WASHINGTON — Fans of the Armed Forces Recreation Centers, AFRCs, can breathe a sigh of relief knowing that because the crown jewels of the military’s morale, welfare and recreation programs are completely self-supporting, they’re unaffected by defense budget cuts and undergoing capital improvements.
The AFRCs have served as centerpieces of the Family and Morale, Welfare and Recreation program since the post-World War II era. They were initially established after the war in confiscated German facilities to provide recreational getaways for U.S. forces.
Today, the Army operates four AFRCs around the world for all the military services: the Edelweiss Lodge and Resort, in Garmisch, Germany; the Hale Koa Hotel, in Honolulu; Shades of Green, on the grounds of Walt Disney World in Orlando, Florida; and Dragon Hill Lodge, in Seoul, South Korea.
The AFRCs are luxury resorts that cater exclusively to military and Defense Department leisure travelers and their Families.
Edelweiss, opened in 2004, is considered a world-class resort smack in the middle of the Bavarian Alps and Germany’s premier ski and summer sports scene. The Hale Koa, on Honolulu’s Waikiki Beach, offers an open door to paradise, complete with tropical gardens, pools and regular luaus. Shades of Green, the only AFRC in the continental United States, gives service members and Families immediate access to Disney World. The Dragon Hill offers an upscale escape in the Land of the Morning Calm, all steps from the excitement and intrigue of downtown Seoul.
All feature exclusive accommodations and fitness facilities, restaurants, lounges and activity desks that can keep guests running from morning to night.
For many AFRC guests, the initial attraction is the price. Unlike civilian resorts that must turn a profit to stay in business, AFRCs charge only what they need to cover operating expenses and facility improvements. Not a penny of the direct funding comes from appropriated funds, according to the FMWR website, http://www.armymwr.com/travel/recreationcenters/, so the facilities are largely sheltered from the budget cuts impacting the Defense Department.
Room rates are based on a sliding scale according to rank, with the most-junior guests paying the least. For higher-ranking guests, the same rooms go for more, and larger rooms are available at some of the facilities to accommodate larger parties.
While price may draws guests to the AFRCs, the quality of the accommodations and services provided continue to attract repeat visitors. Each resort offers everything service members might expect to find in a luxury resort: swimming pools, gardens, dining choices ranging from fast food to haute cuisine and access to a plethora of entertainment options.
Each facility also has a post exchange on site, a godsend, many guests say, that saves them a bundle when they’re vacationing.
A recapitalization program is helping to ensure a fresh, luxury atmosphere remains. Shades of Green recently opened its expanded post exchange. A major renovation on one of its pools features a “zero entry” ramp to meet the needs of guests in wheelchairs or with other physical limitations. Another pool, the “Mickey Pool,” is being upgraded to add new child-friendly features.
The Hale Koa, which recently completed a $60-plus million facelift on its Ilima Tower, is undertaking a similar effort on its original Maile Tower. Once that’s completed, all 817 guest rooms at the largest of the AFRC resorts will have a new face.
For more information about the AFRCs or to make a reservation, contact the Armed Forces Recreation Center website.