CONTRIBUTED BY CRYSTAL SCHOLLARD
Moving to Okinawa with 2 boys (ages 2 & 4), a bunch of bags and a great husband!
*I write this from a completely personal stand-point (I do not work, endorse, or profit any of the companies listed below). The following is some of the last minute travel things I wish I had known prior to leaving on this journey. My personal belief is that you can put a price on comfort, and in some situations, I am willing to pay it.
We began our journey to Okinawa in Tucson. We were informed of our PCS about 5 months prior to actually leaving. It was an exciting 5 months for us. I am a huge planner, preparer, and worrier, so I’m pretty certain I earned a few more grey hairs those five months. I researched everything I could, spending many hours on Okinawa Hai! and taking in as much as I could prior to arrival. I had a hard time finding information on the actual flight over, how to prepare for that awful middle of the night departure (especially when you have 2 small ones who still take naps, no hotel room, etc.) and what to expect for the in between (your arrival at the port and then the departure). Here is what I have learned and what I wish I had known prior to leaving.
We flew from Tucson, AZ to Seattle, WA approximately 36 hours prior to our “show time” time. The Air Force put us up in a hotel for one night (which we were grateful for) but that didn’t answer what to do with our entire day, our huge luggage, how to get around, etc. After going through it, here is what worked for me, and how we did it.
TLF (Temporary Lodging Facility, as the Air Force calls it): Don’t be afraid to ask for a bigger room. Both state side and at Kadena, we were lodged in a 1 bed-room with pull-out couch. While not the worst, it was very small (especially on Kadena) and not enough room for an extended stay. We asked for a bigger room, and we got one! So, don’t be afraid to ask!!!
AMC: Call AMC a few days prior to verify flight and check-in time. This will also give you the course of travel so you can plan your flight lengths accordingly.
USO at SEATAC: You can leave your luggage at the USO if you are remaining there. While I’m sure that will work for some people flying in- that did not work for us. We were sleeping in a hotel for our one full night there. Also, at this time (Nov-Dec 2010) they are in the process of remodeling, so there was not a lot of space, and not a lot of luggage space either. They did have food available, a crib, a shower, etc. My family and I decided to hang out in a less crowded area, but the USO was definitely an option for those with nothing else/no where else to go. I would call them if you have any other questions.
KEN’S Storage: There is a lovely storage facility on the baggage floor level (between carousel 12 & 13 I think- at least close to that!) at SEATAC. It was very inexpensive to store our bags- $50 total for all 8 bags we stored for 24 hours. (Again- price of convenience/comfort). This was a well-spent expense for us. We got off the plane, went to Ken’s, dropped off everything (including car seats) except for 1 over-night bag, went outside and caught the shuttle to the hotel for the night. We went back to Ken’s the next morning to drop off our remaining bags before heading downtown for the day. It was great to not have to worry about our bags, or hang around the airport all day due to someone having to stay with the bags. They charge based on the size of the bag, and it’s for a 24 hour period (regardless of how little time you need to use it). You receive $1 discount per bag with military ID.
Hotels: There are quite a few hotels right around the airport. I definitely recommend staying at any of those. Just don’t eat at “13 Coins” diner- outrageously expensive and horrible food. We stayed at the Radisson and have no complaints (just make sure when you check in that you have more than one bed if you have kids- they originally had us in a 1 king size bed).
Transportation: This was a big issue for me having 2 small ones that still require car seats. The answer: Public Transportation!!! The “Light-Rail” takes you from the Airport (8 minute slow/toddler walk to the loading location from Ken’s baggage) to downtown Seattle- we took the rail to Westlake Center. This was a great center point. From there, we were able to site-see (Pike’s Market, the Aquarium, Space Needle, etc.) There was a little walking involved, but minimal. We took the Monorail to the Space Needle, which leaves from the top of Westlake Center. The cost from the airport to Westlake was $5/adult. My boys were young enough to ride free. Unfortunately, I don’t recall the price for the monorail, but it was minimal as well. There was no need for a car seat on either rail. The trip from the airport to downtown was approximately 30 minutes, so my boys caught a quick nap at the end of the day.
Sightseeing in Seattle: There is quite a bit to do there. For us, it was important to have kid friendly activities. We chose to see The Seattle Aquarium (Military discount!), Pike’s Market- FLYING FISH!!! and the Space Needle (also military discount). By that time, my boys were exhausted, so we didn’t see much else. There is plenty to see and do in Seattle, just research a little.
