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9 Things to Do Near Great Lakes After Your Sailor’s RTC Graduation

If you’re getting ready to visit your sailor at Great Lakes Recruit Training Command (RTC) …


If you’re getting ready to visit your sailor at Great Lakes Recruit Training Command (RTC) for graduation, it’s time to get excited. 

Not only do you get to see your sailor (finally!), but you get to explore an area filled with amazing history, beauty, and unique attractions. 

In fact, nearby Chicago has been voted the “Best Large City in the U.S.” for the last three years in a row! 

By the time you arrive, your sailor will be ready to relax for a few hours with you before they head to their next assignment. Whether you stay near base or head into Chicago, this list will give you ideas of things to do after a Great Lakes RTC graduation.

Ready to celebrate your sailor’s big accomplishment? 

These nine options are a perfect way to spend time with your newly graduated sailor: 

1. The National Museum of the American Sailor (NMAS) 

If your sailor is obsessed with history, be sure to take them to the National Museum of the American Sailor. Located just outside the perimeter fence of Naval Station Great Lakes, this museum is a perfect first stop before you explore the rest of the Great Lakes area. Check out historical collections, research, and exhibits that include flags, uniforms, photos, scrapbooks, and more.

A few of the highlights:

  • Navy Tails People aren’t the only ones to serve in the Navy. This special exhibit runs through fall 2019 and features the stories of working service animals like E-3 Cindy, a stray dog turned ship mascot.
  • Artifact in the Spotlight — Every month, the museum staff rotates out a new artifact for visitors to get a close-up look at, including donated uniforms and dog tags.
  • Building 42 Hostess House Upon arrival to the museum, be sure to take a good look at the actual building itself, which displays impressive Mid-Century Modern (MCM) architecture. In 1942, the building opened and served as an area for sailors to say goodbye and hello to their loved ones before departing for war.

Want to share a piece of history? Veterans can also donate items to the ever-growing collection at the National Museum of the American Sailor, too.

Admission: Free


Phone: 847-688-3154


2. Six Flags Great America 

Prefer an adrenaline rush? Head to Six Flags for a day of fun that includes thrill rides, family rides, waterpark rides, food, and shows. Plan ahead with the Six Flags app to see which rides you’ll want to hop on first before the park gets too packed. 

Bringing kiddos? No problem. Stroller rentals are available for families who have little ones tagging along. There’s also a fantastic Kid Swap program that allows adults to take turns at attractions when a child is too short for a ride. 

A few of the highlights:

  • Family rides — Even if you hate roller coasters, you won’t need to feel left out at this theme park. Ride a carousel, take a balloon ride, or zoom around in bumper cars!
  • Live entertainment — Each day, visitors can catch live shows and interactive events from cabarets to character candy trails and photo ops.
  • Thrill rides — From the 55-mile-per hour BATMAN roller coaster to the dueling American Eagle, there’s no shortage of heart-racing rides to hop on here. Choose from 17 different thrill rides to get your heart pumping and your palms sweaty.

Be sure to check the website for special seasonal events, too, depending on the time of year you’ll be attending your sailor’s graduation.

Admission: $79.99 adult, $59.99 child at gate

$69.99 online for an any day ticket 


3. Chicago Botanic Garden

More than 45 years ago, the Chicago Botanic Garden opened its doors. Today, it continues to thrive as a museum and conservation science center. Each year, millions of visitors stop by this gorgeous property that includes 385 acres and nine islands. 

For nature lovers, this site is a must-see with its 27 gardens and four natural areas, including a stunning bonsai collection. After walking the grounds, stop by the beer garden for a cold one or enjoy local fare at the Garden View Café before heading out.

A few of the highlights: 

  • Krasberg Rose Garden If you love roses, stop here. You won’t want to miss these fragrant-smelling blooms that sometimes stand 6-feet-tall!
  • Sensory Garden — For visitors with mobility issues, this garden is easier to navigate. Depending on the time of year, you may catch scents like chocolate or apples, thanks to the unique plants growing here.
  • Flower shows — Throughout the year, special flower shows display some of the region’s best and most beautiful flowers. Flowers and even fruits are available for purchase during these events.

