The Military’s Disney Hotel: Shades of Green

The Military’s Disney Hotel: Shades of Green


Shades of Green is one of the few unique resorts
on Walt Disney World property that share the distinction of not actually being owned or
operated by Disney themselves. However this resort isn’t owned by Hilton
or Sheraton or Four Seasons. No, this resort is owned by the United States
Department of Defense, and it exists thanks to some perfect conditions and a pretty smart
business deal. Now, Shades of Green is technically 24 years
old, but in a way it’s actually much older than that. In fact, it’s been around almost as long
as Disney World itself. Back in 1971 when Disney World first opened,
it offered up two golf courses called the Palm and Magnolia. They were right next to each other, so Disney
built a clubhouse for both courses right in between the two. Two years later in 1973, while scrambling
to add more rooms to their property due to Disney World’s popularity, Disney decided
to convert the clubhouse into a resort by adding over 150 guest rooms. When it came time to theme and name the resort,
Disney, the company behind some of the most beloved and memorable creative works of the
last 100 years settled on… The Golf Resort. Over the following 13 years the resort struggled. It was a Disney owned and operated hotel,
but it was kind of an odd man out. Not too far away you had the Polynesian and
Contemporary hotels. One had a beautiful and immersive polynesian
setting on the water, the other had a novel, massive, and modern atrium, and both were
connected to The Magic Kingdom and later Epcot, via monorail. Then, across the road, you had… the golf
resort. It featured… golf. As a result, The Golf Resort saw average occupancy
rates of 60%-75%. Now compared to other hotels in central Florida,
that actually wasn’t too bad, but right across the street the Polynesian and Contemporary
were almost constantly in the high 90% range. As shocking as it sounds, The Golf Resort
wasn’t seen, by many, as a “Disney hotel”. So in 1986 they decided to do something about
it. Not Disney enough, eh? Alright, we’ll make it more Disney. We’re gonna change the name to “The Disney
Inn”. How’s that for Disney? Theme? Snow White. Short of an actual Mickey Mouse hotel, which
Eisner did consider, you can’t really get more “Disney” than that. Here’s the catch though. By this point Michael Eisner and Frank Wells
were now running Disney, and part of their goal at Disney World was to expand the hotel
offerings. So while The Golf Resort was given a second
life as the Disney Inn, just two years later it would be dwarfed by The Grand Floridian
and joined by the Caribbean Beach resort. The few years after that would bring us the
Yacht Club, the Beach Club Port Orleans, Old Key West, and Dixie Landings. They were hotels designed as hotels and all
memorable in one way or another. The Disney Inn was just a clubhouse turned
hotel that never really found it’s stride. Now around this time is when the Department
of Defense was starting to consider a new resort. At this point they already had three. They were called AFRCs, which stood for Armed
Forces Recreation Center. They were affordable and self-sustaining resorts
where members of the armed forces could go or take their families on vacation. They had one in Germany, one in South Korea,
and one in Hawaii. However with the Gulf War recently coming
to a close, more and more service members were returning home to the states, and so
the DoD decided they wanted a resort on the US mainland. This was the early 1990s and so between Disney
World, the beaches, and the recently opened Universal Studios Orlando, central Florida
would make for a perfect location. Initially over 40 hotels and motels expressed
interest in being the location of choice for DoD, and that included Disney and The Disney
Inn. Now if we think about this for a moment, it
was a brilliant move on Disney’s part. By offering up The Disney Inn, they were offloading
this hotel that was never really intended to be a hotel to begin with, and were trading
in subpar occupancy rates for a dependable pay-day. But perhaps more importantly, they would be
striking a blow against their competition. Like I said, Universal Studios had just recently
opened, so by getting the Department of Defense to
put their 4th AFRC smack dab in the middle of their property, they were ensuring that
nearly all of the service members visiting would be spending money at Disney World. Ultimately the DoD did go with Disney, and
cited that it was the quality of their rooms and the proximity to the parks that won them
over. In November of 1993 they announced a deal
in which they would sign a 100 year lease on the hotel and the land it sat on. Just three months later on February 1st, 1994,
the hotel would reopen as Shades of Green. To keep the hotel affordable to service members,
the rates were lowered. While an average night at the Disney Inn ran
between $180-$215 a night, a stay at Shades of Green, depending on your rank, ran between
$49 and $92 a night. In other words, any occupancy problems the
hotel faced were now a thing of the past. Within the first month as Shades of Green,
occupancy jumped up to 98% and the hotel would remain fully booked for the first 8 months
of operation. However the resort still ran into financial
problems. You see like I mentioned, the room prices
were based on rank. Privates would only pay the $49 while the
highest ranking officers would pay the top end $92. So it was no surprise that the majority of
guests at the hotel that year were lower ranked members and paying lower rates as a result. It hurt the hotel’s bottom line and put
them a million dollars into the red by the end of the first year. Oddly enough, one of the proposed solutions
to this problem, beyond just raising the room rates, was to just outright purchase the hotel. They’d be investing more in the short-term,
but the year to year costs would lower without the hotel lease and with a renegotiated land
lease, and they’d then own a hotel that would hopefully appreciate in value over time. So in 1996 that’s just what they did, and
for the price of 43 million dollars, the Department of Defense purchased Shades of Green. Today Shades of Green is still around and
despite being owned by the government, still offers some of the perks of a Disney owned
resort. Guests staying there can enjoy Extra Magic
Hours, book fast passes up to 60 days before their stay, and enjoy complimentary bus transportation. It’s an interesting case of all of the right
events lining up just around the right time, and it was one of the multiple examples we
would see of Disney’s new leadership finding creative ways to get people to stay on Disney
property. If there’s one note to end on when it comes
to the history of this unique and interesting hotel though, it’s… really Disney? The Golf Resort?

