These are the tips from the March 8, 2013 PIR! It went by so quick, but is now a treasured memory! Here are some of my thoughts about this awesome experience
1. Being from Southern California and out of the area, I opted for the IPASS to save time and didn't mind that I was paying more than actual tolls. The non toll roads were a little farther out of the way toward the east. If you're renting a car, be sure to also rent the IPASS which allows you to be on the 294/94/90 toll roads without having to pay for every toll stop and having exact change. This route is the direct route to Great Lakes. If you realized you missed any tolls while you are there, you can pay them within 7 days of incurring them before you get a big bill. The IPASS was only $6.95 each day from Enterprise Rent-a-Car. I reserved using an upgrade coupon #ASTMCUG which gave me a Standard vehicle for the Compact rate. Call 866-502-1257 if the online system won't take the coupon. It's good until 12-31-2014. Their customer service was outstanding and their vehicle was very clean. All their vehicles go through their car wash before being rented again. Their shuttle pulled right up to the Ground Transportation median at Chicago O'Hare when we walked up.
For those of you driving in, there is also an EZ PASS available in several states surrounding RTC. They are supposed to be available in grocery stores. A search engine can provide you with more details. Now these are pricier at $25 each, so you will need to consider that.
If you want to insure you don't get lost, you can go on Google and get the directions from the airport to your hotel, hotel to restaurant, hotel to the airport your Sailor will be flying out of (I did both airports because you are driving at 12:30 am in the morning and things look different than the daytime), between the airports if you don't have time to nap at your hotel after seeing your Sailor off. To get Turn by Turn Directions to follow, click on Print, then at the top, where Show for All Steps is , click Maps, the turn by turn pops up and you can print them out. I would rather be prepared than surprised and my daughter's cell phone battery was dying, so relying on the GPS was gonna get hairy... Also, some of those GPS devices aren't reliable.
2. The Speedway gas station at the southwest corner of Buckley Road (137) and Skokie Hwy 41 freeway had the best price for gasoline at $3.75/gallon. I topped off there before returning the vehicle back to Enterprise. The prices I saw at other stations were $3.83/$3.88 along the 294. Enterprise told me their "discounted" price to pre-pay the gasoline in the rental car was $4.20/gallon. Along the 90/94/55 route (which is also the non-tollway) going to the Midway Int'l Airport, the prices were $4.38/gallon. If there is a way to check the going gasoline prices for Chicago/Midway/Great Lakes/Waukegan online, that would be best, so when the rental car guy suggests you to pre-pay a tank of gasoline at _____ a gallon, you know what the real prices are for that area~~ Maybe you can contact the Speedway station for their prices prior to leaving. They should be Great Lakes or Waukegan.
3. It takes a good hour minimum to get to the Midway Int'l Airport and you will pass the big Chicago city skyline. This is also the free, non-toll way to the east. The route will be 41 South, 94 East, 90 East, 55 South, Exit 286 Cicero Avenue/Illinois 50, turn left. (All the streets seemed to have a name and a number assigned to it.) Parking is $5/hour at the Terminal lot, but since we got to spend 9 1/2 hours with our new Sailor daughter, we opted to park at the Red Lot on the right almost to the airport for $14.00/day. They had a free shuttle and heated Shuttle stops to wait in. Please make sure that you bring id (student Ids with photo) for your children too so that they can also get a Gate Pass to see your Sailor off at the gate. Contrary to what the RDCs tell your Sailors, the airports welcome families there to see your Sailor off. They all have to arrive at the airport at the same time (1:00 am - 2:00 am), but their flight left at 5:30 am, 11:15 am, 4:00 pm, etc). This is where you give your Sailor their cell phone, cell phone charger, laptop, ac adapter for the laptop,several pairs of their own comfortable underwear, any other selected clothes, and maybe some of their favorite treats (no liquids) that can fit into their backpack. You will ship more later to them at A school. They will check their giant 50 lb seabag and their garment bag, but keep their backpack with them. You will follow your Sailor's group to the ticket counter when they get their boarding passes, then each Sailor will come back to your family to get your Gate Passes. Both Midway and O'Hare have volunteer guys who help the groups get organized and get their passes. The bearded guy at Midway unfortunately wastes some time asking the Sailors unrelated things like their ages, where they are from etc.. So unless someone (maybe a dad?) speaks up and asks how is that relevant? Everyone will just have to wait through his gabbing to get their time with their Sailor. Once you get through the TSA checkpoint, the Sailors will go to the USO to drop off their backpacks and paperwork for safekeeping. They have to note when they need to be at the gate to board (about 1 1/2 hour before the plane's departure time). You get to wander the terminals looking for places to eat and things to buy with your Sailor!! My daughter wanted Ben & Jerry's at 6:30 am in the morning~~ Take photos!! They are still in their dress uniforms and I missed out on some photos of my daughter with other Sailors she was friendly with.
