Disney to close Star Wars: Galactic Starcruiser hotel
Stars and Stripes May 24, 2023
Disney's venture into an immersive, very expensive Star Wars experience is ending.
The company said that its Star Wars: Galactic Starcruiser hotel at Walt Disney World in Florida, which costs nearly $5,000 per couple for a two-night stay, will take its final voyage Sept. 28.
Employees were notified of the decision Thursday afternoon; before that, the website showed availability through Dec. 31. Disney is contacting guests who have trips on the book after the scheduled closing and will give them priority to switch to an earlier slot. New bookings for the remaining voyages will be paused until May 26.
"Star Wars: Galactic Starcruiser is one of our most creative projects ever and has been praised by our guests and recognized for setting a new bar for innovation and immersive entertainment," the company said in a statement. "This premium, boutique experience gave us the opportunity to try new things on a smaller scale of 100 rooms, and as we prepare for its final voyage, we will take what we've learned to create future experiences that can reach more of our guests and fans."
Former Disney CEO Bob Chapek announced the project in 2017, when he was chairman of the theme parks division, promising a revolutionary experience that would let Star Wars fans dress up, participate in adventures and immerse themselves in constant role-playing.
"It's unlike anything that exists today," he said.
The attraction — which some compare more to a cruise than a hotel — opened in March 2022. It allowed guests to live out Star Wars fantasies, taking part in lightsaber training or droid-racing competitions. Lessons in Sabacc, an in-universe card game, were available, and "story moments" provided choose-your-own-adventure action.
The stay also included a "transport shuttle" to the Star Wars section of Disney's Hollywood Studios and its two rides, as well as themed meals.
Disney touted some of its innovations with the project, including creating a "real" lightsaber; concocting "new, otherworldly flavors" in its food and drinks (one infamous example: blue shrimp); and merging real-life and digital entertainment to craft a unique story for each guest.
But the price tag — starting at $4,809 for two people on weeknights during the cheapest time of year — made the experience unattainable for many fans, especially considering the rising cost of a non-galactic Disney vacation.
Robert Niles, founder and editor of Theme Park Insider, said in an email that, under current CEO Bob Iger, "Disney does blockbusters, not boutique."
"There was no way that this ever could scale to the numbers where it made enough money to be a better investment than other projects on which Disney could spend this operating budget," he said.
The company said it wants to "deliver immersive experiences at an even greater scale" moving forward.
Many reviewers were enthusiastic about their visits when Galactic Starcruiser launched, but even some proponents complained about the less-than-magical arrival scene, the "utilitarian" bathrooms and an "unexciting" lightsaber experience. The price tag has consistently been the biggest concern.
"The family price of $6,000 for four people is just too much," Matt Roseboom, owner of Attractions Magazine, wrote last year.
Len Testa, president of the theme-park trip-planning site TouringPlans, stayed at the Starcruiser on opening day last year and again a little more than a year later, at the end of March. The property was "maybe half-full" during his second trip, he said.
"On the second trip it was obvious that Disney was going to have unexpected operational issues when the hotel wasn't full," he said in an email. "And apparently there was no way to fix that without losing money."
Testa said some of the key activities needed more people to participate so the story would make sense.
"There were not enough people to staff the ship's deflector shields, for example," he said. "So the ship should've been destroyed during the battle. But it wasn't, and it was never explained how the ship survived. It really poked a hole in the story."
Aaron Sagers, a TV personality and entertainment journalist, went on his first Galactic Starcruiser voyage on May 4, celebrated as Star Wars Day. He said in an email that Thursday's news is "incredibly disappointing."
As a "die-hard Stars Wars nerd," he said, the experience surpassed his expectations, and he was already planning a repeat visit.
"The Starcruiser delivered on the promise of allowing you to dress up and play make-believe in the Star Wars galaxy for a few days," he said. "The actors/cast members seemed to truly get to know the guests, and without breaking character for a couple days in a row, they invited me and the other passengers into a wild and mind-blowing adventure."
Sagers said he also encountered a robust fandom that had cropped up around the voyages and noted that his trip was well-attended.
"Like some sort of Burning Man in a galaxy far, far away, passengers crafted detailed backstories, established Facebook groups for individual cruises, organized pre-cruise meetups and engaged in a bartering culture of trinkets, tokens and trophies on board," he said.
Sagers said the experience was special for those who were willing to fully immerse themselves.
"This is truly a loss in terms of unique theme park experiences, and a loss to the Star Wars fandom," he said.