We started our Walt Disney World trip with a great place to stay. For comfort, convenience and value, our family really enjoyed the Armed Forces Recreation Center, Shades of Green.
The resort has the relaxed vibe of a place that is removed from the Disney madness. It feels isolated, but Shades is actually right next to Disney’s Polynesian Resort in the heart of the Magic Kingdom area.
Shades’ transportation was excellent. A bus left for the transport center serving the parks every 15 minutes. Parks outside of the monorail system such as Animal Kingdom and MGM were served hourly by other reliable buses. The resort has its own little bus terminal complete with a great “grab and go” snack bar for quick breakfasts. We heard a few complaints about late-night bus service, so if you plan to be out much later than the time the parks close, you might want to arrange for a taxi.
The Shades of Green property was Disney’s Golf Resort when it opened in 1973. Back then, the place was filled with cigarette smoke and lots of guests wearing red and orange polyester slacks.
A full-scale renovation with additional rooms was completed in 2004. Our room at the back of the property was as distant from the front desk as one could get, but it was the largest standard room that we had ever seen. Shades calls them “oversized,” and ours definitely lived up to that billing. It seems that large rooms with two queens and a sofa bed are not standard at any of the other Disney resorts.
You can really save some “green” by eating at least some meals at Shades of Green. While the restaurants and buffets are not gourmet, they are kid friendly and every bit as good as comparable commercial hotels.
The Evergreens Sports Bar has, without a doubt, the only draft beer in Disney World for under $3. The beer is not just any beer, either. Evergreens serves up cold Kostritzer and Bitburger direct from Germany. We saw a single can of Miller Beer for sale at Disney Hotels for $4.75 plus tax. Evergreens will also do affordable take-out wings and pizza that you can enjoy while relaxing by the pool underneath the shady palm trees.
The Army and Air Force Exchange Service store at Shades sells Disney souvenirs and lots of bath and drugstore items in case you forgot your toothbrush or need an aspirin after a long day at the parks.
Shades of Green guests are eligible for Disney’s “Extra Magic Hours,” when the Parks open early or stay open late for Disney Resort guests only. We visited Epcot on one of the early mornings and were able to ride “Soarin” over the treetops and mountains of California several times without waiting in line.
In fact, our entire trip was a delight. Other highlights included watching the Magic Kingdom fireworks from the Shades pool (next to the hot tub), and wandering through Epcot’s World Showcase late in the evening after returning from Mars on “Mission Space.”
Having grown up in Germany, our daughters had already been to places like Tuscany, Venice, Paris and Alsace. It was their first trip to Disney World. They were kind of seeing the countries of the world in reverse order compared with most American kids, I guess.
At the “Walt Disney, One Man’s Dream” attraction at MGM, Walt himself told of how he was inspired by the World’s Fair of 1964. The parks are filled with the same positive images about progress that many of us grew up with in the 1950s and ’60s: man on the moon, endless possibilities. Somewhere along the line, we were all soured by cynicism and a negative image of a less hopeful future.
I was happy and surprised by how educational and inspirational the parks could be. Sometime during the week, the skeptical father in me became a Disney fan as the girls began asking questions like, “How did they do that?”
In spite of the new parks and ventures, nothing really beats the experience of standing on Main Street with your family for the fireworks behind the castle. For that moment at least, in their confused state of fatigue and wonder, the children really believe that all things are possible. If that is the magic of Disney, then I believe it, too.
Ken O’Donnell is a contracting officer at Defense Supply Center Philadelphia who recently returned from four years in Mainz Kastel, Germany. E-mail: Kenneth. O’Donnell@dla.mil.
Know and Go ...
• Shades of Green guests get discounts on golf bookings. The property is surrounded by Disney’s Oak Trail, Magnolia and Palm courses.
• Room rates are determined by military grade and apply to both active and retired military personnel and Department of Defense civilians (be prepared to show ID). Nightly room rates range from $72 to $109 for a regular room, and $82 to $119 for a poolside room, depending on rank. The most expensive “oversized” room sleeps eight for $225 a night. These rates are a fraction of what the Disney Hotels charge.
• Park tickets are available at a discount and without tax at the Shades counter. Disney offers several add-on options, including Park Hopper, which allows you to come and go from MGM Studios, Magic Kingdom, Animal Kingdom and Epcot each day for the length of the ticket. It sounded like a good idea, but we only used Park Hopper once during our Disney week. There’s more than enough to do at the four main parks.
• At the Blizzard Beach water park, we climbed concrete stairs in the heat and waited in lines that were longer than any we faced at the parks. At the first sign of thunder, an almost daily feature in Florida, lifeguards cleared all pools and slides, leaving us to wait out the storm dangerously under trees and umbrellas. By the time we left, the pools still had not opened. It seemed like a wasted half day that we could have enjoyed at no additional cost by the hotel pool.
• We all came down with colds after returning. Was it the Disney park germs spread by the whole world meeting at one place? Next time we will bring along and use lots of hand sanitizer.