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Your Pensacola Area Guide

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For Navy and Marine families, being stationed near the water may be par for the course, but ask anyone how they feel about being stationed in Pensacola and you'll see their eyes light up. The weather is great. The beaches are beautiful and seafood is fantastic. Ready to learn more about your new duty station? Dive in below! Ready to house hunt and see photos? Head to PCSgrades.com!

WHERE IS PENSACOLA?

Pensacola is the most western city in the Florida panhandle on the border of Florida and Alabama. This beautiful city lies on the Gulf of Mexico and is the oldest European settlement in mainland America. Pensacola is home to the Blue Angels and Naval Aviation. But you're going to find all branches here. (Even the Army!) Families come and go, and often they begin their career here in training and then come back several times before retirement.

HOUSING

Housing on Corry Station, NAS Pensacola, and Whiting Field are all operated by the same privatized housing company, Balfour Beatty. Service members assigned to this area can choose to live in any of the communities, though most people tend to live off the installation, out in town.

Stationed in Pensacola? Leave a review of your neighborhood and help fellow mil-fams!

BAH & COST OF LIVING

Escambia County in western Florida is home to more than 40,000 veterans and over 11,000 active duty families.

The overall cost of living for the Pensacola area is 8% lower than the national average with the median rent cost at $1,100 and the median home purchase price of $133,100. There is also no state income tax making this an attractive place to purchase.

Need to find a REALTOR® in the Pensacola area? Your fellow military and veteran community has reviewed them for you at PCSgrades.com.

WEATHER

Yes, Pensacola is in Florida, but the weather isn't always hot. In the winter, it can get quite cool, but you don't need to worry about snow storms here. Even into October, you'll be running your air conditioner and cherishing the slightly cooler mornings. The humidity, however, is something you'll have to get used to. It's hot, it's sticky, and the summer rain just makes it worse!

AMENITIES & INFO

SCHOOLS

Escambia County, Florida (where these installations are located) is the second-poorest county in the state. This makes education a concern for many parents and pushes them to live off of the installation and utilize school choice whenever possible. Most people live outside the back gate, heading towards Perdido, or up north towards Milton, Pace, and Cantonment.

THE COMMUTE

While traffic has its moments, overall it's not a bad commute, even if you are driving 20-30 miles away from the installation. Though, on summer weekends, the traffic to and from the beach areas can double that drive time.

CULTURE AND CUSTOMS

SPORTS TEAMS

Pensacola plays host to two minor league sports team, the Blue Wahoos (baseball) and the Ice Flyers (hockey). These games are a great place to mingle with the locals and appreciate live sports, at a fraction of the cost. Wanna bring the kids to the Wahoos stadium? Get "standing room only" tickets, bring a blanket, and head out to the grassy hill right field. Hockey kicks off in late October and there are several military appreciation nights with steep discounts, as well as a chance to nominate your hero to drop the puck in center ice for each home game. Show your new hometown pride and cheer on your local Pensacola team!

FOOD & SEAFOOD

The food in Pensacola is something else. Why not try seafood when you can see the beach from your table in the restaurant? There are some great bars, gastro pubs, burger places, and even fine dining. A popular chain restaurant called The Shrimp Basket is a favorite for weekday lunches. Several beachside restaurants have a contained sand area for kids to play while adults relax with a cocktail. Master's Champion Bubba Watson is a native of the area, which makes Bubba's Sweet Shoppe a great place to visit for fudge or ice cream.

AREA ATTRACTIONS

HISTORIC PENSACOLA VILLAGE

Downtown Pensacola has something for everyone, restaurants, galleries, ice cream shops, a park, and museums. The T.T. Wentworth Jr. Florida State Museum is one of the history museums that is housed in a three-story building. Close by is the Pensacola Museum of Art and the Pensacola Children's Museum in the Seville Quarter. All tickets purchased, at any of the museums in the group, are valid for seven days, so you can easily view them all. Annual membership is also quite affordable for those who like to revisit

PENSACOLA LIGHTHOUSE & MUSEUM

For those wishing to climb the historic lighthouse, the views are spectacular. Coast Guard history, maritime history, a museum store and the restored 1869 keepers' quarters are included in the available exhibits. It's only 177 steps to the top, and frequently ghost hunts are available for those with an extra sense of adventure.

