Shades of Green is one of the few unique resorts
on Walt Disney World property that share the distinction of not actually being owned or
operated by Disney themselves. However this resort isn’t owned by Hilton
or Sheraton or Four Seasons. No, this resort is owned by the United States
Department of Defense, and it exists thanks to some perfect conditions and a pretty smart
business deal. Now, Shades of Green is technically 24 years
old, but in a way it’s actually much older than that. In fact, it’s been around almost as long
as Disney World itself. Back in 1971 when Disney World first opened,
it offered up two golf courses called the Palm and Magnolia. They were right next to each other, so Disney
built a clubhouse for both courses right in between the two. Two years later in 1973, while scrambling
to add more rooms to their property due to Disney World’s popularity, Disney decided
to convert the clubhouse into a resort by adding over 150 guest rooms. When it came time to theme and name the resort,
Disney, the company behind some of the most beloved and memorable creative works of the
last 100 years settled on… The Golf Resort. Over the following 13 years the resort struggled. It was a Disney owned and operated hotel,
but it was kind of an odd man out. Not too far away you had the Polynesian and
Contemporary hotels. One had a beautiful and immersive polynesian
setting on the water, the other had a novel, massive, and modern atrium, and both were
connected to The Magic Kingdom and later Epcot, via monorail. Then, across the road, you had… the golf
resort. It featured… golf. As a result, The Golf Resort saw average occupancy
rates of 60%-75%. Now compared to other hotels in central Florida,
that actually wasn’t too bad, but right across the street the Polynesian and Contemporary
were almost constantly in the high 90% range. As shocking as it sounds, The Golf Resort
wasn’t seen, by many, as a “Disney hotel”. So in 1986 they decided to do something about
it. Not Disney enough, eh? Alright, we’ll make it more Disney. We’re gonna change the name to “The Disney
Inn”. How’s that for Disney? Theme? Snow White. Short of an actual Mickey Mouse hotel, which
Eisner did consider, you can’t really get more “Disney” than that. Here’s the catch though. By this point Michael Eisner and Frank Wells
were now running Disney, and part of their goal at Disney World was to expand the hotel
offerings. So while The Golf Resort was given a second
life as the Disney Inn, just two years later it would be dwarfed by The Grand Floridian
and joined by the Caribbean Beach resort. The few years after that would bring us the
Yacht Club, the Beach Club Port Orleans, Old Key West, and Dixie Landings. They were hotels designed as hotels and all
memorable in one way or another. The Disney Inn was just a clubhouse turned
hotel that never really found it’s stride. Now around this time is when the Department
of Defense was starting to consider a new resort. At this point they already had three. They were called AFRCs, which stood for Armed
Forces Recreation Center. They were affordable and self-sustaining resorts
where members of the armed forces could go or take their families on vacation. They had one in Germany, one in South Korea,
and one in Hawaii. However with the Gulf War recently coming
to a close, more and more service members were returning home to the states, and so
the DoD decided they wanted a resort on the US mainland. This was the early 1990s and so between Disney
World, the beaches, and the recently opened Universal Studios Orlando, central Florida
would make for a perfect location. Initially over 40 hotels and motels expressed
interest in being the location of choice for DoD, and that included Disney and The Disney
Inn. Now if we think about this for a moment, it
was a brilliant move on Disney’s part. By offering up The Disney Inn, they were offloading
this hotel that was never really intended to be a hotel to begin with, and were trading
in subpar occupancy rates for a dependable pay-day. But perhaps more importantly, they would be
striking a blow against their competition. Like I said, Universal Studios had just recently
opened, so by getting the Department of Defense to
put their 4th AFRC smack dab in the middle of their property, they were ensuring that
nearly all of the service members visiting would be spending money at Disney World. Ultimately the DoD did go with Disney, and
cited that it was the quality of their rooms and the proximity to the parks that won them
over. In November of 1993 they announced a deal
in which they would sign a 100 year lease on the hotel and the land it sat on. Just three months later on February 1st, 1994,
the hotel would reopen as Shades of Green. To keep the hotel affordable to service members,
the rates were lowered. While an average night at the Disney Inn ran
between $180-$215 a night, a stay at Shades of Green, depending on your rank, ran between
$49 and $92 a night. In other words, any occupancy problems the
hotel faced were now a thing of the past. Within the first month as Shades of Green,
occupancy jumped up to 98% and the hotel would remain fully booked for the first 8 months
of operation. However the resort still ran into financial
problems. You see like I mentioned, the room prices
were based on rank. Privates would only pay the $49 while the
highest ranking officers would pay the top end $92. So it was no surprise that the majority of
guests at the hotel that year were lower ranked members and paying lower rates as a result. It hurt the hotel’s bottom line and put
them a million dollars into the red by the end of the first year. Oddly enough, one of the proposed solutions
to this problem, beyond just raising the room rates, was to just outright purchase the hotel. They’d be investing more in the short-term,
but the year to year costs would lower without the hotel lease and with a renegotiated land
lease, and they’d then own a hotel that would hopefully appreciate in value over time. So in 1996 that’s just what they did, and
for the price of 43 million dollars, the Department of Defense purchased Shades of Green. Today Shades of Green is still around and
despite being owned by the government, still offers some of the perks of a Disney owned
resort. Guests staying there can enjoy Extra Magic
Hours, book fast passes up to 60 days before their stay, and enjoy complimentary bus transportation. It’s an interesting case of all of the right
events lining up just around the right time, and it was one of the multiple examples we
would see of Disney’s new leadership finding creative ways to get people to stay on Disney
property. If there’s one note to end on when it comes
to the history of this unique and interesting hotel though, it’s… really Disney? The Golf Resort?