100 thoughts on “The Military’s Disney Hotel: Shades of Green

  1. Tim Tracker did a great walkthrough and tour of the hotel (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mbYnXhS8m54). I also had no idea it existed. Interesting to note as well, you can buy non-Disney park tickets there: Sea World, Universal, etc.

  2. I stayed at Shades of Green at the end of Disney College Program and it was such a nice hotel and a great way to end my experience in Florida.

  3. My family and I have stayed here twice and it is a great hotel. Great rates, close to the parks, nice rooms, and friendly staff! They have free shuttles either directly to the Disney parks or to the transportation hub where you can catch the monorail or ferry.

  4. I have had family stay there and liked it. I never knew the background. Thanks for information. You tell a good story and your site is very informative. Keep up the great work.

  5. Can someone help me, I getting a new laptop and I want to get one that I can play on McMagic. I was just need to know which laptops I can get. P.S. I can’t afford a Mac or PC

  6. When we went to Disney during spring break we went to the shades of green hotel and got a discount on tickets and we got extra magic hours!

  7. Exactly a year before this video was made, my family and I went to this hotel. It was pretty cool, especially with the big pool and arcade you could walk to.

  8. I’ve been told you also get the perk of 180+10 advanced dining reservations. I confirmed this with a Disney Dining rep and Shades of Green.

  9. Hi Rob. Great site! I'd like to contribute a bit more context to the story of Shades of Green from the military's perspective. Long before this property was purchased by the DoD, Disney World was a popular destination for armed forces personnel. The family mega theme park was a great place for service members to share special memories with their families, especially before or after a deployment. Also, the nearby bases at Naval Training Center Orlando, MacDill Air Force Base, Patrick Air Force Base, Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Camp Blanding, and Coast Guard Air Station Clearwater provided a proportionately small, yet steady and significant stream of park guests throughout the year. (Fun trivia tidbit: Sailors from NTC Orlando and airmen from McCoy AFB were among the very first to get a "sneak preview" of the Magic Kingdom when the park opened in 1971) When visiting, military would either stay in local hotels or at visiting/transient quarters or lodges on base. Unfortunately, the popularity of Disney World and other Florida attractions would often overwhelm these guest facilities. This was unacceptable for the armed forces, because these accommodations were also needed for new personnel arriving at these bases, students in various training courses, parents of recruits graduating from Navy boot camp, and those sent there for exercises and other mission essential functions. The Navy actually kept its lodge in Orlando very basic and limited stays to only a few days in order to discourage guests from coming to the base just to visit the parks. This shortage of guest space became even more critical in the late 80s and early 90s, as MacDill AFB became the headquarters of US Central Command and US Special Operations Command, Patrick AFB saw an increase in personnel supporting Space Shuttle and satellite launches, and Orlando Naval Training Center was shut down. However, the services also recognized that family vacations and off duty recreation were beneficial to troop morale, so the Army began a search for a property suitable for a new Armed Forces Recreation Center in the Continental United States. Due to Orlando's popularity as a destination already, the availability of an existing resort on Disney property, and the ongoing need relieve the pressure on bases in the region, leasing, and then purchasing Shades of Green was a natural choice. You did a fantastic job of explaining that story from the Disney perspective in your video, so I'll end my input here. Keep up the great work!

