Detroit's Motown Winter Blast - My Family Travels

Detroit, host of the NFL Super Bowl XL in 2006, produces a winter weekend-long festival that offers plenty of chill for families.

Detroit was so excited about landing the NFL Super Bowl XL on February 5, 2006 that the city has started to party a year early – throwing the first annual Motown Winter Blast, a weekend festival chockfull of activities. If the 2005 event is any indication, then football fans converging on the Motor City next year are in for a really fun time over Super Bowl weekend. The Blast gives you one more reason to come to Detroit in the winter, in addition to the famed North American International Auto Show, held annually in January.

The Motown Winter Blast takes place in the center of Detroit’s downtown at Campus Martius Park. Best of all, the event is free and offers entertainment zones such as the Ford Motor Company Family Fun Zone which includes Model T rides, ice skating and professional skating demonstrations. Additionally, The General Motors Snow and Ice Spectacular features snow sculptors from around the world including, believe it or not, the hot climate countries of Mexico and Morocco.

On our 2005 visit, the Motown Winter Blast was hit with a blizzard and very cold temperatures. While it didn’t deter too many people from attending, those that did warmed up in heated tents that housed The Chrysler Jeep Dodge Taste of Detroit. In these exhibition tents was an array of Detroit’s finest cuisine served by 20 restaurants. Also 55 musical acts appeared on three stages such as the Metro Times Rock Stage, the Chrysler R&B/Jazz Stage and the Fifth Third Bank Stage hosting some of Detroit’s hip hop musicians. We found the retail area of Compuware Headquarters, the anchor tenant of Campus Martius, another great place to warm up.

The “Winter Experience” hosted by the state tourism office is located next to Campus Martius Park, and offers snow shoeing and a dog sledding exhibition, a snow maze for kids smaller than 5-feet and a 200-foot slide. The slide is pretty steep, with a number of steps leading up. We think the slide may not be suitable for really small kids or children not accustomed to heights, but it was popular with the young ones. Also in the park was a Marshmallow Pit, although after the first day, they ran out of marshmallows and the pit was nowhere to be seen the next morning! Other events included watching the Detroit Sports Bowl – a sports skills competition between local companies and non-profits held at the Detroit Lion’s own Ford Field nearby.

If you can arrange for a babysitter, parents might want to check out the Winter Blast Bounce, which involves admission to a number of area nightclubs for just one entry fee of $10. In addition there are a couple of ticketed concerts offered at The Music Hall with big name acts planned for Super Bowl year.

The Motown Winter Blast is very much an arts festival, too. Tour d’Art has 13 of Detroit’s cultural institutions opening its doors at no cost. There is a complimentary shuttle that will take you to buildings such as The New Detroit Science Centre, Detroit Historical Museum, Detroit Artists Market, Detroit Public Library and the very impressive Charles H. Wright Museum of African American History. Not to be missed in the Core Exhibition Gallery is – And Still We Rise – a poignant journey through African American history and culture. There were special family activities offered at the Museum during Motown Winter Blast including jewelry making and a talk on flags from around the world.

Food and Accommodations

After a day at the Motown Winter Blast you and your older children may want to check out a few of the more upscale restaurants in downtown Detroit. We especially enjoyed Seldom Blues in the GM Renaissance Center, Small Plates, Century Grille in the Historic Gem & Century Theatre and dining at The Whitney, an ornate mansion built in 1894 by lumber baron David Whitney, Jr. for his second wife. The Whitney is known for its exquisite Sunday brunch.

Not part of the winter festival, but worth seeing is the Motown Historical Museum – Hitsville USA, where Berry Gordy, Jr. started his record company with an $800 loan from his family. The tour includes a visit to The Echo Chamber where that special Motown reverb sound comes from. It was long before the age of synthesizers, so this sound was created with a hole cut in the ceiling. Kids and parents alike might want to try to capture the Motown vocal stylings of singers Marvin Gaye or Smokey Robinson by singing up into the hole. Your children may get a kick by the sight of the big, funny looking CDs on the wall, what we older folks know as vinyl record albums!

The authors (not the sled dog) stayed in the new Hilton Garden Inn Detroit Downtown. The hotel was clean and just a few blocks away from the Motown Winter Blast festivities at Campus Martius Park. The tastefully decorated rooms and suites have a small fridge, microwave and coffee machines. The staff is a little green – during our two-day visit not once did we get the wake up call we requested.

If you are planning to attend Super Bowl XL or the Motown Winter Blast, we would suggest booking a hotel room early in either Detroit or across the Detroit River in Windsor, Ontario, because rooms will be harder to come by, closer to kick off time.

For more information contact the Detroit Metro Convention & Visitors Bureau online.

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