Let's talk about Disney's theme park and hotel plans for Star Wars
As much as some theme park fans might be excited about news that Walt Disney World will open Guardians of the Galaxy and TRON roller coasters — among other new rides and shows — over the next few years, let's face what's probably far more important. Disney's Star Wars developments will be the new attractions that really move the needle and draw more fans to the resort.
But Disney's not taking an easy way out with Star Wars. Rather than recreating an iconic location from the films, it is setting the upcoming Star Wars: Galaxy's Edge lands at Disneyland and Walt Disney World's Disney's Hollywood Studios on a new world in the Star Wars universe. I wrote about the risks and rewards of that move in my Orange County Register column this week: Will Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge at Disneyland succeed in taking us to a galaxy far, far away?
Will setting Galaxy's Edge in an unfamiliar location hurt the project? Fans on Twitter responded:
If anyone thought that creating a new planetary setting for the Star Wars land was an audacious move, Disney is blowing past that by creating a fully immersive Star Wars themed hotel that sounds more like being part of a real-life MMORPG than staying at a traditional hotel.
From AJ's story about the D23 reveal of the project: "Using mock windows, guests will feel like they are aboard a starship traveling the galaxy, and nothing aboard will break that illusion in any way."
"This is a brand new concept for a multi-day immersive adventure. Not only is the hotel themed to the Star Wars galaxy, but every guest will live and breathe Star Wars from the moment they enter until the moment they leave."
Theme park fans have been clamoring for years for more immersive themed resort experiences, in which they can extend the illusion of visiting a beloved environment from a few hours in a park to several days in a hotel. While Star Wars holds obvious appeal as such a hotel destination, Harry Potter fans have been demanding the chance to stay in Hogwarts, The Leaky Cauldron, or The Three Broomsticks, as well.
And now, Universal is surveying its passholders and guests about Disney's Star Wars hotel, perhaps to gauge interest in a Harry Potter themed alternative. Of course, that would need the blessing of J.K. Rowling to proceed. But as Potter helped spur development at Disney, perhaps Star Wars could do the same at Universal.
Of course, full authenticity for these themes might carry a price beyond a steep nightly rate.
What would you like to see Disney and Universal do with fully themed hotel experiences, including Star Wars, Potter, or anything else?
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Call me a cynic, but I really wonder how far Disney is willing to go with the immersive concept.... I mean, this is the company that put Mickey ears on Darth Vader. I just don't see them being able to resist putting a Disney merch store inside the hotel or within the land itself....
Robert, do you have any additional details on what types of questions Universal is asking regarding the Star Wars hotel? I love both properties but I would shell out money for Hogwarts sooner than Star Wars to stay at a themed hotel.
There is a rule, I read from a creative person in the industry, that something in a theme park (and in this case probably to this heavily themed hotel) should do for guests when it's ip based. I like that rule. It states there are 3 kind of guests:
I like the analysis OT, I would probably be group 1 for Star Wars and group 2 for Potter. But I guess I see the new Star Wars developments in a different light. I am, as a fan of the universe, excited to be part of the world in a NEW way. To be in the Star Wars universe but experiencing a new aspect of it.
I'm going to continue in my cynical vein and argue that Disney actually IS taking the easy way out -- by basing the land and hotel on a Star Wars "type" location, they are almost completely free of having to meet guests' specific expectations. They can say they're providing a Star Wars experience without actually having to recreate the Death Star, Jabba's Palace or the cantina.
Actually the new planet setting solved an immersion problem. How do you walk from Tatooine to Hoth and not spoil the illusion? A one setting new planet solves that. The risk is that it seems to be solely in the new trilogy setting, which is fine with me, but what if the next two movies are duds? As a super fan, they are managing my expectations very well. The attractions are looking good. I like going to Universal and not being able to buy anything like Cokes or non-Potter items in that area. You feel like you are in the world. If you go to the Galaxy Edge and can buy Mickey Mouse dolls with light sabers and Death Star Mickey Mouse Ears, that will be trouble. The poster above is correct. What makes Potter so perfect is that it is easy for them to shoe horn food and merchandise into the environment, since it existed in the story. Not much food and merchandise in Star Wars. There is that blue milk. Bread that appears from powder. The live frog thing Jabba slurps down. So they will have to solve that. The hotel seems to be another challenge. $400 is just too much money. Sure, they can charge that for some of their hotels, but I would really have to see what comes with that price tag, especially when Universal offers hotels for $220 with front of the line access to attractions. If it is just to dress up and role play with no other perks, no thank you. Early and late access to the land with extra fast passes, walking distance to the new land with a gate entrance, and preferred reservations, then yes. I will say things are looking good, but it cannot be cast members in the blue Star Tour uniforms, and I think they know that. They need Wookiee cast members that only grunt at guests. Robots that walk around. Cast members in costumes, not uniforms. They need to sell this land more than any others.
