ORLANDO — The first thing that Star Wars: Galactic Starcruiser passengers will see isn’t a lightsaber, a stormtrooper or Chewbacca. All of those come later. Visitors checking into Walt Disney World’s new experience will be greeted by a gray slab of an entrance.
“It feels like a bunker. It’s kind of rough. It almost feels like you’re in a blast zone, getting ready to launch off. That’s very intentional,” said Ann Morrow Johnson, Starcruiser’s executive producer and creative director. “This is kind of that precursor to before we blast you off into a galaxy far, far away.”
Disney is developing a unique travel option, a two-day/two-night immersive journey into the “Star Wars” universe. Executives and Imagineers talked about the project, built near Disney’s Hollywood Studios, and led a walk-through of the building for members of the media last week.
Stops included the two-story atrium, the captain’s bridge, the Crown of Corellia Dining Room, Sublight Lounge, the lightsaber-training room, a cabin where guests will sleep and other areas.
Galactic Starcruiser features more than intergalactic looks. Passengers will interact with characters — familiar and freshly developed ones — and pick sides in that tale-as-old-as-time tussle between the First Order and the Resistance.
“It is part immersive theater; it is part live-action role play. It is part video game; it is part luxury-service experience. It is all of these things at the same time,” said Scott Trowbridge, portfolio creative executive with Walt Disney Imagineering.
That’s a lot to integrate. Disney called on its corporate expertise in hotels, theme parks, technology and characters to address obstacles in order to create a new kind of experience.
“It isn’t immediately evident how luggage delivery to your cabin is going to work in a theatrical environment,” Trowbridge said.
WELCOME TO HALCYON
Star Wars: Galactic Starcruiser opens March 1. The interior currently has a somewhat finished look, although not all pieces are in place. (Photography was not allowed during the media tour.) Testing of technology and guest-facing activities has been going on in the building for four months. The ship’s crew came onboard for training recently.
Once customers get past Starcruiser’s gray stuff, they will be placed in launchpad capsule. When its doors slide open, passengers will exit into a two-story atrium. The look is bright and futuristic, with curved corners and splashes of orange. Two tall containers display holographic images. Bulky furniture with maroon padding provides seating.
On the far side of the atrium is the captain’s bridge with a wide view of cosmos as well as other spaceships. Guests are assigned bridge training during their stays.
This is Halcyon, in Disney/Star Wars lore. It’s the premier vessel within the Chandrila Star Line, a luxury liner in space. It’s been six years in the making.
There are offshoots of the atrium, leading to the lounge, which seats about 50 people, a merchandise store, the dining area and 100 cabins.
“At Disney, so often you’re used to seeing massive scale. This is an incredibly intimate experience,” Johnson said. “We want it to feel like that elevated, intimate experience where you really get to connect with the characters on board, you have that personalized service from the crew members on board and feel like this is an adventure that is happening to all of you as a community.”
GETTING INTO CHARACTERS
Passengers will get early introductions to the characters mingling in the atrium. More nefarious types will also be present. In the continuing story of Starcruiser stays, the First Order has become suspicious of activity on the starship.
Lt. Harman Croy “noticed that everywhere the Halcyon ported, there was a little pocket of the Resistance. He has boarded the ship, under the authority of the First Order with a couple of Stormtroopers, and he’s going to get to the bottom of what is happening on this ship,” explained Wendy Anderson, executive creative director, Disney Live Entertainment at Walt Disney Imagineering.
Passengers are likely to meet Capt. Riyola Keevan, Cruise Director Lenka Mok, astromech droid SK-62O, and Sammie, an enthusiastic mechanic who’s actually a stowaway, among other characters.
Questions will be asked. Answers will determine how the rest of the experience plays out. That extends to the included visit to Batuu, home planet of Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge at nearby, in Earth terms, Disney’s Hollywood Studios theme park.
“Your choices change what comes next for your story. Which characters you have chosen to develop a relationship with will ultimately change what happens on the planet when you go on that planet excursion, what happens when you come back,” said Sara Thatcher, who works in WDI research and development.
“No two journeys are going to be alike,” she said.
In the mix are onboard activities, including bridge training. Passengers there get hands-on training to guide and protect the ship as well as fire upon objects detected in space. As in many “Star Wars” scenarios, the story may take a drastic turn.
PREPPING THE SHIP
Disney currently is “play testing” bridge training, character interactions and other activities with pretend passengers. Not all costuming, makeup and props are in use. Although intimidating stormtroopers were seen in the atrium during the media tour, there was also an uncostumed character wearing a sash that read “Chewbacca.”
Playing along with the intrigue is optional, Disney officials said, but decisions made can affect the second-day outing to Batuu. Participating passengers may be given tasks associated with the rides of Galaxy’s Edge. Communication between characters and further information will be found on the Play Disney App, which will supply content exclusive to Starcruiser visitors. Passengers will be transported to the park — the tour wasn’t shown how — and they will enter not at the park gate but instead within Black Spire Outpost at Galaxy’s Edge. (That entrance can’t currently be seen, Johnson said.)
The theme park land and Galactic Starcruiser are tightly tied because they were developed simultaneously, Trowbridge said. There have been Starcruiser “Easter eggs” in Galaxy’s Edge since it opened in 2019, and the new experience can explain questions raised in the Millennium Falcon: Smugglers Run ride. (Who are riders smuggling that coaxium for anyway, one might ask.)
Disney leaders avoid calling the new project “the Star Wars hotel.” It’s not the kind of vacation where folks lounge by the pool and maybe hop over to Magic Kingdom for the afternoon.
Instead, a comparison to pleasure cruises feels more apt, starting from the atrium. There are dinner seatings, a breakfast buffet of sorts, itineraries, close-quarter cabins, references to decks and an excursion to Batuu.
Although Star Wars: Galactic Starcruiser opens in March, the first reservations currently available are in June. Voyage prices, according to the website, start at $4,809 for two people in a standard cabin. Rates vary with departure dates, number of guests in a cabin and the cabin type.
At the end of the experience, individual stories will come together, Anderson said.
“You have these really great moments of everyone’s doing something together, you go off and make your own personal choices,” she said. “And then maybe you reconvene with that group or with a different group, or with merged groups from other storylines, because they all kind of interweave around each other.”
It will culminate in something climactic and hopefully, a “satisfying conclusion,” Trowbridge said.
“We really have, I think, created something that no one’s ever seen before,” he said.