Disney world offers an amazing opportunity for military members with their Salute Ticket available from the Ticket office at the Shades of Green on Disney World (and maybe your ITT office). These tickets have 3 options you can read about at the Shades of Green website. We’ve always done the 4 day base tickets with the Fun and More – seems the most bang for your buck and we really don’t dig on park hopping (its just too busy). FYI – you can order these via email ahead of time, get your numbers, and still register for Fast Passes in your MyDisney account. Just use the Ticket Info Form and ask how!
You do not need to be staying at Shades in order to buy these tickets or visit the resort and shop in the little BX, but you must be a military ID holder. Shades of Green is a military resort at Disney World and offers great rates worthy of comparison. The rooms are bigger than most, but they don’t get some of the fun perks a regular Disney resort does like Magic Bands, the Magic Express from the airport, or super easy Transport. They have their own shuttles, but the schedules are a bit limited. I would always recommend researching and staying at a Disney resort over Shades. However, if you are travelling during peak season, or really need a spacious room then Shades is a good choice. The rooms and amenities compare to a Disney “Moderate” resort, while the costs are rank-affiliated and may be as low as a Disney “Budget” resort (not for us).
We opted to stay at Shades of Green because I was travelling with 5 people; myself, the two kids, and my parents were flying down to meet us. The Shades room was pricier than a Disney Budget, but since my parent were splitting costs then the larger rooms meant we could just get ONE room at Shades instead of TWO at a Disney Budget and save a lot of money. Shades rooms have a fold out couch that sleeps one person, making them 5 people rooms vs. Disney rooms which are typically only 4 people.
We also saved money on FOOD stopping at a grocery on the way from the airport meant we bought breakfast items for the week, plus some pretzels and crunchies, a bunch of apples and clementines, and baggies for daily snacks. We didn’t eat lunch, but instead had mediodia in Spanish style around 2 or 3pm when the restaurants were mostly empty and we were starving. This was our big meal of the day! Between myself and the two kids, we could never finish the amount of food served with two adult meals. My parents also found that they always had leftovers when they each bought an entire meal. The portions at Disney are generous, but the kids meals are crappy and unhealthy so avoid them. For dinner we would get something small either out and about or at the hotel, or even just eat our snacks.
On a previous trip we used the Disney dining plan and I hated it. Between that and Fast Passes it made the whole day over-scheduled and a pre-planned nightmare. In addition, it ended up costing way more and there was a lot of wasted food and times we ate but weren’t hungry. Unless you are a foodie is mostly going to Disney to eat, I would avoid it.
So, in 7 DAYS (including travel)…. using those 4 day base with fun and more tickets means we had 4 parks to visit and 4 Fun visits each. GO!
Day 1 – Arrival Day! The kids and I flew into Orlando from Spain and my parents flew in from Pennsylvania. Miraculously, we all landed within an hour of each other on Saturday evening so we shared a pre-paid car service over to Disney World (via a Publix grocer)! Then we went to bed.
Day 2 – For real. Our first day was not a park day. We slept in a bit, then went to Blizzard Beach (using Fun Option 1). I love Blizzard Beach over Typhoon Lagoon because of the Shark Reef and the clean lazy river. It’s a blast! The kid area is awesome, most of the slides are family friendly, and the waves make it really feel like a beach.
Around 2pm it was time for the daily rain downpour. We packed up our stuff and took a bus across the street (a walkway here would be a wonderful addition) to Disney Springs. Our next stop was Disney Quest (using Fun Option 2). This is a super fun 4-floor indoor arcade-like park. I have such fond memories of teaching Zoe to play Pac-Man and Avi couldn’t get enough Centipede. Mom and Dad are SkeeBall fiends, and both got super sucked into blowing up Navy vessels in a game called SeaWolf. There are also interactive games downstairs like one where everyone piles into a moving ship and shoots at pirates. Such a blast!