Between Check-in and Departure: As you may know, you have to check in hours before the flight actually leaves. Our flight left around 3 am, and we began check-in at 9 pm the day prior. Once you check your bags, you can actually go through security. Plan on eating quickly once you are through security as a lot of places closed at 11 pm. There was a nice play area that my boys enjoyed- soft floor and foam slides. It is by the food court and can be looked up on SEATAC’s website. “Hudson News” was the only shop still open around our gate. They also offer a military discount, so make sure to show your ID while stocking up on snacks for the flight. Our boys went to sleep. They had a busy day and were exhausted. (Pack small blankets & pillows in your carry on for this reason if you are travelling with young ones). Try and charge your electronics that you will be using on the plane. The plugs fill up fast with everyone trying to do the same.
The flight(s): We left Seattle for Yokota. This was a 10.5 hour flight. The attendants served breakfast shortly after take off (when most of us were sleeping) so plan on bringing something to eat when you wake up. They do show videos, so you can watch those if you are not sleeping. My boys slept most of the flight, as it remains dark for a long time. We arrived in Yokota and had to get off for about 2 hours as the plane refueled, etc. Again, charge your electronics if needed. My boys slept again, for the remaining short flights. We touched down one other place, but were able to remain on the plane for that stop. We then landed in Kadena, exhausted, but so excited to finally be “home”.
I hope this helps other wondering about what to do in wait for the AMC flight. Please let me know if you have any questions, and I will do my best to help!
Is it possible to travel back in forth from Okinawa to the states for vacation with your pet (5lbs cabin pet)? If so what are the requirements?
We are flying AMC Patriot Express; after we check in can we go to the USO? We are being told we have to check in between 0130 and 0200 and we don’t depart until 0830.
This was a great feed! Headed your way in a few weeks
We are getting ready to fly out and was wondering in anybody know what the luggage limit was with a family of four~?????
Thank you so much!! Great advice and tips!! I am going crazy trying to figure out how to travel with our pets! 🙂 I know if will all work out in the end though! 🙂
Thank you! This is JUST what I have been looking for. So nice to have an idea of what to expect. Maybe now I won’t have to pack for so many different possibilities!
We are flying out in June and I’m dreading it! We already packed and had the movers come, so far we are up to 8 bags for the 3 of us. Are we limited on the amount of bags we can bring?
Also for some of you ladies that have toddlers and haven’t heard about C.A.R.E.S yet, check it out! Its so much easier then lugging a huge carseat, I have an Eddie Bauer convertable carset for my 2.5 year old and it is NOT light nor fun to lug through an airport. http://www.kidsflysafe.com/
You should read the thread called “orders on hold” on Okinawa Hai Society. There had been a lot of discussion regarding impending PCS moves.
Has anyone heard that that all orders are halted to Japan, effective immediately? We have verbal orders, but not hard copy ones yet. I’m worried that this will effect us leaving in June. Anyone heard this?
Katey: Car seat laws aren’t really used in Japan but you do still have to abide by them on base pretty much the same as the states. I would probably check the booster seat on the plane though so you don’t have something else to carry since you don’t really need it on the plane.
We’re on our way there in a couple months, traveling with a cat, a toddler and an infant. I was planning on bringing my toddler’s booster seat on the plane so we’d have it for our time in Seattle. Is there any flaw with my plan? The 6-mo old will obviously be in a carseat too. I’ve already read that car seat safety isn’t really exercised in Japan so I’m prepared for that once we arrive. I’m just trying to make the trip out there as comfortable as possible for the kids (ie. ME!).
