Story originally appeared on Westgate Resorts.

Travel Tips

The year is flying by and with the holidays just around the corner, chances are, military families across the country are beginning to search for military vacation resorts and other awesome escapades as they count down to holiday block leave when their special soldiers come home for R&R and family time. It’s no secret that the life of a military family can be stressful. Long separations, intense army training, relocations, and other challenging sacrifices that come with answering the call to serve in the military, can be difficult for parents and children alike. This is why time together is precious and sometimes scarce, and block leave during the holidays is super important. It brings the best opportunity for families to spend time together and renew familial bonds away from drill sergeants, unit commanders, mission requirements, and the entire military chain of command.

In case you’re still in the middle of deciding on the idyllic vacation aspirations you’ve been dreaming of all year, looking up things to do in Orlando with kids, or other family friendly spots – or still don’t have a clue, here are a few ideas to kick off your brainstorm and get you started. Keep reading these 8 holiday block leave vacations for military families to make the hunt simpler for you.

family building sandcastle on the beach

1. Beach Getaways

If you’re thinking there’s nothing closer to paradise than the fresh smell of ocean breeze, relaxing on the beach surrounded by swaying palm trees, or watching the gentle waves roll towards the shoreline, you’re not alone. The truth is the beach is an ideal vacation spot year-round even during the holidays! In fact, if you’d rather avoid the jam-packed coastline overrun by summer crowds of locals and tourists, winter beach vacations may give you a lot more to write home about Think, private beach and the chance to spend alone time with the family on vacation and avoid the holiday rush! While everyone else may be holding vigil outside of Best Buy or patrolling the malls, you’ll be unplugged with the people you love. You and your clan can experience and marvel at the transformation of sugar-brown sand to fluffy white snow, bonfires crackling on the beach, snow castles, and wait for it skiing by the sea (or on the sand) whichever sounds like more fun. But if you’re not sold on a white Christmas, you’re still in luck! There are plenty of destinations with milder weather, sandy beaches, swaying coconut trees, and worry-free vibes – like the islands or Florida, hint, hint, that have nice weather even in the wintertime.

2. Theme Park Vacations

It’s safe to say that just about every kid on earth dreams of going to Disney (aka Happiest Place On Earth, home of a certain world-famous mouse, beacon of magic and fairy dust), so it should be no surprise that the fantastical world made it on our list. Whether Disneyland or Disney World, the holidays are an extra-special treat and sight to see as your favorite parks are decked out with joyful merriment and festive vibes. Be sure to give this option serious thinking!

For Military Families: To salute active duty and retired members of the military, the Disney organization makes promotional theme park tickets available at Disneyland and Disney World for military families to save and have a memorable time. To sweeten the deal, military families can use the tickets even when the military member is not present.

SeaWorld Orlando : Can it get better than enjoying family time watching Shamu? It sure can! Try SeaWorld’s Christmas Celebration with the park dressed up with over three million lights eclipsed only by cheerful entertainment, live shows, and merriment for both kids and the entire family.

For Military Families: Through the Waves of Honor military salute program, one complimentary admission is given each year to military personnel and up to three direct dependents. Veterans also enjoy 50% off a Single Day Tickets plus three additional tickets for guests.

Universal Studios Florida: If you’re a fan of the flicks, you and your crew can watch your favorite movies and television shows come to life before your eyes (as you take on your own starring role) and recreate favorite scenes. From Autobots and Decepticons in Transformers, everybody’s favorite yellow minion from Despicable Me, to lovable Spidey, Tyrannosaurus Rex from Jurassic Park, and the Wizarding World of Harry Potter, you will experience life for a few minutes in your favorite shows.

For Military Families: Active members of the military, veterans, and defense personnel can take advantage of specially priced Universal Studios tickets at military bases around the country.

3. Mountain Retreats

A mountain retreat is one of those vacations that your family will always remember. There’s something about fresh mountain air flowing through your lungs, postcard-like views, uninterrupted peace and tranquility, and one-of-a-kind thrills only found here that give a whole new perspective about self-care, nature, and what really matters. Luckily for you, the summer crowds will be long gone and distracted by holiday shopping, so there will be fewer annoying- (just kidding), tourists to tolerate. Keep in mind that if you’re hoping your family will disconnect from the noise outside and stay in tune with family time, you’re in luck, the mountains bring terrible network coverage, so even the smartphones will get a break from use.

4. Military Reunions

There’s something blissful about Branson, MO that makes it perfect for a family reunion. Maybe it’s the laid-back vibe and family-friendly atmosphere that make it easier for families to reminisce, reconnect, and come together even after they haven’t seen each other in a long time. The entertainment roster is jam packed with fun things to do! There are live shows (including a line-up especially for kids), waterparks, mini-golf courses, go-karts, comedy clubs, fly-fishing, jet-skiing, scuba diving, parasailing – there’s really never a dull moment here. And if you’re searching for a clean, spacious, and safe place to lay your head, Westgate Branson Woods and Westgate Branson Lakes offer fabulous military discounts and top-notch accommodations to add icing to your vacation cake!

