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Consumer Watch: Summer savings

Military discounts get you most for your vacation buck

Jun. 16, 2011 - 01:53PM   |   Last Updated: Jun. 16, 2011 - 01:53PM  |  
The Navy's Gull Cottage at Prospect Harbor, Maine.
The Navy's Gull Cottage at Prospect Harbor, Maine. (Patrick J. Downey)
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Tucked away on military bases around the country are vacation getaways to suit virtually anyone's taste and budget — a cottage at a lighthouse in Maine, lakeside cabins and beach retreats among them.

But there are other deals, too, for day trips, weekend getaways, or a week or two of relaxation — whether you're looking for whitewater rafting in Georgia or feel like heading for Elvis' Graceland mansion in Memphis.

A good military discount might drive your decision about where you want to go. Or, if you've already decided on your spot, you might find discounts to help you stay within your budget. And it's not too late to snag such deals for this summer.

Some sources for finding them:

• http://www.armymwr.com/recleisure/outdoors/paths.aspx">PathsAcrossAmerica.com provides information about some cottages, cabanas, town homes and other rentals, in addition to camping and recreational vehicle sites. Some are located overseas.

The listings may be out of date because of personnel cutbacks, but contact information is included, so call or email to check prices and availability. One example: Great Pond Outdoor Adventure Center, operated by Navy Morale, Welfare and Recreation in Great Pond, Maine, has seven cabins and is adding seven more that will be finished in August. Each cabin sleeps eight people.

Through Oct. 31, rates are $115 a night. Offseason rates are $90 a night. A lodge that sleeps up to 10 people rents for $150 a night, and camp sites and yurts (a combination tent-cabin) also are available. Fishing, hiking, sailing, canoeing and kayaking are just a few summer activities available.

• Armed Forces Recreation Centers are resorts that include Shades of Green at Walt Disney World in Orlando, Fla.; Cape Henry Inn and Beach Club at Fort Story, Va.; the Hale Koa Hotel in Honolulu; Edelweiss Lodge and Resort in Garmisch, Germany; and the Dragon Hill Lodge in Seoul, South Korea. Detailed reservation information is at http://www.armymwr.com/">http://www.armymwr.com/.

• Space-available lodging may be available on installations at official lodging facilities.

• Your installation's tickets and tours office, operated by the local morale, welfare and recreation (or Air Force Services) division, can provide information and tickets for a wide variety of discounts on resorts, hotels and attractions — many of which are available only through these offices.

The Army, Navy and Marine Corps work together on volume discounts available at any of their offices; Air Force Services offices have their own separate arrangements. The available discounts and prices "literally change by the minute," said Dawn Smith, Information, Tickets and Travel program manager for the Navy.

Discounts vary by vacation location and dates, and are available year-round. Beach resort deals are available at Myrtle Beach, S.C., and Daytona Beach and Panama City, Fla., to name a few. You can head for Colonial Williamsburg, Va., Branson, Mo., New York City, New Orleans or Disney World in Orlando, Fla., for example. Many resort and hotel discounts are available.

These ticket offices "can help plan vacations — and can save you a good deal of money," said Dan Yount, chief of Army leisure travel services. The price quoted is the final price, whereas in the commercial sector, the quoted price doesn't include taxes and some other fees. Average hotel taxes are about 13 percent, Yount said.

Keep this in mind when you're comparison-shopping for deals, and ask about taxes and other fees, such as parking, when talking to companies.

MWR offices also can help you get discounts for local attractions, such as discounted CityPASS tickets for attractions in a number of cities.

There's a military discount for the Smart Destinations Go Card program, which provides unlimited access to listed attractions with passes for one to seven days in a number of areas.

There's a Wine Country Explorer pass for the Napa Valley in California.

A Blue Ridge Explorer Pass gets you into North Carolina attractions ranging from Biltmore Estate and Grandfather Mountain to Tweetsie Railroad. The online commercial unlimited five-day pass is $164.79, while the military discount pass is $145, Yount said. If you paid at the door of each attraction, it would add up quickly — $55 for one adult admission to Biltmore and $34 for Tweetsie, for example.

Also, check with your tickets and tours offices for discounts offered by Disney World and Disneyland Resorts; SeaWorld Parks and Entertainment; Universal Studios Orlando; and other theme and water parks.

• Armed Forces Vacation Club, http://www.afvclub.com/">http://www.afvclub.com/, offers many seven-day vacation packages starting at $369 per unit, with $20 off if you book online. One recent example online was a seven-night stay for $549 for a room that sleeps up to four people, from Aug. 27 to Sept. 3 at the Iron Blosam Lodge near Utah's Wasatch Mountains.

• MWR Exchange Vacations (Government Vacation Rewards) (http://www.armymwr.com/travel/">www.armymwr.com/travel) allows users to book cruises, airfare, hotels, resorts and packages. Recent examples included seven-night stays in July for four people in units at various resorts in Mexico's Cabo San Lucas at $599, at a savings of $150. Booking through GVR also gets you rewards points toward future vacations.

MWR Exchange Vacations recently began accepting the exchanges' Military Star Card online for airline reservations. It also accepts the Military Star Card for cruise and hotel bookings.

Now, back to that cottage in Maine. Gull Cottage at Prospect Harbor, and its working lighthouse, are historical landmarks constructed in 1891. The two-bedroom cottage rents for $100 a night. Reservations are accepted up to six months in advance from active-duty, National Guard and reserve members, and up to three months ahead by retired military, DoD civilians and 100 percent disabled veterans.

You may have to consider this one for sometime next year, since the wait list is "pages and pages," according to an employee. Reservations can be made by calling 207-584-5099.

Questions? Comments? Email staff writer kjowers@militarytimes.com?subject=Question from ArmyTimes.com reader">Karen Jowers at kjowers@militarytimes.com">kjowers@militarytimes.com.

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