great info! I searched unsuccessfully for months prior to coming to Oki for anything on the military flight and hotels in Seattle and found nothing. Just a note for those who are traveling with pets. The Embassy Suites in Seattle was fabulous and welcomes pets. They are not right next to the airport, but it was only a 5 min. drive. And they are just down the street from a Target, huge mall and several fast food places. They also have a shuttle that will take you within 5 miles I think (any of the places above qualified) as well as back & forth to the airport. The rooms are all suites with a sink, couch, table, and separate room with beds. Which was great for when we put the kids to bed before us. There was an awesome walking path right behind the hotel to walk your dog (or a huge, mostly unused parking lot where I threw a tennis ball) and plenty of grass for potty time. I think they charged me a pet fee of $75, but I had 2 pets and they only charged me once. They had a HUGE breakfast which was included with our room (though I may have chosen that when I booked the room so ask. It might be expensive to purchase separately) Go early or you will be standing in a slow line as they prepared most of it while you wait. It kept my kids full till the afternoon and that’s usually hard to do. It also has an inside pool (which was extremely helpful to us as we were pcs’ing in Dec) The pool was very cold & small, but my kids didn’t seem to mind & it had a nice hot tub for me & the hubby. I am very picky with hotels and was panicking trying to find somewhere other than Motel 6 to stay with my pets. (I should mention I have a German Sheppard and while a lot of hotels take pets under 10/20 lbs, they took all pets here) This hotel was great and I highly recommend it. However, as with everything, there was 1 downfall. The hotel was right next to train tracks. I am a light sleeper and I did wake up once in the middle of the night to a train, but thankfully no one else did. Small price to pay for being able to stay in a nice hotel with my 70 lb dog. (and cat)
@Amy – we stayed at the Westpac. I am used to a Tempurpedic, but can sleep on a regular hotel bed just fine. The beds at Westpac were truly challenging!
I wish I had known about those padding things because our bed at West Pac was horrible. It was as hard as a rock!
Welcome to Okinawa!!
On another note:
Leah I don’t know what TLF you stayed at but we stayed at the Hershey TLF on Kadena and their beds felt like heaven…:)
When you get to the TLF, you may notice that the beds are about as soft as concrete. Ask for padding for the beds. They may act like they don’t know what you’re talking about, but keep at it. (There are not a ton of them, and they are like gold).
It saved my back.
The housekeepers will put it on for you.
Just a note to add, if you don’t want to pay for Ken’s storage, don’t be afraid to ask your hotel if they can hold your luggage for you.
We stayed at the Marriott (not the cheapest, but not the most expensive by far either), they had a free shuttle to and from the airport and to quite a few of the attractions as well. We just had to go to the desk and ask. We checked out of our room at 11am, but the attendant behind the desk had okay-ed it for our luggage to stay in their storage room (which the manager locked after our luggage went in and did not unlock until we can back to pick it up), and then they let us use the shuttle all day long, and come back at 8pm to pick up our luggage and ride to the airport.
They told my husband thank you for his service to our country and me thank you for my service to him, and that all of that was the least they could do.
I happened to be 7 months pregnant at the time, so of course, that made me cry. They were so helpful though, and all because I just asked. So don’t be afraid to do the same!
Great info…wish I’d seen something like this prior to our PCS over a year ago. I would like to add a couple of things that might be useful, as well.
1) You usually stop In Iwakuni, as well. Both times we’ve been thru there we have only picked up passengers and not had to leave the plane. On my most recent trip in October, (I was flying Space-A)the headwinds were so bad that we had to make an extra stop in Misawa to refuel. The trip was really long, but the lights are off most of the time and it’s easy to sleep- if you can get comfortable enough.
2) Purchase water bottles after going thru security in Seattle! Not sure why, but they were really stingy with the water on the recent flight. Flying is very dehydrating, so you’ll feel better jetlag-wise if you stay hydrated.
3) When you reach Yokota you’ll be required to get off the plane and sit in a small passenger area while waiting for them to refuel and get their Space-A passengers chosen. Pet owners will be able to walk their dogs-as directed. There is also a restaurant just outside the security area that has burgers, salads, popcorn shrimp, and a small “canteen” area to buy snacks, trinkets, hygiene items. You’ll be required to give the security personnel your ID to leave the passenger seating area…make sure you find our what time to report back by. Most people aren’t aware of this restaurant until it’s already so packed that you can’t get your food in time to report back. So head there immediately upon landing!
4) When you arrive at Kadena, you’ll go thru customs and wait to collect your bags coming off the plane…slow process. Pets will be waiting for you in the baggage area and a rep. from Kadena’s base animal clinic will be there to look over and collect paperwork from you and advise you. After collecting your luggage you make your way to the announcer who stands just before the exit/lobby doors. Tell the announcer your rank/name and he’ll broadcast it for your sponsors, who will step up and greet you. If your sponsor has not shown, or you know they won’t be there, the announcer will point you to the info. desk that is immediately to your left as you enter the lobby. Volunteers will help arrange transportation and advise you about lodging…most of the people waiting in this line were single servicemen/women.
One smart family had a power strip along. That way at Seattle and Yakota they only used one outlet but could charge all kinds of ipods, DSi’s, laptops… Pretty smart!