That brisk chill in the air means that autumn is now upon us, and in addition to carving pumpkins, raking leaves and bringing your sweaters out from hibernation, autumn also means that it’s time to start planning your winter getaway.
A vacation—whether it’s a relaxing beach retreat or an action-packed ski trip—is a necessary reprieve during the long winter months. Now is the perfect time to start looking at different vacation options that are fun and won’t break the bank.
There are many great deals to be found while planning your vacation, and as federal employees you may be entitled to special rates at many hotels as well. Be sure to do ample research to ensure that you are getting the best deals, and always inquire about government rates. Many hotels do not publicize discounted rates for government employees, so it never hurts to ask if any discounts are available. Larger hotel chains, such as Marriott and Hilton, typically offer some kind of government and military rate, but check ahead of time and have your government badge with you in case you need it for the discount.
It is also a good idea to take advantage of the Government Vacation Rewards program, which allows military service members, veterans and employees at all levels of government to accrue rewards points on everything from cruises to resorts around world. Members save up to $150 or more on their vacation, in addition to enjoying the benefit of a best price guarantee. Another popular resource is FedTravel.com, a one-stop search engine site specifically geared toward government employee discounts on flights, hotels, car rentals and rail travel.
But even without your government perks, you can still easily find good deals that will make for a memorable vacation. As you plan ahead for your mountain or beach getaway, here are some ideas to get you started.
Escape The Cold
Many people are drawn to warm sand and ocean waves when they are planning a winter trip, and escaping to new latitudes might be just what you need. If you want to escape the snow, even just for a week or two, there are a number of great warm-weather options to consider.
Cruise lines usually offer discounted rates on select cruises in an attempt to fill empty beds. For example, Royal Caribbean is running a promotion for a seven-night Caribbean cruise for just $329, departing November 29th, and prices will likely drop the closer you get to the departure date. Similar discounts can be found for cruises to a variety of destinations, including Alaska and the Mediterranean at Fedcruise.com. If you have the flexibility to book a cruise at the last minute, this is a great way to get an unbeatable deal.
In contrast, Carnival offers Early Saver discounts up to 20 percent for early booking, starting for 2015 cruises. Depending on the destination and how early you make your reservation, you may also enjoy deep discounts on the per-person deposit as well as free upgrades. Military service members also are eligible for discounts on cruise rates, so be sure to ask about these available discounts.
Celebrity allows passengers to accrue credits for booking shore excursions in advance, which will allow you to save money on on-board activities such as spa treatments and specialty dining. The cruise line is currently running a promotion in which passengers can earn up to $100 per person for pre-booking tours, provided that they meet the minimum number of tours required (which varies from three to four tours, depending on the destination).
When looking for a cruise, check the different discounts that are offered through each cruise line and, if you do your research, you can save a significant amount of money just by doing a little extra planning or being flexible with your dates.
Key West is a great winter travel destination because it truly has something for every type of visitor. Sand beaches, beautiful historical buildings, sunsets at Mallory Square and the famous bars along Duvall Street will certainly keep you busy during your visit. A great place to stay is Casa Marina Resort, a sophisticated 95-year-old hotel with beautiful hardwood floors, breathtaking ocean views, a private beach, two pools, restaurants and a massage studio. Government rates at Casa Marina are currently about $190 over the winter, and there are often 5- to 15-percent discounts when the government rate is not available during holidays or special events.
The U.S. Virgin Islands are a convenient and family-friendly Caribbean getaway, with lodging options running the gamut from bed and breakfasts to high-end resorts. The Renaissance St. Croix is a beachfront resort nestled between the sea and a lush rainforest. Guest rooms have large screened-in porches, travertine showers, and ocean and forest views. Located near nature preserves, marinas, boat rentals, and a world-class golf course, the resort offers government and military discounts in addition to promotional packages.
The Buccaneer in St. Croix, a historic yet modern resort with prime ocean views, offers a government rate of $220 nightly for single or double occupancy. Founded in the 17th century, this family-run resort is the longest-running resort in the Caribbean and has beautiful sand beaches as well as activities like tennis, golf, nature walks, watercolor classes, live music and water sports. The resort also offers fine dining and vintage cocktails that have been popular among guests since the resort’s inception.
Imagine sailing in crystal-clear water, and then going ashore to explore tropical forests, fresh seafood shacks, handicrafts markets and beach bars. Chartering a sailboat is a memorable, once-in-a-lifetime adventure that doesn’t require previous sailing experience. While experienced boaters can rent their own boats, hiring a charter captain is another option for hassle-free sailing trip.
