by Diana Lambdin Meyer
The Zehnder family, owners of the Bavarian Inn Lodge, claims theirs is the original and first indoor family water park in the country. Without getting into an argument about who did what first and where they did it, it’s safe to say that since 1986 families have enjoyed getaways in this tiny Bavarian community in east central Michigan.
It’s difficult to separate the lodge from all that is Frankenmuth, a close-knit town of about 5,000 residents. Much of the uniqueness of the resort experience is intertwined with the history of the German Lutheran emigrants that founded the town in 1845. And while it’s possible to experience a fair amount of German culture without ever leaving the lodge, its restaurants, employees and community are all but one.
The Zehnder family first opened a restaurant in the 1950s and in the late 1980s began the lodge with just 100 rooms. Expansions over the years have brought the total number of guest rooms to 360, along with a growing number of family amenities encouraging families and groups to simply make themselves at home and stay a while with the Zehnder family.
Authentic architecture, such as the Glockenspiel Tower, has been imported from Germany. Younger children are especially mesmerized at the movement of the four feet high figurines as they twirl and tell the story of the Pied Piper. German dancers, polka lessons, yodeling contests and more all take place on the Fischer Platz in front of the lodge.
The wooden bridge over the Cass River that leads to the resort property contributes to the fairytale experience, as does Willy the Dragon, the official mascot of the Bavarian Inn Lodge.
After a day of rolling pretzels and playing in the child-size Hansel & Gretel village, your children will believe you have indeed taken them on a fairytale vacation.
Our Editor Loves
- Indoor water park
- Family Fun Center
- Nightly entertainment and18-hole miniature golf course
- Water Parks
- Water Sports
- Game Room
- Kids' Pool
- Onsite Dining
Find the Best Price for Your Stay
Each of the 360 rooms at the Bavarian Inn Lodge is numbered, of course, but each also has a name and unique story. The rooms are named for a local Frankenmuth family, a neighboring community or an individual who has impacted the history of Frankenmuth. Photos and stories inside each room tell of these individuals and places, thus contributing to the overall feeling of family and community experienced at the Inn.
Families may choose from round rooms located in the castle tower, 17 family suites, five mini-suites or a selection of rooms with both queen and double beds. Adjoining rooms are quite plentiful. Some of the rooms overlook the Family Fun Center and some overlook the adult pool area, but the large majority of rooms have balconies that overlook the open grounds and the Cass River beyond.
All rooms are remarkably spacious with plenty of room for the extraneous paraphernalia that seems to accompany families with children or to just add a crib or rollaway bed. Cribs are available at no charge, but rollaway beds are an extra $12 per night.
Each room has a dorm-size refrigerator for family snacks and leftovers from the famous, fried chicken dinners. A nice feature is the additional vanity with sink outside of the bathroom, allowing families to get ready for the day just a bit faster.
Guest room features for those with mobility issues go above and beyond federal requirements, offering a variety of options based on the needs of your family.
Wi-Fi is complimentary throughout the property.
We are having a blast at our annual Bavarian Inn girls trip! Glen Walters from the MOD department made sure our large party was accommodated and even offered to take a group picture for us, good times!
by Cheri V
I decided it was time my 13 year old daughter and I went on our first mother/daughter getaway now that football is done and before wrestling starts. (it's not easy having two older brothers). Frankenmuth and Bavarian Inn Lodge was perfect. Neither of us had ever been. The hotel staff were very friendly and the hotel room was clean. Most comfortable bed I have ever had in a hotel. Friday night we had dinner at Oma's and it was delicious and not over priced. We then spent time on the water slides and in the pools, followed by arcade and mini golf. We had a package that included arcade money and the mini golf was very reasonable. I would absolutely recommend Bavarian Inn Lodge to friends.
With five indoor pools and more than 100 kinds of video and arcade games, families with children of all ages are usually pretty happy here.
Family Fun Center
The action is all downstairs on the lower level at the Family Fun Center, an area that includes -- restaurants, private party spaces, a small store and ticket redemption center, quiet areas for mom and dad to hang out, and a custom-crafted children's village featuring Hansel & Gretel and other storybook characters.
One of the pools is zero depth entry with small splash features, and another includes a waterfall and swing. Far off in a corner by itself, is yet another pool with a rope swing and space for teenagers to enjoy time away from the little ones.
Two stores on site and certainly others in Frankenmuth, carry pool toys, but feel free to bring your own noodles and floaties to make pool time more fun. Towels, of course, are available in abundance. Children in diapers are required to wear Huggies Little Swimmers, which are for sale on site as well.
Room rates include wristbands for the Family Fun Center. But this is a place where the abundance of quarters and tokens can determine the quality of the event. Consider setting a budget with the kids before you leave.
In addition to the indoor fun, the 12-acre property is a wide-open space perfect for kicking a soccer ball or flying a kite. A special feature on the grounds is a large aviary filled with colorful peacocks and rare white peacocks. Family patriarch William Zehnder enjoyed raising peacocks, so from spring until fall peacocks contribute to the onsite festivities.
