Autumn is officially on the horizon. Hot summer days yield to crisp fall evenings, kids begrudgingly return to school, and leaves begin to tinge yellow and red.
Fall, often heralded as the most visually striking season, offers unique opportunities for the travel lover. If you feel you’ve missed out on your summer vacation, read on for ideas sure to satisfy your wanderlust this season for a reasonable price.
A Different Kind of Cruise
Generally when we think of cruises, our minds drift to exotic locals, sandy beaches, and drinks fashioned from coconuts. However, autumn can be a perfect time to indulge in a different kind of cruise destination. Royal Caribbean offers discounts to military members and government employees, including firefighters and police officers. Consider a trip along the Eastern Seaboard and into eastern Canada. Watch the blazing colors of fall foliage provide contrast to the lighthouses that jut out from the shore.
Take a cruise to Halifax, Nova Scotia, a naval town with a rich history and beautiful architecture. Stops include Portland, Maine, for an authentic lobster bake and Saint John, New Brunswick, famous for the Reversing Rapids at the Bay of Fundy. The nine-day sojourn costs $876 for September and October sailing.
If you missed out on your beach vacation, Carnival offers fall sailings at a discount for members of the military. A seven-day cruise departing from New Orleans makes stops in Montego Bay, Grand Cayman, and Cozumel for an exotic beach experience. Rates for October begin at $589.
You can register with your government email address at FedCruise.com to get these cruise deals and more. And to help you budget for any cruise you can use the online tool at CruiseCalculator.net. This site helps you estimate all of the expenses you’re likely to have while on a cruise vacation.
Take in Fall Color
Most members of the northern states know that fall color tours make temperate climates a popular attraction in the autumn months. Affectionately dubbed “leafers” by natives, travelers from around the country sojourn to the northern Midwest and Eastern Seaboard to take in nature’s transition to winter. Northern Michigan promises an offbeat experience sure to impress. Fly into Traverse City, nestled in the northwest corner of the state on the shores of Lake Michigan. United Airlines and American both fly into Traverse City and offer discounts for federal employees.
Stay at a Holiday Inn Express, which also offers discounts for government employees. Rates at the Traverse City location are in the $250 range. Since Traverse City is the cherry capital of the world, sample some cherry wine before you rent a car at a discounted rate from Alamo or Budget. Hit the road and take a northern Michigan color tour. Don’t forget to stop at a local apple orchard to try freshly pressed cider and doughnuts coated in cinnamon sugar, warm from the fryer.
Hiking in the Great Smoky Mountains
If you prefer to walk instead of drive your way through autumn’s splendor, consider a trip to the Great Smoky Mountains. Straddling the border between North Carolina and Tennessee, the climate is conducive to long hikes in the mountains. Remember to wake early enough one morning to watch the smoky fog that gives the mountain range its name. Hike through the area’s many trails to take a peek at wildflowers, white-tailed deer, and the occasional black bear.
Since the Great Smoky Mountains is a national park, active military members and their families can visit for free. Don’t forget to chat with a park ranger while you’re there, as a ranger often knows the best trails to take. As government employees working in the mountains, they may be aware of more deals available in the area.
Where to Stay
The park itself is home to several types of campsites, from primitive and rustic to modern with amenities, such as showers. Keep in mind that national parks have stricter guidelines on firewood use, generator use, and enforced quiet hours.
The Wyndam Smoky Mountains Resort offers one- and two-bedroom condos with panoramic views of the mountain range. Full kitchens, playgrounds, two pools, mini golf, and free Wi-Fi make this a family-friendly option. Wyndam offers an additional 20% off best available rates for government employees. For a weekend stay in September, expect prices to be around $170 a night after discounts.
Toss Around a Pigskin
The arrival of fall also signals the beginning of football season. Kick off your autumn with a visit to Annapolis, MD to watch a Navy game. Held select Saturdays in September and October, watching the Navy play is a must for any sports lover. Service members are eligible for ticket discounts.
For those who aren’t as thrilled with the prospect of attending a football game, Annapolis offers plenty of enriching cultural activities. For example:
- The US Naval Academy is a must-see for anyone visiting Annapolis. Go to a public walking tour to see the school that produced such famous alumni as Jimmy Carter and John McCain. Public touring of the yard is free; a guided tour with a smaller group is $7.
- Embrace the spookiness of October with a 90-minute ghost tour. Excursions are suitable for children.
- The Maryland State House is practically a museum of colonial history. It’s old enough to have housed the Continental Congress in the 1780s, and you and your family can wander the same halls as General George Washington free of charge.
Consider a stay at the Sheraton Annapolis in the heart of the historic district. Government employees are eligible for discounts; just bring your ID with you to confirm your reservation. Rates in October average around $210 a night and include complimentary breakfast service and shuttle transportation within a five-mile radius of the hotel.
Explore Scenic Wine Country
Autumn also signals the beginning of the harvest, which includes grapes. Travel to wine country to take in the smell of ripe, fermenting grapes and the sights of yellowing fields. Napa and Sonoma are quintessential wine country hotspots, but Washington, New York, and Texas are becoming more famous for their winemaking. Go to the Texas Hill Country and stay at the Marriott San Antonio Hill Country Resort and Spa. Offering discounts for government employees and military personnel, the resort has a full-service spa and views of the sprawling wine country. Military rates start at just $110.
Most area wineries offer tastings for free, but some charge a nominal fee. Visit Texas Hill Vineyards, known for its eco-friendly approach to wine making.
If you have children, there’s plenty for kids to do in Texas Hill Country. Garner State Park is a popular nearby attraction that offers free entry to veterans, and children under the age of 12 get in free. Hike along the Frio River, or (weather permitting) rent a tube to float and take in the changing leaves. The Austin Zoo also offers discounts when you show your government or military ID. You can bring your own food and drink with you into the park, which means more savings for you and your family.
Just because the kids are back in school doesn’t mean the fun has to end. There are plenty of fall options available within a budget. Travelling in the autumn has the added bonus of fewer crowds, lower fares, and a respite from the stifling heat. Whether it’s the South for wine, the North for fall foliage, or the mountains for a serious adventure, with a little planning your fall vacation can be your most memorable one yet.