BEACHES

Pensacola has some of the most beautiful beaches in the country. A favorite among military families is Johnson's Beach, located in Perdido. As a national park, it's free to military families, and the amenities make it a very desirable location. The beach on NAS Pensacola is often the first one families experience, as the Navy Lodge looks right out onto it. The waters are pretty calm and the sand is soft. Pensacola Beach plays hosts to many events throughout the year, which makes it busy but fun.

NATIONAL NAVAL AVIATION MUSEUM

Pensacola has so much aviation history, that it's impossible to see it all in one day. But those visiting the aviation museum have the best chance. Located on NAS Pensacola, this museum has over 150 restored aircraft that represent the history of Navy, Marine Corps and Coast Guard aviation. It's huge, with inside exhibits filling the 350,000 square feet and outside exhibits across the 37 acre grounds. On certain weekdays, the Blue Angels practice right over the museum, so special seating is available to view that. And on extra special days, the pilots will come to that area and meet with fans.

PALAFOX MARKET

For fresh produce, homemade bread, and a great atmosphere, the Palafox Market on Saturdays is the place to be. Grab some coffee at Fosko's Coffee Barre and then stroll through the market. Be sure to stop and listen to the String Farm play and admire the handmade souvenirs that are sprinkled in among the vendors.

Pensacola truly has something for everyone, with just about the perfect population size. Not so many people that you'll be stuck in traffic, but just enough that you'll quickly find your tribe.

This post sponsored by PCSgrades.

Stephanie Wade/U.S. Transportation Command

In military life, there is really nothing more stressful than a Permanent Change of Station (PCS). Deployments are a close second, but a PCS takes the cake. Combine a PCS with a deployment and not only do you want to eat all of the proverbial cake, you want to guzzle copious amounts of wine, too. We see you. Cheers.

One company, PCSgrades, is trying to make the PCS process feel more like a three-letter acronym than a four-letter expletive. Founded by veteran Todd Ernst, PCSgrades is the epitome of the military community taking care of its own. "PCSing has an emotional connotation," said Ernst. "We use it as an adverb, adjective, a noun and even as a cuss word."

Ernst started PCSgrades in 2015 after seeing friends struggle with unethical real estate agents and being taken advantage of by moving companies who knew DoD would be a paying customer no matter how poorly the companies treated their clients - us.

Here are 4 resources PCSgrades provides that you need to make moving easier:

1. Housing reviews

Does it get any more stressful than finding out where you're going to be stationed, Googling base housing at that station and getting results from 15 years ago (if you find anything, at all)? Nope, no it doesn't.

PCSgrades is changing the game on that by having military families who live in an area provide honest, candid reviews of their housing so incoming families can benefit. With reviews of both on and off base locations, families can finally get the truth about housing, whether it has black mold or the best views in town.

2. Moving company reviews

Great, you've figured out where to live; that's half the battle. The other, larger, more complex half? Figuring out how your stuff is going to get there. Knowing someone else will be handling your personal property and driving away with it for the foreseeable future is stressful enough. But not knowing what that company's background is, well that's a whole different ball game.

PCSgrades has countless reviews of moving companies provided by military families who have used them. Let's be honest: You wouldn't try a new Chinese delivery place without looking at reviews … why should picking a moving company be any different?

3. Area guides

The giant Google machine can only get you so far in life when you're researching your new duty station. We know you're busy and you want one-stop shopping on the interwebs. What you really need is aggregate data of things like schools to attend, restaurants to try, day trips to take and neighborhoods to avoid.

Introducing Area Guides, which offer exactly that: a holistic view of where you're moving and what to do once you get there. The best part? These are written by military families who have done it, for military families who are doing it.

4. Network of realtors and resources

PCSgrades has a nationwide network of A-graded realtors who know and understand the military and veteran lifestyle. Many of the realtors are veterans or spouses themselves, which takes the empathy to a whole new level. Having a realtor who gets the pressures of PCSing and the challenges of a military move is key to finding the right home for your family.

"I have friends who are hundreds of thousands of dollars upside down after bad home choices," Ernst said. "Housing choices can be pretty limited. Our moves are way more expensive than the typical civilian move." This is why Ernst created a way to alleviate the pain points for military families through PCSgrades.

