a Girl Scout sleepover and a very confused mom of my friend tried offering me chicken bones as a substitute. However, it doesn’t make it any less amusing that this poor mom was wandering around to places they recently entered asking workers if they had seen a disembodied squirrel tail.

18. “Who do I go to for complaints? I want to complain about the noisy ship generators.”

A photo I took of the empty main street.

Since the only way on or off of the island is by ferry boat, there are quite a few different ferries and they all require generators. There’s a reason why the hotels are far enough away not to hear them and the generators are off at night. Why this gentleman felt the need to complain about a business’ generator being too loud in the middle of the day is beyond me.

19. “Do you take stuff?”

Quite the ominous question that my coworkers and I repeated to each other for over a month.

20. “I heard the cannon go off. What do they aim at? Where does the cannonball go?”

A photo I took from the top of the fort.

The reenactors use historically accurate rifles and a cannon when reenacting. The cannon is rarely fired throughout the day due to how loud it is and when it is fired, there is no cannonball. Using a real cannonball would be a huge danger to everyone involved. The reenactors simply use a sort of blank to make the cannon go off. This guest was sad to know that there was no cannonball. I agree, it would be really cool if they used a real one but I like feeling safe more than seeing something dangerous and cool.

21. “Can you look up what hotel I’m staying at?”


The Final Fact Break

A photo I took at the restaurant inside of the fort.

I don’t know about you but I even need a little break in between these customer experiences. Some of them are just really wild. I added another page in my notebook for interesting facts I started getting asked the longer I worked there.

1. The fort started charging admission in 1958.
2. Mackinac Island was established as a national park in 1875 and then as a state park in 1895.
3. Automobiles were banned in 1898.
4. The Grand was built in 1887.
5. Fudge became the island’s iconic sweet in the 1920’s.

Now back to the final leg of this post.

22. “I bought the $10 bike rental on the Shepler site. Where are my bikes?”

A photo of me with my cousin’s bike.

So this one just made me feel bad. The guest hadn’t fully read what they were buying. They just saw a cheap price and the work “bicycle”. What they had paid for was the fee to bring over bicycles from the mainland to the island. This guest paid for 5 people to bring over bikes and expected the bike rental to just cost that little. Something I should mention is that one of the places I worked at was the visitor center and people got very confused as to what we could and could not answer. This is an example of a question I could not answer and a question that should have been asked towards a worker for Shepler.

23. The Visitor Center bathroom ordeals.

A photo I took inside of the fort.

Besides working as a guest service representative, you could also work for the state park as a caretaker. These workers were in charge of taking care of the landscape, cleaning, and more. The visitor center bathrooms were closed for cleaning at least twice every single day. Cleaning took roughly 10 to 15 minutes but this wasn’t short enough for some. We would give guests suggestions to nearby bathrooms, one of which was right next door, but people would always throw a fit. At one point, I saw a man enter the women’s bathroom because the men’s room was closed for cleaning. I had two grown adults threaten to urinate on the visitor center carpet because the woman’s room was closed.

24. I’ve been asked for tickets that I cannot sell.

A photo I took of Mackinac Bridge.

Once again, I worked for the state park which includes Fort Mackinac. The only tickets I could see were fort tickets. There were signs all over my kiosk and station that it was fort tickets only. However, people would still ask me for tickets to see the butterfly house or to get a carriage tour or to go somewhere else I couldn’t allow them. Rather than owning up to a misunderstanding, most people would just lash out at me in an attempt to not look embarrassed.

25. “Where is the cross on the island?”

I still don’t know what that means.

26. “Do you have the papers for who built the visitor center?”

Why would I just have that? Who just has the papers for the person that built their building for work?

27. “Do you still sell this hat my late husband bought 32 years ago?”

My heart goes out to you, ma’am, it really does. But why in the world would a place sell a hat from 32 years ago? I told her to check eBay and best of luck but it was still note worthy because she literally came to the island just to ask that question and coming to the island isn’t cheap.

28. “I want something that says Mackinac but not Michigan.”

Well, considering Mackinac is in Michigan, that really isn’t plausible. Plus, why would you not want the state you’re visiting on your merchandise?

29. “Did someone build this place around that tree?”

In the visitor center, we have a fake birch tree with a fake bird in it. Someone thought the tree and the bird were real. She was very embarrassed when we told her the reality of it.

30. I was cussed out for closing my booth.

A man and his two very young daughters came up to my ticket booth about five minutes after closing. He begged me to let him purchase tickets and go inside. First of all, we do have reenactors and allowing him and his family to go in would mess up their time schedule. We run as a system. Everyone impacts each other. By allowing him in, I would put everyone at a disadvantage. Second, I would have actually lost my job if I let someone in after closing, even one minute after. Third, the price of the ticket wouldn’t be worth it because the reenactors wouldn’t be doing much else at that time and the other places the ticket lets you into would be closed by the time they got through the fort. Fourth, the restaurant and the gift shop inside would be closed as well. When I told him no, he proceeded to scream at me and cuss at me while his daughters listened. I had to stay an extra five minutes because he was watching me from a distance and I didn’t want to hike up the hill with my money for the day and risk him doing something dangerous.

And that’s it! You made it through! I always wanted to digitally document these experiences from my notebook so I wouldn’t lose them. The experiences I had, even the bad ones, mean a lot to me. I loved my time on that island and it’s always felt like a second home to me. I hope to visit one day in the future but I sadly doubt I will ever be able to work there again. It was a lot of fun and I highly recommend anyone who can work there to do so. There aren’t many workers from places outside of Michigan but they do accommodate to those that live farther.

One thought on “Customer Questions on Mackinac Island

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