How Military Vets Save at Walt Disney World
UPDATED AS OF NOVEMBER 2022: In terms of Disney perks not only does Shades of Green qualify for daily early entry into any of the four theme parks (enter 30 minutes prior to park open.) It will also be treated as a deluxe resort which qualifies guest staying here special extended evening hours access to Magic Kingdom and EPCOT on select dates.
Shades of Green Resort is a military resort owned by the US Army and classified as an AFRC (Armed Forces Recreation Center). The only time in my life that I’ve used even close to the amount of acronyms I did while serving in the US Air Force is when I’ve tried to describe anything Disney, so enjoy the extra acronyms in this article. Generally speaking, this resort is only available to active duty or retired military (plus spouses/survivors), 100% disabled veterans, those with a VHIC, a few government employees…and seriously just look here, because that’s an easier explanation. But you won’t find your “run of the mill Honorably Discharged Veteran” on there. But wait, there’s more! In the months of September and January, Shades of Green opens its doors to veterans as long as we provide proper documentation (a DD214 suffices, which is something you don’t have any damn reason to understand unless you have one).
So you’re going to Walt Disney World, spending a crap-ton of money, and you’re thinking how is this place saving me money? Shades of Green (“SOG”) is tax free. The rooms, the food, the store, the ticket office. Even if you’re visiting other Florida attractions (term used lightly), the ticket office at SOG is going to hook you up. You can search through options, pricing, and other important details here. If you’re eligible to stay at SOG, you’re eligible to use their ticket office for MOST discounted ticket types during your stay. I say most because there are explicit restrictions on pretty much all the pricing. *The ticket office CAN be used by those not staying if they meet certain criteria. The discounts available are plentiful, but it’s a total quagmire labyrinth to try and explain them all.
Disney DOES offer military discounts at most resorts as well as ticket and Memory Maker discounts for military, but those guidelines are very specific, and do NOT include “run of the mill veterans.” Now, is this the only reason I stay at SOG because it’s cheaper? Well, freaking obviously that’s a huge draw. Perhaps you recall I have five children and we’re cheap. Also, I love Trader Sam’s and Disney’s Polynesian Resort, so proximity. SOG is a 5-7 minute walk from the Poly, the monorail, the TTC (transportation and ticket center – aka your quickest way to Epcot), Trader Sam’s. It’s basically a pseudo-monorail resort if you will, but for the cost of a high season Value or a cheap as can be Moderate.
Shades of Green also boasts the largest standard rooms on property. Let that sink in. The room pricing is tiered based on your rank, so if you just make below jack shit (lower enlisted ranks in the military), it’s $163 (NOT plus tax, just that price) a night for 450 square feet of QUIET space. Parking is $17/night, which is still a steal compared to other on property resorts. So IF you have a car, and you’re Active Duty or Guard/Reserve/fit into eligibility, you’re looking at $199 per night for a huge room for up to 5 people. When I go, I have to pay the Category 3 rate, but it’s $209 well spent. SOG has buses, but did I mention you can walk to the Poly? Seriously, similar to if not less than the walk from AoA (Art of Animation Resort) to Pop Century Resort (two of Disney’s value resorts), but instead you’re at a deluxe monorail resort. These prices do change slightly each year, but SOG does often offer discounts! *Editor’s Note: For some reference here’s an article about how us non-vets save in bunches at WDW, the rates we pay (which are about half of the general public’s rate) still don’t even come close to what Shades of Green can do for your wallet.*
The rooms are huge, the resort is beautiful (seated on 2 golf courses), and it is quiet. You may experience the general noise of a hotel every once in a while, but it’s overall very relaxed. It’s not a billion guests cramming in bus lines and yelling at the cast members. Little known (?) fact, you can get in trouble in the military even while on leave, so you’d best act properly…especially if you’re spending leave on military property. This also trickles down to family members and sponsored rooms so it makes for a really quiet atmosphere overall. (Up to three rooms may be sponsored, so technically non-military affiliates can stay here, but the person sponsoring you must meet lots of guidelines and they are completely on the hook if you act like a jackass.) Additionally, it is easy to feel secure as there is 100% ID check to use the buses, enter the gate of the resort, check into a room, or anything else. Guests receive a SOG Resort ID (little piece of paper, which is a bit sad looking), and will be required to show that and state/military issued ID to get on a SOG bus or to use the walking path/gate to go to and from Disney’s Polynesian Resort next door. Just because the resort is secure, doesn’t mean you should leave your car or room unlocked, you’re oblivious if you trust anyone THAT much.