4. Sarge's Meet & Greet was at the Sundance Saloon to the leftside across the road from the Springhill Suites. It does not have a lit sign and the parking lot was set low covered by the snow drifts. With Daylight Savings time, it will probably be light when you arrive. Doors open at 5:30pm, the food is set up about 6:00pm Cash bar with free water. He gives alot of info about driving into the PIR and all his shortcuts. You sign up for his PIR shuttles at the end of the evening about 8:00 pm to 9:00 pm. After PIR his shuttles (minivans) were parked to the right of the NEX/Ricky Heaven in that parking lot. Make sure it says Sarge's. Other taxi's will overcharge the Navy families. He does have a partner named Dave/David who was driving one with Metro on it, but since I called him, he was able to tell me "you were the one who called me" when all the other taxis were trying to get my attention. I needed to get my Sailor back to RTC by 6:30pm, so I coordinated with another Navy family who got in the shuttle when we did on PIR morning to meet in the lobby at 5:30 pm so our Sailors could ride back to RTC together. I forgot about calling Sarge earlier, but Sarge himself was there in 15 minutes. He charged $6 for each Sailor since there was only 2. If there was more, it would've gone down to $3 each. For a single Sailor, it would have been $15.00. I opted to have Sarge bring my Sailor daughter back to the RTC because I wanted to get some sleep before heading out to the airport at midnight. Don't forget to tip Sarge and his guys and don't be late to the lobby when they come to get you. Other people have gotten in the vans without prior arrangements. Get down to the lobby to look for his shuttle out front earlier than your appointed time. If you miss your appointment time, then Sarge has to scramble to have someone come get you. His shuttle sits outside the hotel entrance, so go outside to look for Sarge's shuttle. He is frequently early waiting for you.
5.. The signs on their tollway/expressway system go from left to right overhead that tells you the upcoming exits and transitions. I at first thought these signs were guiding me which lane to be in the make the transition like in California, but no, I had to change lanes quickly to get to the correct lane for transitions.
6. Holiday Inn Express in Waukegan was $114.99 for a 2 queen room (comfy beds!) It's a new hotel and looks it. The hot breakfast had french toast, bagels, bacon, sausage, scrambled eggs, biscuits & gravy, warm cinnamon rolls, cereal, coffee, milk, juice and some other items I don't remember. Use the toaster to warm the french toast. The bread items were cold. The breakfast buffet starts at 6:00 am on PIR Friday and 7:00 am on Saturday. This was an excellent hotel!! They allow a late check-out of 2:00 pm if you join their Holiday Inn Priority Club, which you can join while you are there. Oh, there is a McDonalds right next to them. Holiday Inn Express, 611 Lakehurst Road, Waukegan, IL 60085, 847-473-4400. Ask to see if their Navy rate or Best Available is the better rate.
