Current and retired members of the military have some special opportunities to save on their Disney vacations. Since I’m retired from the military, this is especially important to me. While many of you may not be able to take advantage of these discounts, I thought I’d pass them on for those of you who can. Or maybe some of you out there have a friend or family member in the military who shares your passion for all things Disney, and you can pass them on.
The biggest savings opportunity for military members (and Department of Defense civilians) is the Shades of Green resort. This was once a Disney-owned Deluxe resort. It started out as the Disney Golf Inn (because it’s situated between two of Walt Disney World’s golf courses). Later, it was changed to the Disney Inn, to make it more appealing to non-golfers. In the 1990’s, Disney sold it to the Department of Defense. Now, it’s an Armed Forces Recreation Center, but it still has the quality of a Disney deluxe resort.
I’ve stayed at the Shades of Green, and I admit that at first, I was afraid that it would be too “military.” By that, I mean drab, official-looking, and, well, run-down. Nothing could be further from the truth. Its lobby is beautiful, with a large fireplace, plenty of comfortable seating, and a TV with movies constantly playing for the children. The rooms are spacious (sleeping five) and very clean. There’s definitely less Disney theming. Outside of the Mickey photo op statue in the lobby and the Mickey-shaped pool, you could easily forget that you’re in Walt Disney World.
Prices for the Shades of Green vary, based on your rank. There are three categories, with lower-ranking enlisted members enjoying the cheapest rates, and higher-ranking officers paying the most. Regardless of your rank, however, everyone stays in the same rooms. A colonel will get the same room as a private, although the private will pay less. Even in the most expensive category, the price is less than a Moderate resort in Value season. And that’s another advantage of Shades of Green–the prices don’t vary with the season. You’ll pay the same price the week of Christmas (Disney’s most expensive “Holiday” season) as you would in a Value season. The military member can also reserve two more rooms for any non-eligible people traveling with them.
Another good thing about the resort’s rates is that there’s no sales tax. That in itself is a savings of 12.5%. You do have to add $5 per day for parking in the parking garage if you have a car.
Speaking of transportation, Shades of Green does not participate in either the Magical Express service to and from the Orlando airport or the internal Disney transportation system. The resort operates its own bus system, though. A bus will go directly to each of the parks once an hour. Another bus goes to the Ticket and Transportation Center once every 15 minutes. It’s also not that bad of a walk from Shades of Green to either the Polynesian or the TTC.
The resort also has several restaurants with much more reasonable prices than found elsewhere in the World. When we stayed there in 2006, there was an all-you-can-eat breakfast buffet for $7.95. There’s also a great ice cream parlor. Finally, there’s a Starbuck’s stand, the only place I know of on property to get Starbucks. You don’t have to be staying at Shades of Green to eat at the restaurants.
Even if you’re not staying at the Shades of Green, a quick stop there can save you some money. First, there’s an attraction ticket sales desk that offers tickets to all Orlando-area attractions, Disney World as well as Universal Studios, Sea World, and the Kennedy Space Center. The prices are standard, but with no sales tax. That turns out to be a huge savings when buying multiple tickets that are each over $200.
There’s also a store, where you can get sunscreen, over-the-counter medicines, basic groceries, drinks and some souvenirs. The prices are real-world, not Disney World, and again, no tax.
You can get more information on Shades of Green at its website, www.shadesofgreen.org.
There are many more military discounts than just Shades of Green, though. The Swan and Dolphin offer year-round military rates. Currently, you can get a room at the Dolphin at a military rate of as low as $139. Military members also get 50% off on most of the restaurants and lounges in these two hotels. However, you also have to pay a “resort fee” of $10 per day (plus tax) and $9 per day for self-parking. By the way, these hotels also offer similar discounted rates to nurses, teachers, AARP members, and government employees (both federal and state).
Disney itself offers military promotions from time to time. When they do, the deals are incredible. Last year, Disney’s Armed Forces Salute offered a free 5-day Park Hopper, Water Parks Fun and More ticket to military members and up to 5-day Base tickets for friends and family for $99 each. The friends and family could add the Park Hopper and Water Parks options for $25 each, half the regular price. There were also 40% off room-only rates. Disney’s offering a similar deal this summer, but the tickets are only for 4 days and the military member also has to pay the discounted rate, instead of getting a free ticket. It’s still a great deal, though. You can get details on any current military discounts at www.disneyworld.com/military.
There are also military discounts to be had for off-site lodging. First, there’s the Armed Forces Vacation Club, www.afvclub.com. This is a network of condos and timeshares. Availability can be spotty, but the deals can be great. If your travel dates are flexible, there are “space available” rooms for $369 per week ($53/night). I’ve also seen rooms for less than $700 per week in the regular (non-space available) rooms. While I’ve never used the Armed Forces Vacation Club myself, I’ve had friends that did and they were very pleased with the service.
Most hotels offer a military or government rate that is usually a significant discount. You don’t have to be on official business to book at this rate; you merely have to show ID at check-in. In addition to the hotels around a Disney park, this can be useful for stops along the way.
Finally, another way for military personnel to save on a Disney vacation is to purchase tickets at the base ITT office. Most bases near Orlando sell Disney World tickets. If you don’t live near one of these bases, however, you can order the tickets by phone. Call (619) 767-6000 or (210) 652-2855.
These are just some of the discounts available to those who are, or have served in the military. Along with the Disney company, I’d also like to thank you all for the service you’ve given our nation.
Contributed by: Mark (NDD #102). Mark is our resident “how to save money while living the Disney Driven Life” expert.