Shades of Green Resort: A Military Retreat at Walt Disney World

Lisa Fritscher September 10, 2012 No Comments

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Shades of Green Disney World Florida

Shades of Green is truly a retreat.

Walt Disney World is internationally known as a premier destination for families. From the tiniest kids to the most elderly grandparents, Disney’s winning formula includes plenty of fun, excitement and wonder for all. What is less known, however, is that in addition to the 26 Disney-owned resorts, 8 partner hotels and 450-home multimillion dollar residential complex, Disney is also home to a deluxe Armed Forces Recreation Center.

History of Shades of Green

When Walt Disney World opened in 1971, it featured just two hotels: the Polynesian Resort and the Contemporary Resort. Disney grew and expanded quickly in those early days, and by 1973 it was clear that another hotel was needed to handle the crowds. The Walt Disney World Golf Resort opened beside the Magnolia and Palms golf courses, across the street from the Polynesian, in December of that year.

Although popular with golfers, the Golf Resort did not have a strong appeal for non-golfing tourists. The resort doubled in size and received a Snow White theme in 1986, when it became the Disney Inn. Additional dining options were added, and the Disney Inn joined the ranks of popular Disney deluxe hotels. The resort features the largest rooms on Walt Disney World property, with standard rooms measuring just under 500 square feet.

Shades of Green Resort Waterfall

Insider secret: They turn off the waterfall late at night!

By the early 1990s, Disney had added several deluxe and moderate resorts, and the Disney Inn was no longer needed to handle guest flow. Disney has always had a proud tradition of supporting America’s military families with special ticket options and deals, so it was only natural for the company to enter into an agreement to provide military families with a special retreat of their own.

In 1994, the Disney Inn reopened as Shades of Green, the first Armed Forces Recreation Center in the continental United States. The government leased the property from Disney for two years before purchasing it outright in 1996.

The military purchase brought very few changes to the historic property, beyond the removal of the Snow White theme and the addition of flags from every branch of service as well as an American flag and a POW flag. A massive expansion in 2004 more than doubled the resort’s capacity to 586 rooms. A new upscale casual Italian bistro also opened with the expansion. While the décor was refreshed and updated over the years, the basic resort has remained the same as it was under Walt Disney World management.

About Shades of Green

Shades of Green Resort Discount on Parks

Buy your tax-free tickets for area attractions here.

As an official military installation, Shades of Green is open to active and retired military members, active and retired Department of Defense civilian employees, honorably discharged veterans with a 100% service-connected disability, and a few others with special status. Spouses and dependents of deployed or deceased military members are also eligible. Each eligible person may sponsor two additional rooms at the same rate. At various times of the year, Shades of Green may offer rooms to veterans on a space available basis. Check with the resort to ensure your eligibility before making a reservation.  You can visit their official website for more information at www.shadesofgreen.org.

Standard and pool view room rates fall into three categories according to rank, ensuring that enlisted personnel, officers and civilians all pay their fair share. As of 2012, standard rooms cost $95 to $131 depending on rank, while the biggest suites cost $375 for everyone.

All rooms feature a balcony or private patio, a small table and chairs, an oversized bathroom with double sinks and a separate toilet/tub area, a roomy closet and a large flat screen TV. Each room has a mini-refrigerator and a coffee maker, but no microwave. However, shared microwaves are available in each laundry room. Standard and poolside rooms sleep five, while junior suites sleep six and suites sleep eight. There is an additional $15 per night charge for each adult over two in standard and poolside rooms, and each adult over four in suites. Parking in the attached garage is $5 per night.

Our Experience

Shades of Green Room View of Golf Course

The view from our balcony was incredible.

Dad is a retired civilian industrial engineer with the Department of Defense. As a GS-12 he pays the highest rate, which is still less than half the cost of a comparable Disney-owned deluxe resort. As he mentioned over breakfast the last morning of our stay, those of us who pay the highest rate help to subsidize the stays of those who pay the lowest. It was a great feeling to realize that in a tiny way, I was able to give back to our brave service members.

We had stayed at Shades of Green years ago, but had not been there since the expansion. When Hurricane Isaac threatened Central Florida, where we were staying in our RV, we decide to take a “hurrication,” a hurricane-inspired vacation. Shades of Green just happened to be in the middle of a 30% off sale, so we booked a room for three nights.

Check-in was a breeze (just remember to bring your CAC or other proof of eligibility), and we were quickly off to our fourth-floor room in the new wing. The room was beautiful, with a stunning view of the golf course from our balcony. Of course, this being a hurrication, we didn’t spend too much time on the balcony! Although the center of the storm moved west, the rain bands were heavy and cold.

