Let me preface this review by saying that these are my opinions, and my experiences at the Cartier Mansion.
If you’re looking for a nice bed and breakfast, look no further. This place is comfortable and clean and has amazing food. The proprietor’s son, Drew, is a fantastic chef and the historic mansion is a lovely place to stay.
If you’re a pending bride, about to trust your special day to someone, read on:
I cannot even BEGIN to express how much additional stress having our wedding here caused me. I thought it would be stressful to plan an out-of-state wedding and having someone to do some organizing seemed like it would alleviate some of that stress. Not the case.
We visited the Cartier Mansion in January of 2010 to tour the facility and speak with the owners, Sue Ann and Gary Schnitker. I had done some research on the wedding industry in general and knew the importance of having a detailed and very specific contract. The fees that were due up front to secure our date included renting the mansion and garden for the day, renting a tent to be set up in the parking lot for the reception and also paying a wedding fee. Upon paying for these things our date was secured and if we canceled up until 2 weeks prior to the date we would lose $1000 of the total.
We also discussed prices for things that would be totaled once we had a final guest count. We established a price per guest for dinner, prices per drink, prices for the renting of tables, chairs and linens. I expressed an interest in arranging my own baker for my cake (I wanted cupcakes) but was dissuaded from doing so by Sue Ann when she guaranteed a specific price through a bakery she had a relationship with. This too, was put in writing in our original contract. Centerpiece flowers were included in the wedding fee, and we agreed that I would pay an extra fee for a few more hydrangea stems to make my own bouquets. I also expressed concern about rain or cold temperatures. Would our guests be comfortable under a tent? I was told that the tents come with removable sides (and was never told there was an additional charge for this or that they had to be ordered separately).
After hammering out a very detailed and specific contract with them 8 months prior to the wedding we were confident that the remainder of our budget would be going toward food and alcohol.
We made one more trip to Ludington to obtain our marriage license 3 weeks prior to our September wedding. We met with Sue Ann again and discussed the final guest count, and some details of our beach ceremony. There was no mention of any extra charges during this face-to-face meeting. Sue Ann told us she would email me the final invoice. We were expecting the only changes to be the price for food based on our final guest count. Alcohol prices would be determined at the end of the reception. To our surprise the updated invoice that was sent a few days later included a $200 increase on the tent, a $75 charge to plug our ipods into their PA system, and the price of our cupcakes had nearly doubled. When I responded in an email questioning some of these charges I received a curt email back from Sue Ann that ended with her saying she ‘no longer wished to be responsible’ for obtaining the flowers for my bouquets as planned. This not only sent me scrambling to find a florist with only a little over 2 weeks till the wedding but also significantly shook my confidence in the professionalism of the Mansion. We felt on the hook to pay these additional and inflated charges (due 2 weeks prior to the event) fearing if we didn’t our wedding would be further compromised.
We selected a location for the ceremony on the beach along Lake Michigan (a few miles from the Cartier Mansion). It meant a lot to us to have our ceremony on the beach because that is where the two of us first met 14 years prior. Due to the high winds the day before we had to rehearse our ceremony inside the mansion. On morning of our wedding day it was also a bit windy and cool, but because it was so important to us to have our ceremony on the beach we all agreed to make the call on the weather closer to the actual time of the ceremony (4pm). In the 4 hours leading up to our wedding we couldn’t find or get hold of anyone working at or for the Cartier Mansion. My fiancé and I tried the main number and also Gary and Sue Ann’s cell phones and could not reach anyone. The weather was reasonable and we wanted to have our ceremony on the beach as planned. After failed attempts to reach Sue Ann and Gary, I finally reached their son Drew, who made sure I’d have chairs on the beach in place for my ceremony as originally planned. Amidst all of this chaos I had to clean up my room and make my own bed before the photographer arrived because, after leaving a message to have our room cleaned before the his 3pm arrival, no one responded.
I didn’t know what to expect when I finally arrived with my father at the ceremony site. I had no idea if everyone would simply be standing around, or if the need for chairs had been successfully communicated. Luckily we have a tight group of friends and my fiancé had managed to let everyone know to come to the beach. I later found out that some people had called the mansion and were told that our wedding would not be on the beach. The general lack of communication was flagrant.
In the end it was a blessing in disguise that the weather was cool, and Sue Ann had been unable to rent sides for the tent at the last minute. We were lucky to be able to have our reception in the lovely carriage house, a building behind the mansion that, I believe was built the same time as the Mansion. It has a beautiful interior, nice windows and a floor made for dancing but is not an option in warmer weather due to a lack of air conditioning. The tent we paid $400 to rent was nothing but a fabric roof on poles, pitched above an uneven cement driveway. Not much of a place to dance or have a fun reception. Having the reception in the carriage house was also nice because otherwise we would have been spending all that money to rent the mansion only to have the majority of our reception in its parking lot.
More questionable practices ensued when Sue Ann and Gary acted as bartenders during our reception and had the nerve to set out a tip jar for our guests knowing full well that they would be charging us an 18% gratuity on the alcohol sales at the end of the evening.
The icing on the cake (pardon the pun) was Sue Ann literally screaming at us in front my husband’s family the next day when we quietly asked to be refunded the extra fees for the tent, cupcakes and sound system. Gary also added that we were never charged for the beach chairs when having chairs at the beach was spelled out in our rental agreement and we had been charged to rent 67 chairs that were, apparently, only for the reception. I was told that I am the ‘most difficult, nit-pickiest bride she’s ever dealt with in 30 weddings’. I find that hard to believe when I was only expecting the good business practice of honoring a contract. The mere fact that someone working in the hospitality industry would scream in my face in front of my family left me reeling. In the end, Sue Ann wrote us a check for the amount in dispute, and then berated us further for being in her house past 'check out', even though we had to wait for her to show up to even discuss our final bill.
The sad thing is that after being paid over $10,000.00 by us (rehearsal dinner, wedding and rental of all 6 rooms for 2 nights) an argument over a few hundred dollars left us with a horrible impression of the Cartier Mansion. We make trips to Ludington every year, and would probably have made an anniversary stay at the Cartier mansion a part of our itinerary had we been treated differently.
- Official Description (provided by the hotel):
- Experience the historic elegance of Cartier Mansion. Built in 1905 this neoclassical mansion is furnished with exquisite woodwork and antiques. Walk to Lake Michigan beaches, restaurants, shops, marinas, and car-ferry. Spacious common areas, wireless internet, 300 plus thread count sheets, down comforters and chocolates make your stay a memorable experience. Cartier Mansion is only minutes away from the picturesque Lake Michigan shoreline, beaches, and some of Michigan's most beautiful State and Local parks. ... more less
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