Most of what Disney announced for Walt Disney World at its D23 Expo in Anaheim last month revisits familiar territory for well-traveled Disney fans. The Ratatouille ride and TRON roller coasters are running already in Paris and Shanghai, respectively. Disney already built a large-scale, Broadway-style theater in Anaheim. It has had gondolas in its parks before, and the more modern versions Disney will install in Florida are popular in other resorts around the world. The Minnie Vans are literally a decorated Lyft.
Mickey and Minnie's Runaway Railway sounds like an interesting, 21st-century take on a classic Fantasyland dark ride. And if the Guardians of the Galaxy ride that is replacing Ellen's Energy Adventure does for indoor roller coasters what Mission Breakout did for indoor drop rides in Anaheim, fans likely will be thrilled with the result.
Ultimately, though, all of these projects are dupes or tweaks of established attraction concepts. But a Star Wars hotel? Not just a hotel decorated wit Star Wars props and staging, but one set within the franchise's universe — where visitors take on the role of a visitor in Star Wars' galaxy far, far away? Now that is something different.
I talked about Disney's proposed Star Wars hotel with my friends over at Skift this week: Disney’s New Star Wars Hotel Sounds Like Next-Level Immersion. A LARP Hotel sounds crazy, but so did a single-entrance, clean, alcohol-free, family-oriented theme park when Walt Disney first pitched Disneyland. Remember the business school cliche — no one knew they needed a photocopy machine until Xerox showed them one. We can imagine what riding the TRON coaster in the Magic Kingdom will feel like. But no one has any idea what a live action, role-playing hotel at the Walt Disney World Resort will be like.
Will it be too much — a sensory overload for families already overwhelmed by all that the resort and its theme parks have to offer? Or will it inspire people, firing their imaginations to enjoy the rest of the resort more intently than before? Beyond that, how will the resort "fit" in the resort, logistically and thematically? Will there be a tie-in to the Star Wars Galaxy's Edge land?
At this stage, who knows? But while this concept seems revolutionary, let's not forget that — like other theme park developments — even Disney's Star Wars hotel will build upon past projects, both inside and out of the Walt Disney Company.
Remember, Disney has been running a cruise line for years. And a cruise line provides what likely is the closest point of comparison to what a Star Wars hotel could be. (The concept art shows a space ship, after all.) Disney's already done virtual windows with the virtual portholes on some of its Disney Cruise Line staterooms. The hotel industry already has been experimenting with robot-provided service. LARP is a thing, and believe me, there are plenty of Imagineers and other themed entertainment design professional with experience playing. (That's also supposed to provide an element of the new Galaxy's Edge land, too.)
So how Disney bring it all together, in a way that exhilarates and inspires fans, rather than confusing and frustrating them? Well, that's where Disney's Imagineers and hospitality teams will earn their money. I think the key to success here will be in crafting an experience that allows people to participate to their level of comfort. Just want to look at the well-detailed surroundings and leave it at that? Fine. Want to enroll in Jedi (or Sith!) or First Order or Resistance training and go into battle? Have at it. (For what I imagine will be an upcharge, of course.)
I'm going to reveal my geek background here, but anyone who has been a dungeon master in a D&D game knows that the key to a successful quest is to give participants a range of engaging options that can lure them into the game. Don't wipe out the newbies on the first roll. Or bore the expert players with simple tasks. Contrary to what too many beginning game masters think, you're not there to beat the players. If you're really good, you're there to show them the most amazing experience they've ever had playing the game.
With this Star Wars hotel, Disney's Imagineers and hospitality team get to become the world's ultimate game masters. What would you like to see them do with this opportunity?Tweet
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