Preparing for graduation can be very exciting, especially when you have accurate information regarding transportation, accommodations, and agenda of the activities. To make sure you have the most up-to-date information possible, we’ve compiled many of the frequently asked questions – and their answers – that we get from families who are planning on traveling to San Diego for Marine Corps boot camp graduation.
Thanks to our esteemed Head of Travel, Andrew Appleton, for his answers, and general wisdom and expertise! Keep on reading to learn more about what to expect at graduation.
Q: When should family and friends arrive and leave San Diego?
A: To take advantage of all the graduation events that you can, we recommend arriving the day prior to Family Day, which is normally a Wednesday. I would recommend arriving in the early afternoon in case you are attending the Family Meet & Greet dinner, which starts at 6pm.
Most new Marines are more than ready to head home and get away from the base immediately after graduation is over. There are several reasons to depart San Diego on graduation day, including saving money on a hotel. But perhaps most importantly, your new Marine’s leave starts on Friday (day 1 of 10), and you’ll all want to maximize your time together before they head back to SOI. Make sure your flights are scheduled after 4pm to allow yourself ample time to travel to the airport.
Q: How does my recruit purchase his ticket home for leave?
A: Recruits are given the opportunity to purchase a ticket home for leave during the 8th week of training. However, families can purchase the ticket earlier to ensure the recruit is on the same flight, and can often do so at a lower fare. SANDBOXX books recruit tickets with an active duty military fare class, which often has a discount. Your recruit will also need to purchase a return one-way ticket back to San Diego on their 10th day of leave. I recommend that this ticket is purchased after graduation, once their orders are confirmed.
Q: What is the Family Meet & Greet Dinner?
A: Families have the opportunity to attend the Family Meet & Greet dinner held the evening prior to Family Day, starting at 6pm. The dinner is held on base at the The Bayview Restaurant and allows you to meet the recruit’s drill instructors as well as other family members.
You must register for this event, and and it usually sells out quickly. All family and friends are allowed to attend. Sorry, your recruit will not be present at this dinner.
Q: What and when is Family Day?
A: Family Day starts early the day prior to graduation with an optional breakfast from 6:00-9:00am followed by the famous Motivational Run (no, you don’t have to run!) at 9:30am. I would recommend being at the gate no later than 8am, both for Family Day and graduation day. The Motivational Run, the most anticipated event of the weekend, will be the first opportunity you get to see your new Marine, and arriving early will allow you to get a front row position. After the run, your new Marine will clean up and meet up with you later that morning.
Q: Are there places to eat on base during Family Day?
A: Yes. MCRD San Diego offers eateries on base including some fast food options at the main Exchange, a small, and the on-base restaurant, Bayview Restaurant. Bayview offers a buffet on Family Day, as well as other meals on Wednesday and graduation day. There are also pre-paid meal options served picnic style you can purchase, but I would advise against this option. You are better following your hungry Marine’s nose to the food of their choice. If you are a fan of picnics, the base does allow families to bring their own food, excluding alcohol.
Q: How do I get on base and do I need a rental car?
A: MCRD San Diego is located directly next to the San Diego International Airport and within minutes of most hotels. Unless you have other events planned, a rental car is not recommended if you stay in a hotel with a shuttle bus. The base does allow personal vehicles (just make sure you have your insurance paperwork with you), taxis, Uber and Lyft as a means for coming onto the base. There are a few hotels offering free shuttle services to the base and airport, which is the best option.
If you do rent a car, the rental agreement will serve as your insurance, so don’t worry about bringing your personal insurance. If you do have personal car insurance, I would not purchase the insurance from the rental agency, as your personal insurance will cover your rental.
Q: What happens on Family Day?
A: During Family Day, you will get the opportunity to learn more about what your Marine’s experienced during the 12 weeks of boot camp through tours and Command briefs. During the day your Marine will escort you around the base showing you where they trained (ok, did pushups and got yelled at). To avoid an accidental ‘knife hand’ by your Marine, stay on their left hand side so they are free to salute with their right hand when passing a higher-ranking Marine. Family Day starts at 9:30am and ends around 6pm.
Q: What is graduation day like?
A: Graduation day is filled with a lot of emotions, and will be a day you and your new Marine will remember forever. Families from all over the country will have traveled to attend graduation, so expect a big crowd, and don’t forget to arrive at official events on the early side. Seating is divided by Platoon in bleachers, arrive early if you want to secure good seats. Graduation will last for an hour, and then your new Marine will be immediately released. Their belongings will be packed and staged close by so you can make a quick exit.
Curious as to what you should pack for graduation? Check out our blog post, The Complete Boot Camp Graduation Packing List, for some inspiration.
Q: Can I take pictures and videos?
A: Yes. The USMC encourages families to take plenty of pictures and videos of both Family Day and graduation. However, they request that you don’t take pictures of recruits still in training. The command will also offer a professional video of the graduation, should you choose to purchase one.
Q: I am disabled. Are there accommodations for seating and transportation on base?
A: Yes. MCRD San Diego offers a golf cart or small van to escort and transport you around the base. I would recommend calling the Public Affairs Officer to verify the availability of these resources by dialing (619) 524-1011.
Q: I am a Veteran. Do I need to notify the Command that I’m attending?
A: This is optional, but the Command does like to recognize former military members that are in attendance, especially high-ranking officers. Your recruit is required to inform their Drill Instructor if anyone will be attending with a rank of 0-6 and above to ensure VIP seating. You are not required to wear your uniform (mine would be a bit tight at this point!).
Q: Can we purchase things on base?
A: Yes. Family members can shop at the base Exchange.
Q: Is there a hotel on base?
A: Yes, but is very difficult to make reservations there. The hotel is reserved for active duty service members, and can only be reserved 15 days prior to graduation. In addition, only direct family members can stay on base, and must all have the same address and last name on their ID. If you’re looking for assistance booking a hotel for graduation, click here to visit SANDBOXX Travel.
The feeling you get when you see your New Marine for the first time will be more than you could ever imagine. It is truly a special day and time to enjoy and celebrate with your Marine and family. There are many other questions you probably have, so please reach out to our SANDBOXX Travel Team and ask away.
Happy travels, and congrats to you and your soon-to-be new Marine!