WASHINGTON -- If you're mourning the end of summer – and with it, the annual vacation season – take heart that military lodging facilities remain open for business, offering year-round escapes at a fraction of the cost of commercial hotels.
Now might be the perfect time for qualified fun seekers to use their military, retiree or Defense Department identification cards to book lodging at one of hundreds of military-owned accommodations all over the world.
The facilities range from standard hotel rooms on military installations to campgrounds and recreational vehicle parks to luxury armed forces recreation centers in Garmisch, Germany; Honolulu; Seoul, South Korea; and Walt Disney World in Orlando, Fla.
Generally speaking, each service, including the Coast Guard, runs its own lodging program for official travelers and offers up empty rooms on a space-available basis to leisure travelers from every branch. They also operate facilities geared specifically for recreational guests.
Every service runs its own reservation system, and rules about who can stay in the facilities vary slightly among them. But for those willing to do a little homework, military lodging can open doors to affordable year-round getaways.
Susan Langless, who oversees the Navy's lodging facilities, said they typically save guests about 40 percent compared to civilian hotels. Those looking for "big city" vacations can check into Navy Lodge hotels in the Seattle and San Francisco areas, as well as San Diego and New York, she said. However, travelers longing for a relaxing beach getaway can visit one of Navy Lodge's beach destinations.
For a Gulf Coast vacation, for example, they can check out a Navy Lodge in Gulfport, Miss., or Pensacola, Fla.
Meanwhile, the Navy Getaways program features accommodations at 49 sites around the globe. That includes more than 2,600 recreational vehicle spots, tent sites, cottages, cabins, townhomes and resort-style vacation rentals. Among them is Navy Getaways Pacific Beach Resort and Conference Center in Washington, offering three-, four- and five-bedroom cottages, hotel suites, an RV spot and campground.
Not only are these facilities affordable, Langless said, but they also are "great places to stay and relax."
Many of the military accommodations are considered "best-kept secrets" by their guests
For example, the Army morale, welfare and recreation program features the popular Seward Military Resort on Alaska's Kenai Peninsula, reported Debbie Martin, the Army's chief of hospitality programs. Guests can choose from a variety of accommodations as they enjoy world-class fishing, spectacular glaciers, and abundance of wildlife and recreational opportunities galore.
Also, in addition to the luxurious Hale Koa Armed Forces Recreation Center in Honolulu, the Army operates the Pililaau Army Recreation Center on Oahu's Leeward Coast and the Kilauea Military Camp mountain resort on Hawaii's Big Island.
Bob Vogt, division director for Army Installation and Management Command's soldier and community recreation division, said he is particularly fond of the cabins Army MWR operates on Torii Station Army Base in Okinawa. He described the Torii Beach location as "one of the most beautiful beachfront locations anywhere in the world."
Within the continental United States, the Army MWR program manages Lake of the Ozarks Recreation Area in Missouri, which features lakefront cabins and motel rooms, along with boat and jetski rentals.
"America's Army and other eligible patrons should use Army Lodging, because it provides them with conveniently located, high-quality lodging and hospitality services at an affordable price," Vogt said.
The Marines Corps' network of recreational facilities includes villas, cabanas and cottages at Kaneohe Bay, Hawaii. The Del Mar Beach Resort, near Camp Pendleton, Calif., is a luxury oceanfront resort spanning pristine beaches and spectacular views of the Pacific, and a host of other amenities.
Travelers also might want to check out the Big Bear Recreational Facility, a hidden retreat in the heart of the San Bernardino Mountains. Run by the Marine Corps, it offers affordable camping and lodging facilities for active duty, retired military personnel, reservists, DOD employees and their authorized family members.
In addition to hotels on many Air Force bases, Air Force Personnel Center's services directorate features more than two dozen recreational areas worldwide.
Ramstein Inns on Ramstein Air Base in Germany is directly across the street from the passenger terminal, and at the front door to many of Germany's most popular destinations. The Nellis Inn on Nellis Air Force Base, Nev., is convenient gateway to the Las Vegas attractions. Peterson Air Force Base's inn provides easy access to Colorado Springs, Colo., and the Rocky Mountains.
Members interested in visiting the mid-Atlantic coast can check out the Fort Fisher Air Force Recreational Area in Kure Beach, N.C., which provides visitors easy access to the Cape Fear River and the Atlantic Ocean, Paige Hughes of the Air Force services directorate reported. Those who prefer the mountains and canyons of the western United States can visit Farish Air Force Recreation Area outside Colorado Springs, Colo., or Fort Tuthill Air Force Recreation Area near
Flagstaff, Ariz., with easy access to the Grand Canyon.
Those stationed in the Pacific can enjoy recreational areas in Hawaii, Okuma Air Force Recreation Area on Okinawa, Japan, and Tama Air Force Recreation Area on the main island north of Tokyo.
Visitors traveling with a recreational vehicle have even more options available, Hughes said. With more than 60 family camps to choose from, they can find facilities near San Antonio, Charleston, S.C., and other popular cities, or close to Florida Panhandle beaches.
Even travelers familiar with the Defense Department's vast network of accommodations might forget to explore those offered by the Coast Guard.
Those facilities include the Petaluma Lake RV Park, on a small lake in California's Sonoma County. U.S. Coast Guard Station Marathon offers four cottages in the heart of the Florida Keys. And to the northeast, the Coast Guard offers summertime lodging at a former lifeboat station on Cuttyhunk Island, Mass., now converted into a house with two apartments.
"Look at MWR recreational lodging opportunities when planning your vacation," Vogt advises military travelers. "All services offer low-cost options from campsites, cabins to small lodges. "It's a potential cost saving to you and your family -- and it allows MWR to continue to offer reduced rates on programs and services at locations across the U.S. and in overseas locations."