My husband and I are coming up on 35 years of marriage. For those of you just starting out, that sounds like forever, but trust me, it goes fast.
We carefully sandwiched our wedding between a four month field exercise and a pending PCS which allowed us a week of honeymoon time. We chose to go to Hawaii, something we could not have afforded had we not been able to stay at the Hale Koa, one of the Department of Defense’s five resorts.
You heard right. Did you know that the DoD has its own resorts? Collectively known as Armed Forces Recreation Centers (AFRC), the DOD currently owns and operates five resorts worldwide that cater strictly to ID card holders across all services.
The facilities operate under the auspices of MWR; a visit to the Army’s site touts the centers as allowing “members of the military community the opportunity to experience some of the most wonderful places on earth…without paying a fortune.”
The description continues:
When you visit an AFRC, you’ll find everything you’d expect in the best resorts: comfortable accommodations, fitness areas, and business centers. But you’ll also find a place that understands you. Our locations exist to serve the military. We understand and appreciate you, and we make things easy.
The cost of staying at an AFRC is based on rank and pay grade, with the idea being that every member, regardless of rank or pay, should be able to afford to stay at these resorts.
Hale Koa Hotel
When my husband and I stayed at the Hale Koa, we were pleasantly surprised at what a nice facility it is. The service, food, amenities, and location were top-notch. Neither of us had been to Hawaii before. We decided to venture out, thinking that the other resorts on Waikiki Beach must be that much nicer if the Armed Forces facility is this nice, right?
We were surprised that they weren’t!
Hale Koa is located on the southeast corner of the Fort DeRussy military reservation on 72 of the best acreage Waikiki has to offer. They serve a million guests a year and although owned by the DOD, the hotel does not receive government funding.
Edelweiss Lodge and Resort
Being avid skiers, we made sure to spend some time in Garmisch-Partenkirchen and Berchtesgaden while stationed in Germany. As described on their website, AFRC enjoys a rich post-World War II era history of service in Europe and facilities have come and gone based on need and troop fluctuations:
The foundations of the Armed Forces Recreation Center, Europe were laid in 1945, soon after the end of hostilities in Europe. The Army’s 10th Armored Division rolled into Garmisch-Partenkirchen on April 30 that year, while the 101st Airborne Division captured both Berchtesgaden and Chiemsee a week later. Word about this Bavarian wonderland traveled fast to service members in occupied Europe. Soon troops from all over U.S. Forces Europe Command were flocking to southern Germany for rest and relaxation.
By 2004, only one AFRC resort remained in Germany: Edelweiss Lodge and Resort, which recently celebrated 75 years of affordable service to military members stationed in Europe.
Whether it’s relaxation or non-stop activities you are looking for, Edelweiss boasts plenty of both year-round. For more history, a list of amenities, and availability, check their website at the link above!
New Sanno Hotel
Like Edelweiss, New Sanno has an interesting history dating back to WWII. The original Sanno Hotel was located in the Akasaka district in Tokyo and enjoyed the reputation of being a well-appointed, western-style hotel.
After sustaining extensive bomb damage during the war, the hotel was taken over by American occupying forces, refurbished, and used for housing. The building continued to be leased from the property owner, through the Japanese government, until the 1970s when the owner wished to terminate the lease agreement.
A legal battle ensued over the original Sanno building, and a fresh location was secured for the New Sanno Hotel in Tokyo’s prestigious Hiroo district. Home to several embassies, the Hiroo’s international feel is an attractive option for expats living in Tokyo. Replacing an electrical manufacturing plant, New Sanno Hotel was designed to match the exact proportions of the original Sanno; thus the name.
New Sanno is run by the Navy and provides a centrally-located and affordable lodging option while exploring one of the world’s largest metropolitan areas. It’s within walking distance of Tokyo’s well-run train system and may well be the only place in Tokyo where you can sleep in a western-style bed.
Dragon Hill Lodge
On a recent visit to Seoul, our experience was greatly enhanced by having family members that speak the language and are familiar with the city. For those that don’t have that luxury, having access to English-speaking tour guides can make planning your itinerary a lot easier.
Dragon Hill Lodge is known for its above and beyond service: from getting you to and from the airport to hailing a taxi for you and everything in between. In operation since 1990, Dragon Hill is centrally located in the heart of Seoul and has something for everyone. The resort notes on their website that they specialize in catering to special events large and small:
There’s always something happening at the Dragon. Whether it’s one of our special holiday events, family-friendly fun, or an elegant soirée, you can count on a memorable experience that won’t break the bank.
Shades of Green
At the conclusion of one of my brother-in-law’s multiple deployments to a war zone, my sister settled on a Disney cruise for a much anticipated and richly deserved reunion family vacation. Disney has long been the standard bearer of the family fun experience, and Shades of Green enjoys the benefits of its Disney origins. The invitation on their homepage is clear:
Memories to Cherish: Explore the family-friendly excitement of Central Florida from Shades of Green® on Walt Disney World® Resort.
Shades of Green started out as a small-ish Disney owned golf resort in 1973. After Operation Desert Storm in 1992, Army MWR decided the time was right to open a new AFRC property and asked soldiers where they wanted it. Orlando was the top choice and after asking if anyone was willing to lease their property, a deal was struck with Walt Disney World Corporation, and the Desert Inn became the newest AFRC.
Nestled between two golf courses, the name “Shades of Green” is a nod to the variety of greens that all service battle uniforms encompassed at the time. Only two years into the 100-year lease, the resort was purchased outright, although Disney retained ownership of the land it sits on.
Every AFRC facility has undergone necessary renovations over the years, but Shades of Green may well be the prize holder of updates. After opening its doors in February 1994, Shades of Green’s success proved so overwhelming that they closed their doors in 2002 and reopened two years later with double the capacity! Over a period of 10 years starting in 2009, all the rooms, pools, and restaurants have been refreshed and modernized.