Immersion – it’s a term theme park, resort, and attraction designers have used for decades to describe how guests, riders, and participants experience themed creations. Virtually every themed attraction on the planet has some level of guest immersion to take them to another place, time, or story.
For some attractions, guests experience attractions from a third-person perspective as they watch stories or action play out in front of them. For most classic dark rides, guests are immersed in stories from a third-person perspective, watching a set of scenes and/or a full story play out in front of their eyes. These attractions and themed areas create atmospheres and stories where the guest experience is like reading a book or watching a movie and guests have little control over how the experience unfolds or what part(s) of the attraction they can see. For other attractions, guests are part of the action as participants, volunteers, or are written into the story of an attraction while they experience events, scenes, and stories from a first-person perspective. Guests are literally in the action, and are characters in the story, but in most cases guests’ ability to change the story or alter the character they play in the story is limited. In many first-person attractions, guests are asked to complete a simple task or board a ride vehicle to engage with the story – think boarding a stretch limo to see an Aerosmith concert or becoming an M.I.B. agent to save the planet from an alien invasion. However, even in these first-person attractions, the guests’ ability to change or drive the action occurring around them is not very expansive, and the experience is over in a matter of minutes. Even an epic attraction like Rise of the Resistance, where the story unfolds over the course of just 20 minutes, while guests can expand upon the ride’s story further in the surrounding land of Galaxy’s Edge, the level of immersion can only go so far even if you choose to further engage in all the aspects of Batuu.
However, for guests looking to take immersion to a level far beyond what can be experienced anywhere in the world, Disney has created the Galactic Starcruiser. I was invited to represent Theme Park Insider and experience this groundbreaking and ambitious new project firsthand, and while my stay was complimentary, the opinions presented here and within future articles regarding the Galactic Starcruiser are my own.
The Galactic Starcruiser, often referred to as the “Star Wars Hotel”, is Walt Disney World’s newest resort, and will be opening to the public beginning on March 1, 2022. However, guests do not book and stay at the Galactic Starcruiser like a normal hotel, nor should guests approach this experience as if it were just a fancy themed resort like Disney’s Grand Floridian Resort and Spa, Disney’s Animal Kingdom Lodge, or Universal Orlando’s Portofino Bay. The experience and expectations from guests should be more like a cruise ship, and when guests book a stay on the Galactic Starcruiser, they are reserving a cabin on a three-day, two-night adventure. You cannot make a booking for a one-night stay, nor can you book a one-week stay on the Galactic Starcruiser. The reason for this is not just to maintain the cruise-style atmosphere that forms the backbone of the Galactic Starcruiser experience, but also because the entire stay is part of an overarching story that plays out and envelops not just you, but all the Starcruiser’s guests in real time over the course of 48 hours.
When guests arrive at the entrance to the Starcruiser, they will see a grey cast-concrete structure that is designed to look like a bunker.
Its angular and stark forms are deliberate to bring weight and intrigue to the façade as guests prepare for their voyage. The exterior is merely a portal to the adventure, but it also provides a sense of place within the Star Wars universe and harkens back to other bunkers and land-based ports that have been seen elsewhere within the IP’s canon. This ground-based port is for the Chandrilla Star Lines, and acts very much like a standard sea-based cruise port.
Whether you arrive by bus, taxi, or car (valet parking is included if you bring your own car or a rental car), Cast Members will gather any luggage or other items you would like to have delivered directly to your room before you enter. As part of the media voyage, we were given Datapad devices (which were iPhones with minimal apps installed) to link with the Play Disney Parks app, which has exclusive functionality for guests of the Starcruiser. You can access the same functions through the Play Disney Parks app on your personal device, but media were asked to use the loaned devices. I will go through how the app integrates into the overall experience in a later article.
Because the Galactic Starcruiser provides a direct connection to Disney’s Hollywood Studios theme park, guests are required to pass through a security checkpoint prior to boarding, like what you would experience at the front gate. Guests are then whisked through a long corridor to the Launch Pod area where you are shown a brief safety video before boarding.
