I want to start off by saying that we were all really excited for The Cider Rider Tour and we did have some fun despite the downfalls. Cider Rider is a bus tour from Chicago to 4 different cideries in Michigan. So let’s start from the beginning. First off, Cider Rider did get a rough start with falling on Chicago’s first snowfall and coldest day of the year, so that was kind of a bummer. We met for the tour at 6:30 am and the bus took off at 7. We needed 6 seats together so we went to the back of the bus to get 3 sets of seats. Kara, Christina, Cassie and Marrisa sat in the back row, while Don and I got two seats in the row in front of them. These back four seats were different from the rest of the seats in the bus because they could be removed or folded up to make more space. They lacked adequate support for two people to be sitting in them so they leaned towards the aisle of the bus. I was sitting on the side closest to the aisle and it felt like I was slanting the whole time. Really uncomfortable, almost as uncomfortable as that time we were jammed into a van for 8 hours in St. Lucia….but that’s a different story.
One of the guides started to give an introduction but none of us caught her name. There were two other guides also, never found out their names either. They did not give off a good first impression of guides but I gave them the benefit of the doubt since it was early. We were all given three tickets to get cider at any time on the bus. I was excited because when I was getting on the bus I saw Blackthorn, my favorite cider. We were told the ride to the first cidery would be about 2-2 ½ hours. So around 7:30 am we all cracked open our first cider. There was a door at the back of the bus that no one really knew what it was. There was supposed to be a bathroom on the bus so soon people started coming to the back of the bus and trying to see if it was a bathroom. Of course, it was not, it was just a door to the outside. We were a bit thankful it was a not a bathroom because then people would be coming back by us the whole ride and it would probably get smelly and gross. It would have been nice if the guides would have informed the bus that there was no bathroom because in the description of the tour it was said there would be a bathroom. One of the guides said that this wasn’t the bus they originally wanted to use and if we needed to we would make a stop before the first cidery.
We did make a stop at a rest stop and were told it was about an hour to the cidery after the stop, so all of us girls decided not to use the bathroom. None of us had to go and this would later prove to be a huge mistake. The guide’s time estimate could not be trusted. Of course it was snowy and that was not the driver’s fault but after someone looked at their GPS it was clear it was not just an hour to the next cidery it was about 2. So at about the hour mark we all started to get very uncomfortable from the cider intake and lack of bathroom. Cassie had brought a card game called Exploding Kittens and we decided to play it to take our minds off of our bladders. It helped a bit. Then the guide came by to say 40 minutes but it was clear to all of us it was more than 40. The ride was excruciating. I don’t think I’ve ever felt so much pain from having to pee. Once the bus stopped we were all heading towards the bathroom. People were in visible pain, most of the guys decided to go outside, thankfully this cut the line down. Waiting in line was terrible and we were all saying how we could not drink cider on the bus without a bathroom.
Once we all relieved ourselves we decided to check out Virtue Cider. It was about 11:30 am and here we were going to have our lunch that was included in the tour. The lunch was a sandwich with a slice of prosciutto, soft cheese, and lettuce. There were also chips and glasses of cider. I knew this lunch would not keep me full for long. After lunch we went on a tour of the cidery. This place didn’t really have a tasting I guess because they gave us a full glass with our lunch. You could ask to try other ciders but it was very crowded and not really worth it. We all made sure we used the bathroom again before we got back on the bus. There was also a cat in the cidery that we all petted a few times before getting back on the bus. Once we got back on the bus we were all refreshed and bladders empty.
The ride to the next cidery was short but still long enough that they offered cider. I couldn’t even think of drinking more considering all the pain I was in before. It was too fresh. So our next stop was Robinette’s Cider Mill. Here we split into 2 groups so half of us could do the tour and half could do a tasting. We did the tour first and it was pretty interesting to see how the apples were pressed. We also learned a bit. Then we went to the bakery and got donuts. I ate a donut so fast because I was pretty hungry. Then we went over to have a tasting. It seemed Robinette’s was more like a winery than a cidery. I didn’t love any of the tastings I tried. It was also hard to enjoy because the guide kept saying we were leaving soon. It was about 1:40 and we were off schedule. The bartender who did the tasting with us did not seem very friendly but I’m sure having a whole busload of people doing a tasting was not a fun thing for her also. Don wanted to a buy a couple of bottles here so we did then we got back on the bus and around 2 we left.
The ride to Sietsema Cider Mill was not long. We got there and it was about 2:30. Sietsema was my favorite cidery of the day. The set up here was the best out of any of them and the tour guide was funny. Here we got to try 5 ciders and one of them was pretty good so I got some cans of it. I think we had the most fun at this place and the ciders were good. Also the best atmosphere. I would definitely want to make a trip back here in the summer.
