Disney’s $8,329 Star Wars Hotel Is Incredibly Immersive — But It Still Costs $8,329

Disney’s $8,329 Star Wars Hotel Is Incredibly Immersive — But It Still Costs $8,329

Would you pay $US6,000 ($8,329) to pretend to be an inhabitant of the Star Wars universe for two days? Disney was sure enough people would answer “yes” to that question that it created Star Wars: Galactic Starcruiser, a two-day resort stay/immersive theme park experience at Disney World that purports to do just that. But when the first footage of the hotel was released onto the internet late last year, the fan response was negative enough that those videos soon vanished from YouTube.

Disney of course never confirmed that it pulled down the videos because everyone was making fun of them for trying to charge as much as $US1,200 ($1,666) a night to let you walk around what appeared to a setting on par with the Star Tours line queue area. But I’m guessing the initial bad buzz didn’t play no role in the company’s recent and seemingly somewhat hasty decision to invite a few dozen assorted journalists, fan site operators, and travel bloggers and their guests to experience it first-hand — and, for the most part, most expenses paid (Disclosure: Disney invited us onboard the Galactic Starcruiser for a two-day media preview event, and covered the associated cost of transportation, food and drinks, and theme park access. That exclusive merch still costs a pretty penny, however, and regular guests will need to pay for their own alcohol).

I never, ever (ever) would have paid what it costs to take my family to this thing — the two night experiences starts at $US4,800 ($6,663) for two people, and up to just shy of $US6,000 ($8,329) for four. But when presented with the opportunity to do so for free, I certainly didn’t say no. Since few others are likely to be so lucky to visit when the hotel opens to the public from next week, barring some sort of Make-A-Wish-level tragedy, I’m here to tell you all about it, and help you decide whether it’s worth the money. The short answer? No. But it is really is incredibly cool.

What’s Galactic Starcruiser All About?

The concept of Star Wars: Galactic Starcruiser is that that it’s a two-night hotel stay combined with a two day Star Wars LARP (that’s Live Action Role Playing, for those not caught up with your immersive-experience lingo). You are a guest onboard the luxury starship Halcyon, a passenger ship celebrating its 275th year in space (which appears to fall somewhere between the end of The Last Jedi and the start of The Rise of Skywalker, much like its predecessor at the Disney Parks, Galaxy’s Edge). Think of it like the QE2, but with more droids. You’re there to relax, take advantage of the shipboard amenities, enjoy some fine food, and be serenaded at dinner by a galactic pop superstar (kinda like Cher, if Cher was a Twi’lek). Unfortunately, your peaceful journey is interrupted by a visit from the First Order, investigating rumours of Resistance activity onboard.

Across two nights, you’ll be both an observer to and a participant in the narrative that unfolds from there, and get to know a colourful cast of new but familiar Star Wars archetype characters along the way (which isn’t to say appearances by more familiar faces is out of the question; Disney owns the rights to all of them, after all).

How Does Star Wars: Galactic Starcruiser Work? (Or, How to Stare at Your Phone in a Galaxy Far, Far Away)

Before attending, I was a little worried the experience of LARPing in the galaxy far, far away would remind me of the time I attended a Renaissance Fair with a friend of mine who was way into leatherwork — that is to say, understandably appealing to a certain sort of geek, but very much not for me. Not that there’s anything wrong with LARPing! I’m certainly a huge nerd, I just don’t feel that comfortable around other people, and I have trouble getting over feeling self-conscious about being an adult playing pretend. But the reality, such as it is, is far more elaborate and structured than that, and certainly the better for it.

Much has been made of the fact that every person will experience Galactic Starcruiser in their own way, and that is true to an extent, but all the guests are still inhabiting the same basic narrative. It isn’t nearly so malleable that I’d describe it as group improv (which is what I was dreading). It’s closer to participatory theatre — something like Sleep No More, where your understanding of the story will change based on who you bump into along the way, but the story itself will remain the same from night to night (or voyage to voyage).

Photo: Joel Cunningham/Gizmodo
Photo: Joel Cunningham/Gizmodo

The backbone of the narrative is, not unproblematically for anyone who goes on vacation to get away from a life spent staring at screens, an app. When you board the ship, you’ll be handed your “datapad,” which looks a lot like an iPhone 12 mini running a stripped-down OS (the default unlock code is, naturally, “1138”). This is where much of the narrative will unfold, and how your own schedule will be shaped. And sorry if you have a “no phones” rule for your kids, because they’ll be getting their own too. If your kids are anything like mine, you will unironically yell something like “That’s it, no more datapads!” at them before the voyage ends.

