Traveling Around Michigan: Upper Peninsula Casinos on a Bus Tour
Beyond Horizons Tours & Travel advertised an overnight bus trip from the eastern part of Michigan through a series of casinos in northern Michigan. We made our reservations and were raring to go. We were the third of four pickup areas for the bus, which left from Bay City, MI. It left Bay City at 6:45 and picked us up about 8 blocks from home at 7:45.
There were only a few seats left to choose from when we boarded. Some were single seats where they were being saved for future passengers and only two side by side seats remained. The driver's side of the small bus had 7 rows of side-by-side seats, while the passenger side had 5 rows, causing the driver's side the be less spacious. The seats that had remained open were on the driver's side. After we settled in, we could see that the other side of the bus had considerably more leg room. Although we felt crowded, we got as comfortable as we could with our knees against the seat backs in front of us and settled in.
The tour company provided snacks and bottled water during the trip. Some of the passengers had brought their own refreshment—both drinks and food—and the laughing and singing increased in one group as the trip progressed.
Shortly after our last pickup stop, a horse race game was played where passengers could bet a dollar on one of 6 horses and then a race was run based on one die being thrown. A race was then run and the persons who had bet on the winning horse split the prize money. Six games of bingo followed where the winners were awarded reasonably nice merchandise prizes. I didn't win at the horses or at Bingo.
The Mackinac Bridge
In the 1950s, if you wished to go from the lower peninsula of Michigan to the upper peninsula, you had to ride a ferry. The boats would load in Mackinac City and disgorge their passengers in St. Ignace. The need for a bridge was recognized as early as 1883, but financial and political constraints prevented the beginning of construction until 1954.
The design for the bridge (including approaches) was for a 5-mile structure that would include a suspension bridge of well over 1 mile. At its tallest, it is over 500 feet above the straits that it crosses.
The bridge opened to traffic on November 1, 1957, and in 1986, the tolls charged retired the bonds that had been issued to provide construction monies. Since that time, the tolls have provided monies for maintenance and repairs.
Kewadin Casino in St. Ignace
The St. Ignace casino isn't too far after crossing the long bridge. When we unloaded the bus, they passed out $10 in food comps and $10 in free play. These could be used here or later in the day at the Kewadin Casino in Sault Ste Marie.
After the restrooms, we found the snack bar and used part of our food comps to have a bowl of soup (excellent) and a slice of pizza (okay). Those necessities out of the way we search out the soft drink carousel and got some coffee. Then we started looking for opportunities to play.
Video poker had minimums of 25 cents and the pay scales weren't very good, so we wandered till we gave up. The blackjack machine was being repaired and out of commission. Played the video poker that was available and even though the pay table was poorly, turned my $10 into $17.50. I was happy and checked the blackjack machine which was still closed and decided I'd hold off gambling until our next stop.
Throughout the trip, I was never sure how my wife was faring with her gambling, but she seemed to be having a casual good time.
We stayed in St. Ignace until 2:30 and reloaded the bus.
Bay Mills Casino in Brimley
Bay Mills is to the west of the expressway by some 30 miles. Several things appealed to us about this casino. It is one of the few in this part of the U.S. that provides free drinks to the players. The bar has 9/6 jacks or better video poker at the quarter level. It has a nickel three-play Quick Quads that I really enjoy. It is also has a restaurant—Sacy's—that we enjoy.
We arrived at about 3:30 and headed straight to the 9/6 games at the bar. No more than got a $20 into the machine than we had a glass of wine in front of us.
Although we hadn't gotten any free food vouchers, we did have $10 in free play on our cards. I put it to good use and after playing through it and winning a few dollars, I moved on to a nearby nickel quick quads.
Had a lot of fun at the Quick Quads. In addition to the dealt hands above, I had one instance of drawing to a pair of aces and picking up the other 2. Playing Bonus Poker, that one was worth 800 coins (more than the dealt 4's of a kind).
I played for about an hour before heading to Sacy's for dinner. I was $35.50 ahead from the QQ and $25 ahead from the bar top JOB. I had my second glass of wine in my hand and was ready to find some food.
Although they do have a buffet, knowing that the restaurant usually served humungous portions we had planned on splitting a dish called "Smothered Chicken" which we'd had before. The main dish contained 2 chicken breast smothered with Swiss cheese, bacon, and mushrooms. We ordered and I directed the salad to go to my wife but when it came, there was a second plate associated with it so we split it also.
Even in splitting, there was more food than we could eat, so we got some containers and packed them away for later in the evening. Meal and generous tip came to $25.
We'd timed it right and headed for the bus which got away at 5:05.
Kewadin Casino in Sault Ste. Marie, MI
It was a really short hop to the overnight Kewadin. We got there at 5:30. Decided we should take a rest before attacking the casino so went up to the assigned room (keys were in an envelope along with an additional $10 in free play for Saturday and $10 in free play for Sunday. Room was fine and I stretched out for a bit.