Since this is a unique and unusual resort, there are some interesting things to note about your time on the Starcruiser if there is a real emergency. It’s critical for guests to understand the difference between an emergency within the immersive experience and stories, and when there’s an emergency that actually threatens the safety of guests. The safety briefing shows guests examples of alarms they may hear and to recognize the difference between a story-driven emergency versus a real-life emergency. Also, guests are shown how to evacuate from their cabin, which I found incredibly interesting since cabins have no actual windows or balconies to the outside world.
After the safety video, guests enter a Launch Pod for their voyage up to the Galactic Starcruiser known as the Halcyon.
This experience is a very highly themed elevator ride with some windows near the ceiling to provide the views of a flight up into space to dock with the Halcyon. While I haven’t personally visited Space 220, the Launch Pod experience seems very similar to the EPCOT restaurant’s Space Elevator, though the windows on the Launch Pod are smaller and more limited than what you see on the Space 220 experience.
Once you’ve docked with the Halcyon, guests enter the Atrium of the Galactic Starcruiser.
This area is the main hub for all activity on the ship. When you arrive in the Atrium, a Crew Member will give you a brief tour of the space and take you up to your cabin where your luggage is magically waiting. Cabins are located across three decks (Decks 4, 5, and 7) along the back wing of the structure with two decks of public space occupying the front wing of the structure (Decks 4 and 6). A pair of elevators services all floors with doors on both ends that either open to the cabins or the public spaces. In addition, there is a wrap-around stairway that links all floors, which is what we frequently used to get from place to place, though boarding an elevator might be important during certain parts of your experience on the Starcruiser.
Cabins are modestly sized, but efficiently utilize the available space. I’ll talk more about the specifics of the cabin in a future piece but given the limited amount of time you are likely to spend in the space, they are more than adequate. However, given their proximity to all the action occurring on the Halcyon, it’s very easy to take a quick walk to your room if you need to change clothes, freshen up, or take a quick nap, though I’d advise against napping if you don’t want to miss out on important aspects of your journey.
Once guests are settled into their cabins, a buffet-style lunch is served from 1 to 4 PM in the Crown of Corellia Dining Room.
For me, the food aboard the Halcyon was one of the many highlights of the experience, so I recommend arriving at the Galactic Starcruiser during the first half of the 1 to 4 PM boarding window. Like any standard cruise, you can’t arrive after the boarding window, because the ship has “left port”, nor can you arrive before the window. Again, guests should not treat this experience like a hotel, and while the Galactic Starcruiser building never actually leaves WDW property, showing up late would significantly impact your experience, particularly given its cost.
During the arrival window, Crew Members of the Halcyon can give you a tour of the ship as well as an orientation on how to use the Datapad. If you’ve never used the Datapad in Galaxy’s Edge, I highly recommend taking the time to learn the nuts and bolts of the system either before arriving (guests with confirmed reservations can access certain functionalities within the Datapad including itinerary and Deck Plans before they arrive) or through an onboard orientation. The ship’s tour is also important to know the lay of the land and where important parts of the ship are located. The Halcyon crew members are extremely helpful, and have unique insights into the overall experience, so don’t be afraid to ask them questions. Crew members were constantly providing recommendations and guiding us to critical locations throughout our time on board, and following their lead is almost certainly going to enrich your experience.
Once all guests have boarded, there is a Ship’s Muster in the Atrium, just like on a standard sea-faring cruise. This event becomes the jump-off point for all of the stories that play out on board the Galactic Starcruiser. Guests are introduced to many of the characters that are with them on board as well as the anticipated plans over the next 2 nights. I will refrain from spoiling any of the specific storylines and characters here, but this is where the Galactic Starcruiser blurs the lines between resort hotel, cruise, video game, role playing adventure, dinner theater, and escape room. You are no longer just hanging out in an all-inclusive resort with access to Galaxy’s Edge, you are in a living, breathing Star Wars story that evolves and changes depending on the decisions that you make and what paths you choose to follow.
