Immersion takes on new meaning aboard Disney’s newest theme park attraction, the Star Wars Galactic Starcruiser.
From the moment passengers board the shuttles to the Chandrila Star Lines’ starcruiser known as the Halcyon, the adventure begins. And it doesn’t slow its pace until they disembark two days later.
On Monday, CNBC ventured aboard the Halcyon for a preview of Disney’s new experience. Branded as an “immersive adventure,” the Star Wars Galactic Starcruiser blends elements of the company’s resorts, cruise lines and theme parks into a 48-hour romp in space.
First teased during Disney’s D23 Expo in 2019, the Galactic Starcruiser, situated near the company’s Orlando, Florida-based Disney World Resort, has drawn curiosity and criticism from potential passengers. The experience comes with a steep price tag — around $1,200 per person per day — and has been cloaked in secrecy until now.
So, let’s address the Bantha in the room right away: Is Star Wars: Galactic Starcruiser worth the price of admission?
Yes, but with one condition — you have to be willing to play.
Passengers get back what they put into their time aboard the Halcyon. If you suspend your disbelief, embrace the story and participate without self-consciousness, this will be a trip you, and your family, will never forget.
Breaking down the cost
There is no denying that traveling aboard the Halcyon is pricy. For two adult guests, the trip will cost around $4,800 and for a group of four (three adults, one child) the price tag is nearly $6,000.
That can be a hard number to digest, especially considering a typical Disney vacation for a family of four can cost that much for a week-long trip, depending on hotel and restaurant choices.
However, for fans looking for the ultimate Star Wars experience, a voyage aboard the Halcyon may be worth the price, even if it is for a shorter period of time. The two-day experience includes a hotel room, all food and drink, minus alcoholic and specialty beverages, a day trip to the Hollywood Studios park, a Magic Band and valet service at drop off.
The rooms are spacious and hold typical hotel amenities like a hair dryer, in-cabin safe, television and bath and shower products. Although, guests will find that they will spend very little time in these rooms.
The designers took inspiration from different aspects of the Star Wars universe. The bunk beds, for example, are reminiscent of shapes found on the Millennium Falcon.
Lucasfilm’s Doug Chiang, who serves as the division’s vice president and executive creative director, told CNBC that the team sought to keep the ship fresh and familiar, but to allow between 30% and 40% of the design to have a “component of new.” Guests will notice that cabin doors, which are unlocked by Magic Band, open by sliding, not in or out on a hinge. It is a subtle change, but it adds to the overall immersion of the experience.
Layered on top of all that is the experience itself, which is something that has never been attempted before.
“One of the things that is most interesting about it is that we talk a lot about ‘what is it?'” said Ann Morrow Johnson, executive producer and executive creative director at Walt Disney Imagineering. “It’s not really a cruise, it’s not really a theme park, it’s not really a hotel, it’s not really a 48-hour piece of immersive theater, it’s not really a live action game, it’s sort of an intersection between all those things.”
“There are so many different storylines that unfold over the course of the two days that it is truly how you choose to spend your time and respond to the things that you’ve seen that dictates what you are called upon to do and how your story unfolds and ultimately resolves itself,” she said.
Disney has been working on the Galactic Starcruiser since 2016, developing it alongside the Galaxy’s Edge theme park land in order to create one cohesive story.
Guests spend the first evening on the Halcyon meeting new characters and deciding where their allegiances lie. Are they Resistance fighters? Loyal to the First Order? Or are they toeing the line between good and evil as a scoundrel?
The main gist of the overarching story goes as follows: You are a passenger on a starcruiser for a two-day voyage. During that trip, Lieutenant Harman Croy, a First Order officer, boards the ship looking to root out Resistance spies. The captain, Riyola Keevan, alongside the cruise director, Lenka Mok, are not thrilled by his presence, but ultimately acquiesce.
Croy stirs up trouble, determining that Mok’s droid, an astromech SK-62O, must be detained because it is harboring Resistance secrets. This course of events draws in a new mechanic named Sammie, who is reluctantly recruited into the ranks of the Resistance.
Also onboard the ship is a the galactic superstar Gaya, a Twi’lek; her human manager Raithe Kole, a Rodian musician named Ouannii and an aspiring musician and Gaya super fan named Sandro. Then there are the Saja, a Jedi group that has found a safe haven on the Halcyon and use the training pods to teach guests the art of using a lightsaber.
