By Jug Varner - Updated from my previous article

If you'd like to take the family to see Disney World and the many other attractions offered in the Orlando area, you should know about a special place exclusively for the military that can help make your visit a memorable and less costly one — at a facility far superior to any you normally might use.

It is called SHADES OF GREEN and is one of four Armed Forces Recreation Centers world-wide, but the only one in the Continental U.S. The others are AFRC Europe at Garmisch and Chiemsee, Dragon Hill Lodge at Seoul, Korea, and Hale Koa at Waikiki in Honolulu (also covered here under TRAVEL, HALE KOA - WARRIOR HOUSE).

This great facility has recently reopened after total refurbishing and the addition of 299 new rooms, more than doubling its capacity to 586 beautifully appointed rooms. While prices are always subject to change these days, the current 2004 room rates, based on your rank or rate are:
$70 to $225 per night for a standard room and
$82 to $119 for a poolside room.

SHADES OF GREEN is available to all branches of military active duty, retired, reserve and guard personnel, DOD civilians, and family members. It is located inside Disney World near the Magic Kingdom. If this is the first you've heard about it, don't be surprised. It may be one of the unintentionally best-kept secrets in the military — except to those who've been there and have told everybody they know.

Having visited there personally with my wife, I'm sharing the secret with you here. Obviously, with a year-round occupancy rate of 99 percent, a lot of military folks already know about it and are telling others, so make your reservation well in advance. But even if you can't get reservations there to coincide with your travel dates, don't despair. They will locate lodging accommodations for you elsewhere in the area at a greatly-discounted rate. It won't be as outstanding as SHADES OF GREEN (nothing else is) but likely will be as good or better than anything you might find on your own, and will save you a lot of time and effort.

To date, the most frequent visitors have been active duty members (48%), followed by retirees (28%), reservists and guard members (13%), and qualified DOD civilians (11%). The average stay has been about five days.

The name SHADES OF GREEN is symbolic of the color of a military uniform in each branch of service, the color of money you'll save by going there, and the color of its environment — all different shades of green. Its lush tropical 29-acre setting is completely surrounded by golf courses, providing a quiet atmosphere that seems far removed from the usual cacophony of traffic and crowds. In reality it is just a few minutes via hotel courtesy busses to Disney's Transportation Center, where free monorail trains or busses take you to Disney World attractions. So, leave your car in the safe hotel lot and save time, money and temper tantrums. Purchase your military discounted tickets to all area attractions at the hotel's guest services before you start out and also save money on Disney souvenirs at the hotel's gift shops when you return. The staff also can assist you on travel arrangements.

There are no room taxes or parking fees, which means additional savings to go along with the reasonable room rates (based on your military rank). The cost will vary, depending on where you are on the pay scale, but the accommodations are the same. Every room is alike — large (about 15×30), and well appointed (two queen beds, a sleeping couch, iron and board, large TV and a VTR, table and chairs, etc.). And every room has a private balcony with a view of pools, or landscaping, or other green areas, but not of parking lots or dumpsters! You and your family will enjoy a smoke-free environment throughout the interior areas.

Food costs, notoriously high inside Disney World, are more reasonable at SHADES OF GREEN. They feature a tasteful variety on their breakfast and dinner buffets in the Garden Gallery dining room, and popular fast fare in the Back Porch Lounge and Evergreen Sports Bar. We're not talking about a military cafeteria and gedunk here! We're talking about food, service and decor that compares with or exceeds that of the area's best hotels.

Amenities include two PGA Championship golf courses (operated by Disney World), exercise rooms, lighted tennis courts, heated swimming pools, children's pool and play areas, video arcade, laundry facilities, vending machines, ice machines, room service, etc.

Disney built the hotel and used it originally as a luxury golf resort. The Army leased the hotel property in 1994 and purchased it two years later, at no cost to taxpayers through non-appropriated funds. Although AFRC is under central control of the Army, each facility is managed and staffed by civilian professionals who continually seek ways and means to keep costs down while maintaining high quality services and reasonable prices for the military families. Most of them are former military who understand the needs and problems. They truly want to help you.

SHADES OF GREEN always has met or exceeded Disney's demanding standards of quality. It is totally self-supporting. Revenues generated pay costs of operation, upkeep, maintenance, and debt service. Profits are recycled into the property for capital improvements to serve its military clientele even better in the future. I hope that you will have an opportunity to be a part of that future.

For room reservations at Shades of Green, call 888-593-2242 or fax to
407-824-3665. The hotel's direct number is (407) 824-3400 and fax is (407) 824-3460. An online reservation system is coming soon. Reservations are accepted up to one year in advance. Six to eight months in advance is not uncommon to secure a room. Holidays and long weekends tend to get booked a full year in advance. Be patient. It is a busy place, but you will receive an answer.