  10. Thanks for the video Rob. I never knew about this resort. I would have gone to it the last few times I was out there. Maybe next time. Thanks again!

  11. i stayed at Shades of Green back in 1996 when I first went to WDW with my family. My Dad was active duty in the Air Force at the time and my Uncle who went with us was a Marine. I would like to say we stayed there for our second and last trip to WDW (in '03 and '06 respectively) but we stayed in a vacation rental instead. I don't think my Dad knows that being retired he technically would still qualify to stay there. Oh well, one of my "big wishes" is to someday get married at Disney (if money allows that is) maybe this resort can be on the "what if?" list to accomodate all those family members who were in the Military at some point (and I have a lot of veterans in my family)

  12. Funny, I’ve stayed at this hotel before and never knew its previous history as a Disney owned hotel. The place isn’t extravagant or anything, its small and homely for Military families like mine

  13. My Grandparents are retired military, I've stayed there. It was really nice. They have a Starbucks in it. My grandparents usually take me and my cousin to Orlando every year and SoG is where we stay most of the time, except when it's booked. Then we'll stay at like Pop Century or Art of Animation.

  14. I have stayed at SOG several times and I didn't know the entire background. Super interesting, great job. Disney has always supported the Armed Forces, from Military Tribute tickets to special rates on Disney hotels. For whatever its worth I would like to comment: I have stayed Club Level at the Poly and in the Honeymoon Suite at the Wilderness Lodge and the SOG is my pick.

    There is also a BX on property , they brew Starbucks coffee in the lobby and they have homemade ice cream for sell. If you leave your clothes in the dryer too long you'll probably find them neatly folded in the laundry room. I just can't say enough nice things about this property.

  15. I actually been to the one in Germany its a really nice stay when you're couped up in a base across seas really nice change of weather 😀 was able to cause meh dad served for a while (retired now)

  16. I absolutely LOVE Shades of Green. All but once or twice when I went to Disney with my grandparents, we would always stay here. The rooms are good sized, it's very clean, and it's not to over the top. Personally I was never a fan of the super-themed resorts, but this one feels like any other nice hotel you might stay in at any other theme park. I loved hearing about this odd little hotels history, so thank you for making this video!

  17. They really take care of the military. I just planned a trip for December. Staying Sunday-Saturday for 650 and I paid 250 for my tickets to the park all week

  18. Why would the high ranking soldiers pay more? It makes no sense wouldn’t you have them pay less for there amount of service?

  19. I used to stay there as a kid growing up. They also have a full set up of restaurants and medical onsite. Sadly I did get sick and have to go to the med bay….

  20. We love Shades Of Green … We go yearly sometimes twice a year for over 12 years!! Its a beautiful luxury resort on grounds!!

  21. Good story and good reporting Rob, thank you. I have some excellent memories of being an AFRC guest in Berchtesgaden (then West Germany or DDR to us) with some of my buddies long ago. Even though we were decently paid I'd likely not have managed some of the excellent tours and activities provided by the AFRC, such as a 2 day all inclusive kayaking course. I don't recall exactly, but I believe we paid something like $25-$35 each, and our hotel stay was cheaper still. Even in "peace time" hundreds of my fellow infantry paid the ultimate price during those years. It is fitting that we sometimes see such expressions of support in such perks for those who stand in harms way.

  22. I love Shades of Green! My favorite hotel on the property. My husband and are both Army. We love all the amenities!

  23. I have a special memory of this resort, as back in 1992, my wife and I were among the first to be married on Disney property, and the package we chose included getting married at the gazebo on what was then The Disney Inn, as well as staying at the resort. I remember it being very nice, and convenient to get to the parks. I was sad to see I could no longer stay there, but also happy it is being put to good use.

