By Marine Corps Sgt. David Staten
Defense Media Activity
Everybody loves to go on vacation and have a good time with their loved ones. A lot of service members have kids, and Orlando, Florida, happens to be the most popular family destination of any location in the U.S. Just to name a few of its points of interest, you have Universal Studios, SeaWorld, Legoland, beaches, shopping and, of course, Walt Disney World (every child’s dream).
Now, since Orlando is a popular destination not just for families but many tourists, the price to stay anywhere is going to be pretty steep. Luckily, for service members and their families, there is Shades of Green on the Walt Disney World Resort. One of four Armed Services Recreation Centers operated by the Army, it happens to be one of the few resorts in the world specifically for serving members of the uniformed forces, retirees, Defense Department civilians and their sponsored guests, as well as certain other personnel affiliated with the DoD.
A coworker and I took a trip to Orlando and spent a couple nights there. While we were there, we got to talk to the staff, experience some of the perks, got a personal tour and had a sit-down with the general manager of Shades of Green.
Shades of Green has seven different room types, including suites, with each room fitting five or more people. The starting rate for a standard room is $115 per night for those in grades E-6 and below. It’s $145 per night for personnel in grades E-7 to E-9, warrant officer to chief warrant officer three, officers up to O-3, widows and 100 percent disabled veterans. The highest cost is $155 for chief warrant officers four and five, officers in grades O-4 to O-10, DoD civilians and foreign military personnel.
Compared to the other resorts and hotels in the area, that’s about $200-$300 in savings!
Each room comes with its own perks, too. One of the most recognizable is that some rooms have a living room and one or more separate bedrooms. By far though, the best thing about any of the rooms is the beautiful view you get. A part of the view is the two 18-hole golf courses surrounding the hotel, which certainly fit into the Shades of Green theme as you look out the window.
Oh, and did I forget to mention that every room comes with a balcony that’s fitted with chairs and a table so you can enjoy the nice view, sip on some lemonade (or whatever you choose to drink) and just relax?
So, you just got there, and you’re taking this all in. But that’s only the room – we haven’t even gotten to the fun stuff yet.
Outside the Resort
Shades of Green is only a short distance from the Disney Monorail and not too far from Disney’s Magic Kingdom. It offers its own transportation to each of the Disney theme parks. They have buses that leave every hour from the hotel free of charge for resort guests.
In addition, Walt Disney World has a special package for service members called the Salute to Service package, which can save you up to 50 percent and can be purchased with the hotel’s assistance.
Like I mentioned earlier, Disney World isn’t the only recreational destination in town. Shades of Green has a dedicated service desk to help you purchase discounted tickets to any of the area theme parks. There are also special prices for dinner shows, the I-Drive 360 amusement park complex, and when NBA basketball is in season, you can plan to go to a game at the Amway Center to watch the Magic play.
If you’re more in the mood to relax, the hotel is a resort destination itself. It has two pools, a hot tub, three restaurants, a spa, an arcade and the surrounding golf courses.
For families who want to go there for a week, they can spend their time between going to the Disney parks, taking a 30-minute ride to Universal Studios or spend a leisurely day and hang at the pools, which many families do.
Of the two pools, there is a zero-entry pool, and another more active pool with a slide for the kids and other kid features. The pools are heated in the winter and open 365 days a year.
For the restaurants, one is a buffet restaurant, which in the morning serves a wonderful breakfast. Included is an omelet station, as well as a pancake station where staff members cook up hot cakes in the shape of Mickey Mouse. In the evening when you’re done adventuring in the park or parts of Orlando, there is also a dinner buffet.
There’s also a full-service dining restaurant, Mangino’s Steak and Seafood House, which is open for dinner for those who want to have a nice sit down after a day out.
Lastly, there’s a sports bar right next to one of the pools. It’s a great location to get bistro-style food and enjoy any of the sporting activities on big-screen televisions.
At the spa, you can enjoy full-body massages, facials and other relaxing treatments for reasonable prices that you don’t often see. They also have a special princess and pirate makeover package for the kids in which children get to look like a Disney princess or a pirate from their favorite movies.
If you spend the day at the resort, I would recommend having dinner outside near the lakes where you can watch the fireworks go off. Also, if you have some free time, go out and enjoy the beautiful golf course, which comes at a discounted price for service members. I definitely enjoyed it, and I don’t play golf often!
“We’re here to enhance the quality of life of all the service members and to provide them something special for the great service each of them and their families are paying and have paid to our country,” said Edward Fagan, the general manager of Shades of Green.
He added that they know of the stresses on service members and their families, so staff members try to do everything they can to make each guest’s stay special.
Fagan stressed that Shades of Green is an environment where a service member can come and, as you’re sitting around the pool or sports bar, in the chair next to you might be someone who served in a similar location to you five or 10 years ago. There’s a lot of commonality and comradery among the guests.
Overall, Shades of Green will be a blast for vacation. Don’t miss out on this benefit offered to you.
They have everything you need from early-morning breakfasts, easy transportation, access to Disney theme parks and discounted tickets, and generally a great week of comfort in a beautiful and serene environment. I will totally be planning a trip in the near future to take my family.
How about you?
READ MORE: Military Vacation Lodging | Armed Forces Recreation Centers
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