Detroit Zoo/Henry Ford/Greater Detroit- NYE 2018

As a west-sider in the state of Michigan, I must admit I think our side of the state is pretty great. We have Lake Michigan beaches, Grand Rapids, beautiful countryside, and award-winning beer (might be my favorite part). But every time I travel over to the metro Detroit area, I’m always reminded there is a whole other part of Michigan waiting for me to explore. This trip was no exception.

Last year, my wife and I took a “babymoon” to Chicago for a long weekend at the start of the new year. We enjoyed being gone over a part of Christmas break and didn’t miss out too much on the shenanigans of New Years Eve. This year, we decided to make it somewhat of an annual tradition and went to the metro Detroit area with our daughter Alaina, who was 8 months old at the time.

The main reason for this trip was to visit the Detroit Zoo for the Wild Lights event they host each winter. I’ll talk more about that event later on. During this same time period, there was a Pixar animation exhibit at the Henry Ford museum. Considering I had never visited the Henry Ford and really wanted to see this limited time exhibit, I decided we would add that to our trip as well. Finally, I looked at going to the Detroit Red Wings game on New Years Eve and checking out the new Little Caesars Arena. But tickets were too much money so I figured I’d save that dream for another time.

For this trip, we stayed at the Staybridge Suites in Novi. Grace and I love this hotel and this has been our second time staying here. Both stays were good, but I think I enjoyed staying here in the summer more. One reason has to do with the outdoor area this hotel has for sitting and relaxing. Plus, it would be a good area to eat breakfast at if the weather cooperates. The other reason is I feel like the pool was warmer in the summer, even thought it is indoor. Poor Alaina cried her eyes out when we put her in the pool. I think she thought it was too cold. Also, there is a major shortcut via outdoors to the pool in the summer; in the winter, you have to stay inside the entire time. This hotel does have a hot tub though so that is always a bonus with me. We did have one weird thing though with the pool at this hotel. When we checked in, they told me the pool might be closing down for 24 hours, but gave no further explanation. But when we would check back, it looked like the pool was running just fine. I’d be lying though if I told you I didn’t think about what I was swimming in though during this trip. In the back of my mind, I was always wondering if the pool should actually be closed. But this indoor pool and hot tub area should work great for any family. It’s your standard hotel pool area.

With the exception of the pool comment, check-in went smoothly at Staybridge. I’m now in the habit of signing up for the rewards program when booking, because you usually get a cheaper room rate. But another perk I’ve learned is that hotels usually will allow you to check-in early and this time was no exception. In addition to having our room ready for us early, we actually were given an upgrade on our room to a two-bedroom suite at no extra cost. So our suite actually contained one king bed in one bedroom and two queens in another. We loved it because it meant we could put Alaina in her own room in a crib. The two of us would joke that Alaina had her own bathroom and two queen beds. Probably the best room arrangement she will ever have on a trip.

I will finish up here with a few more things about the room and hotel. The living room area was very comfortable: one couch and a tv if I remember right. The kitchen area was stocked with what would be needed to cook small meals in the room. Large refrigerator, microwave, and stove top were also helpful with cooking up leftovers and snacks. One thing I appreciated about Staybridge was the magazines regarding the Detroit area that was in the room. It was really informative and gave some good ideas for future things I would like to check out in the greater Detroit area. Staybridge Suites also offers a social hour with small meals on certain nights of the week. Unfortunately these were not taking place during the time we stayed. We did however get a free continental breakfast, which we consider one of the biggest bonuses of this hotel. The breakfast includes some sort of egg dish, potatoes, or sausage/bacon each morning. At least that has been my experience here so far. They also provide other standard breakfast fare such as breads, oatmeal, cereal, fruits and yogurt.

One of the first things we did when we arrived on Sunday, New Years Eve, in Detroit was go to Twelve Oaks Mall, which is just a few miles away from our hotel. Our reason for stopping here first was not to shop but rather to eat at The Cheesecake Factory. I know some people hate on it, but Grace and I LOVE The Cheesecake Factory. On this visit, I found one of my new favorite restaurant dishes: Tuffle Honey Chicken. My mouth is still watering thinking about this dish! It is fried chicken on top of mashed potatoes and asparagus, which a truffle honey glaze poured on top. Grace tried some too and loved it so much, that we went back to The Cheesecake Factory on Tuesday before heading home and split this meal. Our waitress on Sunday was great and even brought us a plate of cut up banana and bread for Alaina. She thought she was a hot shot with her own meal, but didn’t really care for the banana. And we finished our meals both trips with cheesecake, my favorite being the Celebration Cheesecake, a combination of vanilla cake, cheesecake, and mousse!

Before we could head to check-in at the hotel, we needed to make one more stop in the mall and visited Garrett’s Popcorn. If you’ve been to Chicago, you know Garrett’s Popcorn and their Chicago Style mix. It’s a great mix for relaxing in the hotel. Just don’t eat too much at one time or you’ll end up feeling like you have a rock in your stomach. But it is so good and Garrett’s is a must-stop for us every time we go pass Twelve Oaks Mall or to Chicago.

Sunday night (New Years Eve) we went to Wild Lights at the Detroit Zoo. This was one of the main purposes for our trip and it did not disappoint! Wild Lights run on weekends and select weeknights from mid-November to New Years Eve and prices vary based on date. If I remember right, our tickets were around $15 each and $7 for parking. The Detroit Zoo is one giant loop with exhibits surrounding it. Most of the animal exhibits during this event were closed, which makes sense with how cold and dark it gets. But there are a few that are open. My favorite were the River Otters because they tend to have a personality. The beaver and reptile exhibits were also open. The night we went to Wild Lights it was freezing, and I mean freezing. Wind chills had to have been in the single digits or negative. Little Alaina was bundled up and was a trooper during the event, but we were worried about how she was handling the cold. Fortunately, these animal exhibits provided an escape from the cold. The reptile exhibit was quite large but it smelled really bad, so I wouldn’t say it was a nice escape :). There was also an indoor concession area we stopped in to warm up, feed Alaina, and I got Starbucks at.

Now for the main attraction- the LIGHTS!!! Wild Lights contains 5 million LED lights all  on displays around the zoo. Some of the lights were on buildings. Others were in the trees, and many were on cut-out displays of animals. Everywhere you looked you could see Christmas lights. Words do not do this justice so you will need to rely on my pictures. The best word Grace and I could come up with to describe our experience here was magical…I had never experienced something like this before. I would highly recommend this event to people. If it was warmer, I would have liked to have strolled more and even gone around the loop twice. But this is definitely an event we would like to do again. Grace and I have even talked about going back to the Detroit Zoo sometimes in the summer and experience more of the animal side of it.