7. PIR - Sarge himself picked us up at 6:30 am and we got to the RTC at 6:45 am, walked about 50 yards to the graduation hall entrance, showed our ids & were checked against the list, went through their museum area, then into the graduation drill hall. We got the last 2 spots against the wall on the lower bleachers area, just to the right of the division sign. These bleachers are metal. The divisions actually line up to the left of the sign, so we were a little further right than we needed to be. Even though my Sailor daughter was in the front flag line of her division, it was still hard to make her out because they are all short in the ftont. She told us she was stick 2, but she wasn't carrying a flag at all. Each division had 2 front flags with the divison number and division flag that they designed and that is what is on the Division shirts that you can order. My daughter bought ones for her sister and myself as gifts. You can order more for the rest of your family later. They keep the designs for an extended period of time. Then there is the front line of "sticks". There was a person holding a flag, person with no flag, 2 people with flags, person with no flag, and a person with a flag. Bring your binoculars to see their faces!! After PIR, my daughter stayed put and we went down to find her. Otherwise, your Sailor will be walking around looking for you and you will be looking for him/her! they will want to take photos without their raincoat on, so take advantage of that. Standing at attention, parade rest, with some of their nearby friends, do all of that, I missed some picture taking opportunities. Position your Sailor against the cream colored back wall for the best contrast with their uniform (she was in her dress blues). I took photos of her with all the people around her and the photos were not as good. If they are wearing their dress whites, look for a darker background. DO NOT take any photos of the outside buildings, signs, structures at all. If you are caught, they will erase your whole memory card. You can take pictures inside the museum and graduation drill hall. You can also take some nice photos in your hotel's lobby, now that I'm thinking of it (calm and not rushed, with their hair perfect).
8. Sailor Daughters - If your daughter would like to get her eyebrows done when they are out with you, we found a great place with my other daughter's cell phone and GPS. It's Octagon Salon & Spa, 1333 Delany Road, Gurnee, IL 60031 847-360-9880 www.octagonsalon.com Their esthetician, Leia Mueller, did an excellent job with my daughter's eyebrows and she charged only $18, not including a tip. It's about 15 mins north on the 41 Skokie Hwy. They are a very classy, upscale establishment. My Sailor was so happy to get this done after not being able to do so at Boot Camp!! Also, I checked on their prices for additional services: manicures started at $21 and pedicures started at $26.
9. Lastly, ask your Sailor what they want to do! Leave enough time for them to rest and take a long and private shower. Bring a set of comfy clothes for your Sailor to wear in your hotel room only and hang their dress uniform up in your closet. My daughter wanted to shave her legs, so I ran down to our front desk to get a free razor and shaving cream. You might want to have those on hand. They may not want to be dragged all over Chicago sightseeing, especially if they have to be on the bus to the airport at midnight on Friday. The ones with Sailors staying in Great Lakes for A school are probably the only ones who would have some time to go to a bunch of places.
10. If your Sailor didn't order his/her photos, you can go to the Photos area behind the double glass doors to the left of the NEX. The room is to the immediate left to look at the proofs and see what is included in the 2 packages available. They take 2 shots, smiling and not smiling. You look at the proofs and decide to order. It is just a United States flag against a mottled blue background and your Sailor in front. We thought we could get a better photo somewhere else. You will have to order the Yearbook separately. You can order the graduation DVD for $29.00 in there too, which is a MUST HAVE!! They will not allow you to keep a proof. Their phone number is 847-578-6205. If you don't want to do this right after PIR because it will be really crowded, you can opt to come back later in the afternoon~~
11. Be aware. The TSA allows liquids maximum 3.4 oz each for shampoos, lotions, toothpaste, hair spray, etc. and all these small bottles need to be in one quart size zipped plastic bag that you put in the bin with your shoes and the other carry on purse/backpack. After you go through, you could put it back into your 22" carry on. Delta allowed larger carry ons that were about 24" to be brought to the gate, then they will take it with a hot pink tag and put it on a rack to be in cargo, but it is not considered checked baggage and you won't be charged for it. They then bring these back for you to collect on the gangway.
12. There is a larger NEX (Navy Exchange Store) off base, not far away. The one at RTC is the size of a 7-11 or gas station convenience store and really crowded after PIR. So if you don't have any business needing photos or ordering the Keel or PIR DVD at the Photo Lab by the RTC NEX, head over to this one:
Burkey Mall NEX www.mynavyexchange.com
Building No 3452
Great Lake, IL
Monday - Saturday 9:00 am - 8:00 pm
Sunday 10:00 am - 6:00 pm
This is all I can remember to share with you, so if you have any questions, I'll do my best to answer. Sorry its all out of order too, but I wrote things as they came to me.
I can't believe how fast the time went. PIR was a very special day (and night at the airport) to share with our Sailor!