Following the Ship’s Muster, guests either proceed to the early dinner seating at 5:30 PM or are given activities in their Datapad itinerary before their late dinner seating at 8 PM. When guests book their Galactic Starcruiser experience, they make the choice of either the early or late seating for both dinners on board, so it’s important that this decision is appropriate for your entire party. Whether you choose early or late dining, there are activities on board the ship throughout the evenings, and various items will populate your Datapad itinerary as your story unfolds. At the end of each evening, guests should make their way to the Atrium for critical story elements that will connect characters, interweave story elements, and reveal plot points pertinent to all guests on board the Halcyon. As you might expect, the end of Day 1 involves something going wrong, while the end of Day 2 brings all of the events of the voyage to an epic conclusion. To keep this overview relatively spoiler free, I’ll refrain from giving away any specific story points here.
On Day 2 of the voyage, guests are given a departure time to visit Batuu (Galaxy’s Edge at Disney’s Hollywood Studios) within their Datapad itinerary. Guests board their Transport Shuttle to Batuu on Deck 4 of the Halcyon, which is similar to an airport jetway.
A Transport Shuttle then takes you to Docking Bay 9 on Batuu (between the First Order encampment and Oga’s Cantina),
and while this particular mode of transportation has taken a bit of a critical beating since it was discovered a few weeks ago, it does the job. Personally, I would have preferred the Transport Shuttle to have some “windows” and other story elements like the Launch Pod, but I can also see why this method was chosen.
The trip between the Halcyon and Batuu only takes a few minutes, and the theming of the experience is still seamless, but I think there was a bit of a missed opportunity here for something more akin to an airport tram or automated train system.
As part of your reservation aboard the Galactic Starcruiser, guests are given 1-day DHS-only admission with Park Pass reservations along with Lightning Lane passes for both Rise of the Resistance and Millennium Falcon: Smuggler’s Run. When you land on Batuu, Crew Members remind guests that Shuttles depart for the Halcyon continuously until 4 PM, when the last Transport Shuttle departs (don’t be late!).
The expectation is that most guests will stay immersed within Star Wars while in DHS, but there is nothing preventing you from exploring other parts of the park- however, you’re not allowed to hop to another park. In fact, since we had just missed the opening of Mickey and Minnie’s Runaway Railway on our last trip to WDW in January 2020, we made a beeline to the attraction after landing on Batuu since we arrived in the park during the Early Entry period for on-site resort guests. For us, it was probably for the best choice, since Rise of the Resistance was not running during the first few hours of the day. As part of your Starcruiser Reservation, guests can get reservations at Oga’s Cantina since a potential story point may unfold in the establishment. Unfortunately, you don’t have much control of the reservation time, so if you want to go at a specific time, you may have to change it manually if the time given doesn’t fit into your schedule. In our case, we were given a reservation at 12:30 PM, which did not allow for enough time to return to the Halcyon for the Mini Droid Races at 1 PM, so we ended up finding a reservation for 9:25 AM at the last minute and adjusted our schedule so we could leave Batuu a little earlier. I assume the same issues could occur with reservations for Savi’s and Droid Depot, so just be prepared to prioritize what you want to do in Galaxy’s Edge against what’s happening on the Halcyon as there are events on the ship throughout the day. Reservations for these additional activities can be made 60 days prior to arrival, and the Starcruiser reservations line has access to appointments for Savi’s, Droid Depot, and Oga’s that you may not be able to reserve for yourself.
As noted, Galactic Starcruiser guests receive Lightning Lane access to both Rise of the Resistance and Millennium Falcon: Smuggler’s Run, so guests should plan time to experience those attractions. Additionally, each guest receives a dining credit for any quick service restaurant at DHS, so that’s another thing you should plan for while in the park. On top of all that, there are missions and activities guests can complete with the Datapad while in Galaxy’s Edge that are exclusive to Halcyon passengers. Your ”shore excursion” to Batuu could end up being a very busy day, especially if you plan to explore the park beyond Galaxy’s Edge or want to do all of the reserved experiences (Savi’s, Droid Depot, and Oga’s). It’s also difficult to weigh the offerings on Batuu against the activities on the Halcyon, and I could see some guests choosing not to leave the Starcruiser while others will want to spend every available moment in DHS. As with every other part of this experience, the choice is yours, and those choices will impact the way the stories unfold for you as part of the overall experience.
