By Vince Little, The BayonetFebruary 11, 2010
FORT BENNING, Ga. - It's a hidden jewel tucked away on northwest Florida's Gulf Coast, designed as a getaway for Soldiers and their families.
About four hours from Fort Benning sits the Destin Army Recreation Area, a military resort also open to retirees, Department of Defense civilians and contractors. With warmer weather approaching, it's an alternative to the local economy and features 132 units, a full-service marina, swimming pool and picturesque sunset over a 200-foot pier that stretches into Choctawhatchee Bay.
The location is only minutes away from some of Florida's best beaches, golf courses, restaurants, nightlife and upscale shopping outlets.
"We have everything you can think of in a resort town," said Destin Army Recreation Area business manager William Moore, "and we're right in the heart of it."
Amusement parks on U.S. Highway 98 include The Track, which has miniature golf, and Big Kahuna Water Park.
The Army recreation area offers various lodging options - from an RV Park with 46 spaces to studios, hotel rooms and one-bedroom apartments. Five of the 18 villas have three bedrooms, each with an occupancy of eight, while six people can stay in the two-bedroom variety.
Moore said the resort is a haven for Soldiers and families looking to escape the rigors of Army life.
"This is a perfect place to step away from that other environment," he said. "You're still a Soldier, and great at what you do, but you're on vacation and here to relax and de-stress."
Moore said the recreation area provides great economic value as military guests pay a fraction of what they would on the Destin commercial market.
For example, a three-bedroom villa at the Army resort during the peak summer season goes for $105 a night ($73 for E-5 and below). A comparable unit would cost $1,200 to $1,500 in Destin, he said. A hotel room on U.S. Highway 98 starts at $125. At the recreation area, it's available to service members E-5 and below for $53.
But timing is critical to landing a reservation on the Destin Army Recreation Area.
As a typical resort town, the area "gets jammed full of people" in June and July, Moore said. This year, villas are sold out in both months and filling up quickly for August. Some RV sites are open, and a few vacancies are expected in the studios and hotel rooms after Fourth of July weekend.
He said October and November - when the weather is still relatively warm - are ideal times for avoiding the huge beach crowds. But trips here in any month outside June and July will deliver a more "personalized experience," he said.
Active-duty personnel can make reservations six months in advance, while it's a four-month window for other parties.
Al Gelineau, director of Family and Morale, Welfare and Recreation, said Soldiers and families should take advantage of the Destin Army Recreation Area while stationed at Fort Benning.
"It is just so close by and a wonderful place to go and recharge your batteries for the tough jobs our men and women at Fort Benning are doing day in and day out," he said. "Our Soldiers and their families deserve a break."
WHAT DOES IT COST'
Rates start at $53/night during peak season and go as low as $36 during the off-season. RV sites cost $19/night year-round. For more information, please visit destin.mwrbenning.com
Leaving from Columbus, take U.S. HWY 280 over the Chattahoochee River into Phenix City. Pick up U.S. HWY 431 South toward Dothan, Ala.
Leaving from Fort Benning, go around Lawson Army Airfield and cross Eddy Bridge. Turn right on 101st Airborne Division Road to Alabama State Route 165. Pick up U.S. HWY 431 South at Eufaula.
Take U.S. HWY 431 South Bypass around Dothan and pick up U.S. HWY 231 South to I-10 West. Take Exit 85 and pickup U.S. HWY 331 South to U.S. HWY 98. Turn right and follow U.S. HWY 98 into Destin, Fla.