Shades of Green Buses

Shades of Green runs its own buses to points around Walt Disney World.

We were pleasantly surprised to learn that Shades of Green participates in Extra Magic Hours, Disney’s program for onsite resort guests. Every day, a different park is open solely for resort guests for two hours in the morning or three hours in the evening. Due to the storm, we only took advantage of the program once, for evening hours at the Magic Kingdom, but it was a truly wonderful perk.

Shades of Green runs buses every 20 minutes to the Transportation and Ticket Center, where you can transfer to Disney buses that run to the rest of Disney property except for Downtown Disney. It also runs buses once an hour to Downtown Disney and other locations around Walt Disney World. If you prefer not to wait for a bus, an easy 10-minute walk along shaded paths takes you to the Polynesian, where you can catch Disney transportation directly.

Dining

Shades of Green America Ice Cream

All that ice cream goodness for only $5!

Shades of Green offers two main restaurants—the Garden Gallery buffet and Mangino’s Italian Bistro. Evergreen’s sports bar, located by the pool, serves pub food in the evenings, while quick-service options include the Express Café in the main building and Lucky’s at the arcade next door to Evergreen’s. The Java Café is a quick stop featuring Starbucks coffee and pastries.

Don’t miss America, the 1950s ice cream parlor featuring homemade ice cream at surprisingly low prices. We decided to share the $5 banana split, expecting a small serving. Instead, we ended up with better than two pounds of ice cream goodness! We were given two scoops of each of three flavors, along with a generous helping of hot fudge sauce, sprinkles, chocolate chips and pecans, topped off with a thick layer of whipped cream and five cherries!

Shades of Green Mangino Restaurant

Could you resist that cart if it was brought to your table? Neither could we!

We dined at Mangino’s the first night, where we had the friendly and professional Brian as our server. The food was excellent and portions were easily large enough to share. When we asked for the dessert menu, we instead got the dessert presentation—a girl brought a large rolling dessert case to our table, where she showed off the various options! How could we not indulge? And the final bill was only $40, less than half the price of a comparable meal at a Disney-owned restaurant.

We tried the Garden Gallery for both breakfast and dinner during our stay. The buffet was not the most extensive I have seen, but there was plenty of variety for even the pickiest eaters, and the food was great.

Shades of Green Kid's Garden Gallery

The kids’ table at the Garden Gallery was a very cool touch!

A particularly nice touch was the kids’ buffet, where children can help themselves to classic kids’ foods from containers situated at a kid-friendly height. It was Make-Your-Own-Cookie night, and Andrew, our exuberant seater, made sure to point out all the different toppings.

We had a slight miss with room service, when our order took an hour and a half to arrive and was incomplete. But when we brought it to the attention of the manager the next day, he immediately gave us a dining credit for the full amount to use at any of the restaurants in the hotel. Even more impressively, we received a hand-written apology!

Activities

Shades of Green Swimming Pool

The swimming pool was crystal clear and inviting.

Besides the golf courses, Shades of Green offers two swimming pools, an arcade and a fitness center. A family center provides free Internet access and the opportunity to play numerous games on Wii and PlayStation 2 free of charge. In the evenings, a small bar in the lobby serves as a gathering point for guests. The hotel also keeps a variety of Disney-themed board games scattered throughout the lobby, further encouraging guests to linger. The furniture is comfortable, featuring a mix of fabric and leather sofas and chairs. A fireplace provides a wonderful and inviting focal point.

Tickets to Walt Disney World, Universal Orlando and other area attractions are sold tax-free at the resort. Additionally, the well-equipped gift shop sells Disney souvenirs at a fraction of the prices that Disney charges. Everyone staying at the resort is welcome to make purchases in the shop, although alcohol and tobacco sales are restricted to those with military Exchange privileges.

Tips for Parents

Shades of Green represents an incredible value for military families. With the largest standard rooms on Disney property, the resort is packed with amenities and features designed to provide an amazing vacation. Unlike the Disney-owned resorts, Shades of Green is not decorated in a Disney theme. Instead, the décor is elegant yet understated, providing a relaxing and comfortable backdrop for families. Be sure to check out the kid’s movies on the TV in the lobby, as well as family movie night at the pool.

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avatarAbout the Author:

Lisa is a full-time travel writer. She lives in an RV with her disabled father and writes about their experiences. Although she has no children of her own, Lisa loves being an Aunt to her own relatives and the children of all her friends. You can follow her adventures on her blog, Travel Confessions.

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