By Master Sgt. Wendy Lopedote, 916th Public Affairs Office
SEYMOUR JOHNSON AIR FORCE BASE, N.C. -- The following commentary is part of a series by Master Sgt. Wendy Lopedote on the military benefits in the realm of travel and tourism. Visit the wing's Facebook page throughout August to participate in her daily "Where in the World is Wendy Lopedote" contest.
As the gates of the amusement park opened, the crowds rushed in along with my family and me. In a completely chaotic and unorganized fashion, we all experienced everything we could cram into one fun-filled, action-packed day.
In that one memorable day, we viewed world-class exhibits, thrilling roller coaster rides, and corny - yet still entertaining -- aquatic animal shows. As the sunlight and the water from Shamu's tail splashed upon my face, I thought about how spending this quality time with my mom, sister and niece was absolutely priceless.
But what could possibly make this idyllic scene even better than it already was? The fact that, as a military member, I got to do all of this for FREE!
Thanks to Anheuser-Busch and their "Here's to the Heroes" campaign, I was able to take advantage of free admission to Sea World during a brief trip to Southern California recently.
Anheuser-Busch has offered free entry into its theme parks to members of the military since at least 2001 and continues to be one of the best travel discounts available.
The basic rule for this discount is that every year, each active duty, National Guardsman, or actively serving Reservist is entitled to free admission for themselves and up to three dependents at any of the main Anheuser-Busch theme parks.
These parks include SeaWorld Orlando, San Diego, or San Antonio, Busch Gardens Tampa Bay or Williamsburg, and Sesame Place, as well as Water Country USA and Adventure Island water parks.
The easiest way to get more information on this discount and to register for your free admission to an Anheuser-Busch theme park is to go to their website: www.herosalute.com.
The Mouse has a great discount for military families as well. Although it's been a few years since I've used it, Walt Disney World still offers 4-day military promotional tickets for $138 each. For just $27 more, you can add both the "Park Hopper" and "Water Parks, Fun & More" option.
This price is only good through September 30, 2012. Disney has renewed its military discount program annually, but can adjust the price according to its regular park admission price.
The cost savings really add up with the more tickets you buy. The price of the current 4-day Disney ticket with additional options is upwards of $355 - per person. A discounted ticket price of $138 to $165 makes a big difference in what a military family can afford to do while on vacation.
These tickets can only be purchased from a "participating U.S. military sales outlet," such as the Outdoor Recreation ticket office here at Seymour Johnson. I've found that ticket office personnel usually have the most up-to-date information regarding military promotional tickets at Disney World and other amusement parks in the region.
New this year to our military travel discount plate, is the free "America the Beautiful" pass that is now available to members of the military and their families. For the average citizen, this pass costs $80 each.
The annual pass allows entrance to more than 2,000 of America's national parks, monuments, wildlife refuges and other public lands. The pass is only good for one year, but is renewable.
Military personnel can get the passes by showing their military I.D and filling out a registration form at any national park or wildlife refuge that charges an entrance fee.
Most of the national parks and monuments that we visited on our latest trip around the country didn't charge an entrance fee to view their main attraction, such as Mount Rushmore and St. Louis' Gateway Arch.
In the case of the Arch however, there was a charge for the tram ride up into the Arch. The tram ride ticket price included a 3 dollar national park "entrance fee". Having the annual pass waived that entrance fee off of the total ticket price.
There are national parks and monuments all around us, including several in North Carolina. To see all of what this country has to offer and for more information on the "America the Beautiful" annual pass, go to: www.recreation.gov.
It doesn't really matter though whether an attraction is free or if it's just a discount on a full ticket price. The fact is there are companies and organizations out there that are truly appreciative of what the military does for them and the country.
These companies and organizations have offered military discounts that are available to you because of your service. Using these discounts is a way to say "thank you " back and ensures that they continue to offer them in the future.
To save what could be a lot of money on your next family outing, it just takes a little bit of research, either online or at the base ticket office. Military travel benefits won't be on a neon sign, in irritating pop-up ads, or even shoved in your face. In the case of these discounts, it really does pay to ask.
[For more military travel benefits and discounts, visit the Military.com Discount Center.]