Barrancas Beach at Naval Air Station Pensacola, Fla., is seen. (Navy)
Win a weeklong getaway
You don’t have to be in the Army for a chance to win an Army-sponsored vacation of a lifetime.
The winner of a new military-only vacation giveaway will have two amazing beach resorts to pick from or an alpine retreat, the Magic Kingdom or a stay in the heart of big-city Seoul, South Korea.
Dubbed the Great Getaways Sweepstakes, the Army’s Family and Morale, Welfare and Recreation Command is offering a chance to win a one-week stay at any the five Armed Forces Recreation Centers. The grand-prize winner gets round-trip airfare for two and a seven-night stay at the resort of his choice, plus $2,500 in spending money.
The AFRCs are: Hale Koa Hotel on Waikiki Beach, Hawaii; Shades of Green at Walt Disney World Resort, Fla.; Dragon Hill Lodge in Seoul; Cape Henry Inn and Beach Club near Virginia Beach, Va.; and Edelweiss Lodge and Resort in Garmisch-Partenkirchen, Germany.
Active-duty, reserve and National Guard personnel from all branches of service as well as retirees, family members and Defense Department civilians 18 and older are eligible for the contest. One entry per person, per day, is allowed through June 15 at www.afrcresorts.com.
It's an old, if painfully true, joke about duty in the Middle East: miles and miles of beachfront property but not a drop of water to be seen. True for most, but not for a select few stationed in a little-known outpost at the bottom of the Sinai Peninsula that shares coastline with the resort and party town of Sharm el-Sheikh.
Dubbed simply "South Camp," the barebones base is home to a U.S. infantry battalion that rotates through every six months as part of an international contingent that has been enforcing the peace treaty between Egypt and Israel since 1982.
It can be tough, if largely boring, duty, but it's made easier by a glorious strip of sandy, watersoaked shoreline known as Herb's Beach, named after retired Army Command Sgt. Maj. Herb Brav, a legendary South Camp fitness guru and lifeguard.
Deck chairs look out over volleyball nets and into the sun-warmed azure waters of the Red Sea, where snorkelers can explore a garish display of coral and sea life.
Beachside duty is rare for anyone in the Army, but the other services certainly do their best to make up for that, with more than a few bases providing long stretches of pristine beachfront property for troops to enjoy.
Some of our favorites, west to east:
Pacific Beach Resort & Conference Center: In the shadow of the snow-capped Olympic Mountains, Pacific Beach Resort offers a Navy-run hotel and cabins lining the bluff along with a full-service restaurant and conference center. Bikes and mopeds are available for rent at the shore. Lodging rates range from $45 for a standard room to $140 for a three-bedroom, ocean-side cottage during holidays and the peak season, May 1-Sept. 30. Get a 35 percent to 50 percent discount, depending on when you stay, during Customer Appreciation Week, May 1-7.
San Onofre and Del Mar beaches: Both of these beaches on Marine Corps Base Camp Pendleton have lifeguards, food/vending, parking and rental cottages, and they're perfect places for sunset-watching. San Onofre is like a throwback to the ‘60s, with longboard surfers and a laid-back groove. Both beaches rent cottages that fill up quickly on summer weekends. San Onofre's are $65, $75 and $85 a night for one, two and three bedrooms respectively. Del Mar's standard cottages rent for $85; deluxe for $99; and luxury for $129.
For mellower waters, check out the beaches a little farther south on North Island, a part of Naval Base Coronado in San Diego.
Pensacola, Key West: The Sunshine State provides plenty of on- and off-base beachcombing. In the Panhandle, the talcum-powder-white Barrancas Beach at Naval Air Station Pensacola survived the oil spill unscathed. Morale, Welfare and Recreation officials say the sand is so highly reflective, beach-goers need to take extra precautions so they don't get burned. Beachside Oak Grove Park rents one-bedroom cottages for $90 a day and two-bedroom cottages for $110 a day March 1 -Nov. 30, with rates reduced 20 percent during the winter months. Navy Lodge and Navy Gateway Inns & Suites are on base (Navy Lodge is closer to the beach). In Key West, the sandy shore at the Navy's Beach Patio Recreation Center offers a respite from the Keys' typically rocky beaches. Rooms at the Navy Gateway Inns & Suites on Naval Air Station Key West range from $55 for a standard one-bedroom to $105 for a two-bedroom suite. Rooms tend to fill up with snowbirds during the winter and in late October for Fantasy Fest.