When everyone is back aboard the ship, there are numerous activities that will populate into your itinerary, many of them based upon decisions made on Batuu or on the ship earlier in the voyage. These activities may include meetings with or missions for characters around the ship, individual story vignettes with characters, bridge operations, and lightsaber training (some guests may complete these on Day 1). Combined with the evening’s dinner service, all of these events ultimately lead to a dramatic conclusion in the Atrium. The pacing and intensity of the events and stories crescendo throughout the evening culminating with what I can only describe as one of the most epic and theatrically intimate stunt shows I’ve ever witnessed. Again, I’ll keep the details vague here so as to not spoil anyone, but I will provide all of the particulars in a future article.
After Day 2’s epic conclusion, guests can wind down in the Sublight Lounge or enjoy a dessert party in the Crown of Corellia Dining Room. Just like a sea-faring cruise, guests are provided a disembarkation time in their Datapad itinerary and can have buffet breakfast in the dining room or a quick grab-and-go breakfast from the Sublight Lounge before taking a Launch Pod back to the terminal. If viewed as a singular attraction, the Galactic Starcruiser is the longest and most ambitious experience Disney has ever attempted at just under 44 hours. It’s incredibly difficult to articulate the complexity and level of immersion on board and to describe the whirlwind that drags you into an experience that is like more living in a movie then hanging out in a resort or on a cruise ship. The undertaking to pull off something at this scale is simply monumental, and guests who get wrapped up into the stories will quickly recognize the effort involved to make this experience so seamless.
Of course, nothing is ever perfect, especially when you’re dealing with fanbases with such demanding expectations like Disney and Star Wars fans. Early impressions of the experience have been trending negative even though not a single critique has come from a person that has actually had the full Galactic Starcruiser experience. While some of those negative opinions have some validity, they are not properly contextualized. Obviously, the biggest criticism of this experience is its price. Six thousand dollars for a family of four for a three-day, two-night experience is A LOT of money. I do think Disney is reaching a little bit with this price point, but it’s not obscene considering what it is probably costing for Disney to offer an experience like this at this scale. However, as I mentioned in an earlier article, I think the price point is also designed to ensure commitment from the guests. While Disney is trying to cast a wide net with its marketing and publicity for this experience, I think it is decidedly aimed at those who are dedicated Star Wars or general role-playing fans. Even though Disney gives guests the option to follow whatever path they want while on the Galactic Starcruiser, I think taking a passive approach to this experience would be the incorrect path given the cost. Guests do receive some pretty exclusive perks as part of this experience, but those tangible items (food, tickets, lodging, and entertainment) fall well short of the current price point. That differential ultimately is the value you bring to the experience through your participation in the stories and camaraderie with fellow guests. There are some other minor issues I noticed along the way, but I will leave them for future articles since they involve some details that may be considered spoilers. However, I do expect some of those issues to be eventually resolved as the cast and crew gain more experience and guests have a better understanding of how the Galactic Starcruiser works.
The most interesting thing about this experience is that it is absolutely repeatable, especially if Disney chooses to allow the experience to evolve over time. This experience is so unique and draws upon so many different aspects of entertainment that it’s impossibly difficult to describe or even replicate. It’s Adventurer’s Club crossed with an escape room on a cruise ship with a touch of Star Trek: The Experience all wrapped in a theme park inside the Star Wars universe. The technology, skill, coordination, planning, choreography, talent, and design all work harmoniously to deliver an experience unlike anything else on the planet. When we woke up on the morning of Day 3, we were flat out exhausted, as if we had hopped to all four WDW theme parks in a single day (which my wife and I have done, BTW), but it was a satisfying, triumphant kind of exhaustion. This feeling, along with the hope that this experience makes a similar connection with the right audience, that can ensure the success of this one-of-a-kind attraction.
