Last spring, my family traveled to Disney World and received the VIP treatment. No, we didn’t win any special sweepstakes or spend an extravagant budget for our trip, but we did stay at a special resort for members of the military and defense department civilians. 

My mom wanted to take her grandkids to the theme park, and while planning our trip she discovered that she qualified for a special resort on Disney property. So, after 37 years of working in the Department of Defense (DOD), she found out about this little military secret!  We quickly took advantage of the Shades of Green Resort in Orlando, Florida, which offered room rates that were approximately a third of some of the Disney-owned competitors.

Shades of Green is one of several Armed Forces Recreation Centers (AFRC) throughout the world and their prices are based on the pay scale or rank of its guests, starting at just $80 per night.  U.S. military, DOD civilians and retirees of these organizations can benefit and extend the savings onto other guests in their party. 

The special themes and décor of the Disney-owned resorts may tempt you away from the standard resort features of Shades of Green, but deluxe amenities and convenience still abound.  Shades of Green is located between two golf courses and offers some of the largest guest rooms on Disney property.  The resort was renovated in 2003 and offers pools, a fitness room, an arcade, playground and restaurants.

This AFRC is within a quick walk or shuttle ride to the Transportation and Ticket Center, which connects you to either Magic Kingdom or Epcot. These shuttle buses come a few times an hour and buses to the other Disney parks are available once per hour.  Unless you’re planning on visiting other points of interest in Orlando, there really is no need for a car.  Shades of Green doesn’t offer a complimentary shuttle services to and from the airport, but the service they recommend is much more reasonable than other Orlando transportation companies.

Shades of Green offers a quick-service café, a poolside lounge with a complete menu, a buffet restaurant that serves a wide variety for breakfast and lunch and also Mangino’s, a seated restaurant serving Italian fare. The gold-leaf package meal plan enables you to dine at one of their restaurants twice per day for a discounted price. Note that, unlike the Disney-owned resorts, Shades of Green meal plans cannot be used in the theme parks. Most guests planned their days around eating at the buffet for breakfast and dinner and grabbing something little and inexpensive for lunch at one of the parks. There is also a convenience store/gift shop on the property that offers reasonable prices for groceries, if needed.  Each room has a refrigerator, so a family’s drinks and snacks can be easily available.

Shades of Green can arrange all of your Orlando theme park ticket needs at discounted prices. As a guest of Shades of Green you are also eligible for the extra Magic Hours that allow you to come early or stay late at various Disney parks.  We spoke to many guests who were on their annual trip to Shades of Green. On one trip they would visit the Disney parks and then the next they may see Universal Studios and Sea World. There seemed to be a general camaraderie amongst the guests, as they, or someone in their family, was affiliated with the military or DOD. If you’re eligible, visit and enter your rank or grade for room prices and reservation dates.

Shades of Green is the only AFRC located in the continental U.S., but there are three other resorts available.  Hale Koa Hotel is an Armed Forces Recreation Center on the island of Oahu. It offers views of Diamond Head and Polynesian entertainment in a beautiful Hawaiian paradise. Standard room rates start at just $83 per night for enlisted servicemen and women. This price is difficult to find in Ocean City, Maryland! Check for more information and reservations. If you’re looking beyond the U.S. and want to take advantage of your military discount, look into Dragon Hill Lodge in Seoul, Korea or Edelweiss Lodge and Resort in Garmisch, Germany. Dragon Hill is located within minutes of Seoul City Center and additional information can be found at  Edelweiss Lodge and Resort is located in the popular Bavarian Alps, home to Germany’s premiere winter and summer sports center. The Edelweiss Lodge and Resort web site is  Again, room rates are reasonable, making a luxurious, international vacation affordable for our country’s military and defense employees.

Jennifer Murphy is a wife and mother of two.