Universal should do a haunted hotel for haunt fans. Disney should do a Pirates hotel with Red Head.
Im not sure if Disney can match Universals level. Pandora the World of Avatar already has a wilderness exploers check point inside the land past the glowing smoking tree. It has not even been open 6 months and the immersion is already ruined right when you walk in by boyscouts from Pixars Up. I thought the jungle sounds were Kevin
JC VanHouten Disney has reportedly paid vendors so it can NOT display their logos in SW:GE. I don't think you are going to find Mickey Ears in Star Wars Land. They are going for immersive. All of the employees in the land will be in character - droids, aliens, troops, etc. Even the shopkeepers.
I think a whole new planet is awesome. Star Wars features dozens very different of landscapes. The setting that "feels" consistently Star Wars is a spaceship. Galaxy's Edge enables Disney to provide known architecture, in a new space. I might be in the minority here, but if I'm paying money to go to a theme park, I appreciate something new mixed in with the familiar. I want something I can only see there.
I remember Jay Rasulo toying with the idea of a Star Wars boutique park, because Disney wanted to copy the success of Sea World's Discovery Cove (swim with dolphins). So this SW hotel sounds like a better idea to me.
I agree with JC, "setting" Star Wars land on a new planet is a great move. They can evoke lots of different SW planets through the look and feel of the place, without people getting bogged down in wondering where exactly they are at the moment.
Galaxy's Edge should have been known properties, plain and simple. Disney took the easy way out so that uber old-school Star Wars fans like myself could not be too critical.
"It sounds similar to the Star Trek Experience in Las Vegas, which was awesome. It was like a guided tour of the 'real' Enterprise with working crew members and a transporter effect that was pretty convincing."
I remember back in the early 2000's Tony Baxter talking about a fully immersive themed experience. He wanted to emulate a theater model rather than a theme park model. He said "rather than waiting hours to spend 5 minutes in the world of Indiana Jones imagine spending three hours living an Indiana Jones adventure". He was going for a live rolplaying, interactive theater type experience. Also around the same time there were rumors of a Tower of Terror boutique hotel. It seems the this Star Wars hotel is the evolution of these ideas. I would love to experience this, but alas they are going to price me and many fans way out.
Disney will obviously need a way to limit access to Galaxy's Edge. The whole world will want to descend on Orlando when the attractions open, and, as anyone who has experienced Toy Story Mania in Disney Studios can tell you, whether or not they are actually bored/uninterested, simply getting into the attraction is a status symbol for many overseas visitors.
I have said this many times in the past. If Disney wants to go full in on Star Wars, just take the entire Hollywood park and convert it to all Star Wars..
There have been several price tags thrown out. $1000 a person or $1000 for a family of four for a two day experience. If it is a two day inclusive experience, then that is either $4000 or $1000. That is a big difference. Again, if it is just interacting with cast members and dressing up, $1000 a day is insane, and I am such a fan I can tell you the number of the door of the Death Star trash compactor. Again, you can buy a robe and an interactive wand at Universal, dress up, and not have to stand in a line for much, much less. They are going to have to throw some serious perks in at that rate. Sure people will pay it, but people pay to stay at the Grand Floridian too. I make a lot of money, but I am sorry, that is just stupid. You have to understand, Star Wars will appeal to a huge different income demographics. I believe in making money and all, but if it really is $1000 a day, then that is nuts. Depending on the perks $400 is high. And if it is per person fee, man, that is crazy.
The $1,000/night is coming from the surveys Disney conducted a few months ago. The numbers seem about right, especially if this is going to be a very limited experience. It really depends on how many rooms this hotel will have. If it's a few dozen, with a highly restrictive stay duration (can ONLY book 2-night stays as rumored), I think the $1,000/night price point will be needed to make sure those that want to do it will be able to book it. If we're talking about a hundred or more identical rooms, the $1,000/night price point may be a bit too high to ensure 90-100% occupancy (considering how much it's likely going to cost Disney to build and operate this hotel, the standard 70% occupancy rate to remain profitable wouldn't apply).
