Guided Bus Tour with Great Life Tours

Great Life Tours

Eager to start our day full of exploring, we stepped outside the hotel and let the fresh Northern Indiana air wake us up. Our step-on tour guide, Vickie Estep from Great Life Tours, welcomed us aboard the bus, excited about what she had in store for us. With over 10 years of experience, she could tell we needed some coffee and donuts to get our day started right.

Rise ‘N Roll Bakery

Rise N Roll Bakery

What better way to start the day than being greeted with fresh donuts and coffee? These aren’t just any donuts though, they’re the infamous cinnamon caramel ones from Rise ‘N Roll Bakery. As the bus unloaded, everyone lined up waiting patiently for their serving, which gave a good taste before drooling over everything in the bakery. In no time the group was split up sampling everything from jams, salsas, cheese ball, and of course their baked goods. Not that we would be hungry by the end of the day, but many people walked out with boxes of goodies for mid-ride snacks.

Rise N Roll Bakery

Since we were on one of Vickie’s Grab Bag Tours, we left each stop with a treat. Rise ‘N Roll generously handed out a big bag of their Cashew Crunch, which melts in your mouth.

Heritage Ridge Creamery

Heritage Ridge Creamery

We arrived at our next stop in time to observe the daily cheese making. Heritage Ridge Creamery is a facility that makes their cheese in-house. Plus, if you get there before noon, you can watch it being made through observation windows. Well, that is if you can make it past all the samples first. From pepper jack, dill, muenster, garlic, you name it, our group tried it. Although with so many choices, it’s difficult to decide which kinds to take back home.

Heritage Ridge Creamery

Lucky for us, we didn’t have to make that decision. Each visitor was filled with excitement when they saw the size of colby-jack cheese block they got for their bags.

Countryside Drive

Vickie Talking

There’s no better guide to have while cruising the back-roads than Vickie. She’s extremely knowledgeable when it comes to the region, especially involving Amish culture. Her grandparents were Amish, so she combines her experience with years of personal memories. In between stops, she highlights places we pass like Amish schools, a casket maker, differences in housing and farms, everything to give you a great background. She fills every moment between stops and captivates your attention the entire time. And please, ask questions. If Vickie doesn’t have an answer, she’ll go searching for one.

Dutch Country Market

Dutch Country Market

When we saw the large Quilt Garden, we knew we arrived at the right place. Dutch Country Market is home to one of the best garden locations every year. Even though the October weather had set in, they still kept it looking beautiful. Walk inside and you won’t know what to look at first. The owner, Norm, is a man who can do it all. From being a bishop to running his market and even beekeeping on the side, his store is filled with a nice mix of items. What the market is most famous for is his wife Katie’s homemade noodles; you won’t find these in the Walmart grocery section. The noodles sit among the shelves of jams, jellies, candies, honey, lotions, and plenty more.

Dutch Country Market

Not only was the group able to see a piece of Norm’s beekeeping, they even went home with their own container of honey. It doesn’t get any fresher than that!

41 Degrees North

41 Degrees North

As if the endless samples weren’t enough, the bus dropped us off in downtown Middlebury for a delicious craft lunch at 41 Degrees North. Their menu is full of unique offerings from a loaded “41 burger” to fish tacos and plenty of other entrees; all with their own twist. The relaxed and industrial style dining room makes a great environment for lots of laughs and story swapping.

Dairy Farm & Corn Maze

Cow Milking

It’s easy to just run to the store and grab a gallon of milk, but do you understand the process of how it gets there? Walking off the bus you could hear the cows welcoming you. Step inside the milking room where you can watch them lining up for their turn with the automated machine. Taking a look through the windows, it’s fun to observe how the cows know exactly what to do. After they get themselves in place, the automated machine takes over the rest of the work. The owners are great hosts as well, willing to show visitors anything they want to see.

Pumpkin Slingshot

We came at the right time of year as well. Other than milking, the family runs a corn maze in the fall, along with a pumpkin patch, hayrides, petting zoo, and even a pumpkin slingshot. We saw the full magnitude of the farm when we were loaded up on the hay wagon and chauffeured around the grounds. The kid in us surely came out when we had our rounds with the pumpkin slingshot; even though no one quite made it right in the target.

E&S Bulk Food Sales

E&S Sales

We made the drive into Shipshewana to visit one of the most popular locations in town, E&S Bulk Food Sales. You might be thinking, “What’s the big deal? I’m already a Costco member,” but this is different. Endless baking supplies, snacks, meats, cheeses, and not to mention the freshly made baked goods and deli sandwiches. This store had the group trying to figure out what clothes they could leave behind to make more room in their suitcases.

Amish In-Home Dining

Amish in-home dining

By this point, a few hours have gone by since lunch, so why not indulge in some authentic Amish home-style cooking? Linda from Hoosier Banquets prepared a top-notch meal. From the freshly baked bread, green beans from the garden, homemade noodles, and steaming hot fried chicken, there was no way we would leave hungry. Everything melts in your mouth, even after round 2 and 3. If you still have room at the end, the homemade pies will surely put you over the edge, but totally worth it. With great food and even better hospitality, it was hard getting us to leave.

As we headed back to the hotel, Vickie wrapped up the day with any other burning questions we had. It was full day indeed, but engaging the entire time. Vickie made this tour one to remember, and we left with plenty of goodies to remind us of that.