5. Military-Friendly Resort Vacations

It doesn’t get better than being pampered at a snazzy resort, where the accommodations are more spacious than a hotel room, world-class amenities are at your fingertips, and there are more than enough resort-type things-to-do and planned activities to keep a smile on everyone’s face. A resort also means a friendly staff who will roll out the red carpet to pamper you like royalty and ensure you get the 5-star treatment to deserve. If you’re sold, check out our military specials at Westgate Resorts . This is not just a shameless plug, we’ve added this option because of Westgate’s history of giving back to our much loved and appreciated military service personnel, veterans, and military families!

For Military Families: Westgate Resorts offers up to 10% off the nightly rate for members of the military and veterans.

6. Educational Vacations

Some people dream of long lazy days by the pool, others prefer to explore the great outdoors but if you are among those who value going to interesting places and learning new things, an educational vacation is a fantastic option for your family vacation. There’s no shortage of learning pods around the country. It just depends on your interest, how far you’re willing to travel and the types of lessons you want to learn. Take Florida for instance, home of St. Augustine, the oldest city in the United States and holder of many interesting facts about our colonial past. There are museums like Castillo de San Marcos, Flagler College, and the Fountain of Youth to name a few that you can explore and to bump up the fun, if you mix in a visit to the sandy shores of St. Augustine Beach, or a pirate ship voyage across the waters, you’ve got a fantastic educational adventure! Williamsburg, Virginia, the world’s largest living museum is another great example with a plethora of interesting historical facts to uncover when the learning is over, spend a day at Busch Gardens, Williamsburg, Bounce House/Laser Tag, and other attractions where you can let your hair down and let the giggles go free.

ilies: Score discounts, save dollars and get the best prices on attractions and places to stay from Groupon, Kayak, Travelzoo and other websites and apps.

7. International Adventures

Spread your wings and fly away from your comfort zone to new experiences in an international destination. They say, the world is a book and those who don’t travel read only one page, so chart your course to the mountains of Scotland, see the Eiffel Tower in Paris, experience the famous Temple Bar in Dublin, or see the pyramids in Egypt the goal is to have fun, build family bonds and capture new experiences as a unit. If there’s not enough time to travel, you can still get a taste of your favorite international destination without leaving the country. Head to Little Havana in Miami, Florida for a taste of Cuban culture. There’s Cuban music, dancing, cigar rolling, arts and crafts to experience like a tourist. Italia? Manhattan’s Little Italy has a strong Italian-American population and classic Italian restaurants that serve authentic dishes with ingredients straight from the mother country. Little Odessa in Brooklyn, New York also offers a peek into Russia and Eastern Europe while Edision, New Jersey with its large Indian population has Indian restaurants, shops, celebrations of Indian heritage and even Bollywood films you can catch at the local theater. Head to Koreantown (for a taste of Korea) in “Los Angeles, Little Norway” in Poulsbo, Washington, Little Siagon (Vietnam) in Orange County, California and Holland, Michigan for – you guessed it, to experience The Netherlands.

For Military Families: Many airlines and travel companies offer military discounts to military families. Scour the internet for travel websites. They’re out there waiting to be discovered.

8. Military-Friendly Daytrips

Down for a daytrip? There are tons of amazing places just a day-trip away from your zip code. No matter where you’re located, find fun and interesting spots to visit. Load up the car with enough snacks and supplies to take you through the day, plus any four-legged Fidos or furry friends, and embark on a family adventure. Be sure to plan some family road trip games to keep the kids engaged and take plenty of pics along the way.

For Military Families: Hop onto Groupon, search online, or from your favorite app for deals and military discounts available in your daytrip zip code.

Bonus: Staycation . Perhaps a staycation at home or close to home is a better fit for you. After a long period of separation, you may want to soak up precious time with your loved one without the hassle of traveling to somewhere different. That’s a great option too! Consider a hike along a local trail, splurge on a spa day somewhere nice and cozy, head out to local attractions, plan a movie-night dinner or picnic, barbecue, go on a camping trip there are so many options to add to your staycation itinerary.

For Military Families: Groupon is always a good go-to for deals on local attractions, restaurants, and things to do. Add your location to the app (or website) and you’ll see all the deals and savings in your area.

Final Thoughts on Military Block Leave

Now that we’ve broken down these fantastic vacation options into bite-sized chunks for you to consider, it’s time to delve deeper or start executing a plan. Whether the beach, theme parks, mountains, daytrip, educational destination, international location, or resort – whatever the path you choose (or if you decide to stay home), the most important tip is that your family will be together, so make the most out of quality time together.

Parting Facts : Block leave typically runs every fiscal year, from December 20th to January 2 when thousands of members of the armed forces, basic training recruits, and soldiers in training are granted leave at the same time hence, the term block so they can come home for the holidays and celebrate with loved ones. Active military members earn 2.5 days for each month of service which is added to their leave balance and 30 days of leave for the entire year.