First, I want to thank everyone that has contributed to this site. It has been wonderful. Secondly, I want to urge you to read as much as you can. There are gems of information hidden all over that will make things so much easier.
I would like to share my family's first experience with PIR this past week. I'm hoping it will help.
We booked a hotel through some online booking service...my oldest daughter did it so I can't remember which one. I'll update if I can. It was a hotel in Waukegan and it didn't seem too bad, but it wasn't that good.
I booked the flight through sato. We flew Southwest to Midway because it doesn't fly into O'Hare. I suggest you do this the soonest possible, I wasn't able to due to my other daughter's school schedule. I did it about 10 days before and could only get a flight after 9 pm. We got to Midway around 11 something and took an Uber to our hotel in Waukegan. It was over an hour drive. Needless to say we didn't make it to Sarge's Meet and Greet.
Unfortunately, we didn't have a restful night there, on the plus side we had free shuttle service at 7 am to the base. We were the only family who didn't have our tickets, so the bus driver was kind enough to drop us off at the Nex to get our tickets at the Recruit Family Welcome Center. She also came back to pick us up and take us to the entrance.
Walked in, had our IDs and tickets checked, got scanned and walked quite a bit to the ceremony building. It was a COLD hard walk for someone overweight and from Texas, lol. You enter the first building and towards the exit, anyone who has a bag gets checked again - I would avoid bags if I ever had to do it again.
When you enter the final building you get a chance to buy some drinks (maybe snacks, not sure) and you can also buy "coins" at this point.
There were 911 graduates on this day, so there were A LOT of people but not too many bleacher type seats. We were not able to sit in front of my Sailor's division and had to go upstairs. It took us a while before we found seating for the 3 of us together and we were so far we never saw our Sailor. I read somewhere today that someone took binoculars - wish I would have read that before going!!!
When the ceremony was over, getting downstairs was also quite difficult. When we finally did I couldn't figure out where her division had been (so I suggest you make note of a "landmark", lol). Her friend had gone and had been able to sit in front of her division so I got a call saying they were waiting outside. My daughter saw me before I saw her. I gave her the tightest hug ever and got super emotional at that point!
From there she went to go pick up something at her "bunker?" (sorry, still new to the vocabulary) so we waited at the NEX there on base. It was quite a walk for her, so it was a while. They have a bunch of memorabilia there, even scrapbooking stuff, lol.
When we were all together again, we walked to the parking lot where our bus driver said she'd be waiting for us. We got on the bus and waited for the rest of the families and a couple of other Sailors.
Back at the hotel, she changed into the pajamas and slippers I had taken for her and we let her sleep (she had been and was still sick with a slight fever and terrible cough).
part 2 - things I remembered after this first part...
Our hotel in Waukegan had a restaurant/bar inside, but I never went in. The hotel also had a small room next to the check-in with restaurant pamphlets, vending machines, and a computer and printer. We only stayed one night. My daughter's friend was staying in Gurnee. It wasn't that much further, but the hotel was MUCH nicer: newer beds, continental breakfast, ELEVATOR! ;)
There were also many more places to go and see in Gurnee. I don't believe this hotel had a shuttle since my daughter's friend used the Sarge's taxi (I think).
If you are there for more than one day, I DO highly recommend renting a car if you did not drive to Illinois. We took our Sailor back to base 3 times and picked her up twice - VERY early. The traffic to get into the base gets extremely congested. I'm not sure if the road was east/west or north/south, so in terms of looking at the front of the entrance, if you are coming from the right side, make sure you are not on the extreme right lane -- that one ends. We didn't know this and for some reason, most of the drivers taking the soldiers back were VERY aggressive and would not let us in. That was sad considering we all just wanted to get our sailors back on time.
Our daughter left for A-school on Saturday and had to be at O'Hare at around 1 in the morning, so we tried to go see her off. Fortunately, O'Hare airport was practically empty at this hour. Our plane would be leaving from Midway at 8:25 am. Since our daughter could only check us in to her departure area at around 4:30 in the morning, we decided to head out to Midway instead. It was a GOOD thing we did, Midway was already full of people travelling on Southwest. If our flight had been earlier, I don't think we would have made it.
Oh, also, if you are planning on a rental car from Midway airport, make sure you have reservations or they will try to gauge your eyes out... one place was charging like 800-900 PLUS tax for the 3 days. We ended up renting online for pick-up in Waukegan the next day and it was something over 200. Also, there is a shuttle that takes you free to the car rental building with all the rental agencies. It is NOT walking distance.
If you are asking why we had so many days with our Sailor, it was because she graduated the day before Thanksgiving and left for A-school until early Saturday.