The garden is open 365 days a year, but hours do change seasonally. Download the app for help planning your visit to the Chicago Botanic Garden.

Admission: Free (show your military ID for free parking, too)


Phone: 847-835-6801

4. Great Wolf Lodge Indoor Water Park

The whole family will love this year-round indoor water park located just 20 minutes from Naval Station Great Lakes.  This 80,000 sq. ft. water park is kept at a perfect 84-degrees, so no matter what the weather is like outside, bathing suits are the ideal attire. 

A few of the highlights:

  • Howl in One Mini GolfReserve a tee time for the whole family on this indoor golf course ideal for all ages. The price is right at $7.99+tax per round, too.
  • Rustic Ridge Climbing Wall Burn off energy by scaling this 21-foot climbing wall. Add in some competition and see who in your party can make it to the top first!
  • Double Whirlwind  Pack the whole family into this group raft for a ride down a slide that ends in a big splash into the landing pool.

For family members who stay at the lodge, there’s unlimited WiFi, all-day access water park passes, kid activities, and a fitness center available for use. Not a water lover? There’s also an arcade and bowling to enjoy on site at the Great Wolf Lodge Illinois location.

Admission: $40/half day pass (4pm-close)

$50/full day pass 

2 and under are free

Limited number of passes sold per day, check website for availability


Phone: 847-623-9653

5. Illinois Beach State Park

If the weather is just right, consider heading to this 4,160-acre park where you can go swimming, boating, picnicking, hiking, and fishing for the day. Sandy ridges, colorful wildflowers, and more than 650 plant species create a spectacular landscape for nature lovers to enjoy throughout Illinois Beach State Park

A few of the highlights: 

  • Beach walk — Take a stroll along the miles of beachfront that looks over Lake Michigan.
  • Interpretive center — Before you head into the heart of the park, check out the interpretive center where hands-on exhibits and displays offer insight into the area’s animals, flora, and more.
  • Hiking and walking trails — Get closer to nature on any of the trails that stretch throughout the park. You can take guided nature hikes or individual walks throughout the southern part of the park, including a 2.2-mile loop trail.

Be sure to bring your camera as the park hugs 6.5 miles of Lake Michigan’s sandy shoreline where birds and other wildlife frequent. If your recruit is looking for some peace and quiet, this location is ideal for some quality time that also rejuvenates your sailor.

Admission: Free


Phone: 847-662-4811

6. Lambs Farm

Lambs Farm offers a unique opportunity to get up close and personal with farm animals. With more than 300 senior and rescue animals, the farmyard and petting zoo are always buzzing with excitement at this location just 35 miles north of Chicago.

A few of the highlights:

  • Magnolia Cafe & Bakery   Open daily, diners can order everything from omelets to homemade soups and specials like apple cinnamon French toast. Have a huge group visiting a graduating sailor? Book the banquet room.
  • Sugar Maple Country Store Have a sweet tooth that won’t quit? Be sure to stop into this sweet little country store where everything is made from scratch, including breads, jams, chocolates, and more goodies.
  • Carousel — Let your kids take a spin on the precious carousel after a stroll through the farmyard. 

Perhaps one of the best parts of exploring this farm is that your visit helps this non-profit employ and support nearly 250 people with developmental disabilities. Before you plan your visit, be sure to check out the calendar of events for fun activities like puppy yoga and breakfast with Santa.


Individual attractions range from $2-$5, Day passes are $12/child 2-12 yrs, $8/adult (Military discount is 20%) 


Phone: 847-362-4636

7. Independence Grove

Looking to hit some trails? Plan a trip to Independence Grove, which is centered around a 115-acre lake. This peaceful preserve is less than a 15-minute drive from base, but feels worlds away from the bustling base. With a total of 1,151 acres, you’ll find plenty to do, including boating, biking, picnicking, fishing, and more.

A few of the highlights:

  • Biking — Pick up a map and ride a bike around any of the park’s trails to get in some exercise while enjoying an intimate encounter with nature.
  • Picnicking — You can rent a picnic pavilion here or go old school and toss a blanket onto the grass. Catch up with your sailor while enjoying lunch and taking in the views of the preserve.
  • Summer concert series  If you’ll be visiting in the summer, check out the summer concert series held every Tuesday at 7:30 p.m. from mid-June through August at Millenia Plaza. 