More Star Wars Galactic Starcruiser Coverage:
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The photos here look better than the early publicity, it doesn’t look as cheap or generic as feared.
@Chad H - Absolutely...I think a lot of the early images from the fall media tour did not do justice to the space. I was chatting with another passenger who attended that early sneak peek, and he noted that even while Disney was strictly controlling what media could take photos of, the look of the space now is vastly different than it was during that tour.
I'd also consider myself a pretty good photographer, and with some of the features of my Nikon SLRs, I was able to make spaces look almost identical to the concept drawings, particularly the Sublight Lounge and the Crown of Corellia Dining Room.
Thank you for posting this Russell!
One of the biggest fears of this media event was that people were going to just be mouthpieces for Disney. You didn't and I greatly appreciate the objective review and look forward to future articles.
I have looked around and while I might be a little biased, TPI does some of the best journalism when it comes to park. Its the NPR of the Theme Park World.
Great write-up, Russell. "...[A] satisfying, triumphant kind of exhaustion" sounds like an experience many hardcore Star Wars fans with disposable income would be looking for.
Interesting note that late arrivals aren't allowed. Do they allow guests on board to freely take the launch pods back to the parking lot? If not, that can pose problems for people who need to step outside for a smoke or get some extra diapers out of the car.
Again, nice to see actual reactions to this, not just the slams on rumors or first images to fully judge.
@James - I'm not a smoker, but my understanding is that those who do are required to leave the immersive experience completely. I was a bit surprised that the Climate Simulator could not double as a smoking area - though it is a bit too enclosed to truly act as a space for both smokers and non-smokers. The Halcyon is very much like the theme parks where smokers are relegated to a corral outside the front gate and as far away from the action as possible. If you don't want to break the immersive environment, you'll need to leave the death sticks at home.
Standing and Applauding.
For the life of me I can’t understand the draw of this - but to each their own!
This is also very much Not My Bag, but I’m glad something so ambitious exists and will happily continue to enjoy Galaxy’s Edge as everything I want out of a themed Star Wars experience. Great work, Russell!
Even if I could afford to blow 2k per night, this wouldn't interest me. Sounds like way too much work, when you really just want to be entertained. I don't mind some level of interactivity, like shoot'em up rides and meet and greets, but not this whole involved story, in which I'm supposed to be a character, and I end up exhausted at the end of it. No thanks. I just want to tour the parks, which is exhausting enough as it is.
Also..WTF, you can't leave the hotel your first night? No thanks x2. I honestly believe that an immersively well themed Star Wars hotel would have much more appeal minus the storyline and role playing/cos playing.
Excellent review of the experience, Russell! This sounds like a very cool attraction that will be among the best couple days ever for someone who wants to fully immerse themselves in a real Star Wars Roleplay. Unfortunately, I have a feeling the cross section between that group and those who can afford this experience is probably not too large, so I'd give it at most two years before Disney makes major changes to the attraction as it is no longer meeting their revenue targets. It also seems like something that would be completely wasted on anyone who doesn't want to get 100% involved, so that could be a major consideration for families that have Star Wars fans but aren't all fans of the same level needed to fully appreciate this experience. As for me, if the cost were in line with what I'd typically spend on a 3-5 day visit to Walt Disney World (around $1,000), I'd be very likely to give it a try in lieu of another visit to the parks the next time I did a Florida trip, but at a price point significantly higher it's not even something I'm considering. I've got a feeling there are many fans that are in a similar boat regarding their thoughts on this experience.
Lastly, I think at this point it's clear the phrase "Star Wars Hotel" needs to be stricken from any discussion of this because it is not a valid descriptor. A land cruise seems like a pretty good way to describe it, but if we're talking in themed attraction terms, this is a miniature theme park with no rides but every possible type of interactive diversion you could ever dream up within the theme. If you're looking at this for anything other than the unique activities aboard the Halcyon, you're not the target audience for this.
