As the wife of an ex-British Army soldier, I have always been impressed by Disney’s support
of the military troops. Across the pond, that support is not always quite so forthcoming but
one event that did excite my husband and me back in 2014 was the launch of the Invictus
Games, an international sports event inspired by the United States Warrior Games.
The event encouraged wounded and injured service personnel to compete in sports such as
basketball and archery as a way to rebuild their confidence, combat mental health issues,
and find a renewed purpose to focus on as part of their recovery. The first UK Games were
held in London and we were lucky enough to get tickets for the closing concert held at the
Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park with the Foo Fighters as the headline act.
The Games were a huge success and two years later Orlando became the next host city with
Shades of Green the designated athletes village host resort. If you take a walk just outside the hotel’s lobby you will see a plaque on the wall commemorating this inspirational event under the words “I AM” written in large yellow letters. This was the motto of the Games and is taken from the English poem, Invictus, by William Ernest Henry.
It was the first time I had heard of Shades of Green and I wanted to find out more about this relatively small hotel close to the Magic Kingdom, just southwest of Disney’s Polynesian resort. Shades of Green is a place where servicemen and women can enjoy the pixie dust magic of a well-deserved Disney vacation with their families at a significantly discounted price.
The hotel began life as the rather intimate Golf Retreat in 1973, situated in the middle of
both the Palm and Magnolia golf courses. By 1986 it had changed its name to The Disney
Inn and had increased its room capacity to 288 in the hope of attracting a wider mix of
guests, rather than just keen golfers. Still a small hotel in comparison to the other Disney
resorts, it offered guests a much more secluded and rustic charm.
When US soldiers were surveyed in the early 1990s about which location they would choose
for a new Armed Forces Recreation Area, Orlando came out as the clear winner. The Walt
Disney Company agreed to lease the Disney Inn to the military for 100 years (or until Prince
Philip kisses Sleeping Beauty – only joking!). The new approved name change to Shades of
Green was a nod to the color of military fatigues and the beautiful lush green lawns of the
The demand from guests was so high that the Army Morale, Welfare and Recreation
organization (MWR) bought the hotel from Disney in 1996, although Disney still owns the 30
acres of land on which it sits. The continued success of Shades of Green led to further expansion with more rooms built, including family suites and the addition of conference and wedding facilities and various restaurants. The renovations took two years to complete, and the hotel re-opened to guests in March 2004. Shades of Green now offers the some of the most spacious rooms on property including the Magnolia Suite which sleeps up to 10 people and measures an impressive 1800 square feet! Complimentary bus service is also available at the hotel to take guests to the Ticket and Transportation Center as well as the parks.
For service personnel who often have limited time with their loved ones and endure long
periods apart, this hotel gives them the chance to immerse themselves in the Disney
experience at a greatly reduced price. It operates a three-tier room rate system with junior
ranks paying less per night than the more senior officers and that price remains constant
throughout the year. In addition, the hotel also offers:
- Discounts on park tickets and other local attractions;
- Eligibility for extra magic hours and FastPass Plus reservations 60 days in advance of check-in;
- Discounted tickets for special events in the Disney parks at certain times of the year;
- Use of the Magnolia golf course;
- A spa;
- Two swimming pools;
- A fitness center;
- Tennis courts;
- An arcade and playground;
- Princess and pirate makeovers;
- Two cafes (Express Café and Java Café);
- Evergreens Sports Bar;
- The Garden Gallery buffet restaurant; and
- Mangino’s, a full-service sit-down restaurant serving steaks and Italian cuisine.
Veterans and their families are also welcome and can stay at the hotel during the months of January and September if they received an honorable discharge.
In recognition of their service to their country, guests are very well looked after. Although the Shades of Green hotel is no longer owned by Disney, there are still subtle touches around the resort that remind guests of their partnership with the US military, such as Disney merchandise in the AAFES General Store designed for the different branches of the Armed Forces and a statue of Mickey Mouse on the hotel grounds. He is dressed in the colors of the American flag with excerpts from the Declaration of Independence painted on his shoes – a great photo opportunity!
It’s also worth mentioning that the two swimming pools on property are pretty special. One is shaped like Mickey Mouse and the other has been designed for guests who may have a disability or mobility issues. There are no steps to navigate at either end of the pool and both pools have ADA compliant lifts and can accommodate wheelchairs.
This resort offers guests a quiet, friendly, and luxurious stay extremely close to all the
action. It is a welcome respite from the stresses and pressures of military life, where families can spend priceless quality time together just having fun, because as Walt once said: “Laughter is America’s most important export.”
Happy July 4th everyone!
My name is Karen Burns and although I am based in the UK, I have been a lifelong Disney fan. For a little girl growing up in London, this magical place was a distant wonderland I could only ever dream of visiting. But it finally happened in 1990 when I was 16 years old. I have since been back to Walt Disney World with my husband and then again with our two daughters, and I have also visited Disneyland Paris which has my favourite Cinderella castle. I love the medieval storybook aesthetic which is so stunning! Fast forward to the present day when I found Lou’s podcasts and then my excitement when he asked for contributors to the WDW Radio website. My current midlife crisis has seen me dabbling with freelancing and gradually growing a writing portfolio which has given me so much joy. To write about my happy place is truly a dream come true.