Got ourselves around and went down to the casino. As with many of the Indian Casinos that have grown and expanded over the years, the hotel while connected to the casino is not close. I have a physical problem that gets painful if I'm on my feet for very long. It's a pretty good walk to get there from the rooms and I was hurting and not real happy by the time we got there.
In the past, I played a game called Fast Fours which is played like Quick Quads but it isn't a multi-handed game and only one hand is played AND, more importantly, it doesn't take the 6th coin to activate the special features of the game. Alas, the machine had disappeared from the casino.
By this time I was really hurting from having been on my feet for a while longer and was happy to settle at the blackjack machine. The machine is a multiplayer machine that has payoffs like a table which includes a 3/2 blackjack. The minimum bet is $3.00. Doubling and splitting is a little limited but not severely. I played for several hours and wound up ahead $1.50 when I quit and went to the room for a smothered chicken sandwich. The sandwich was at least as good as the hot meal had been.
I had brought along a mailer that had a $5 food offer that expired that night so we went back downstairs to the snack bar and got a double dip of ice cream in a cup. It was raspberry cream chocolate chip and couldn't have been a more fitting climax to the meal. It was great!!
Back to the room and asleep quickly and soundly. Up early and had a complimentary breakfast buffet that was as good as any you might see. Got our luggage and got to the bus.
Trip Back to the Lower Peninsula
Couple of things I wanted to mention. One was just of interest and one was more in the nature of a complaint about bus trips.
The interesting item was the on the previous afternoon and evening when we had come north across the bridge it was a foggy nasty kind of day. Sometime during the evening, the fog got so bad that they temporarily closed the bridge. Don't know how long it was closed. I can't imagine what kind of traffic jam that caused. If it was closed very long traffic must have been backed up for miles.
The other item: I'd talked early about the skimpy seating and our assumption has always been on bus trips that once you get you and your stuff settled into a seat, that's your seat for the trip. This time, however, when we boarded at the Soo, someone had switched seats with us. From barely enough room to absolutely not enough room was the move. I had to sit spraddle-legged with one knee in front of my wife in the window seat and the other knee in the aisle. When we complained about it to the tour escort, we were told "there's nothing he could do".
Second Stop at St. Ignace Kewadin
We arrive at the St. Ignace Kewadin at about 10:15. We were presented with another $10 in free play. I'd accumulated around $50 free play from the trip and from mail offers I'd received so I played it through the Video Poker available. The blackjack machine had been repaired and was functioning so I took the $50 and moved to it where I sat and played for about 2 hours, winning $6.25.
Our stash of food comp coupons was at about $10 and after the large breakfast buffet we weren't particularly hungry so we got 6 very large cookies—2 oatmeal raisin, 2 chocolate chip, and 2 peanut butter chip. 5 of them made their way home with us but one of the oatmeal raisins got obliterated between St. Ignace and Petoskey.
I went back to the Video Blackjack and lost 7 straight hands. Cashed out the pittance I had remaining and found an overstuffed chair in the hotel lounge to rest until bus time.
Odawa Casino in Petoskey, Michigan
We recrossed the big bridge and turned to the west along the southern border of Lake Michigan. Took something over an hour for the trip and we were met with another $10 in free play.
We looked around the video poker and although the pay tables were not very good, the machine limits were more in the range that we enjoy. There were triple play nickel machines as well as single play nickels. Back in one corner, we found some specialty games such as Ultimate X.
I played on the Ultimate X machine for a while and lost my free play. I put another $20 into it and played for a bit, losing $10 more. I decided I didn't quite understand the payoffs on the game and wasn't interested enough to pursue an explanation so I stopped. In the same bank of machines, I spotted a 50 play penny machine. I started out on deuces wild, playing 5 coins (pennies) on five lines. Playing a quarter at a time (5x.01x5) I'd win a few pennies and lose a few pennies but seemed to keep gaining ground.
I continued to play and gradually increased the number of hands I played. Eventually, I reached the maximum of 50 hands.
Then, this happened:
Each winning hand paid 80 cents, making a total of $40. I looked for my wife for a while to show her the fun hand but couldn't locate her so continued to play (uneventfully) until bus time.
When I cashed out on the pennies, I was 18 cents ahead at Odawa.
Back to the bus and the ride to Mt. Pleasant where we arrived at about 7:15.
In some 36 hours, we'd sandwiched in 5 casino stops, 2 good meals, some snacks, and I had some $70 more than what I started with. I think the wife also came out ahead but she keeps her winnings and/or losings more confidential.
The group of strangers (to us) on the bus was rowdy in a good-humored way and the atmosphere on the trip was pleasant.
Our seating was unsatisfactory, to say the least. Our original seats were uncomfortable and the final seats verged on intolerable. I think the tour escort should have done something about the seating.
My physical condition is such that if a small bus is to be used (a 29 passenger one rather than a 55 passenger one) we wouldn't even consider going unless the front row passenger seats could be reserved for us.
It was a busy, busy 36 hours—sort of a whirlwind of activity.
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© 2019 Don Rust