Nobody on any site (including this one) is answering the question we really want to know: If you had to pay your own money instead of getting the free trip all the media previewers are got, would you do it?
Thank you for the excellent article, Russell. I'm looking forward to hearing more.
I wonder how Disney plans to handle singles and families larger than four in this attraction. And it is obviously an attraction - which will make the discussion around the annual TPI awards for Best New Attraction and Best Hotel next year rather interesting.
And I gotta ask - Is the valet parking free or is it an upcharge?
If this is a success, I wonder if it will be the start of a move towards more themed hotels across the major Theme Park players. I'm sure there's lots of people who would love to go to Hogwarts for a weekend, or be a recruit at Avengers Campus. Heck, I'm sure there's lots of people who would be happy to spend a couple of days with the hospitality of the Adventurer's Club, in order to gain membership.
Or, it could all come crashing down as a giant failure, leaving Disney scratching its head, wondering what to do with a tiny space-ship-themed hotel.
Any-which-way, it's nice to see Disney doing something innovative and out of the box. They've been chasing some of Universal's more ambitious leads for a bit. I like that the OG is going to try to take it to the next level.
I think AJ makes a solid point. Those who are looking at the price and comparing it to a standard resort experience or even a cruise ship are not fully understanding what the Galactic Starcruiser is. If you do approach it from that POV, you're very likely to be disappointed by the experience and feel that the cost far exceeds the value. However, this is far more than a hotel or even a cruise ship. The Galactic Starcruiser is really a micro-theme park and boutique hotel rolled into one.
When you consider Galaxy's Edge (and the rest of DHS beyond), there are traditional theme park rides, and even on the Halcyon, there are other theme park style attractions. The Maintenance Bay is very much like the playgrounds you see integrated into attraction queues and lands. The Bridge is like a giant video game, and could be considered the cornerstone attraction of the land/park. Then you've got the large full-ensemble scenes that play out in the Atrium and smaller dinner shows in the Crown of Corellia Dining Room, which are very much like shows you'd find at virtually every major theme park.
The interactivity and constant stories playing out around the ship is what sets the Galactic Starcruiser apart from your standard theme park, and kind of what many Star Wars fans were expecting when Galaxy's Edge debuted. While the land falls short of those expectations, the Halcyon fills that desire for those guests who wanted a place to live out their Star Wars fantasy.
@twobits - I guess I've been a little ambiguous on that. For me, I was already pondering booking a trip on the Galactic Starcruiser for a potential October visit to Orlando before Robert asked me to cover the media voyage, but I was waiting to see some early reviews before committing the massive resources to the experience. Now that I've experienced it first hand, I would absolutely want to do it again, but that assumes that Disney doesn't make any negative changes to the experience and the price point remains where it's at. Of course, we all know Disney is going to tweak this, and demand will ultimately dictate whether prices for this experience remain stable. This is not the kind of experience I would want to hop right back into, but 3-5 years down the road, I would definitely be more than happy to pay the current prices to replicate the experience we received (though we would clearly make different choices and attempt to follow different storylines). I completely understand that not all families, particularly many hard core Star Wars fans, may not have the financial means to afford this (and I would never advocate someone extending beyond their means for something like this), but for our family, the price point is definitely high, but certainly not too much of a stretch within our annual entertainment budget and disposable income. Also, despite Disney's attempt to cast a wide net and appeal to a wide range of guests for this experience, I strongly believe there are a lot of people and families that this experience is NOT designed for. Full disclosure, I am the perfect audience for this (as were many other passengers on the media voyage who were mostly huge Disney and/or Star Wars fans, some who had already committed to paying for a voyage of the first 3 months of operation), so while this hit my sweet spot, it won't necessarily deliver for everyone.
