Shortly after announcing it is suing Florida Governor Ron DeSantis, Disney blocked pedestrian access to and from the U.S. Armed Forces’ flagship resort in the continental United States. The decision to do so further demonstrates that the Disney of 2023 is not the Disney of 1971 (when Walt Disney World opened) or the Disney of 1955 (when Disneyland did so). Unlike modern Disney’s previous questionable actions, however, this one comes directly at the expense of U.S. military families and veterans—and needlessly and senselessly so. Moreover, the action is tied to the Reedy Creek Improvement District, over which DeSantis, the Florida legislature, and Disney have been battling.
The resort in question, the Shades of Green Resort at Walt Disney World, is owned and operated by the U.S. military for the benefit of current and retired military personnel and their families. It is one of just four Armed Forces Recreation Center resorts worldwide and the only one on the U.S. mainland. Located about a half-mile from Disney’s Polynesian Resort, Shades of Green enjoys a prime location that affords easy access, on foot, to Disney’s monorail system.
Or, at least it did until Monday, when Disney abruptly cut off access.
Originally opened as the Golf Resort in 1973, it became Shades of Green in 1994 after the Department of Defense leased it from Disney. Steve Bell of the website Military Disney Tips writes, “At the time all branches of the military wore some form of green utility/battle dress uniform. It was decided to call the resort Shades of Green to refer to [these] different shades of green.” According to Bell, the Defense Department bought the resort outright in 1996 for $43 million and has subsequently put another $120 million into improvements and expansions, although Disney still owns the land on which it sits.
It’s the land right next to the resort, however, that’s in question. Guests have been able to walk the roughly half-mile from Shades of Green to the Polynesian Resort and its monorail station for decades—indeed, they have apparently done so for the past half-century, dating back to 1973 and the Golf Resort days. But to do so, they’ve had to cross Floridian Way, a two-lane road (one lane each direction) that has long had a crosswalk.
Well, Disney has now decided to widen that road to four lanes (two in each direction). Rather than keeping the crosswalk, adding a stop sign or stoplight, or building a walking bridge or tunnel, Disney has instead decided to close the crosswalk, as well as the path connecting the two resorts, and to prevent Shades of Green guests from crossing that street. Shades of Green says this change, dictated by Disney, is “permanent.”
Thus, in one fell swoop, Shades of Green went from being a monorail resort to a bus resort—going from the top of the heap to the bottom of the barrel in terms of transportation at Walt Disney World.
Until April 30, Shades of Green’s military guests had access to the Polynesian, the monorail, the boats that service the Magic Kingdom from the Polynesian, and the Magic Kingdom itself, as they could actually walk around the Seven Seas Lagoon to the park’s entrance. Since May 1, they have had access only to the bus queue located just off the Shades of Green lobby. So, Disney has profoundly diminished the experience of military guests—and reduced the value of the premier U.S. Armed Forces recreational property in the continental United States—all by eliminating a crosswalk.
Additional funding—to the tune of $74.5 million—for the development in question was approved by the Reedy Creek Improvement District (RCID) on February 22, just five days before DeSantis and the Florida legislature replaced the RCID with the Central Florida Tourism Oversight District. RCID board chairman Laurence Hames said then that “the project will improve the guest experience.” Tell that to Shades of Green guests.
During that same meeting, RCID administrator John Classe, in the words of the Orlando Business Journal, said that part of what necessitated the increased funding was “the need to ‘cure’ any disruptions that happen to nearby operations as the roadway work gets underway.” Yet none of that $74.5 million is going toward making sure Shades of Green guests can continue to cross the street to the Polynesian Resort and from there have wide access to the rest of Walt Disney World.
Forcing Shades of Green guests to take buses to and from the parks is particularly unappealing for military families with children in strollers, and for the many older or disabled military veterans who use electric convenience vehicles (ECRs) to get around. The buses won’t allow strollers on board with (often sleeping) kids in them—the child must be removed and the stroller folded. Meanwhile, only two electric scooters are allowed on each bus, and only six buses come per hour. The wait could obviously get quite long for veterans or retirees who rely on ECRs.
“My sister used a scooter when we were there . . . and would have had to wait over 90 minutes for a bus,” remarked one commenter on a blog post about the changes, given how many others with ECRs preceded her in line. Another person wrote, “Considering how many disabled veterans rely on that path [to the Polynesian] for transportation, and have a harder time using buses, this seems particularly cruel for Disney [W]orld to just close off that access.”
Disney clearly values walking access in other contexts. It recently built a nearly mile-long walking path from its Grand Floridian Resort to the Magic Kingdom. Yet it somehow can’t find a way to let Shades of Green guests cross a street.
When Disney widened a road near its Disney Springs hotels, it built a pedestrian bridge to ensure continued walking access, yet it won’t do so for Shades of Green. Beyond walking options, Disney recently built an entire skyride system—the Disney Skyliner gondolas—to service three hotels that had previously had to rely on buses. But those hotels are all owned by Disney.
Military families who had made reservations to vacation at Shades of Green this summer were only notified in April about the resort’s transformation from a monorail resort to a bus resort, well after most of those families’ plans had presumably been firmed up. Disney owes it to them to ensure continued walking access to and from Shades of Green in the short term, just as it owes future military guests continued walking access in the long term.
In his introduction to “The Liberty Story” (1957), an ode to the American founding, Walt Disney aptly said, “As you know, Disneyland Park is a sort of a monument to the American way of life.” Between Frontierland, Great Moments with Mr. Lincoln, Main Street, U.S.A., and so much more, Disney’s words were unquestionably true. Unfortunately, the company that bears Disney’s name is gradually destroying much of what Walt (and those who followed him) built, as I discussed on a recent American Moment podcast with Saurabh Sharma. But until now, at least Disney hadn’t gone after military families and veterans. What a shameful turn.