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IceFest 2017IceFest 2017IMG 1476 low resWith a reputation for being "Michigan's Most Romantic City," a title the Detroit Free Press fittingly gave to St. Joseph, this area creates a lot of magical moments for couples in February. Guest blogger, Katie White, recently posted "Eight Ways to Say 'I Love You' in Southwest Michigan" that you can enjoy with your sweetie. Another idea — try lighted night cross-country skiing at Madeline Bertrand Park on Fridays and Saturdays until 9:30 p.m. (weather permitting). Or take a Chocolate & Wine Tour combined with an overnight or two at our lodgings (package suggestions below). Besides being magical for couples, this is also a fun month to share with your kids or grandkids. We're great at adding sparkle to winter breaks. Check out our events, attractions and family-friendly museums for idea starters. You'll love February in Southwest Michigan!

 

Four dates you'll both love

icefestFeb. 2-4: Magical Ice Fest. Downtown St. Joseph. Make date plans to watch ice carving competitions, Friday: 5:30-7:30 p.m. and Saturday: 8 a.m.-4 p.m.; the Fire and Ice Tower Display, Friday: 7:30 p.m. and then add a Hawaiian twist to your weekend at the Fire and Ice Party, Friday: 8 p.m.-midnight for those 18 years and up. On Saturday, you'll want to see the Frozen Fish Toss and ICE Wars (a wild-and-crazy carving competition). Or make it a magical family date and bring the kids to watch the carvers and a magician perform, pose for selfies on the Magical Ice Throne and warm up at Waikiki Weekend hosted by the Silver Beach Carousel (this tropical fun starts with "Aloha Moana! on Feb. 1, 4-8:30 p.m.)

Feb. 3: Ice Time Festival. Dowagiac. Watch 10,000 lbs. of ice become works of art. See timber and wood carvers in action, eat s'mores by a community bonfire, participate in an ice cream eating contest and daddies, take your daughters to a Snowball. This list of activities is the tip of the iceberg of the fun you can have between 8 a.m.-8:30 p.m.

IMG 8174Feb. 14: Valentine Dinner. You'll find menus to delight your tastes and budgets at restaurants in and around St. Joseph. A popular date destination is The Garden Grille & Bar at Hilton Garden Inn, Benton Harbor, where the chef prepares a special Valentine menu. 

Feb. 16: Vitaly: An Evening of Wonders. The Mendel Center, Lake Michigan College, Benton Harbor. You'll be amazed by this illusionist's astonishing ability to do the seemingly impossible. Make this date night extra special by adding tickets to the VIP experience and see Vitaly up close, enjoy a pre-show reception plus intermission appetizers and beverages. For a sneak peek of this unforgettable show, watch this video.

 

10 romantic getaway packages

Feb. 2-4, Magical Ice Fest Packages: The Inn at Harbor Shores and The Boulevard Inn are offering romantic getaways for couples. Both hotels are minutes from all the sparkly fun.

Feb. 7-28, Art of Romance at The Inn at Harbor Shores. Spend an overnight or more in a harbor view guest room, enjoy a couples' massage (20% discount included), and celebrate your love with sparkling wine, roses, macarons and breakfast for two at the on-site Plank's Tavern.

Throughout February

A Wine, Dine and Romance Package at Comfort Suites in Stevensville-St. Joseph. Wine, roses, dinner for two at nearby Tabor Hill Winery & Restaurant and a choice of suites (one with a fireplace and Jacuzzi).

Taste of Michigan Package at The Boulevard Inn in St. Joseph. A spacious suite within walking distance of downtown, parks and beaches, plentiful basket of "Michigan made" treats, in-suite bottle of wine (four choices), dinner credit at in-house Bistro and more will await the two of you.

AX9A0439Romance on the Boulevard Package is also available at The Boulevard Inn. There will be a bottle of chilled champagne, two keepsake champagne flutes, roses and premium treats waiting for you in your beautiful suite. Wake up to a Bistro breakfast and enjoy the late check-out time of 2 p.m.

Dine and Unwind Package at the Hilton Garden Inn – Benton Harbor/St. Joseph. Unwind from a full day of fun in Southwest Michigan in a quiet room complemented by a $25 food/beverage credit you can use toward your cooked-to-order breakfasts, dinners on site, room service or conversation over drinks in the bar.

Romance Package at the Hilton Garden Inn. When was the last time the two of you got away? No work. No kids. No worries. Enjoy an in-room bottle of sparkling wine or cider, relaxing pool and whirlpool, fitness center and delicious dinner and breakfast choices at the on-site restaurant.