Stop by the visitor’s center to ask questions about boat and bike rentals and other park activities that may be happening while you’re in town. 

Admission: $5-$10/car depending on day and season


Phone: 847-968-3499

8. Downtown Libertyville

If your sailor is in need of a little retail therapy, be sure to stop by downtown Libertyville. Local mom and pop shops thrive here, and throughout the year, more than 50 days of community events welcome locals and visitors alike.

Award-winning restaurants and unique shopping opportunities await in this popular downtown area. Foodies will love exploring the exotic spice shop and chocolatier store, while boutiques and art galleries offer the chance to browse for hours. 

A few of the highlights: 

  • My Flavor It! — This dessert place will hit the spot during the warmer months. If you love real ice cream made with premium dairy, check out this sweet shop. Can’t do dairy? Try the shaved ice with the in-house made syrup flavors like banana, root beer, and watermelon.
  • Lake Minear Beach — Just off Oak Spring Road, you can swim in the spring-fed waters here to cool off. Pack a lunch or grab some food to toss on the grill if you plan to spend the day relaxing beachside. The beach is open Memorial Day through Labor Day.
  • Oh, Olive! — Check out this family-owned business to sample high-quality olive oils and vinegars. If you really love the products, you can sign up for a monthly club membership! 

Before making a purchase anywhere in Libertyville, be sure to inquire about military discounts. Most businesses here offer one, including some up to 25% off! 

Admission: Free parking for shoppers

Address: Libertyville is easily accessible from Interstate 94 exits. Located between Chicago and Milwaukee, there are a few ways to get here

9. Navy Pier

With the exception of Thanksgiving and Christmas, this iconic city destination is open year round for tourists to visit. If you’re interested in shopping, dining, and sightseeing, this historic pier has it all. 

A few of the highlights: 

  • Offshore Rooftop & BarThis 21 and up bar offers a panoramic view of Lake Michigan and the city skyline. Rain, shine, or snow, this all-weather venue spans 36,000 sq. feet that offers California cuisine, entertainment and gaming areas, and gathering spaces for large groups.
  • Pier Park — Take a ride on the Centennial Wheel, experience virtual reality, or take a leisurely spin on the hand-painted Navy Pier Carousel while visiting this unique waterfront amusement park. Tickets can be purchased at the pier or online.
  • Spirit of Chicago Dinner Cruise — Spend 2.5 to 3 hours on Lake Michigan taking in the sights of the Navy Pier and the Chicago skyline. You’ll enjoy a buffet with entrees, salads, and desserts and can upgrade to cocktails and window seat views. Parking is available at the pier for cruisers.

This walkable area is a great way to reconnect with your recruit while also getting some exercise in as you enjoy the Windy City’s historic pier. 

Admission: Free. Some rides and exhibits have fees.


Planning Your Naval Station Great Lakes Trip 

Unsure of your recruit’s graduation schedule? 

Click here for the 2019 RTC graduation dates. You can even search by division number. 

Prior to making any travel plans, talk to your recruit to find out when they’ll be departing from Naval Station Great Lakes. Some sailors immediately transfer after their Great Lakes naval base graduation. Others may leave the day following the graduation ceremony. 

Since thousands of recruits graduate from RTC Great Lakes every week, area hotels and flights book up quickly. As soon as you can solidify your plans, do so to ensure you get the best rates and can stay close to base. 

Don’t want to lose money on your bookings? Plan your trip through Sandboxx

We guarantee you won’t be charged a change fee because of modified graduation dates outside of your control. It will save you time and frustration from calling airlines directly and waiting on hold forever. 

Our best advice? 

If you definitely know what attractions you’d like to visit during your trip to Great Lakes, Illinois, create a loose itinerary. 

Your recruit will be excited to spend time with you, and they’ll likely be exhausted from Battle Stations. Creating a flexible schedule will make it easier for your sailor to enjoy their well-deserved free time, too.

Ready to book your travel plans for a Great Lakes naval base graduation? Get help booking your trip with one of our experienced travel consultants today! 

The editorial team at Sandboxx.