Inside Bronners Christmas Wonderland – the largest Christmas store in the world

About 6 hours from Chicago (or two hours from Detroit) is Bronners Christmas Wonderland. This year-round Christmas store is home to over 50,000 Christmas items, including 6000 different ornaments, 100’s of trees, an entire department devoted to Christmas lights and several art design studios where professionals hand paint ornaments. Bronners is so large, that you’ll need at least two or three hours just to walk through its various departments. Thankfully, a full service cafe awaits tired Christmas shoppers for a mid-point break. Bronners is also home to a theater, chapel and a shipping department where you can ship your purchases back home.

There is something rather odd about shopping at Bronners in the summer, but during my recent visit in September, we were close enough to Christmas that it actually felt quite comforting. Just keep in mind that you’ll leave the store humming Christmas music for the next couple of hours.

Ornaments are sorted by style – and you’ll find entire sections devoted to themes. For example, if you want a bowling ornament, you’ll be able to pick from about 40 different ones. There is even a section just for ornaments decorated for countries. And yes – things do become quite overwhelming, but you’ll have a hard time not finding some really cute Christmas items.

Bronners opened its original doors back in 1945 when Wally Bronner switched from painting signs, to creating Christmas ornaments for the locals. Sixty-five years later, his store is the largest in the world, often welcoming up to 10,000 visitors on a single day. Sadly, Wally Bronner passed away in 2008, but the store continues to grow based on the vision of the man behind it.

Getting to Bronners is a bit of a trek – thankfully there is plenty to do in Frankenmuth, so the drive to Michigan isn’t for nothing.

At night, thousands of lights make the entire complex even nicer to visit. Even when the store is closed, a drive through the parking lot is a show on its own.

Several of the departments sell ornaments that can be decorated, and artists will decorate those for free. On busy days, expect the decorating to take an hour or more. On quiet days, there is usually no wait.

A trip to Bronners is a ton of fun, as long as you allow yourself enough time to browse the various departments. Purchases are all well packaged for your ride home, and even the biggest Scrooge will have a hard time staying grumpy surrounded by so much Christmas joy.

Bronners is the first big building in Frankenmuth, and signs directing you to it are found all down the highways, so the place is quite hard to miss. Opening hours are listed on their site.


Winter festivals in the Midwest

What is it about snow that just makes us want to play in it? A fresh, fluffy layer of snow means snow angels and snowmen, building forts and having snowball fights. And for some people, it also means making really, really big snow sculptures like these found on

To see some smaller, but no less impressive, snow sculptures in the Midwest, check out one of the area’s many winter festivals.

In Ohio, the Toledo Zoo Frozentoesen offers a whole month of special winter events at the zoo, including ice carving, free admission days, and animal interactions.

The Madison Winter Festival, which takes place from February 19 to 21 in Wisconsin, goes beyond just spectator sports. In addition to ice and snow sculpting, the event features some pretty hardcore winter sports like cross country skiing, speed skating, 5k races, snowshoeing, and bike racing over snow.

In Michigan, head to Bavarian-themed Frankenmuth for Snowfest. Held January 27 to February 1, the fest features snow and ice sculpting and a huge warming tent with traditional German food, music and drinks. And as someone who has been there I can say that not only is the event a very fun time, but you’d be surprised how quickly a few pints of beer and some really badass snow sculptures can make you forget the bitter cold.

Frankenmuth, Michigan – a little slice of Bavaria in the Midwest

Last Thursday evening I suddenly had the urge to take the family on a short trip for the weekend. We decided to avoid flying, and also to avoid heading North to the Wisconsin Dells like most people in Chicago do this time of year.

Instead, we loaded up the family truckster and drove 300 miles east to Frankenmuth Michigan.

Frankenmuth is often referred to as “Little Bavaria”, and is the only city outside Germany that has been officially sanctioned by the city of Munich as an official Oktoberfest location.

The village is about 25 miles north of Flint, so you don’t get the feeling you are completely isolated from civilization. Frankenmuth is home to several tourist attractions including Bronners Christmas Wonderland, the Bavarian Inn, the Bavarian Belle and the River Place shopping center.

