Because it is the biggest event in the school year, some students spend more time preparing for the prom than they do studying for finals. From finding the perfect outfit to making sure it's a good hair day, no detail is too small to scrutinize. It's a time to look your best as you spend a memorable night with your closest friends. For more and more students, it means ditching the driving, hiring a limo and arriving in style, entourage in tow.
Not long ago, it was customary for the boy to pick up the girl in his parents' classiest car. Limos were for rock stars and politicians. As they started to grow from 10-passenger stretch Town Cars to 26-passenger Hummers, it started to make more sense for prom-goers to pool their money and let a professional do the driving. Now prom season is the busiest time of year for many limo companies.
"When prom season is coming, all of our vehicles are pretty much taken every single weekend," says Chris Radkowski, owner of Stretch Limousine in Chicago.
As limos have grown in size over the years, they have become more affordable because more people can share in the cost. But Radkowski says that safety is the reason many parents hire licensed chauffeurs, who can act as not only drivers but also chaperones. Reputable limo services have zero-tolerance policies on drinking, smoking, drug use and other prom night problems.
"When we see any kind of liquor, we stop the vehicle, and if they don't give it to the driver, we go straight back home," Radkowski says. "The journey is over, and you're paying for the whole fare."
He says that 99 percent of the time, there are no problems, but all it takes to stop the car is for one passenger to try to sneak something in it. His drivers exchange phone numbers with parents before their trips begin. If someone who's caught with something won't give it up, a phone call to Mom or Dad usually will get that person to change his or her mind. If the person still won't comply, the trip is over. Most parents appreciate having an adult in the car to make sure everyone is safe.
Even with an adult present, hitting the town in a limo the size of a submarine is much more memorable than driving the family car. Prom packages routinely include unlimited pickups and drop-offs and time to cruise around town before or after the prom. Many companies continue to charge while the prom is taking place, but some of the larger ones are able to divert drivers to other jobs during the dance, allowing for a much smaller fare.
Just because limos can carry as many as 26 people doesn't mean that a more intimate experience isn't available. Two-passenger sedans are popular with couples who have bigger budgets and prefer some privacy; the traditional 10-passenger stretch Town Car is more festive and affordable, if everyone chips in. Because making a memorable entrance is important, bigger limos, such as the Cadillac Escalade and the Ford Excursion, are booked far in advance of prom night.
Probably the most popular limo on the lot is the massive Hummer, Radkowski says. A normal Hummer is already one of the biggest rides on the road, but when it's stretched out to fit 20 or more people, it attracts even more attention wherever it goes. This massive machine will make the biggest splash on prom night, but if you wait too long, you'll be out of luck, as it will be among the first in the fleet to be reserved.
Prom packages are very common, with various offers for different vehicles and time frames. Radkowski offers packages that range from four to six hours, depending on how much cruising time is desired. Four hours in a 20-person Hummer can cost as little as $50 per person. Getting a big group together to share the cost makes it possible to arrive in style safely without draining your dollars.