  24. It's still a popular hotel, if you wish to stay for a week, you have to plan a year in advance, in all honesty it's like that for all the AFRC's, but I mean come on, discounted hotel rooms in countries or places you have never been? All you have to worry about is getting a ticket there!!!

  25. I always stay at the shades of green and never knew the life it had before my very first visit… THATS CRAZY

  26. I have been here 2 times to visit and purchase tickets … but have never stayed here. I would love to one day. The atmosphere is great , people are very friendly and well behaved unlike some
    Of the other hotels. Resort is super clean and very well themed defiantly recommend it it you can stay here !

  27. Nice to see the history for that place. Its the only "Disney hotel" I've ever stayed at since my dad was in the Gulf War.

  28. I've stayed there multiple times, it is very nice compared to some of the lower end Disney properties. And I don't mean "for the price". It is generally a nice quality place to stay.

    Another nice detail about the pricing is that it doesn't get hit with hotel tax, which is significant in Orlando.

    I'm retired now, so it puts me in a hight pricing bracket, but still worth it. The only detail is that you really have to book far ahead of time.

  29. Stayed there before, was nice for the price. Ate there quite a bit too as their prices are much better than just about everywhere and the food was good. Went around 2010.

  30. God bless Disney. Pretty much everything I care about in life comes from my childhood love of Disney Parks, but there’s no way my family ever could’ve afforded to go if it weren’t for the good ol’ military discount!

  31. Originally there were going to be three additional hotels along Seven Seas Lagoon and Bay Lake-Disney's Asian Resort,Disney's Venetian Resort,and Disney's Persian Resort all three were eventually cancelled as result of the 1973 Oil Embargo.

  32. We stayed there the first time the week of Halloween. Loved it. Loved walking to the Polynesian each morning and then preferring that to get back. Only down side was the buses. But worth it if you can stay there.

  33. My dad works for the DOD although he’s not actually in the military and we’ve stayed at Shades nearly every time I’ve been to Disney (around 10 times). It’s still a great resort with a full Disney feel and you can walk across the street to Polynesian easily, aka access to an amazing fireworks view on the beach there and monorail stop. You can still stay on the property w/out the large price tag.

  34. My family and I stay here every chance we get. We are annual pass holders and you can't beat the convenience of Shades of Green. The only problem is you have to book your stay almost 9 months in advance because its so full most times.

  35. I don't understand the mocking of "golf resort" I don't play golf but never understood mocking other folks passion. Golf is the one sport that when you age out of competitive contact sports you can always take up golf. I have stayed at Shades of Green and if I was a golfer I would stay there just for the reduced rate for service personnel and the proximity of two championship courses.

  36. My parents are both DoD civilians and took me to Shades of Green three times growing up. I loved it! I never realized how good of a deal we were getting though until I started planning the trip I’m taking next month where I’m not staying in Shades of Green. The only big downside to SoG is the lack of transportation from the airport.

  37. The Golf Resort was actually great. The rooms were HUGE, bigger than the Polynesian. Plus, since most people were driving to Disney, you already had a car and being across the street from the Polynesian was really a great location. The dining room was beautiful, on the second floor with huge floor to ceiling glass walls and atrium ceilings. I went to my only character dinner there with my grandparents whilst my parents went to a Broadway at the Top dinner at the Contemporary. Also, the pool was never crowded and you could pool hop to the Polynesian pool, then drive back in like 5 minutes to your biggest room on property and enjoy the privacy. The hallways were super wide and well lit and the wood plank front entrance area was quite peaceful. We would stay there for a week before heading to the Bahamas and you had peaceful tranquility at Disney. Loved it!

  38. I play palm and magnolia all the time always wondered how shades of green happened. Thanks. Dont hook your tee shot on palm one it goes to the parking garage lol.

  39. Growing up a military family we stayed at the shades of green, and it was themed with Disney so well I thought it was a Disney owned resort. As a military member myself I’ll definitely be taking my future family there

  40. I stayed there when it was The Golf Resort and Disney Inn. I rather enjoyed staying there as it was a little less crowded at the pool and not as noisy later at night. I am actually surprised Disney didn’t use this as a first foray into VDC and bus people to a side gate for entry into the parks.

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