Along the way, you’ll receive text chats from various characters onboard the ship who will come to play a role in the narrative, from the captain, to the “cruise director,” to a First Order officer investigating rumours of Resistance activity onboard, to a smuggler playing both sides. How you respond to these messages — via a series of video game-like branching conversations — will determine what activities will wind up on your schedule. Will you be steered into a visit to the engine room to help a hapless new recruit keep all systems operational, or help spring a Wookie from the brig? Will you swear to help a Jedi protect the secrets of an ancient holocron, or be invited to snitch on your fellow passengers to a passing stormtrooper? If you’re hungry for more back story or not sure what to do next, you can “hack” into the ship by tapping your wristband/room key at one of the ATM-like onboard computers around the hotel, to solve a simple puzzle on your datapad or chat via video with the droid that serves as the Halcyon’s concierge. When you head “off-ship” to the Galaxy’s Edge section of Disney’s Hollywood Studios, you can just ride the rides and buy some souvenirs, or you can scan QR codes hidden around the park to complete yet more story-enhancing “missions.”

How much effort you put into all of this is entirely up to you. Your choices matter only in so much as they will allow you to experience the story in the way you want to. You can side with the good guys, or you can vacation as a bit fashy and pal around with the First Order. Whatever you do, though, the story is still going to include the same “wow” moments, if presented a little differently — for example, every passenger will wind up participating in a firefight on the bridge, but some will be shooting at Tie Fighters and others at X-Wings — and the ending is always going to be the same. Naturally, because this is Star Wars, you will not be surprised to learn the climax involves more than one laser sword.

Do You Have to Be a Massive Star Wars Geek to Enjoy Galactic Starcruiser?

Considering my brain has been marinating in Star Wars nonsense for about 35-odd years, I might not be the best one to answer this question. Luckily, I brought along a control group. My children have never seen Star Wars, and my spouse is actively indifferent to it, so they served as excellent case studies for the question of whether one need have spent their childhood waving around a broomstick and imagining it was a lightsaber to enjoy pretending to live inside the saga for a few days. The answer was an emphatic no, and for reasons that have less to do with Star Wars than with good old Disney Magic.

Photo: Joel Cunningham/Gizmodo
Photo: Joel Cunningham/Gizmodo

Certainly you’ll get more of a charge out of seeing a real-life sabacc table it if no one has to explain to you that Han Solo won the Millennium Falcon from Lando in a game of sabacc (and then explain to you who Han Solo and Lando are, and what the Millennium Falcon is). But the experience proceeds smoothly enough that you’ll be able to follow along provided you have a vague understanding of the basics: you’re in space, there’s a thing called the Force, Jedi use lightsabers, the furry guy is named Chewbacca, and the ones in the fascist uniforms are the bad guys.

That’s because a trip onto the Halcyon is more of a Disney experience than a Star Wars one, and if 60 years of running theme parks has taught the company anything, it’s how to make guests of all ages and backgrounds feel welcome. The Galactic Starcruiser doesn’t really feel like being inside the gritty, lived-in universe of the original Star Wars as much as it feels like being at the in-universe equivalent of a theme park (let’s pause to imagine Han and Leia on their honeymoon, as is now canon, waiting in line to ride the Coruscant equivalent of the Haunted Mansion), with all of the artificial authenticity that entails.

Like the Disney-era Star Wars films themselves, everything onboard the Starcruiser is perhaps a little too bright and shiny, a little too quippy and self-aware, to truly feel anything close to real. Disney’s “cast members” are rigorously trained to please guests, and it’s hard to imagine the denizens of a galaxy far, far away brightly saying “good journey!” to you every time you accidentally make eye contact with them. There was rarely a moment I wasn’t hyper aware of the fact that everyone I talked to was not only playing a role, but was being paid a very small slice of that $US6,000 ($8,329) booking fee to show us a good time. Even the stormtroopers humored the little girl dressed as Yoda, pretending to mind-control them with the Force.

