Military Benefits: How to Enjoy the Shade in Florida!
If the only military benefit you use is 10% off at Lowes and a free meal on Veterans Day, pull up a chair, and let's talk. If you served for one enlistment or 30 years, there are some benefits that are universal, and I stumbled onto one when planning for my family's Summer vacation this year.
My twins just turned four years old, and being stationed in Florida, you know, the magical place that all kids want to go. No, not to the “Museum for the Man who invented Air Conditioning” (not joking, look it up). I’m talking about a magical mouse with a whole lot of friends.
Staying in a Hilton or Super 8 to save money is cool and all, but it kind of puts a damper on the magic part of the Magic Kingdom. Even on the “budget” side, Disney Resorts can easily send you into the $300-600 a night range, not including park passes, parking, lightning pass, Disney Genie+, or the six-dollar water bottles and $30 bubble makers (don’t ask).
This was when I discovered Shades of Green, originally created in the 70s as a Disney golf resort. It was transformed into a military-only hotel in the mid-90s that has everything you need without ever leaving the property. On the property, there are two 18-hole world-class golf courses, four restaurants, two large pools, a spa/salon, a mini exchange, and a bus to multiple Disney parks exclusive for Shades of Green guests that run from the park's open to close every 20 minutes.
They have multiple variations of room layouts, from a standard that sleeps five to larger suites that can accommodate ten guests, and every room has a balcony view. We enjoyed a standard room that provided plenty of space for two adults and two children for a 5-day/4-night stay, and it cost us less than $700 in total.
The food and service were excellent everywhere we went, with reasonable prices and a good variety to choose from, even for the pickiest of eaters. Want a latte and a scoop of ice cream? Sure, they have that. What about a huge breakfast buffet with an omelet bar and pancake station? No sweat. How about a nice sit-down restaurant where you can enjoy a steak and an adult beverage for a great date night? Easily done.
See my point yet? Now to the real question, are you eligible? If you left the service in good standing and have nearly any official government ID, such as a CAC, retirement ID, or a Veteran Health Identification Card (VHIC) with a service-connected disability rating (no minimum), then you are eligible. Purple Heart recipients, former POWs, and widowed spouses are also eligible, as well as certain civilian and DOD employees, so check and verify before you book a room.
Our stay was fantastic, from check-in to check-out, and we were taken care of the entire way by an informed and friendly staff. I think the most important part in my mind about staying at Shades of Green is the quality of guests that stay there. While living in the Florida panhandle for several years now, there is a certain vacation mode that I see many tourists bring with them as they feel entitled to more priority than the residents that live here. I am happy to say that I never saw that once during our stay, for as we serve or continue to serve, a higher standard is expected from us and the guests we choose to bring.
Mental health has been a trending topic in the military today, and leave should be a central factor in helping us re-center our priorities and enjoy time away from the stress with our loved ones or friends. So take advantage of MWR facilities like Shades of Green, its sister property in Hawaii, the Hale Koa Hotel, and many more across the United States that are available for most current and former service members.
Contact the nearest base information, ticket, and travel office (ITT) for more information.