LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. – More military members and their families can exclaim "I’m going to Disney World," thanks to the recent expansion of Shades of Green Armed Forces Recreation Center on Walt Disney World Resort.
Brig. Gen. Robert Decker, commander of the US Army Community and Family Support Center, served as master of ceremonies for a Shades of Green grand reopening March 31 at the hotel’s Porte Cochere.
Guest speakers included Peter Isaacs, chief operating officer for CFSC; John McLaurin, deputy assistant secretary of the Army for human resources; and Charles Abell, principal deputy undersecretary of defense for personnel and readiness.
Spc. Russell Burnham, the Army’s 2003 Soldier of the Year from Walter Reed Army Medical Center in Washington, also attended the ceremony with his family and was honored.
"This is not just a grand opening, it’s a celebration of Soldiers, Sailors, Airmen and Marines because that’s what these properties take care of," said McLaurin, who emphasized the importance of AFRCs. "The Shades of Green here represents the Army’s latest commitment to providing high-quality morale, welfare and recreation opportunities to members of the U.S. Armed Forces."
During his remarks, Abell said the resort provides much-needed respite from the rigors of military duty.
"This is an occasion that reaffirms the Department of Defense’s commitment to provide quality, wholesome and affordable recreation opportunities to members of US forces who have and who continue to underwrite the peace and stability of our nation," he said.
Abell also mentioned how Shades of Green makes the Central Florida vacation experience affordable for those who have stayed there.
"The majority … tell us that were it not for the Shades of Green, they would not have been able to vacation here in America’s premiere vacation destination," Abell said. "It is gratifying to see this dramatically improved and expanded hotel on these beautiful grounds. This wonderful facility is one of the jewels in the Armed Forces Recreation Center crown."
The other AFRCs were represented at the Shades of Green reopening. The Hale Koa Hotel in Hawaii; Dragon Hill Lodge in Korea; and Edelweiss Lodge and Resort, which is scheduled to open this autumn in Germany, staged exhibits during the reception, providing a taste of many cultures — from Polynesian and Korean dancers to an Oktoberfest tent complete with an oompah band from Epcot.
There was plenty of music at the reception as well. The Southeast Swing Band from Jacksonville Naval Air Station played atop a dock in the center of a pond. "When Buffet meets Sinatra," a duo playing Jimmy and Frank’s classics, was stationed in a drained kiddie pool on the other side of the hotel.
Even Mickey and Minnie Mouse joined the festivities, along with friends Donald, Daisy, Pluto and Goofy.
But the true star of the ceremony was the resort itself. With the reopening, it has more than doubled in size with the addition of 299 rooms to the previous 287, plus a 500-seat ballroom, two new restaurants, and a second heated swimming pool. The upgraded complex also better accommodates buses that shuttle guests around Disney’s property, separate from the flow of traffic near the hotel’s check-in area.
The response from guests at the upgraded Shades of Green has been overwhelmingly positive.
"We hear things like: ‘We can’t wait to come back’ and "This is the best thing the Army has ever done;’ ‘We love this place;’ and ‘This is our home away from home,’ – all great things," Shades of Green acting general manager Melissa Colvin said.
Shades of Green is adjacent to Disney’s Palm Golf Course, home of the PGA Tour’s FUNAI Classic, and just outside the gates of Mickey Mouse’s famous house. Another one of Disney’s five championship 18-hole golf courses and a nine-hole executive layout are within walking distance.
"We do not promote the fact that it’s a golf resort probably as much as we should," said Colvin, who hasn’t needed to market the resort. "Military families do certainly appreciate the golf factor, but I can honestly say most of them are coming here to go see the attractions in this area. Weather also plays a big role – they want to get away from the snow and enjoy the sunshine."
The hotel features two lighted tennis courts, hot tub, children’s pool and play area, lounge and sports bar, banquet accommodations, gift shops, video arcade, laundry facilities, fitness center and automated teller machines.
Guests are provided transportation to all Walt Disney World attractions and early entry into select venues inside the Magic Kingdom. Epcot, Disney-MGM Studios and Disney’s Animal Kingdom Theme Park are just minutes away.
Self-supporting and operated with non-appropriated funds, Shades of Green is reserved for active duty and retired members of the uniformed services, Reserves and National Guard, as well as active and retired Department of Defense civilians and their families.
Affordability, a term often lost on visitors to Disney World, is the main attraction to Shades of Green. Room rates are based on rank and range from $70 to $225 per night for a standard room and $82 to $119 for a poolside room.
"The more junior enlisted you are, the better your savings," Colvin explained. "You can’t find our room rates at any other Walt Disney World Resort."
For room reservations at Shades of Green, call 888-593-2242. The hotel’s direct number is 407-824-3400 and fax is 407-824-3460. An online reservation system is available now.
Reservations are accepted up to one year in advance. Six to eight months in advance traditionally is required to secure a room. Holidays and long weekends tend to get booked a full year in advance.
For soldiers on short-notice R&R leave, Shades of Green has overflow contract arrangements with alternate hotels at Walt Disney World Resort.
CFSC Chief of Hospitality Support Cheryl Mbaye believes Shades of Green may rival Hale Koa Hotel for the No. 1 spot among AFRCs.
"The Hale Koa has been our flagship property, but now it has some competition with Shades of Green," said Mbaye, who spent most of the past 18 months helping with renovation. "This is just a beautiful resort."
Two championship PGA and a 9 hole executive course Operated by Walt Disney World Resort ®
Guest Services and Attraction Ticket Sales
Two heated swimming pools and hot tub
Children’s wading pool and play area
Made in the Shade Gift "Shoppes"
Mangino’s Tuscan Restaurant
Garden Gallery Restaurant
Evergreen’s Sports Bar
AAFES General Store
And much more…