By Anita Dunham-Potter Travel columnist
updated 9/10/2007 1:23:07 PM ET 2007-09-10T17:23:07

Question: My husband is a veteran of the U.S. Army, and we got a great military discount on a cruise on Carnival Cruise Lines several years ago. Now that he's retired, can we still get a discount? — Mary Wells, Birmingham, Ala.

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Answer: Yes, Mary you can. Over the last few years, many U.S. businesses have found ways to honor Americans serving in the military both at home and abroad, and cruise lines are no exception. Most mainstream cruise lines provide military rates on many sailings, and some premium cruise lines do, too. The savings range from modest to substantial.

Eligibility varies with the cruise line, but discounts are generally available to all active-duty personnel serving in the U.S. Army, Navy, Air Force, Marines, National Guard and Coast Guard. The discounts are often extended to Canadian military members, too. Several cruise lines also offer cruise discounts to veterans who retired with an honorable discharge after at least two years of service (or who were medically retired after any period of time). Most cruise lines allow spouses, family and other guests to cruise at the same rate so long as they are traveling in the same stateroom. Norwegian Cruise Lines goes further, allowing spouses to cruise at the discounted rate even if their husband or wife cannot join them because of an active-duty assignment overseas.

Savings can be significant — as much as 50 percent. For example, current military rates offered by Carnival Cruise Lines start at $199 per person for three-day cruises from Miami and Port Canaveral, Fla.; $199 for four-day cruises from Long Beach, Calif.; $249 for five-day cruises from Mobile, Ala., and Jacksonville, Fla.; and $379 per person for six-day cruises from Fort Lauderdale, Fla.

On my recent 12-day Carnival Freedom cruise, I dined with a military family of three, based in Belgium, who were able to cruise in an inside stateroom for a mere $50 per person per day (plus port fees and taxes). Imagine a family of three being able to cruise the Mediterranean for 12 days for under $2,000! The key, this family told me, was flexibility; they booked the cruise just three weeks before sailing and were able to snag an incredible deal.

Sometimes military discounts are hard to find. The rates are not offered on every vessel nor on all sailings, and they are usually limited to one cabin per military member. If you qualify for a military rate, you should contact the cruise line directly to obtain the military discount code and to find out if there are any current deals. Once you have the discount code, you can either book directly with the cruise line or through a reputable travel agency.

When you get to the pier, you'll need to show the cruise line your military ID and/or your DD-214 papers (Certificate of Release or Discharge). If you forget these documents, you will have to pay the regular rate. If you can't find your papers, you can order replacements from the National Archives Web site.

Men and women in uniform deserve the reward of discounted cruise fares so they can rest and relax with their families. On behalf of a grateful nation, enjoy your cruise!

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