But if you can conquer your internal critic (a true challenge for me, an arsehole), you will almost definitely be swept up in the experience, because that’s what Disney has designed it to do. It is definitely not a passive undertaking; you don’t have to take on a persona and craft your character’s backstory, or even interact with any of the cast members or your fellow guests all that much, but you do have to be willing to participate — to wander the ship and perk up your ears when you hear kids shouting that they just saw Chewbacca, and toggle switches on the bridge, and actually go to lightsaber training even if you think it sounds incredibly childish (it was a lot cooler than I was expecting, admittedly). Every time you leave your room, you’ll bump right into the unfolding narrative, and unless you work actively against it, you’ll find yourself pulled into the story.

It doesn’t hurt that the story plays out in a setting painstakingly designed to be fully immersive. You can wander around pretty much the entirety of the ship at will and everything you come across will appear to be plausibly a part of the Star Wars universe. You can touch most every surface and push every button; all the flips and switches on the bridge or in the engine room appear to serve a purpose (even though they don’t actually “do” anything — you can’t crash the hotel). There are no windows, and though the “viewports” into space aren’t quite as convincing as I was hoping, especially from certain angles, the effect was still cool enough that it never got old, and I never felt like I was actually wandering around a hotel built mostly underground (if you’re wondering why the exterior of the place looks so drab, it’s because it’s only supposed to be a spaceport — the first thing you do is take a “shuttle” to the Halcyon, which I figured out to be a big elevator the second time I rode in it).

Is Star Wars: Galactic Starcruiser Worth It?

Photo: Joel Cunningham/Gizmodo
Photo: Joel Cunningham/Gizmodo

No. But maybe yes? How big is your vacation budget? You can take an incredible trip almost anywhere in the world for $US6,000 ($8,329), and it will last a lot longer than two days — I once spent two full weeks in Costa Rica for a fraction of a fraction of that amount, and came away a lot more relaxed. But Galactic Starcruiser is the only place you can LARP Star Wars in luxury, and if LARPing Star Wars in luxury is an experience you want to have, well. I used to feel much the same way when I used to travel to San Diego Comic-Con for work: Enjoying myself, but also amazed that so many were willing to spend so much to do what I was able to expense for this media preview — which is usually mostly stand in line.

Disney is ridiculously expensive at the best of times. A few days’ visit is going to cost a family of four thousands in park tickets alone, and much more once you factor in accommodations and food. The Galactic Starcruiser is a (mostly) all-inclusive experience that flirts with being luxurious, particularly the food; dinner is a fixed menu served at set times at definitely striving for fine dining with a splash of Star Wars worldbuilding (the blue shrimp in the iced Felucian shrimp cocktail was a nice touch, and the Bloody Rancor was a great morning pick-me-up). The nicely themed rooms are, admittedly, a bit utilitarian on a comfort level, but you aren’t supposed to spend much time in them anyway. In terms of personal facetime with Disney employees, though, the attention you’ll receive feels pretty intimate, if not unmatched by anything else you’ll find at the parks. We were late to one of our scheduled narrative pit-stops, for example, and wound up getting an elaborate private recreation of it that involved a holographic Yoda and a full-sized astromech droid. It was nice seeing the same faces over and over on the crew, whether they were doing their mundane jobs or more actively participating in the story, and they never failed to remember our previous interactions.

Even judged against the experience of a theme park vacation, the Starcruiser packs in a lot of action. On either end of my stay on the Halcyon, I took my family to the regular old Disney parks, which are as crowded and spread out as ever. We ended those days exhausted from walking too much, and minus a bunch of money spent on the food and snacks necessary to sustain young kids through multiple hour-long lines. Even trying to move quickly, we’d accomplish maybe four or five things — a few rides, a show — before everyone was too tired and grumpy to pretend to have fun. But onboard Galactic Starcruiser, we faced no lines, battled no crowds, and never had to trek back to the hotel for a mid-day rest. So fully immersed were we in the action and the narrative, the ride essentially didn’t end for two full days. Pirates of the Caribbean lasts, what, seven minutes? Provided you don’t count the 70 spent waiting in line.

This is definitely among the quickest way to spend a lot of money while at Disney World, but when weighed against a $US900 ($1,249) a night room at the Grand Floridian plus the cost of park tickets, it’s arguably a better value for the experience you receive in return. You know, relatively. It was a once-in-a-lifetime experience that left me with some truly magical memories, but I also didn’t have to foot the bill for it. If you’re going to visit Galactic Starcruiser, my best piece of advice is to have Disney pay for everything.

Star Wars: Galactic Starcruiser opens for guests at Disney World from March 1, 2022.