Area businesses are offering more than lip service to show their appreciation for the armed forces. Since Operation Iraqi Freedom began, thank yous have come in the form of discounts and free admissions.
Busch Gardens hosted Military Appreciation Day on June 23. More than 5,000 members of the armed forces and their families received free admission and dinner. The Philadelphia Boys Choir entertained.
"I can't believe how the Tampa community opens up for the military," said Staff Sgt. Robert Ladson, who attended the Busch Gardens event. "They make you feel proud to serve the country."
Discounts are available at the Museum of Science and Industry and several local movie theaters as well.
The Tampa Museum of Art will let military personnel in for free through August. Museum executives made the change after attending a military function at MacDill Air Force Base a few weeks ago, said Lani Czyzewski, the museum's public information officer.
"The visit motivated the decision. You can't be at MacDill and not feel patriotic."
Fantasy of Flight aviation museum in Polk City will also forgo admission fees for active duty members through Dec. 31 and give discounts to their families.
"It is the right thing to do," said general manager Jesse Douthit. "A large number of our staff are retired military so they have a high sensitivity to the role the military plays in the country's freedom."
Community support for people serving in the Middle East has been overwhelming, said Chief Master Sgt. Lew Monroe. "When our president talks about everybody doing something for this nation," he said, "I'm sure this is what he means."
Busch Gardens, SeaWorld, Walt Disney World and Universal Orlando are giving complimentary passes to active duty military and significant discounts to family members.
At least one vacation spot has joined the trend, reducing its hotel fees. Katie Klauber Moulton, president and general manager of the Colony Beach & Tennis Resort on Long Boat Key, said the special military rate of $99 for a one-bedroom suite is almost 75 percent off the regular rate.
Klauber Moulton said the resort wanted to give something back to military members, especially those sent to or returning from the Middle East. The resort started its discount program about three months ago. "We wanted to say thank you and give them a break," she said.
Army Capt. Greg Lindsey served in Afghanistan three times over a four-month period. Now back at home in Tampa, he thought his family could use a vacation. He read about the Colony deal in MacDill's newspaper, the Thunderbolt.
"We have two kids and it's really a great offer," he said. "The kids attend a resort-sponsored camp from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m., while my wife and I go to the beach. It's a great deal."
_ Shari Missman Miller can be reached at 226-3374 or smillersptimes.com.
Tampa Museum of Art: Free admission in July and August; 274-8130
Museum of Science and Industry: $2 admission for military, add $3 for IMAX Dome Theater; 987-6300
Fantasy of Flight: Free admission for active duty personnel through Dec. 31, 25 percent discount for family members and retired veterans; (863) 984-3500
Walt Disney World: Free five-day admission ticket for active duty military through Dec. 19; five-day park ticket for $99 plus tax for up to five family members or friends; (407) 939-7424 or www.disneyworld.com/military
Universal Orlando: Free five-day passes at Universal Studios and Islands of Adventure for active duty military through Dec. 19; bonus pass for $50 plus tax for up to five family members and friends; 1-800-232-7827.
SeaWorld/Busch Gardens: Free single-day admission to SeaWorld or Busch Gardens for active duty military personnel, including members of the U.S. Coast Guard and up to four dependents through Nov. 11; 1-800-342-5283 or www.seaworld.com or www.buschgardens.com.
Colony Beach & Tennis Resort: $99 per night for one-bedroom suites (fits family of four), $129 for two-bedroom suites; (941) 383-6464 ext. 2187 or www.colonybeachresort.com.