In addition to a network of realtors, PCSgrades partners with "HomeScout," which allows you to search up-to-date home listings nationwide. Simply create an account with PCSgrades and the realty world is your oyster.

Whether you're looking for a new neighborhood, trying to find a vetted realtor, need a PCS checklist (let's be honest, is it on your radar to look at the expiration date of your military ID card two months before you PCS? Yeah, we know the truth; download the checklists here), or you're just wanting to know more about where you're heading, PCSgrades is making moving easier for every military family. Pay it forward by leaving reviews and be sure to take advantage of their excellent resources, today.

This post sponsored by PCSgrades.

7 airplane travel hacks with kids

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Yeah! You got orders to (insert foreign country overseas)! You can already picture your kids in the international school, speaking with cute little accents and wearing local garments. Adorbs. You've got your housing picked out, adventures planned and passport photos taken. You're ready for your epic move ... except for that 13 hour plane ride. Have you wrapped your head around that yet? Before you grab for a paper bag and start hyperventilating, use our travel hacks to help make the emotional turbulence you're experiencing a little lighter.

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We've all said it: "We'll drive. It won't be that bad." We picture the adventure, the memories, the nostalgia of car trips when we were younger.

But if we're really being honest with ourselves, think back to those car trips. Someone was crying. Someone was puking. Someone was whining. That person very well may have been your poor mother. True story, my mom once got out and walked along the highway when all six of us kids wouldn't stop fighting. A long car trip can be daunting, but with our tips and tricks they don't need to be.

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Nordwood theme, Unsplash

WE ALL HAVE OUR SHARE OF HORROR STORIES WHEN IT COMES TO MILITARY MOVING!

Name the most disgusting item erroneously packed by your movers… for me it was used coffee grounds and of course, trash. For others, I've heard everything from wet towels to dirty diapers. I've caught movers raiding my fridge, lounging on my mattress in my front yard, and throwing out items that they've broken. Raise your hand (or have a drink) if you ever had packers show up late (or not at all). Ever had packers get into a shouting match among themselves as they were packing your china? Or have you caught your movers throwing boxes down the stairs to the basement? That would be me!

LESSONS LEARNED

With each military move, there are "lessons learned". For instance, I won't go into great detail but let's just say after watching one packer go directly from using the restroom back to packing my kitchen without washing his hands, we now use gigantic ziplock bags to "pre-pack" all my kitchen utensils. A packers' bare flesh has never again touched one of my kitchen utensils.

My family's last military move was by far the shortest, only 1½ miles up the road. We were moving from a rental to a home we purchased. It was by far the worst in terms of damage and overall angst. I think because we were only "moving up the road" the pack job left a lot to be desired. I found one box of dishes which had not one piece of wrapping paper! Instead two throw pillows from my family room were used as a buffer! Amazingly, nothing was broken! Go figure!

When I heard glass shatter in the moving truck, I asked one of the guys what shattered.

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There are any number of reasons why in a given situation renting might be better than buying or vice versa. For military families, it might make more sense to buy at one duty station and then rent at the next. Up for consideration with each PCS is whether to buy or rent, to stay on-base or off. In making these decisions, there are numerous pros and cons to consider.

PROS TO BUYING

  • Purchasing the right home can be a great financial investment that can grow in value over time.
  • Tax deductions such as mortgage interest and property taxes can greatly reduce your overall income tax burden if you itemize.
  • Being a homeowner can give you pride of ownership and a sense of stability, rare in the military life which can seem nomadic at times.
  • A mortgage payment that is lower than your BAH can result in a boost to your savings.
  • You can decorate however you want! Goodbye white walls! Hello, Color!
  • Anyone can stay with you at any time. So it is not a problem when your Mom or sister comes for an extended stay during a deployment or following a PCS.
  • You can do (almost) whatever you want….host a late night party, plant a garden, knock a wall down!
  • There are no security or pet deposits when you buy a home.
  • You have the opportunity to become a landlord when military orders arrive and you have to move. Your home can become an investment property, providing a source of income which can partially or totally offset your mortgage, taxes, and insurance payments.
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