The military lifestyle challenges families in ways that everyday Americans could never imagine. Life in the military can feel like a thankless endeavor, especially for families who go years without seeing their loved ones due to stacked or extended deployments.
It’s not easy to say goodbye to your loved ones for deployments, sea trials, training, and other military duties. Time spent apart from your family puts enormous strain on the family dynamic.
Thankfully, fantastic companies and organizations have stepped forward to help families keep their bond, make memories, and relish the time they do have together.
Here is a list of 10 free activities and programs for military families to enjoy together. These free trips and experiences act as a small consolation that help families cope with time spent apart.
1) Sea World and Busch Gardens
Through the Waves of Honor program, Sea World and Busch Gardens offer one free admission ticket and three dependent tickets per year to any U.S. active duty military, activated or drilling reservist, or National Guardsman.
To take advantage of the offer, you need to click the Troop ID button on the ticket page to verify your active duty status. (Spouses must log-in under the active duty members account in order to take advantage of the dependent tickets.) Active duty service member must provide their military ID to receive their tickets.
Follow any of the links below for more information or to reserve tickets. The complimentary military tickets are only available online and the Veterans’ promotions are only available through your nearest MWR instillation.
2) Yosemite National Park
Yosemite National Park Yosemite proudly supports our troops by offering all U.S. active military personnel and veterans a free lift ticket, free equipment rental, and group lesson at Yosemite’s Badger Pass Ski Area. Immediate family members also receive 50% off lift tickets, equipment rentals, and group lessons.
During peak season dates, only the lift tickets remain free while equipment rentals and lessons become 50% off. To take part in this deal, you simply need to present your U.S. military ID or documentation at the Badger Pass Activities Desk and Curry Village Front Desk to receive the offer.
3) 9/11 Memorial Museum
The 9/11 Memorial Museum offers free admission to Active/Retired U.S. Military who present a valid military ID. Children 6 and under are free as well. The museum also offers discounted tickets to veterans. Click here for more details on how to get your free ticket.
4) Museum of Modern Art
MOMA offers one free admission to active members of the US Military who present a valid ID. Military families with dependent cards are eligible for free admission as well. Free military tickets are available at the information desk.
5) New York Aquarium
The New York Aquarium offers one free general admission ticket and three dependent tickets at half price to any active duty or reserve members of the U.S. Military when they present a valid military ID at the admissions gate. Your discounted military admissions tickets are only available at the admissions booths. You cannot get them online.
The Military discounts are available year round, but they are not applicable on fall/winter/spring Fridays after 3:00 p.m. or summer Fridays after 4:00 p.m.
6) Our Military Kids
Our Military Kids provides grants for sports, fine arts, camps, and tutoring programs. Children aged 3-18 years of age (through 12th grade), who have a parent currently deployed overseas with the National Guard or Reserve, as well as those who have a Wounded Warrior parent may apply.
Our Military Kids provides a grant to each child who meets all established guidelines and submits a complete application package, regardless of family income. Within days of receiving the child’s application, the Our Military Kids office sends a packet to the child thanking them for their service to our country and notifying them of their award. The check to pay for the requested activity is sent directly to the service provider for that activity.
7) Veteran Tickets Foundation
The Veteran Tickets Foundation’s Tickets for Troops Program is dedicated to giving back to service members in a unique and memorable way. They team up with major sports teams, leagues, promoters, organizations, venues, and everyday event ticket holders to provide free and discounted tickets to currently serving and veterans of all branches of the US military, all immediate family of any troops killed-in-action, all currently serving military and their families, and all honorably discharged veterans and their families.
Tickets for Troops give free event tickets, “as an expression of appreciation, acknowledgment and an enduring symbol that we, as a nation, honor the service of our troops today and long after their tour of duty has passed.” Visit their website for more information.
8) National Military Family Association
Operation Purple Family Retreats brings families together for a post-deployment retreat, as a way to help families reconnect. While on retreat, military families participate in communication activities developed by FOCUS (Families OverComing Under Stress™). These activities help families to communicate while creating new memories.
9) YMCA Membership
Title 10 personnel, including family members of deployed National Guard members and Reservists, active independent duty personnel and their families, and relocated spouses and dependent children are eligible for a free YMCA membership if they meet certain criteria.
To receive your free membership while separated from your loved one, you need to Contact Military OneSource online or by calling 800-342-9647 FREE to confirm your eligibility and receive your eligibility form.
Once you have your form, you will need to fill it out and bring it to your participating YMCA along with your Military ID, deployment orders, or military service headquarters approval letter.
10) National Park and Federal Recreational Land Pass
Current US military members and their dependents in the Army, Navy, Air Force, Marines, and Coast Guard, as well as most members of the US Reserves and National Guard can receive a free annual pass to any national park or federal recreational land by simply showing your military ID.
You can receive your pass in person at any federal recreation site that issues annual passes. Call ahead to the location you wish to visit to ensure that they issue free annual passes for the military.
Visit USGS to find out more details about where and with whom you can use your annual pass.
Take advantage of these free activities
Don’t let the struggles of the military lifestyle drive a wedge into your family. You earned these free and discounted activities available only to military families, so take advantage of them. If you or your loved one is about to deploy or will soon return from deployment, use these free activities to help your family either get through the difficult separation time or reconnect after time spent away.