We got back on the bus around 3:30 and were told it was about an hour to our next and last stop. By this time the fun we had at the last 3 places had clouded my judgement on how off the guide was about time. It also made me forget how much pain my bladder was in earlier…so we all proceeded to drink a cider. Needless to say my bladder was in a lot of pain before we reached our final stop on the tour, Uncle John’s Cider Mill. It was awful. The weather was getting worse with the snow and the drive there was taking forever. I sprinted to the bathroom immediately when the bus stopped. Luckily, there were multiple bathrooms here.
We started out with a quick tour of Uncle John’s. They gave us a hot cider on the tour. The tour was pretty good. Then we went on to our tasting. We were one of the last few people to reach the bar so we were not able to start our tasting. It was a little disappointing to see one of the tour guides taking a tasting and taking her time and space at the bar. There were about 6 of us waiting and we were starting to think we wouldn’t have a chance to get a tasting here. Finally, we did. The ciders we tried were pretty good and they had a huge variety. The amount of people trying to do a tasting at once did not make this very fun. Once we were finished we went to the bathroom again; the fear of no bathroom was a real thing. Then we went outside and got on the bus for the long ride home back to Chicago. The weather was getting worse and there was a lot more snow.
The ride back to Chicago on the bus was terrible. The snow was only allowing the bus driver to go about 45 mph for about 2-3 hours. We were continually offered more cider but none of us were brave enough to drink it because who knew when we would be able to stop. We did take ciders though and we brought them home. The next problem on the bus was the temperature. The heater was located on the ceiling of the bus right in front of our row. So this meant that we pretty much got no heat. For some reason when the bus was in park we could feel the heat but once we started going there was none and sometimes the air blowing out felt cold. I mentioned this to the tour guides at both of our rest stops but nothing seemed to be done about it. It almost seemed like no one cared about us in the back of the bus. The 2 back rows of people were absolutely freezing. We all had our coats, gloves, and hats on and it still wasn’t enough. I don’t know what’s worse freezing on this bus ride or the time we were sweating like crazy for 6 hours on a bus ride in the Philippines…let’s just say maybe we are target for bad bus rides. Our feet were so cold I thought for sure I was getting frostbite. They were numb and painful. At one of the rest stops Don had taken a roll of toilet paper to use for tissue because our noses were so runny. I later used some of this toilet paper to wrap my toes in to try to get some extra layer and heat. It seemed to help a bit. We were also starving because we hadn’t had a meal since 11:30 am. We had some snacks on the bus and we had ate some but we all wanted a meal. To make things worse, the door at the back of bus kept getting jostled opened so a huge spotlight would come on. At first none of us knew what to do and no one at the front seemed to notice for a long time that there was giant light on at the back of the bus. Finally, one of the guides came back and pulled a thing on the door to make it go off. For the rest of the ride home every time the bus hit a bump this light would come on and one of us would have to stand up and pull the rod coming off the door. This was the last hour and half of the ride home.
The bus finally got back to Chicago around 11:30 pm. We were scheduled to be back at 8 but the snow and other factors caused us to be late. The ride home was about 5-6 hours. It was absolutely terrible. Luckily, Cassie’s husband was able to pick us up. We were all tired, cold, hungry, extremely sober, and pretty grouchy. Don and I ended up ordering a pizza when we got home because we were so hungry.
For the Cider Rider to be successful they have a lot of work to do. First, get a better bus. The people in the back 2 rows should be able to have full seats that do not bend towards the aisle. They should also have heat like the rest of the bus. There also needs to be a bathroom. What kind of drinking tour has no access to a bathroom the majority of the time? A torturous one. People were in pain and no one wanted to drink! Maybe don’t visit all of the cideries. Cut it down to three maybe. I would suggest cutting either Virtue or Robinette. Even without the weather’s cooperation it would be hard to complete all four of these cideries, not be rushed, and be back to Chicago by 8 pm. A smaller tour would also be beneficial. We were all rushed the entire time and it was crowded everywhere. The tour should also provide a more substantial lunch; people are drinking beer they want to eat also. I wish the Cider Rider luck in the future because I really think it could be a very fun event.
It may seem extreme to say but I kind of feel my husband and I were traumatized a bit by the Cider Rider. We were hungry, cold, and having to pee for the majority of the trip. It’s been 2 months since the tour and whenever I have to pee I still remember what the Cider Rider made me feel.