We closed the place down around 6pm and took a ferry across the Springs from the “West Side” where Disney Quest is to the “Marketplace” for dinner at the Earl of Sandwich. In the evening, we wandered the shops and performances at the Springs for a bit before the crowds thronged in and we got a bit split up; for a while Mom, Zoe, and I had lost Dad and Avi. When we finally found them, Avi was asleep on Dad’s shoulder and we decided it was time to go!
Day 3 – Magic Kingdom. We started our park visits with the old standard because of Avi, who was on his first visit and requested tradition first. I’m not a big fan of being up early in crowds, so we got to the entrance just a little after opening and started with a visit to Tinker Bell. Made me tear up to remember how much Zoe loved these fairies when she was a bit younger.
From there, we wandered around clockwise and backtracked and generally tried to avoid long lines. We started in Frontierland where we walked right into Aladdin and the Tiki Room quickly with no waits. The park then became crazy crowded, but we had Fast Passes for things like Splash Mountain that saved us hours, and we didn’t much care what we rode or saw as long as the line was short. The strategy worked well; we found ourselves walking right into Enchanted Tales with Belle knowing not what it even was. The kids were both dressed up and participated in a mini performance with Belle! Zoe was the Beast!
Thunder mountain was closed. Sad. But we spent a lot of time out on Tom Sawyer island before a thunderstorm became a good excuse to get off. Good timing also led us into the Hall of Presidents when we all needed a bit of cooling off, and when we walked round a corner to see the mid day parade!
For late lunch we sauntered into a nearly empty Pecos Bill for heaps of Mexican food and a toppings bar that verily doubles the meal! At this point, Dad had to bale for the day. He was catching a bad cold and feeling the affects. My mom then took over the quest for short lines and we were running all over after her in and out of ride after ride!
By evening, we were at Tomorrowland and walking straight into all kinds of attractions while the rest of the park chose standing spaces for the fireworks. We finally plopped down along the bridge to watch Tinkerbell soar overhead (oh, if I could pick one job at Disney that would be mine!) to start the fireworks show. Kids loved it and we had a surprisingly great view even with the hoards of other people. Afterward, the masses began to depart but we stayed back in Tomorrowland to catch a few more rides and the Carousel of Progress which the kids thought was a bit crazy.
In the end, between Fast Passes, random luck, and mom’s eagle-eyes for short lines we only missed riding a handful of things and saw a bunch of performances. It WAS midnight, though, when we finally dragged into the hotel.
Day 4 – EPCOT! This used to be my favorite park, but I think Animal Kingdom has surpassed it. Regardless, it’s still a lot of fun and though our day was rainy we made the best of it with a start at Mission Space mid-morning. Zoe absolutely loved this, and our Fast Passes were well spent on it, and later on Test Track which was Avi’s pick and totally wild.
The rest of morning was spent around the Future World, soaking up Nemo’s Seas, going in the big ball, and taking the time for Ellen’s Energy Adventure. For the afternoon we soggily walked, eating tapas style around the World Showcase, a little here and there. We took in the Mexico ride and learned from the China video, visited Anna and Elsa in Norway, got pretzels and beer in Germany, and falafel in Morocco. It was fun, but we were tired when we dragged into The Land for a go around the greenhouse. On the way out, Zoe noticed that the Soarin’ line was a measly 30 minutes long! So, we finished up with a super fun ride and took the monorail out just as the evening show was to start. No one minded missing that, as we were tired.
Day 5 – Animal Kingdom. Yep. New favorite. This place is great! It’s a zoo and a theme park with great rides, great shows, and great food. I just love it. Plus, there is a Wilderness Explorers book that pushes the kids to move along and get badges at neat little interactive stations. It draws their attention to fact finding about animals in the habitats and as they do activities, they get stickers in the booklet. Zoe was obsessed from the beginning!