Allatoona Lake If you crave calmer waters, just 25 miles from Atlanta the Navy runs a military-only section of one of the most popular freshwater spots in the region, complete with private beach, boat rentals, campsites and newly renovated cabins, which range from $70 a night for a one-bedroom Monday-Thursday to $120 a night for a four-bedroom Friday-Sunday.
More info: https://www.cnic.navy.mil/KingsBay/KingsBayRecreation/KingsBayOutdoorActivities/KingsBayLakeSiteAllatoona/index.htm">https://www.cnic.navy.mil/KingsBay/KingsBayRecreation/KingsBayOutdoorActivities/KingsBayLakeSiteAllatoona/index.htm
Cape Henry Inn and Beach Club: Open year-round, this 120-room Armed Forces Recreation Center property commands a prime location on the Chesapeake Bay with its own stretch of private beach, cabanas and two outdoor pools. Shore-side bungalows are available as well as log cabins and campgrounds. Rates go up based on rank, with basic rooms for junior enlisted (E1-E5) starting at $85 per night until May 15, then jumping to $98 a night through the summer. Three-bedroom cottages start at $145 in the spring and $183 through the summer. Early-bird beach-combers should look for the 10 percent discount codes on the inn's website for all Sunday-through-Thursday stays until May 14. For a more intimate and less expensive setting, consider Naval Air Station Oceana's shore-side cottages at its Dam Neck Annex, where rates range from $56 for a basic room to $76 for VIP suites. Rates are expected to go up in the summer months, but if you book early you can lock in the lower price.
Rota: Facing the setting sun at the gateway to the Mediterranean, Naval Station Rota is a busy hub when the fleet is passing through but offers plenty of R&R along its private beach. You'll also want to wander the tree- and café-lined paseos that meander along the broad beaches in the adjacent town of Rota, a European vacation destination in its own right. Rooms at the Navy Lodge are $75 a night.
Camp Darby: You'd think the best on-base beaches in Italy would be south at the Navy hubs in Sicily or Naples. Not so much. At the top of the boot, on the Italian Riviera, U.S. Army Garrison Livorno is home to Camp Darby and its "American Beach," complete with fireworks on the Fourth of July. Darby's Sea Pines Lodge features basic campsites to cabins to deluxe suites. Basic rooms start at $65 per night.
Okuma Beach and Recreation Center The earthquake-tsunami disaster that devastated northern Japan left Okinawa in the south unscathed and the U.S. military's four beaches open for business. The 135-acre Okuma Beach and Recreation Center offers camping, cabana and cabin rentals, as well as jet skis, kayaks, snorkeling, scuba, parasailing and other manner of watersports. There's also a nine-hole golf course. Basic rooms at the center start at $55 per night, with five-room bungalows renting for $155. Elsewhere on the island, the Navy's White Beach, the Army's Torii Beach and The Cottages at Oura Wan Beach on the Marine Corps' Camp Schwab offer reasonable on- or near-beach lodging.
Navy, Air Force beaches Naval Base Guam boasts three beaches Gab Gab, San Luis and Dadi with cabanas and water sports gear rentals. Rooms at the Navy Lodge start at $35 per night. Andersen Air Force Base enjoys its own stretch of sandy goodness dubbed Tarague Beach. A new three-mile interpretive trail will guide you through the local flora and fauna. There's a free shuttle to the beach from the Air Force Inn, where basic rooms start at $25 per night and entire two-bedroom houses, with kitchen, rent for $80 per night.
Hale Koa, Kaneohe Bay, Bellows, Barking Sands: Oh, Hawaii, could a beach-lover's paradise be any more perfect? From surfing world-class monster waves to lazy seashell collecting, Hawaii has it all. But don't get cocky. Yes, Barking Sands on Kaua'i is jaw-dropping beautiful, but the shark warning signs are there for a reason. The tides can shift quickly and take you out to sea if you're not careful. Hale Koa is a 72-acre, full-service resort on one of the best stretches of beach on Waikiki. Marine Corps Base Hawaii at Kaneohe Bay offers more rustic accommodations with beachside cabanas. And there's more, plenty more. Bellows Air Force Station resort, Nimitz Beach, Hickam Beach you get the idea. There's even a secluded "Honeymoon Beach" on Oahu, part of Joint Base Pearl Harbor-Hickam, which you can rent all to yourself, ahem, by the hour.