I’ve been a massive Star Wars fan since I was a little kid, and that fandom only grew as I started generating enough disposable income to support my level of fanaticism and recapture all those memories - and valuables sold for pennies at yard sales. I’m not a card-carrying member of my local 501st Legion, but I have my share of Star Wars collectables, trinkets, and various other homages to the Galaxy Far Far Away in our home. When Disney first announced the purchase of Lucasfilm and the creation of Galaxy’s Edge in Disneyland and Walt Disney World, my curiosity was peaked to see what the undisputed king of theme parks could do with one of the most popular IPs and a franchise that had been a cornerstone of my childhood.
While we strayed away from visiting Batuu West and East on opening day, we still made it a point to visit both versions of the land in their first year of operation. We toured Disneyland’s Galaxy’s Edge in July 2019 (before Rise of the Resistance opened), and Walt Disney’s version in January 2020. While the design and details of the lands were impeccable and impressive, there were some issues that just didn’t sit right with this lifelong Star Wars fan. The setting of the land between The Last Jedi and Rise of Skywalker films was not a big issue for me for there are plenty of Easter Eggs within the lands for Original Trilogy [OT] fans. It was the awkward and underwhelming interactivity within the lands that didn’t meet my expectations.
The biggest issue for me was that Disney was willing to sell clothes, accessories, and other items for guests to live out their Star Wars fantasies but discouraged them from actually using them in the land. Guests can still cosplay to a certain extent within Galaxy’s Edge (aka "Disney-bounding"), but it falls short of what is promised when Disney advertised the land as a place where guests can live out their own Star Wars story. Also, character and cast member interactions within the land to make the guest experience more immersive were all over the place and have been even further diminished given pandemic restrictions. Guests could spot Rey, Chewie, Vi Moradi, Kylo Ren, and Stormtroopers throughout the land, but the heroes sprinted down the walkways scarcely stopping for a chat or "face scan" while the villains spent their time interrogating guests with very little variability in their interactions.
Disney’s Datapad, an extension of the Play Disney Parks app, was supposed to be the tool used to allow characters and CMs to provide more personal interactions with guests, but we never felt our use of the application impacted our experience with CMs or characters. The Datapad seemed to be more of a way to pass the time while waiting in lines or trying to see if you could get random lights to turn on or a droid to turn its head your direction.
Given the benefit of time and reading tons of other guest experiences in Galaxy’s Edge, you can see the crux of the problem that Disney faces with a Star Wars-themed land. Guests visit Galaxy’s Edge from all walks of life and different levels of knowledge, fanaticism, and expectations from the land, yet Disney must cater to all of these guests at the same time. There are plenty of guests who simply LOVE Galaxy’s Edge, especially its crown jewel, Rise of the Resistance, but for the hard-core fans that wanted the land to be a year-round Star Wars cosplaying playground - like what Star Trek: The Experience had become for Trekkers - Galaxy’s Edge could never reach that bar without alienating the vast majority of park guests.
However, Walt Disney Imagineers have a trump card to play that could give those crazy Star Wars fans a way for Galaxy’s Edge to fulfill their dreams and expectations. The Star Wars Galactic Starcruiser was a concept hinted initially when Disney first announced Galaxy’s Edge, and after a pandemic-delayed debut, the Halcyon is now ready to raise the bar in interactive themed entertainment.
I had to do a double-take when Robert offered me the chance to represent Theme Park Insider for a media event at Disney’s newest resort, and no arm-turning was required for me to re-arrange my schedule and accept this once-in-a-lifetime assignment. I was casually exploring the possibility of booking this experience for a Central Florida trip we are tentatively planning for October, but to have the chance to experience this before the first official public voyage on March 1 was a no-brainer.
It seems the only thing that people can talk about when this project gets discussed is the price. Yes, a 2-night 3-day "voyage" at this resort costs a small fortune, but if Disney can deliver an unprecedented and unique experience, those cost could be completely justified. Considering the effort and capital Disney has invested in the Galactic Starcruiser, I highly doubt they would want guests spending thousands of dollars to go home even the slightest bit disappointed. I’m trying to approach our upcoming voyage with a level of optimism befitting a massive Star Wars and theme park fan while still maintaining a critical eye that will allow others to have confidence whether the massive cost is worth it.
When guests book a stay at the Galactic Starcruiser, they are reserving a cruise-type of experience that includes their cabin/room, food and beverages (including a quick-service lunch at Disney’s Hollywood Studios on the second day of their trip), and entertainment throughout their voyage. Just like a cruise, guests are given an itinerary of events that they can attend if they want. Many of the events and activities are critical to the main story that will be told throughout the trip, which integrates with the stories that play out for park guests in Galaxy’s Edge. Guests can access their itinerary through the Datapad in the Play Disney Parks app, which slowly populates as you get closer to your departure date.
The other important aspect to the Galactic Starcruiser is that it is an extremely limited experience. Most WDW resorts have thousands of rooms across acres of land, but the Halcyon has only 100 rooms with somewhere between 250-400 guests on board at any given time. Also, since the bookings are being managed like a real cruise, guests will be "shipmates" for the entirety of their voyage, so it’s very possible that experiences could be highly variable depending upon how enthusiastic and interactive other guests are during your trip. However, given the price point for the Halcyon, I would anticipate most people on board will be pretty big Star Wars fans and will be fully immersed in the cosplaying aspects of the experience. In fact, my family and I have put together outfits and characters to allow ourselves to explore how immersive this experience can be.
Disney, being the capitalist entity they are, also are facilitating cosplay by giving guests with reservations on the Galactic Starcruiser exclusive access to authentic clothes and accessories through shopDisney.com, or they can select from inventory available in a store on board the Halcyon. Given the tight timeframe for our trip, we instead assembled our costumes from pieces we had available in our wardrobes as well as some additional items we found at thrift stores over the past week. Early returns on the items available through shopDisney is that the items are slightly nicer in quality than those sold on Batuu, and the options allow guests to have a number of different looks for their trip.
I think that’s what Disney is counting on, and the primary reason why they’ve priced this resort so high. It’s a double-edged sword, because the higher the price, the higher the expectations, so by charging guests in excess of $1,200/person/night, they can ensure that only the most serious fans will participate and in turn make the experience more memorable for all the guests on the voyage.
I often think back to our experiences at the long-gone Star Trek: The Experience at the Las Vegas Hilton, and while the transporter effect to the bridge of the Enterprise D was one of the coolest special effects I’ve EVER witnessed, it was the people cosplaying at Quark’s Bar that were the most interesting part of the attraction. Guests cannot board the Galactic Starcruiser without a reservation, so the experience will not have the locals that would frequent Quark’s, but the hope is that enough guests on each trip will be playing along to add that extra level of immersion not only to others who also want to cosplay, but to those who are a little more shy and just want to people-watch. While Disney designed Galaxy’s Edge with a broad brush to appeal to the largest possible audience, this experience is definitely geared to the really hard-core fans.
Our hope is that even though we’ll be on board with mostly other media, there will be other fans like us on board who will approach this experience with a similar level of enthusiasm and authenticity as we are. Needless to say, I’m beyond flabbergasted to have this incredible opportunity to give Theme Park Insider readers a peek inside one of the most ambitious projects Disney ever has attempted. Keep your eyes peeled for coverage all next week from this unique resort as well as insight from the Imagineers and dedicated professionals who helped to bring this experience to life.
Update from Robert: Disney today posted a new preview video about Star Wars: Galactic Starcruiser, this time with Imagineer Travis Finstein and Matt Martin from Lucasfilm.
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