As COVID restrictions begin to lift and businesses implement new safety protocols, more and more service members are putting in leave or planning their next family vacations—goodness knows we could all use one after lockdown. Though many hotels are offering lower rates in order to entice tourists to return, there are still popular vacation destinations where lodging is at a premium. Luckily, there are some hidden gems to be found in these areas…as long as you have your military ID. Even if you're not planning to travel soon, keep these locations in mind for your post-COVID vacations. Since international travel restrictions are still in place, this list will focus on accommodations in the United States. Overseas locations like Dragon Hill Lodge in Seoul, South Korea will not be included.
1. Hale Koa Hotel—Honolulu, HI
Hawaii doesn't have to be expensive (Hale Koa—AFRC)
Situated in the heart of Waikiki, Hale Koa offers service members an affordable and high class aloha experience. Owned by the DoD, Hale Koa is part of a chain of Joint Service Facility resorts called Armed Forces Recreation Centers. Room rates range from $123 to $371 per night depending on the dates of your stay and your rank (try to find resort rates like that in Waikiki). In order to book a stay, guests must provide proof of eligibility like a CAC or DD Form 2. For a full list of eligibility, see the Hale Koa website. Reservations are accepted up to 365 days before your desired trip. Hale Koa notes that September to mid-December offers the most room availability.
2. NAB Coronado/NAS North Island Navy Gateway—Coronado, CA
Coronado offers two different locations (Navy Gateway)
Coronado in San Diego is a premiere resort city known for the grand Victorian Hotel del Coronado, world-class beaches, and hosting two Navy bases. Both bases offer service members lodging operated by the DoD Lodging Program under Navy Gateway Inns & Suites. While the Navy Gateway at NAS North Island offers guests more luxurious accommodations, its location on the north end of the peninsula means that it is further from the shops and restaurants that visitors come to Coronado for. On the other hand, the Navy Gateway at NAB Coronado is just south of the heart of the city. In fact, the lodging is only 1.5 miles from "The Del" and the picturesque Coronado Yacht Club. Both locations offer easy and exclusive beach access. However, if you plan to take your four-legged friend(s) to Coronado's famous white-sand dog beach, note that only the NAB Coronado location is pet friendly. Pricing and availability vary, but a standard room can usually be had for around $100/night.
3. Shades of Green—Lake Buena Vista, FL
A stay in the Magic Kingdom doesn't have to break the bank (Shades of Green)
Like Hale Koa, Shades of Green is a Joint Service Facility resort under the AFRC program. Located on the grounds of Walt Disney World in between two PGA championship golf courses, the resort offers nearly 600 rooms and suites reserved exclusively for service members, families, and sponsored guests. A full list of eligibility is listed on their website. Accommodations range in price from a standard room at $139/night for E-1 through E-6, up to $469/night for their top-tier Palm and Magnolia Suites regardless of rank. Compared to Disney's on-site resorts, Shades of Green is comparable to their Deluxe Resorts like the Polynesian Resort. Though resort guests cannot park for free at the Disney parks, Shades of Green does offer a complimentary bus service to and from the parks. That said, the resort does not provide transportation to or from the Orlando International Airport and on-site parking comes at the cost of $11/night.
4. Coast Guard Guest Lodging—Cape May, NJ
(City of Cape May)
Most people don't know that Cape May, NJ hosts basic training for the U.S. Coast Guard. The city claims to be America's original seaside resort. The pristine beaches, diverse dining options, and rich history make it a great choice for an east coast vacation on the water. While the city has plenty of hotels, bed & breakfast inns, and guest houses, the Coast Guard Guest Lodging offers eligible service members lodging options in the form of six fully furnished two bedroom units. Each unit has a living room, kitchen, and full bathroom along with essential housing items. If you and your family are planning an extended stay in Cape May and/or want to visit the surrounding area, these Coast Guard accommodations might be for you. Reservations during the peak season of May 15-September 15 will cost you $90/night while the non-peak season of September 16-May 14 runs at $80/night. Two pet friendly units are available and will require a non-refundable pet fee of $100.
5. Soldiers’, Sailors’, Marines’, Coast Guard & Airmen’s Club—New York, NY
The club is located just a few blocks from the Empire State Building (SSMA Club)
Located on Lexington Avenue in the heart of Manhattan, the SSMA Club has been housing service members in the Big Apple since 1919. It is the only private organization in the New York area that provides accommodations at subsidized rates and club-type facilities to service members, veterans, retirees, and their families. The club rents by the bed rather than by the room; there are 21 rooms with two beds, six rooms with three beds, one room with four beds, and one room with six beds. Daily rates range from $65-$75 per night depending on eligibility. There is also a single VIP Room that goes for $130/night for single-occupancy and $160/night for double-occupancy. Lavatories are communal and separated by gender. The club does not offer food service, but it does have kitchen facilities for guests to use. Common areas include the canteen, library, and two lounges.
Whether you're looking to vacation at the beach, in a city, or at the happiest place on Earth, keep military-exclusive lodging options like these in mind. The eligibility and nightly rates for use of these facilities vary, so be sure to check their websites. Even if you're not planning a trip to one of the locations listed, check to see if your vacation destination has a military-exclusive establishment. Service members and their families sacrifice so much for this country; accommodations like these offer a little bit in return.