Sunsail is a reputable charter company with destinations in the Caribbean and the Mediterranean, and it offers great discounts for military personnel, as well as deals for independent charters and last-minute bookings. In addition to having the ability to independently charter your vessel or hire a captain, Sunsail also offers flotilla trips in which a group of yachts sail together, chaperoned by a lead boat with 24/7 support. Regardless of your comfort level, you can confidently experience the freedom and exhilaration of sailing in some of the world’s most beautiful places.
A visit to Disney World or Disneyland is a consistent favorite among families, so if a trip to “The Happiest Place on Earth” interests you, a good hotel deal is the Portofino Inn and Suites in Anaheim. The hotel has a number of government discounts, including a federal employees rate and a package deal for government workers that includes a $20-per-night voucher to IHOP. Disney Parks also offer active and retired military service members special deals, including discounts at Disney resort hotels and package deals for theme parks.
Embrace The Cold
Of course, maybe heading to warmer climates isn’t your ideal vacation. If snow sports or the tranquility of winter retreats sound like your ideal getaway, then there are plenty of cold-weather destinations to enjoy this winter.
Glenwood Springs, Colorado has one of the best natural hot springs pools in the West and is a great place to unwind after a day on the slopes. Glenwood Hot Springs has a daily pool rate of about $15 and also offers various spa packages like massages, body scrubs, facials and mud baths. Rooms at the on-site lodge start at $159 nightly, with an additional government discount on basic double queen rooms during the week.
Or if you would prefer to stay in a historic hotel, the 121-year-old Hotel Colorado offers a special government rate of $84, which is good for all standard Victorian rooms and can only be used during the week (Sunday through Thursday). The hotel is located just across the street from the hot springs in the heart of quaint downtown Glenwood Springs. The hotel famously was President Theodore Roosevelt’s temporary home during a three-week-long bear hunting trip; it is said that the “Teddy bear” was invented here at Hotel Colorado, when hotel staff presented the President with a stuffed bear to brighten his spirits after he returned from a hunt empty handed. The hotel maintains its historical charm to this day and is a fascinating glimpse into American history.
If you are a powder hound, the Vail Resorts’ Epic Pass is an affordable way to make the most of your ski trip and save big on lift tickets. The Epic 4-Day Pass includes four tickets that can be used at Vail, Beaver Creek, Breckinridge, Keystone, and Arapahoe Basin in Colorado; Park City and Canyons in Utah; and Heavenly, Northstar and Kirkwood in California. The ticket costs only $399 (compared with daily ticket prices of around $130). Similarly, the Epic 7-Day Pass costs $569 for seven tickets to the same resorts. These rates are an exceptionally good deal and will save you much more money than if you were to purchase individual lift tickets at different resorts.
Another way to save money on your ski vacation is to rent skis or boards from nearby outdoor retailers, rather than on the mountains themselves. Christy Sports has numerous locations throughout Colorado, and rentals are half the cost of rentals at the resorts. An additional 20% discount will also be applied if you reserve your equipment in advance.
Other Snow Activities
Outside Magazine’s Chris Keyes lists Wilderness Adventures Dog Sled Tours in Lake Tahoe, California as one of the best places in the nation to experience dog sledding. During the week, the company offers a special “Wilderness Expedition” that lasts about two hours and gives you the opportunity to learn to mush your own sled. Rates for tours range from $110 to $125 for adults (and $55 to $75 for children less than 60 pounds).
If you are interested in snowshoeing, head to Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park near Crested Butte, Colorado. This park can be exceptionally crowded during the summer, but winter is a good time to enjoy the serenity of this stunning place and avoid the peak season crowds. A three-mile trail to Devil’s Lookout—a scenic rim above 2,000-foot-high rock walls—is a perfect day excursion. Admission fees to the national parks can sometimes be as much as $15 to $20, but you can gain free admission if you are able to visit on one of the fee-free days (Martin Luther King Day on January 19th or Presidents Day weekend on February 14-16, for example).
If you are looking for very competitive deals and are willing to consider alternative types of lodging, Airbnb is a great resource for finding affordable vacation rentals in destinations across the country and around the world. Arrangements are mutually beneficial, as travelers stay in a local’s home (often having the entire home or a guest apartment to themselves) at a very cost-effective rate, while the host is able to make some money through your stay. Especially if you are traveling to a highly sought-after destination during peak season (like Aspen during ski season), Airbnb is a good option that can ultimately save you 50 percent (or more!) compared with other area hotels.
Beach and ski vacations during the winter certainly can be hard on your wallet, but if you take advantage of deals as well as your government perks, your winter vacation can easily stay within your budget.
So go ahead and indulge in a vacation this winter—you deserve it!