My daughter graduated RTC on October 16. This is my version of PIR and hopefully it will act to help guide those of you that are coming to their first PIR. Sorry for spelling errors
....book early. Airfare from Calif to Chicago cost me $216 round trip by booking 6 weeks in advance. If she had delayed graduation I would have been assessed a $125 change penalty but that was well worth it. The same airfare two days before her graduation was $706 r/t. Use Expedia or some similiar source to help you find airfare bargains.
Having grown up in NYC, I originally intened to take public transportation to Great Lakes from O Hare. I though Metra would be a fun way to travel. I booked a red eye at 1:30am leaving Ca and got in Chcago at 1030am. I figured I would have the whole day to travel. What I found out is the Metra system, while cheap, is a long haul and with transfers would have gotten me into Great Lakes about 400pm that day. Also cab would have run $75-100 each trip from the RTC to O Hare. Since she was Grad and Go, I did not find out until the day of graduation what airport she was flying out of. A shuttle from RTC to Ohare would run about $50 one way. You can split this but the bottom line is a car rental from Enterprise ran me $28 a day for three days. A bargain considering the mobility. Get a car by all means.
When traveling on the toll roads most of the lanes are for I-Pass, a local electronic toll system. If you get in an I-pass lane by accident, you will get a violation in a couple of weeks by mail. Stay in your far right hand lanes when approaching toll plazas. Carry lots of quarters and nickels with you (some toll are $.80)
Drive by the RTC gates and see the area so you know the roads a little. If you are Grad and Go, like my daughter was., they will leave around 100pm on PIR day to go the the airport they have been told about the day before. You will get to spend about 1 to 1.5 hours before they have to go back and get ready. Once you know the airport you can get there and get a visitors gate pass from the airline the sailors check in at. (This was true for Midway..not sure about O Hare) I got to spend 5 hours with her at the airport so it was worth the trip to Great Lakes. Anyhow back to parking. Two statements. Unless you are Grad and GO...do not drive to the RTC. You will wait on line for a long time to get in and get out. If you leave your car at the Hotel and take a shuttle from the hotel ($3 for PIR), you will be on base in 15 minutes. Getting back is just as fast and easy, your shuttle driver will tell you when and where to meet. Take your sailor back to the hotel and then get your car.
If you are Grad and Go, take your car to the RTC the night before PIR, call hotel shuttle company and ask them to pick you up at the Metra Station by the RTC in a half hour. Drive to the RTC, the gate will be on your right for the RTC. Go about 150 feet further, the road will go downhill slightly, make a right hand turn at the light (Ohio ) and this will take you into the Metra station parking lot. For $2.00 you can park overnight in the designated overnight spaces. Put the money (use quarters) in the box at the beginning of the lot. Wait for your cab and go back to the hotel. If you want go back down the road and make a right under the tunnel and then turn right up the path to the Metra ticket office. There are usaully cabs waiting here but if you don't want to chance it, just precall a cab like I suggested. A cab ride from RTC Metra to the Residence Inn was about $10 and well worth it. Next day your car is close by and you can walk out the RTC gate and your car is about 300 feet away and you missed all the base traffic. Kill about an hour on base at the NEX and the traffic really dies down. Graduation ends at 1030 and I left base about 1200..
Lots of good hotels but the Residence Inn by Marriot in Waukegan was the best for me. The least expensive close hotel is the Navy Lodge at $65 a night.The Resdience Inn has a real home atmosphere with a sofa , desk and kitchen and is perfect to sit with your sailor and spend some quality relaxed time. You can get cheap food across at Super Walmart on Waukegan Road to stock up you fridge for your family. $89 a night on top of great accomodations.They have the best Graduation Info Packet for PIR I have seen of any hotel in the area.
If you get the on the 630 shuttle, you will spend a lot of time sitting so be prepared. On the other hand you will have your chaoice of seats. Balcony seating is tough for pictures because you can stand up and the railing may block your camera view. The floor seating is good but your division will stand about one division to the right of where you are seated. There are no bad seats but light in the hall is bad for cameras so plan on buying pictures and enjoy the show.The NEX will have a Division photo taken that morning of PIR for $8 for an 8 x 10 It is a life changing experince you will never forget.
No pictures outside the the PIR hall. You could lose your camera to security. Take all your sailor pics back at the hotel or inside the PIR hall.
THINGS TO DO
Go to the Navy Pier and ShorelineSighting Cruises Architectural Tour of Chicago. Cool boat tour
Also go to Millennium Park in Chicago. Unreal architecture and sights
Go to the Gurnee Mall. Lots of outlet stores
Sorry...did not eat out so cannot help you thert although the Residence Inn has a massive list of nearby places to eat in the PIR handout.
Just one persons experience but I hope it helps.