Frankenmuth has several hotels, but to get the “real” Bavarian experience, you really need to stay at the Bavarian Inn Lodge. This 355 room hotel has grown from a modest motor lodge, into a large resort with multiple restaurants, 5 swimming pools, shops and a massive entertainment center with the “worlds largest Bavarian themed mini golf course”.

%Gallery-29916%Each room is named after a resident of Frankenmuth, and you can select from various rooms, including pool access rooms, whirlpool suites and river view rooms. You drive up to the Bavarian Inn through an impressive hand build covered bridge which was commissioned by the Zehnder family in 1978 (The Zehnders own most of downtown Frankenmuth, including the Inn). Summer room rates are between $150 and $250 a night.

During the summer, you can enjoy their Biergarten on the front porch, often accompanied by live entertainment. No stay in Frankenmuth is complete without dinner at the restaurant that started the family tradition; Zehnders. This restaurant is the second largest in the country, and the largest family owned, just be sure to show up early, as weekend waits can be over an hour. If Zehnders is too busy, try the Bavarian Inn restaruant just across the road (another Zehnder family restaurant!).

If the idea of a large 355 room resort doesn’t feel right, you can go with one of the many other accommodations in the village; the Marv Hertzog hotel, Zehnders splash village, a Marriott Springhill Suites or one of 23 other hotels, B&B’s or camping sites.

Downtown Frankenmuth has plenty to do; you can take a one hour ride down the Cass river on the “Bavarian Belle” ($9), you can do some shopping at the River Place shopping center where you will find 34 stores offering everything from sports memorabilia to fudge. You’ll also find stores on Main street, but almost every other store seems to be devoted to making and selling more fudge. If you like cheese, you won’t want to miss the Frankenmuth cheese haus, just be sure to pick up some bacon cheese spread, or some of their famous chocolate cheese.

Before leaving Frankenmuth, you should make some time to visit Bronners Christmas Wonderland. Bronners is the largest Christmas store in the world, and is open 361 days a year. It was founded in 1945 by Wally Bronner (who sadly passed away in April of this year). Bronners is the kind of place that you have to see to believe. It is surreal to wander through close to half a mile of decorations, lights and trees in the middle of summer. The total store area covers 5 and a half football fields. At night the entire place is lit up with close to 700 animated figures. One of the highlights of the store is their ornament decoration department, where you can have your purchases hand decorated by a Bronners artist.

Frankenmuth is about 300 miles from Chicago, 330 miles from Indianapolis, 90 miles from Detroit and 240 miles from Cleveland. Unfortunately, the road to Frankenmuth (from most destinations) is quite boring, but thankfully you’ll pass at least one Michigan winery every 30 or 40 miles where the passengers of legal drinking age in your car can sample some excellent wines.

Mirror Mazes: One more way to entertain yourself this summer

Every beach boardwalk with amusement park rides has some attraction that one wonders, is this worth it? The Marvelous Mirror Maze at Myrtle Beach in South Carolina might be worth it simply because the money you fork over for a ticket pays for an all-day experience.

This doesn’t mean you go all day, but that you can make repeat visits all day. Seems like this might be one method to not have to pay out money all day long for various attractions.

As a parent of a 6 year-old, I’d say this is a bonus. One trip through an inflatable obstacle course is never not quite enough. Almost as soon as the money is paid, the trip through is finished.

According to the description, the Marvelous Mirror Maze is a series of hallways made out of mirrors that are configured to be complicated enough to appeal to adults. Here’s a video link that highlights the experience. I noticed someone pushing a stroller through. Anyone 3 and under doesn’t pay.

There is also a mirror maze like this one in San Antonio, Texas. The one in San Antonio is across from The Alamo. One could think this is a case of where history meets kitsch. I wonder what Davy Crockett would think about that?

Another maze is in Frankenmuth, Michigan.

If you do decide to go, print off the coupon on a particular Maze’s Website. You get $1 off per person. With a family of four, that’s a gallon of gas.