Fast Passes for Mt. Everest and Kali River Rapids also kept us moving along in an anti-clockwise fashion, though we saved DinoLand until later. After wandering through the Jungle Trek, we were all hot and ready for some cooling off at the early afternoon Lion King show. Zoe, however, wanted to get all these stickers so she and I veered off to take the train out to Rafikis and rush through the Gorilla Falls while Mom, Dad, and Avi enjoyed the circle of life!
We all rushed from there, across the park, to watch the Nemo show and then wandered out through Dino Land where Zoe finished up the stickers in her Wilderness Explorer book! The kids burnt the last of their energy at the Bone Yard play area.
There was another rush to grab a Shades of Green bus (infrequent), but we made it for an early return to the hotel. After a bit of ‘rest’ we got dinner and then enjoyed an evening dip in the pool – well, the kids and I dipped; Mom and Dad needed a break. Just before bedtime, we were treated to a fireworks show from our balcony that we figured was from EPCOT or the Studios!
Day 6 – Disney Studios it is! This park has always been a half day / evening place for us. With the addition of the Star Wars attractions, though, it turned into a morning park and we made the choice to skip the big evening show. So, early enough to see the gate open Mom, the kids, and I arrived at the sign ups line for the Jedi Training. These kiddo’s were dedicated and it paid off! We chose a 1 pm slot, to be our final thing at the park, and ran off to better things.
Dad stayed back at the hotel, sick, today and had a good recoup. We, instead visited the Movie Ride, Toy Story Mania, and Little Mermaid. Lost mom for a bit while she was turning in some Lost and Found money, but we found each other and headed over to the Tower of Terror where she opted out. She then took the kids for a bit while I did the Rockin Coaster and we met up again for the Jedi Training show!
Both Zoe and Avi were so excited to do this and took it very seriously. They donned their robes and light sabers, learned their moves (sort of), and each had the chance to fight Darth Vader. This activity is well worth the early rise!
It was quickly followed by a torretial downpour…and we hung out trapped in a shop for a bit before taking the bus over to Blizzard Beach area to do the Winter Summerland mini golf course (Fun Option 3). We had to wait a while for them to clean everything off and reopen after the big thunderstorm, but it was a super fun mini golf course. We chose winter! Because of all the rain we bailed on finishing our day at Blizzard Beach (Fun Option 4) and saved it for later.
Another enjoyable evening back at the hotel this final night! There was a carnival-themed dinner buffet with face painting and crazy desserts. In addition, we went out to the resort pool until it closed. The Shades of Green pool is really quite nice and there were lots of other kids to make friends with!
Day 7 – Check out day. The kids and I left early in the morning and Bryan joined us and we moved on to anther adventure. Mom and Dad enjoyed the morning at the resort. Shades of Green will store your bags, so you can spend the afternoon off doing something (or finally enjoy the resort) if you have a later flight.
The kids and I returned to Orlando a week later and used our final Fun Option (which we missed out on Day 6) to go to Blizzard Beach. The ski patrol area was great for the kids to run around, and the runoff rapids in the back were a hit! Since we arrived around 2pm, it was crowded at first and then cleared out to nearly dead by 4pm. We were taking slide after slide with barely a line; especially the toboggan racers. At closing time we finally left and certainly felt that we had seen and done it all!
In an ideal setting, you would have lots of time to take in Disney World. Heck, you could easily do 2 weeks with just the Salute ticket – spending a whole day at each park, mixed with days visiting other resorts or free stuff like Disney Boardwalk and Disney Springs, and then 4 entire days spent at the water parks using your Fun Options. But, really, that’s a lot of time most people can’t take off and those hotel rooms add up quickly. So, it is totally do-able in a week! Just be prepared to let go of some things like fireworks, and enjoy the time you’ve got.
We did choose to buy the Memory Maker photo pass, which was a fun choice and I’m glad we got the pictures. I wasn’t pleased with the availability of photographers, though, at the water parks where they would be especially nice since I didn’t want to carry a camera. They must’ve been all at the character events instead of out and about. I think you’ll get more for your money off-peak season (when is that never true). However, the pictures are great!