@Tim - Disney does allow for single occupancy rooms, but you're going to pay a lot more if you're by yourself, just like on a standard cruise, where staterooms are per person based on double occupancy. However, there are already groups emerging around the internet to link up single travelers who don't mind sharing a cabin with other like-minded fans (hostel style). The only drawback to doing this is that the Corellia Collection (ship's store) has strict merchandise limits to prevent reselling. So, if you have 4 or 5 singles in a cabin together, only 2 of them can buy certain collectable items (like the exclusive personalized Lightsaber hilt). It's possible that Disney didn't consider the possibility of this and may relax merchandise limits for cabins occupied by 3 or more single passengers, but for now, that's something to consider if you plan to hook up with other singles for a voyage on the Galactic Starcruiser.
For larger families, you would need to either split across multiple, non-connected cabins. If your family needs to spread out across multiple cabins, I'm sure the reservation agents could do their best to make sure the cabins assigned to your family are close together (on the same deck at the least). The Galactic Starcruiser also has two classes of suites, which can accommodate larger groups (up to 8 in the Grand Captains Suite), and it appears that the pricing of the suite would be slightly less expensive than buying 2 separate standard cabins (economy of scale).
@B. Goodwin - One of the Imagineers I spoke with after the experience noted that this concept could absolutely be applied to other themes, and I wouldn't be surprised to see Disney or other companies trying something similar if the Starcruiser is successful. If Disney wanted to cut some costs, they could even convert existing hotel spaces to accommodate an immersive experience. I could imagine Disney taking an entire building of an existing resort and gutting it to create rooms and public space designed around a central theme.
The most obvious application of this concept would be in the Harry Potter Universe with guests staying in Hogwarts and participating in classes/activities throughout a day. It would be a natural progression of what Universal already offers, but would probably require a massive investment to get the rights for an experience like that.
One more point, which I have made on social media, but want to make here: This is a people-driven attraction. It's not just hardware - animatronics and media. And because SWGS is people-driven (by both cast and guests), it is literally a living attraction that will change on each voyage and evolve over time.
Think of other people-driven attractions, such as Halloween Horror Nights. If you attend frequently, you know that can be a very different experience one month into the run from what it was on opening night. That makes judging these sorts of things extremely challenging, because they are such a moving target.
Everyone brings different tastes and experiences to a movie or dark ride. But they all experience the same thing, even if they come away with different reactions. On something people-driven like SWGS, everyone gets a different experience. Amplify that by the different ways that different people are inclined to react to specific triggers, and - wow - you can see the wide range of conclusions that people might draw from the experience.
I keep coming back to Russell's point about the high price being a gatekeeping strategy to ensure that participants are literally invested in this experience. Is that the best way to accomplish this? That's a great topic for debate. But a people-driven interactive experience needs participants who will, well, participate. If you're not into that, this is not the experience for you.
It will be fascinating to see how SWGS evolves over time. All I can assure you at this point is that it will evolve over time.
And because it’s people driven and a 2 night commitment plus the cost involved on both sides I doubt this will be a roaring success in its current form. My guess it will evolve to something like a 3 hour experience with a meal 4 xs a day, which means the hotel aspect is not the money maker. HHN is not a good comparison as guests attend these events as at most, as a partial spectator, where you can step back into full spectator mode at anytime. Mosts guests might commit 4 hours of time to HHN bringing friends and family who may or may not be able or the desire to be more than a spectator. Just 1 unhappy or uncooperative family member in this current experience will ruin it for everyone.
Although this is well done thematically, it seems a bit claustrophobic and headache inducing after a few hours of role playing.
I agree that HHN might not be the best analog Tiptop22. A closer comp might be Ghost Town Alive at Knott's or Forbidden Frontier at Cedar Point, where guests can step into these Western-themed improve theater-style experiences. Both of those experiences have numerous characters played by professional actors who play out scenes throughout the day while interacting directly with guests. There are also puzzles and riddles for guests to solve to progress the story, though in the Cedar Fair experiences, the timeline of events is far more rigid and far less diverse than what you find on the Galactic Starcruiser. Also, with Cedar Fair's interactive role-playing experiences being set in the past, technology does not really factor into any of the interactions or individual experiences guests come across.