Guests can request a pool view room, but I like just rolling the dice and paying less for a standard room. I might ask for one wing vs the other, depending on if I have a car, or want to be close to the lobby, etc. but the view is fantastic no matter what. The rooms have a balcony (or lanai, because proximity to the Poly haha), and it’s not too small. In a standard room, there’s a table with chairs, a sofa w/ bed, 2 queen beds, and a huge bathroom (double sinks, and separate room for toilet and shower). You’ll find a large dresser, a closet, mini-fridge, and coffee maker. One rule is no cooking anything in your room, so you won’t find a microwave.
Common Spaces and Food
If you’ve been to any other AFRC locations, you’ll notice the welcoming lobby is massive and probably familiar. The amenities at SOG are pretty comparable to much more expensive resorts. In addition to laundry rooms, there is a spa and a really nice and pretty good-sized fitness center. Guests can participate in free yoga classes, and there are even 2 lighted tennis courts. The resort boasts two pools, and they do have pool games/activities similar to those found at other on-site resort pools. Check out the pool with zero entry, or the splash pad near the pool with a waterslide, or relax in the hot tub. There’s a shaded playground for littles. Utilize golf services, if that’s your thing. SOG has its own Bibbidi Boppity Boutique of sorts, princesses and pirates alike can get “makeovers” and it’s for damn sure cheaper here than in the Parks.
There are a number of restaurants, and the food is seriously delicious and great quality. We received a comped buffet once due to a problem with our room’s A/C (we didn’t even know, they literally called me while I was at the park and asked if they could change us to a new room and comp us a meal because they noticed an issue that “could be annoying”). It was better than any buffet I’ve had at Walt Disney World, and had almost as many choices as the Disney Cruise I went on with MO5KC ( Shameless plug: read the article if you want to understand the acronym). I’ve eaten at most of the restaurants at SOG over the past 18 years and gotten late-night pizza -this is NOT Disney pizza, it’s at least a step above *Editor’s Note: Disney pizza is dumpster juice served on a bread-like triangle* – drank in their bar and had a “fancy” meal there. I have used their lobby coffee shop, Java Café (which serves Starbucks, tax free, cheapest Starbucks around) for caffeine and delicious ice cream, and gotten great quick grabs from the Express Café downstairs by the buses. (Pro Tip use this location for filling ice/water in your water bottle before a day at the parks.)
I know that every time I’ve talked about Disney and specifically Shades of Green to people, I sound like a commercial. But it’s saved me so much money for so many fantastic trips, it’s hard to not be excited! I will, as always, point out the negatives too, as I see them. I recently found a great, inexpensive way to get to / from the airport when staying at SOG. It’s called the Sunshine Flyer, and they offer a military discount that is *automatically applied* when you select Shades of Green from their dropdown menus! See my review here. You can drive or use a shuttle (MEARS or similar) or Uber/Lyft, which is typically anywhere from $37-$50 (not including surge pricing). Sometimes when you schedule ahead shuttles will offer round trip discounts, so that’s something to keep in mind, but they often share to other resorts so just ask questions and be informed.
I DO love that there is a (tax free) store near the lobby, and it has souvenirs comparable to the parks, but it is small. Often items are on great sale but if you go to a Walmart you might find a similar deal, it all depends on the stock that day. You can buy food, drinks, OTC medicine, as well. However, I recommend using Amazon Prime or even Garden Grocer (less so) for purchasing larger quantities of things they’ll deliver it same day. If you want to support Cast Members past and present, try perusing the Facebook group “EAR For Each Other.” The AAFES Exchange shop also has booze and tobacco, but not every ID type can purchase these items. Another option is again, Amazon Prime, which delivers alcohol, but smoking is the worst.
If you’re wanting to get to the parks pre-rope drop, walk to the Poly and use their transportation. This includes pre-park opening dining reservations. The SOG buses do run early, but it’s not always going to get you there ahead of crowds. *UPDATE* SOG has been adding in an extra early bus for the “early morning half hour” before parks open daily. For MK/EP you will be dropped at the TTC, and for DHS and AK, you will be able to hop a bus once per hour at the specified time. These things are a pain in the ass unless you’re happening to be leaving within 10 minutes of that time, so just walk to the Poly. As far as picking up from parks, your bus driver will tell you when to be where. At least there’s only one spot to get on and off a bus at SOG so that’s nice.
SOG is also on the list of deluxe resorts whose guests can take advantage of exclusive “extended evening” hours. This is absolutely a giant bonus.
I don’t love that you won’t have MagicBand access to your room, but you CAN use them (or MagicMobile) at the parks, and attach your tickets/reservations to My Disney Experience to take advantage of 60+ day dining reservations and day-of Disney Genie (or Genie+, Lightning Lane etc. –all the +Plus+es) bookings. However, if you can imagine, MDE is glitchy as hell and has been known to drop a SOG reservation multiple times. Just re-enter your reservation number and all will be good, but for the love of God, screenshot those ticket and dining reservations because ain’t nobody got time for rebooking last minute.
If you have questions about Shades of Green, their website is pretty informative, or you can feel free to ask me too.