Some destinations just make sense for military reunions, usually because members of the military trained, were stationed or served there in some capacity.
Those cities have strong ties to the military. They’re often home to an academy or active duty base or a community that honors and appreciates the U.S. armed forces. In these destinations, in addition to active installations, military reunion groups will find historic sites, waterfront districts, sparkling beaches, national parks and seemingly endless activities.
As home to Naval Air Station (NAS) Pensacola, the city of Pensacola is also home to the U.S. Navy Blue Angels. But the entire Florida panhandle is a military hub, with Eglin Air Force Base, Hurlburt Field and Whiting Field all nearby.
Pensacola’s military legacy and its sparkling beaches make the city a popular destination not only for military reunions but also military business meetings, said Nicole Stacey, director of marketing and communications for Visit Pensacola.
“I think our community is so proud of the military here and the military in general, so the level of hospitality one receives is something special about Pensacola,” she said.
NAS Pensacola is not currently open to civilians, but Department of Defense ID cardholders can get on-base and are allowed to escort up to 15 guests, limited to two vehicles, onto NAS Pensacola and to visit the National Naval Aviation Museum. There, volunteers and veterans lead tours, sharing their stories as groups view exhibits that explore the history of Naval aviation, from a replica of the Navy’s first airplane to experiencing flight in two state-of-the-art MaxFlight Simulators.
Also on-base, groups can visit the 1840s Fort Barrancas, the 1859 Pensacola Lighthouse and Maritime Museum and the National Cemetery.
Beach Bum Trolley also offers charter service and trolley tours for military reunions to showcase different areas of the city, such as Pensacola’s historic downtown, where the Pensacola Grand Hotel is undergoing a full renovation.
Redstone Arsenal is an Army base in Huntsville, Alabama, that houses several different installations, including the NASA Marshall Space Flight Center, the U.S. Army Aviation and Missile Command and a new FBI campus that’s under construction.
Huntsville is known as Rocket City because it’s where the rocket program was founded in 1950, a program that eventually sent American astronauts to the moon. The U.S. Space and Rocket Center is a Smithsonian affiliate and the official visitor center for the NASA Marshall Space Flight Center. The complex houses a massive collection of spaceflight artifacts that includes moon rocks, the Apollo 16 moon capsule and the 363-foot-tall Saturn V rocket.
Though Marshall Space Flight Center bus tours are temporarily suspended due to the COVID-19 pandemic, tours of the base used to allow groups to visit the center that’s in touch with the International Space Station and see where NASA tested the Saturn V rocket.
The U.S. Veterans Memorial Museum “is a little hidden gem in our community,” said Jamie Koshofer, vice president of conventions for the Huntsville/Madison County Convention and Visitors Bureau. The museum boasts memorabilia dating back to the American Revolutionary War and displays over 30 historic military vehicles, including tanks, early Humvees and military Jeeps.
Veterans Memorial Park in downtown honors veterans from World War I through the Gulf War with monuments, statues and a water feature.
The city’s new minor league baseball team, the Rocket City Trash Pandas, is slated to hold its inaugural season this year at the new 7,000-seat Toyota Field baseball park. The city is also a hotbed of hotel development, with a new Hampton Inn and Suites, an Autograph Collection by Marriott hotel and a Curio by Hilton all under construction or opening soon.
Annapolis, Maryland, is home to the U.S. Naval Academy, and military groups often schedule their reunions with other academy events, like football games and commissioning week.
“Annapolis is extremely popular, especially for Navy reunions, as you can imagine,” said Susan Seifried, vice president of public relations and communications of Visit Annapolis and Anne Arundel County. “They’ll have a class reunion, and they’ll often choose to come on a football weekend and tailgate.”
Downtown Annapolis is a National Historic District that’s packed with restaurants, bars, galleries and hotels, all within a short walk to City Dock, the Naval Academy and Navy-Marine Corps Memorial Stadium. The Annapolis Waterfront Hotel sits on the harbor, just steps from the City Dock and the academy, and offers 14,000 square feet of event space. The Westin Annapolis and the Graduate Annapolis are other downtown venues popular with military reunions.
The academy’s 1903 Dahlgren Hall houses the Drydock Restaurant, which can seat 150 in the dining room, with additional seating for 32 in the adjacent indoor cafe area; Assembly Hall can host events for up to 400 guests. The academy’s most famous venue is Memorial Stadium, which has nearly 20,000 square feet of function space.
For reunion groups that want to get on the water, Watermark Journey offers boat cruises and walking tours, and groups can arrange public or private tours aboard Schooner Woodwind’s two 74-foot wooden schooners. Last summer, the Annapolis Maritime Museum began offering tours aboard the Wilma Lee, a restored 1940 Chesapeake Bay skipjack.
Fort Leavenworth was built on the western banks of the Missouri River in 1827, making it one of the oldest active U.S. Army posts in the country and the oldest permanent settlement in Kansas. The city of Leavenworth, founded in 1854, was the first city incorporated in the Kansas territory, earning it the moniker First City.
The fort, the city’s history and its proximity to Kansas City make it ideal for military reunions, whether groups stay in Leavenworth or visit for day trips, said Kristi Lee, director of tourism for the Leavenworth Convention and Visitors Bureau.
Groups can tour Fort Leavenworth, but visitors must have Department of Defense ID cards, or civilians must register for a day pass. The CVB provides step-on guides “who know the history of the fort inside and out,” Lee said. Tours usually start at the Buffalo Soldier Monument and Circle of Firsts statue garden that honors Black military members. Groups also go by the National Cemetery and visit the Frontier Army Museum. Visitors can explore interpretive kiosks where the U.S. Disciplinary Barracks prison once stood. The driving tour also shows where Lewis and Clark camped and the Santa Fe and Oregon trails.
Reunion groups can also stay on-base at the 308-room Holiday Inn Express, though guests have to register with the base. Off-base, two Hilton properties and two Marriotts bring the city’s total portfolio to 669 rooms.
The Riverfront Community Center is housed in the 53,000-square-foot, restored 1888 Union Depot Train Station and has a patio that overlooks the Missouri River.
In 2010, U.S. Army base Fort Lewis merged with McChord Air Force Base to become Joint Base Lewis-McChord, forming one of the nation’s largest duty stations. Joint Base is operated as one installation, and both Fort Lewis and McChord Field sit along Interstate 5 just south of Tacoma, with easy access to Seattle and Sea-Tac Airport, just 30 miles north.
“A lot of veterans are traveling with their families, and we really do appeal to all ages and family members,” said Chelene Potvin-Bird, vice president of sales for Travel Tacoma.
The Lewis Army Museum is accessible to the public without a visitor’s pass and offers group tours. In the museum, which is housed in the historic Red Shield Inn, visitors will see military vehicles, dioramas, uniforms, munitions and other memorabilia. McChord Air Museum displays a variety of aircraft, including bombers, cargo planes and fighter jets, on-base at Heritage Hill Airpark.
Former Buffalo Soldier William Jones founded The 9th and 10th Horse Cavalry Buffalo Soldiers Museum in 2005, and his daughter, Jackie Jones-Hook, runs it today. She leads intimate group tours through the small house, where exhibits highlight the contributions of Black soldiers throughout history.
War Memorial Park serves as a jumping-off point to walk across the Tacoma Narrows Bridge. In Point Defiance Park, Fort Nisqually Living History Museum offers guided tours while re-enactors give demonstrations. The museum recently built an escape room, where groups can don period costumes and even try to solve the mystery by lantern light at night.
On the waterfront, visitors can explore Ruston Way Waterfront, go kayaking or take a boat tour, and groups usually include a trip to Mount Rainier National Park.