Florida vacations on a budget
When visiting Florida, a great way to maximize your vacation funds is to utilize a nearby military base. These bases offer heavily discounted lodging compared to staying in a hotel off-base. There are also many recreational facilities available that are less expensive or not available elsewhere. My picks for best bases to visit in Florida take into account the base’s location, its size, and the facilities available. A larger base is more likely to have an inn, cottages, and RV camping available. Also, on a larger base one can find a full-sized exchange and a commissary (instead of a “shoppette”). Larger bases will also have recreational opportunities such as a swimming pool, bowling alley, restaurants, clubs, and marinas that rent water craft. They will also have an information, ticket, and travel office to help you explore and experience the area at a discounted military rate. I have not numbered my picks as each offers its own unique experiences and also so as not to seem biased toward one branch of the military. With that said, the Navy and Air Force have many more bases in Florida then the other military branches and comprise all of my choices.
NAS Pensacola, Pensacola, Florida
NAS Pensacola and the Pensacola area, located on Florida’s Emerald Coast, offer many nearby attractions to see and some of the nicest beaches in the world. Home of the U.S. Navy’s Blue Angels flying team (where they practice on base) and “Cradle of Naval Aviation,” the area has more than one large military base, NAS Pensacola, NAS Whiting Field, and NAS Corry Station. Numerous military lodging choices include a large Navy Gateway Inns and Suites, space available base lodging, cabins, mobile homes and over 150 RV sites. Sites to see include the beautiful beaches and their clear blue waters, numerous state and national parks and the outstanding National Naval Aviation Museum, one of the largest aviation museums in the country and free admission. Eastward about 50 miles along the Gulf Coast lie Air Force bases Hurlburt Field and Eglin AFB, another area that made this list. For even more vacation options, New Orleans, Louisiana and Biloxi, Mississippi, are just a few hours’ drive away. NAS Pensacola and it’s surrounding area are a fantastic travel destination and highly recommended to visit.
Eglin AFB, Okaloosa County, Florida
Eglin AFB, near the cities of Destin and Fort Walton Beach, is also on Florida’s Emerald Coast. Like Pensacola, this area has more than one large military base, Eglin AFB and Hurlburt Field (as well as Duke Field Afs to the north). Like Pensacola, Eglin and the nearby bases enjoy the fantastic beaches of Florida’s Emerald Coast and its clear blue gulf waters. Eglin Beach Park, a recreational area on Okaloosa Island for military personnel, offers isolation from the crowds along with its tranquil beach. There are many lodging accommodations available including Air Force Inns, camping, and RV options. There are two large military museums located here, the Air Force Armament Museum and the Hurlburt Field Memorial Air Park, both with dozens of displays of military aircraft and weaponry. With its close proximity to Pensacola, a vacation encompassing both areas is easy to plan.
Patrick AFB, Brevard County, Florida
Located on the East Coast, Patrick AFB is in the center of Florida’s Space Coast. The base is located next to the major space launch sites of Kennedy Space Center and Cape Canaveral making it a very popular vacation destination. The base features an Air Force Inn, beachfront house rentals, and over 100 RV spots. Although the base has a full compliment of recreational facilities available, the surrounding area including the Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex are the main attractions. In addition, the base is only an hour away from Orlando and its attractions including Walt Disney World plus its many theme parks, Universal Studios Orlando, Sea World, and other attractions. Also located on Walt Disney World Orlando property is the Department of Defense owned Shades of Green Resort, where service members and retirees can stay at a fraction of the cost of a room at a Walt Disney Resort.
NAS Key West, Boca Chica Key, Florida
Perhaps the most exotic location on the list, NAS Key West lies at the end of the Florida Keys and is a destination well-known to all. An important Navy base protecting our southeastern waters, NAS Key West offers many base facilities to those who visit. The base has many accommodation options including a Navy Lodge, vacation rentals, and hundreds of RV sites. Its location is traveled to from around the world and is famous for its excellent seafood, pirate history, shipwreck treasures, romantic sunsets, and party atmosphere. For those looking to escape it all and fully immerse themselves in the island way of living, check out nearby Marathon Key where the U.S. Coast Guard Station Marathon has cottages available for active duty and retirees to enjoy.
MacDill AFB, Tampa, Florida
Located in the heart of the city of Tampa, MacDill AFB offers visitors the largest urban experience on this list while still being close to the prime vacation beaches of Clearwater Beach and St Pete Beach on Florida’s Gulf Coast. This large base located in the middle of Tampa Bay offers many amenities such as a large Air Force Inn, plenty of RV spots, a beach and marina on base, and much more. Besides Tampa and all its attractions, a 75-mile drive to the east gets you to the Orlando attractions of Walt Disney World, Universal Studios Orlando and Sea World. As mentioned in the Patrick AFB information, the DoD owned and operated Shades of Green Resort, located on Walt Disney World Resort, is a military benefit worth using for an affordable memorable vacation experience.