Bed N' Breakfast also at the Hilton Garden Inn. Great room for up to two adults and two children, cooked-to-order breakfast and an indoor pool and whirlpool to delight all ages.

IMG 3859Michigan Beercation at The Inn at Harbor Shores invites you to enhance your overnight together with a six-pack of assorted Michigan beer, two flights at nearby North Pier Brewing Company and a delicious house trail mix.

Rise & Dine also at The Inn at Harbor Shores lets you wake up to a delicious breakfast, bottle of sparkling wine and a side of orange juice. You'll be energized for cross-country skiing or snowshoeing on nearby trails, taking in the art and exhibits at nearby galleries and museums or enjoying a wine, beer or spirits tour.

 

Amazing ice and sand art

In February, professional ice carvers aren't the only artists that amaze us in Southwest Michigan. Nature does her magic this month, too! Here are some facts, tips and important cautions about ice and sand formations along our coast:

What types of ice formations can you see?

Ice formations depend greatly on the progression of the temperatures in late fall and throughout the winter. In Southwest Michigan, it is not unusual to have several thaws and freezes which impact how Nature decorates our shoreline, piers and lighthouses.

Ice balls are usually the first formation you'll see. They start small, roll around in the open water, pick up sand and grow larger as the water and air temperatures drop.

Pancake ice is a circular disk. They form when waves break up the ice sheets, swirling them around and rounding their edges. Their diameters can range from one foot to 10 feet.

An ice shelf is a floating platform of frozen water that forms along the coastline. Even though the ice looks solid, it is not and there are often gaps or weak spots that can cause it to break apart.

Ice mountains form as the ice shelf gets larger and the waves toss water and sand in mounting piles along the shore.

Ice volcanoes are hardened, hollow cones of ice and snow that form on the coast. They look like ordinary hills of ice, until the waves swell underneath it and erupt through the cone in a "lava" spray of ice and water.

Ice caverns or tubes are rarer occurrences and often can only be seen by kayak. To form them requires bone-chilling cold temperatures, strong winds and waves to push the piles of ice higher and higher. The waves then carve out crevices or tunnels and the freezing spray turns into beautiful icicle- or stalactite-like formations.

Ice ribbons form on the lighthouses, piers and catwalk. These are rare occurrences but a photographer’s dream when they do happen. Conditions must be just right. The water near the piers and lighthouses must be thawed, temperatures must dip into the teens or single digits and high winds from the northwest or southwest must occur for two to three days in a row. These winds will send large waves crashing and spraying up onto the lighthouses, piers and catwalk to create the frozen, magical, frosting-like scene.

What are sand hoodoos?

DSC 8963 sandThese mini-sculptures are created when frozen, water-saturated beach sand thaws and then is whipped up by high winds (think 40-50 mph) on a day when temperatures plummet to single digits. Not an everyday occurrence but stunning when it does happen. While hoodoos appear spherical, they are not rounded on all sides. The wind side is usually flat or more pointed, so keep that in mind when taking photographs of them.

Where are Nature's art "galleries?"

Mountains of ice can be seen all along Lake Michigan's shoreline in Southwest Michigan beginning as early as November. Rare sand hoodoos are more likely to be spotted on wider expanses of sand such as Silver Beach County Park and Tiscornia Park in St. Joseph or Jean Klock Park in Benton Harbor. Those three parks are also good for viewing ice balls, ice pancakes, ice volcanoes and caverns as well as ice ribbons on the lighthouse, piers and catwalk. Other favorite places to see frost and ice creations on shoreline vegetation, driftwood, etc. are Lions Park in St. Joseph and Warren Dunes State Park in Sawyer. Please share your photos on Facebook or Instagram, #swmichigan.

What cautions must you take?

Stay on shore. Ice formations are breathtakingly beautiful but deadly dangerous. The ice shelves are floating, unstable sheets of frozen water that can easily break and leave you stranded away from shore. Snow often covers the sheets' fissures, cracks and holes that you can suddenly fall through into feet-deep, frigid water. It's also easy for you to be pulled underneath the sheets where you can't be spotted and it's difficult to resurface.

As enticing as it is to go on the piers and out to the lighthouses, stay off them, too. The surface ice on the piers is often crowned or rounded and it's always very slippery. It's difficult to keep your balance, especially on windy days. There's always the danger of sliding over the edge (there's nothing to grab onto) into icy water or onto unstable ice sheets. While we have excellent rescue crews available, it is very difficult to reach you quickly if you are in trouble on the ice or in the water.

Dress warmly from head to toe when walking on the shore or in the dunes. The wind chill temperatures by the Big Lake are colder than in town. The sand on our beaches is also icy, so wear cleats or crampons. Ski poles are helpful, too, for keeping your balance.