The peacocks are a part of the menagerie at the nearby Bavarian Inn Heritage Farm and Grandpa Tiny's Farm, a place where families can learn about shearing sheep, feed baby calves and watch as horses plow the field. Admission prices are not included in packages with the hotel.
Another popular attraction is Bonner's Christmas Store, touted as the largest Christmas store in the world. More than six football fields in length, the store not only embodies the spirit of Christmas, but also offers holiday decorations unique for many faiths, families and interests.
The Cass River is a calm body of water that passes through Frankenmuth and provides lots of opportunities for floating family fun. Water bicycles, cruises and canoes may all be enjoyed on the river.
Parents will appreciate that with the rare exception, everything on the menu at any of the three restaurants, is freshly made by hand each day. No need to worry about preservatives at a restaurant owned and operated by the Zehnders.
Oma's Restaurant is the original restaurant at the lodge and is open for breakfast, lunch and dinner. Oma is German for "grandma" and yes, the food at Oma's is as abundant and delightful as the food you would expect to find in the home of and old-world grandma. Homemade chicken noodle soup, German potato cheese dumplings and strudel should satisfy most children, but the more adventurous may enjoy jager schnitzel or German sausage topped with sauerkraut. The gluten-free menu is a real plus for some families, but the Sunday brunch and signature Banana Bread French Toast will keep tummies full for the rest of the day.
The Ratskeller is downstairs on the same level as the Family Fun Center. This cafeteria-style restaurant offers equally fresh goodies for breakfast, lunch and dinner, but the menu is more limited than Oma's and includes a few more fried, fast-food style choices. Live entertainment, such as karaoke, is a part of the atmosphere.
Lorelei's Lounge is open to children until 10 p.m., but it certainly has more of the Bavarian Beer Hall atmosphere to it, particularly when the nightly sing-along begins! Sandwiches and bar food fill the menu, but if you prefer, it's rarely a problem to order something from the menu at Oma's located just next door. On nice days and evenings, tables often spill over outside onto the patio or onto the the Fischer Platz where live music and polka make the meal even more enjoyable.
However, food in Frankenmuth and especially in the Bavarian Inn Lodge is all about fried chicken! In a large, festive, Bavarian style restaurant with multiple dining rooms and an abundance of German influence in decor, the fried chicken dinner is an experience for all families. Go hungry and plan on utilizing that refrigerator back in your hotel room! The service staff dons old-world German costumes and the food just keeps coming -- homemade breads, salads, soups, side dishes, relishes, noodles, potatoes and then the fried chicken dinners that began the Zehnder family business back in the 1950s. Go and enjoy. It will be a most memorable part of your family outing.
Note: Technically, the Bavarian Inn and the Bavarian Inn Lodge are two separate businesses operated by different members of the Zehnder family. The Bavarian Inn (restaurant) is across the Cass River, accessed via the covered wooden bridge from the Bavarian Inn Lodge (hotel). It's certainly a pleasant walk of about 10 minutes, but there is also a shuttle that runs most evenings from the hotel.
Planning & Tips
All About the Extras
Because the Bavarian Inn Lodge is family-owned and operated, with multiple generations of the Zehnder family participating at very young ages, they have a true understanding of the needs of families. The Inn's mascot, Willy the Dragon, pays a visit to the Family Fun Center every Friday and Saturday night, sometimes dancing and singing with the kids and always posing for pictures. If a birthday party is underway, a popular event at the Bavarian, Willy invites himself to the party and enjoys the festivities as much as the kids do.
The gym is called Paula's Exercise Room, named for one of the Zehnder family children, and includes a limited number of elliptical and weight machines. Children over 16 are allowed to use the equipment.
The Art of Smart Timing
The Bavarian Inn Lodge is open year-round and is often more crowded on winter weekends and holidays than in the summer.
Being a Bavarian community, October is filled with Oktoberfest celebrations, and thus usually very full. The first week of August is the Farm Fest at the Bavarian Inn Lodge Heritage Farm, which is always popular with families.
The least crowded times and when you'll find the best bargains are midweek in the early winter months. In winter, it's possible to have the pool entirely to yourself some days, and as the snow flies in eastern Michigan, what better place to be?
In looking at the mitten shape, which is the lower peninsula of Michigan, Frankenmuth is directly below the crook of the thumb, between Saginaw and Flint. Both cities have good-sized airports serviced by multiple carries. Detroit Metropolitan/Wayne County Airport is less than a two-hour drive south of Frankenmuth, and an easy drive along Interstate 75. Although it's easy to walk around Frankenmuth, you'll want to have a personal vehicle to enjoy it in its fullest.
For Mom and Dad
Of the numerous pools and water features at the Bavarian Inn Lodge, it's nice to know that there's one just for adults, far away from energetic, enthusiastic children! Located in the indoor courtyard off the lobby, adults will enjoy this calm spot for exercise and relaxation along with a whirlpool and adult beverages served nearby.