The real question is whether that is the cost for the entire family or is there a additional person upcharge. The real question is what will it include? Quality Jedi robes or clothing of your choice and the extra perks that I mentioned above. I suppose there are many unanswered questions at this point. With the hotel being a speceship, it could conceivably have playground areas like Tom Sawyer Island like an abandoned base on Hoth or Jabbas palace. Or it could just be a cheap hotel with Star Wars bedsheets. Nobody knows in the general public.
Rack rates at Aulani start at $399 a night (plus 14% hotel tax). The hotel has a few inclusive, and some up-charge, activities. The theme is immersive, but partly because it inhabits the same space it represents.
Disney already charges a 25-30% premium for their "Pirate" and "Princess" themed rooms that are essentially some themed bedding and art on the wall. So it's conceivable that some Star Wars sheets and Han in Carbonite in the closet would be enough to get people to open their wallets. However, the fact that Disney has stated this would be "interactive" and "immersive" indicates to me that it's more than some fancy linens and art in the room themed to Star Wars.
The last thing that I want to see is a bunch of new-era Star Wars brats walking around with mouse ears on and a lightsaber and thinking that they understand Star Wars.
But what is a "hardcore Star Wars fan"? Is it someone who can recite the movies by heart, someone with the Original Trilogy on Laserdisc, someone with thousands of dollars in action figures, or someone that thinks Greedo shot first, someone who wouldn't know Bossk from a Bantha but loves Jar Jar Binks, or someone who is willing to pay $1,000/night to immerse themselves in the universe for a couple of days?
"A hardcore Star Wars fan is probably best defined as someone who is disappointed that Disney acquired the franchise :-D"
"George Lucas screwed up with his prequel trilogy. Force Awakens was "safe" as was Rogue One."
I think "Galaxy's Edge" was the smart choice. Honestly, just seeing the different perspectives in this thread shows how particular people can be. While it might seem to be the "easy way" out, it's also the most logical in terms of appealing to the widest audience.
After thinking about this for a couple days, I can't help but feel that the term "hotel" may be a bit of a misnomer for whatever Disney is doing with Star Wars. The more I hear about it, the more it sounds like an exclusive multi-day experience and less like a place guests are going to stay during their vacation. So, while all of the following is purely speculation, it is what I get once I put on my Theme Park Apprentice cap:
Good point, AJ.
I think you're on the right track AJ, but I don't think it's going to be a fully immersed experience where guests never go anywhere outside of Star Wars during their stay. I'm thinking it might be more of combination of a cruise-type experience and escape room, where guests check into their highly themed hotel room and are offered a layered itinerary that allows them to be as interactive as they want. They will be given a menu of options that would likely include exclusive access to Galaxy's Edge (though I highly doubt they would be limited to only times when the land is closed to regular guests), special games, scavenger hunts, faux training sessions, etc..., but guests will "register" at check in (or perhaps online in advance like picking up FP+ reservations) for the activities they find the most intriguing to them, and if nothing interests them, they'll be free to go anywhere within the WDW resort they want (or anywhere else in Orlando for that matter). What's preventing Disney from setting up the conceit that the guests are from the Galaxy Far Far Away, and are visiting Earth through the portal that Galaxy's Edge will become?
I assume that since they are offering a 2 night stay, there still won't be enough to do at the hotel without a trip to Star Wars Land. At least one day is included as a trip to Star Wars Land with Fastpass and front row seats to see the fireworks at DHS. In the remaining time, you can explore the Star Wars Hotel by visiting it's own special cantina, have a nice daycare center, and have role playing games (which I expect the initial level to be free and the higher levels to cost money). This is done at Great Wolf Lodge with great success. As for the pool, the obvious theme is Gungan City at Naboo.
So, as long as we're brainstorming what "immersive" would mean, and how to justify the hypothetical high cost, here's a compact list of precedents (some of which have already been mentioned) whose paradigms could be synthesized:
I find it interesting that nobody has brought up basic operations of a hotel and the staff needed to operate it - the back of house team, housekeeping engineering and kitchen teams. These employees make up the bulk of the head count at any hotel. Speaking from experience, they are highly dedicated, amazingly hard working, but are probably not going to be interested in role play or wearing elaborate costumes. I wonder what Disney has planned for them and how they will engage with guests in this elaborately themed and role play environment.
@Rob - I think that's why the pricing of this experience is going to be so high. Regular staff are not going to be able to work in this hotel. Everyone (even if they were part of regular Mouskeeping or other back of house staff), would need special training to work in this hotel, warranting higher wages, supported by the higher per night costs to guests.
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