As far as guest tolerance of this setup, I think many will be surprised with the ease in which you can get wrapped up into these stories. Things get very interesting very quickly, and you're liable to lose track of time far before you get exhausted. We did run into a couple of times where Zach, who's 12 years old, got cranky, but before we knew it, something intriguing would happen that would draw him right back into the stories. The way the stories are constructed, it's not too detrimental to slide in and out of them throughout the experience. While you may miss out on some of the layers that make this experience so interesting and immersive, you're not relegated to the sideline simply because you need to take a break for an hour or so (though we constantly felt the need to stay engaged because that's engrained in our personalities).
You can absolutely be fully immersed in this experience without doing any role playing, and still be completely swept away by the characters, stories, and environment.
Russell brings up my one outstanding question about Starcruiser, which is what it looks like five years down the road. It sounds like the day-one, roll-out-the-red-carpet version of Starcruiser is extravagant beyond belief, but I think everyone's used to high-concept attractions like this seeing a slow degradation in experience quality. I think it's reasonable that they might trim some of the characters or storylines (I read one review that said there might actually be TOO many narrative threads happening), but what does Starcruiser look like when there's a budget cut? Or if the lounge singer has to call in sick? Is there a viable B-mode for Starcruiser?
On the one hand, as you pointed out, Disney likely has long-term plans for Starcruiser. It seems to be intentionally built to change over time, which means it may be able to weather changes in service quality better than a more static attraction. But from your experience, do you think there's a scaled-down version of this attraction that could still work?
@icedteacandy - As far as a “b-mode”, I don’t think guests would ever experience something like that here. Based on other videos and promotional footage, the cast for this experience is more than large enough to handle performers calling out sick or taking vacation. There are probably at least 2, if not 3, actors for every role on the ship, and obviously a number of roles can be filled with swing performers (masked or more minor characters). The only issue would be if an actor is established in a role on Day 1, but is unable to perform in Day 2. I’m not sure how stage managers would handle that, but I’m sure they have a plan.
There is no doubt that the experience will evolve over time, but I wouldn’t say that we received a “red carpet” experience (other than experiencing some scenes alongside recognizable Imagineers). I feel that as the actors and crew gain more experience, the performances will get better, and their improvs to unexpected guest reactions will dramatically improve. Like any theater performance, the quality will improve as performers get more repetitions under their belt.
As far as Disney taking aspects away from this experience, I just don’t see that happening any time soon. They’ve established a bar, so unless they’re ready to lower the price, I wouldn’t expect too many major changes through at least the first year. Beyond that is anyone’s guess including allowing guests to book shorter visits, but I would anticipate the current 2-day format to be maintained for the foreseeable future.
Thank you for replying! Those were some of the questions I was curious about, so I appreciate the insight. :)
Thanks for a straight forward answer to my question, Russell.
I am happy to hear that there are multiple paths for a guest to experience. It makes the “game” replayable if someone is willing to put up another 6K.
I hope the experience doesn’t degrade for those who won’t be there on the first voyage. We know that often can occur. Already I have read that Space 220 has degraded in quality, and that restaurant just opened a few months ago.
If this turns out to be a hit, the themed entertainment experience may undergo some dramatic changes.
I haven't personally experienced Space 220 (we really wanted to visit EPCOT for this and Ratatouille while we were in Orlando, but there were no Park Reservations available during our stay), but my understanding is that the perceived changes in quality were primarily made to improve operational efficiency. In fact, one of those changes, opening up reservations for the lounge, addresses the biggest stumbling block for the experience, which is the pricey pre-fixe menu in the main dining room. Guests making reservations in the lounge can order individual items from the main menu as well as some exclusive items, or just have a drink at the bar to go along with the trip on the Space Elevator (more like the experience at Oga's Cantina than Cinderella's Royal Table). It does sound like the food has taken a slight dip in quality since its debut, but that's really more on Patina, who manages and operates the kitchen, than Disney.
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Thank you Russell for these reports!
Russell also tells me that there's more to come from him on the Starcruiser in the days ahead. So, please, stay tuned.