This article will be the first in our series highlighting the benefits of vacationing at one of the many Morale, Welfare and Recreation facilities available to military service members and their families. Each location will be featured in two articles that expose some of its attractions and costs while also helping you plan a trip.
Paradise at a Bargain
A vacation in Hawaii inspires thoughts of lounging on endless white sand beaches or immersing yourself in the crystal-clear, azure waters of the Pacific Ocean. However it may also inspire thoughts of multi-thousand dollar flights and hotel rooms costing hundreds of dollars per night. This may seem like an insurmountable financial obstacle to most military families, especially those with children. Fortunately, this does not have to be the case.
As a member of the United States military or the family member of someone in the military, you have access to a series of vacation sites all over the world. Each location is run by the Department of Defense’s Morale, Welfare and Recreation directorate, more commonly known as MWR. Much in the same way that you have special access to a commissary or an exchange, you also qualify to use MWR facilities. And just like shopping at the commissary or the exchange, there are some significant financial benefits to utilizing an MWR facility for your vacation.
One location where this especially holds true is the beautiful island archipelago of Hawaii. A weeklong trip to any of the Hawaiian Islands can cost anywhere from $1,500-$3,500 per person using normal travel practices at market rates. This can be prohibitively high for many families and individuals. Fortunately, service members and their families have several options to experience the aloha spirit without taking out a second mortgage. MWR runs several superb facilities in Hawaii. The two major locations are the Hale Koa hotel and resort on the island of Oahu and the Kilauea Military Camp on the Big Island of Hawaii. Both offer a unique Hawaiian experience at a fraction of the cost to the general public.
Which location you choose should be entirely dependent on the Hawaiian experience you are looking for. The Hale Koa Hotel is located on world famous Waikiki beach in Honolulu. If you are looking for a traditional Hawaiian vacation centered on sunny days at the beach and lively nights at world-class restaurants and resorts then this is the MWR facility for you. Fort DeRussy, which houses the Hale Koa, sits in the heart of Honolulu’s Waikiki neighborhood. From here, visitors will have easy access to dozens of attractions, both natural and man-made. Sign up for surf lessons and try your hand at the sport of kings in its ancestral home. Pay a visit to the two oldest hotels in Hawaii, the Moana Surfrider and the Royal Hawaiian. Both are conveniently located within walking distance of Fort DeRussy and have gorgeous oceanfront restaurants and bars. Stroll down Kalakaua Avenue for some shopping or people watching. You’ll see why Oahu is known as the Gathering Place. If the city wears on you, Oahu’s scenic North Shore is only an hour’s drive away. Known as the world capital of surfing, the North Shore is home to historic Haleiwa Town, Turtle Bay Resort and such world-renowned surf spots as Sunset Beach and Banzai Pipeline. Oahu is also home to many excellent day hikes, snorkeling reefs and Hawaiian cultural sites. This fantastic blend of outdoor adventure and modern comfort makes the island of Oahu one of the most attractive destinations for the modern traveler.
While the innumerable sandy beaches and resorts of Oahu are hard to argue with, perhaps you are looking for something a little more rugged in your Hawaiian vacation? Fortunately for you, MWR has just the place. Located in Volcanoes National Park on the Big Island of Hawaii, Kilauea Military Camp (KMC) offers a truly unique vacation experience. You won’t find the spas of oceanfront restaurants of Waikiki here, but you will find yourself surrounded by raw natural beauty with hardly a soul around. Although KMC is referred to as a camp, don’t let the name fool you. The facility is home to 90 cottages with 2-3 bedrooms, electricity, heat, running water and the option of a full kitchen. Your own private cottage comes with a prime location right in the middle of some of the best hiking and backpacking in Hawaii. Walk through the smoking caldera of an active volcano or explore subterranean lava tubes, all without leaving Volcanoes National Park.
When the rest of the Big Island calls to you prepare yourself for the adventure of a lifetime. A short drive from Volcanoes lie the lava flats of Kilauea volcano in southern Puna. Here you can see where lava has surged out of Kilauea, run down to the Pacific and hardened into spectacular rock formations and flats. Hike out a few miles to the sea cliffs or continue all the way to the lava flows, where fresh magma breaks through the Earth’s crust and spills into the ocean, slowly expanding the size of the Big Island. The view is especially mesmerizing at night. Continue your tour of the island with a stop at South Point. Here you will find the southern-most point in the United States and the world’s only green sand beach. Further up the coast you will find the sunny shores of Kailua-Kona, home to the Ironman triathlon world championship. Wrap up your tour of the island with a trip up Mauna Kea, the tallest mountain in the world. Although its summit sits at only 13,800 feet above sea level (a full 16,000 feet lower than Mount Everest’s) Mauna Kea is still considered the tallest mountain in the world when the entire submerged portion of the Big Island is taken into account. All of this and more await travelers on the Big Island of Hawaii. With a population one-fifth the size of Oahu’s in an area five times the size, the Big Island offers a great option for travelers seeking a Hawaiian get away with a little more nature and fewer neighbors.
Both of the U.S. military’s MWR facilities in Hawaii offer fantastic vacation options for travelers of all kinds. Regardless of which you select, you can be confident that you will get a superb Hawaiian experience at a fraction of the market cost paid by other travelers. For more information be on the lookout for the next installment of our MWR series which will provide recommendations for transportation, activities, sights and times to travel for both Oahu and the Big Island. Links to each facility’s website can be found below.