Dispatch from Detroit: Just Say No to Staycations

I make no secret of the fact that I do not like staycations. While I understand the reasons why people opt for these stay-at-home “vacations” (avoiding the stress of packing up and hitting the road, money concerns related to our current economy, et cetera), I remain a strong advocate of the old travel adage: change your attitude, change your latitude. And I’ve found that you really don’t have to change your latitude very much in order to feel like you’ve been away somewhere, enjoyed a different scene, and to come back to your old place and routines refreshed. Even a destination just a few hours away can serve this purpose.

Take Detroit, an easy half-day drive (or less) from most of Southern Ontario. The city, in part because of its current economic troubles, is a great value right now. Four star hotels, for example, are offering rooms for a fraction of the price charged in other major cities, some of them (such as the Ritz Carlton in Dearborn, which has weekend rate rooms for just $139) located right next door to one of the city’s major malls—the perfect excuse to leave the kids with Dad and the indoor pool while you stroll over to (in the case of the Ritz) H&M and Macy’s.

A busy day at Hitsville USA.

But if you’re looking for more than shopping and swimming, Detroit can definitely keep your family busy. Try your hand at Bocce, a family-friendly (and surprisingly fun) Italian sport at one of the world’s finest facilities, Palazzo di Bocce—then grab lunch at their excellent trattoria, where the kids’ menu steers clear of hot dogs and instead offers scaled-down plates of the sumptuous fare on offer to adults. Go behind the scenes at an auto plant at Ford’s Rouge Factory Tour, which utilizes films, hands-on exhibits and an elevated walkway over the assembly line to show visitors how trucks are made. And catch a game at Comerica Park, home of the Detroit Tigers and a stadium built with families in mind. Parents and kids routinely arrive hours before the game to ride the carousel or the Ferris wheel inside, and both $5 seats and $5 adults’ and kids’ value meals (hot dog, drink, chips, toy) are available in unlimited quantities at every game.

And no visit to Detroit is complete without a stop at Hitsville USA, the former headquarters of Berry Gordy’s legendary Motown “empire on West Grand Boulevard.” An excellent documentary film—filled with great music—provides a family-friendly primer to the label and the sound. Then a series of passionate young guides take you through the house and the story of Motown, from its inception with an $800 loan, to its struggles with racism on tour and within the industry, to its dominance of the airwaves with the sounds of Smokey Robinson, Marvin Gaye, the Temptations, Stevie Wonder and so many others. The final stanza of the tour takes place in the actual Studio A, where guides hand-pick kids to lead the group in the chorus and dance moves of classics like the Supremes’ Stop in the Name of Love and the Temptations’ My Girl.

— Tim Johnson, CF‘s contributing editor

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