And, of course, some familiar faces also appear, including Chewbacca, Rey and Kylo Ren.
Over the course of 48 hours, guests make alliances, complete missions and participate in nearly every aspect of the story that unfolds and comes to a head on the second night of the voyage.
The call of adventure
For the media voyage, guests were given a “data pad,” an iPhone with the Disney Play App already installed, that allowed us to access our itinerary, interact with wall terminals and have pre-programed conversations with characters on the ship. In the future, Disney Imagineers hope to streamline the experience so that guests can use their own devices.
Early in the voyage, I used my data pad and Magic Band to try and access the restricted section on one of the wall terminals. After several failed attempts I received a comm message on my data pad from Kole.
Kole offered to give me access to the restricted section of the terminal in exchange for helping him with a “little problem” in engineering. I was given several response options, similar to a role-play video game, and, ultimately, accepted his offer. He gave me access to the engineering room and I was well on my way down the path of the scoundrel.
Had I declined his offer, I would have needed to find an alternative way to access the engineering room in the future. A keypad on the door can only be opened if your Magic Band has been granted access. Inside the engineering room, there were levers and mechanisms that needed to be triggered to achieve the mission. Once that was completed, I got a new comm message with instructions for the next step.
Later on, when I bumped into Kole in a hallway, I covertly told him I had handled the situation and he gave me a firm handshake and teased that there was more to come. He was right.
Throughout the two-day experience, opportunities to align with different characters crop up. How you interact with them through the data pad determines if you will receive missions from them in the future. Often, these missions bring you face-to-face with the character alongside several other guests who are following a similar path.
Having rebuffed Croy’s request to work with him, I aligned myself with Kole, Captain Keeven and Mok. In doing so, I was invited to special secretive meetings in the engineering room and on the navigation bridge during my journey. Forging these relationships also influenced my trip to Galaxy’s Edge during the second day of the voyage.
Now, I wasn’t just hopping on the Millennium Falcon for a joy ride, I was working with the smuggling crew to gather coaxium, a rare and explosive fuel, to bring back to the Halcyon. That coaxium did make it onboard our starcruiser and became an integral piece of the action during the finale event.
Similarly, venturing to Oga’s Cantina now included talking to a particular bartender to get a special message that would help us contact a hacker who could aid in disabling First Order sabotages on the ship.
Alongside these missions are optional mini events on the Halcyon, like trivia games, a sabacc tournament and droid racing. Those that want to be fully immersed in the story will find that there are few moments of downtime during the journey. However, if guests do decide to retire to their cabins for a while, they will still be alerted to different key story moments.
While resting in the early afternoon on the second day, I noticed the animation out of my viewport changed from gently rolling stars to whizzing light. We were going through hyperspace. A moment later, we were surrounded by TIE fighters. That was my cue to put my shoes on and head back to the atrium. When I arrived a few minutes later I found that the First Order had set up a blockade and Croy was seeking to take command of the Halcyon.
“There is no way that any one person could ever see it all in one cruise,” Johnson said. “Some of my favorite moments are those moments of community, seeing passengers say ‘oh, I was over here and I saw this,’ ‘oh, actually, I met with a Wookie in the engineering room and we think there’s this secret plan.’ That kind of swapping stories — gossip of all the different things that are unfolding aboard the Halcyon as the adventure befalls us — is kind of the core of making sure it’s a living story that you are a part of and navigating through.”
Taste of the galaxy
Also core to the experience aboard the Halcyon is the food.
Unlike Galaxy’s Edge, where chef Brian Piasecki and his team were creating one menu, the Galactic Starcruiser is a program of food, he said, with each dish contributing to the overall story.
Piasecki worked to create dishes for breakfast, lunch and dinner that were accessible to guests, but also upscale. The lunch buffets, for example, featured familiar dishes, like grilled cheese and tomato, peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, and salads, but with a distinctly Star Wars spin.
The food trays, which are used for the breakfast and lunch buffets, are uniquely shaped with three rectangular depressions so that dishes can slide into place snuggly and not move when being carried into the dining room. They have a distinct sci-fi aesthetic, but are also incredibly functional, especially for those that want to try a little bit of everything.
The dining room is also equipped with a traditional soda fountain as well as free Blue Milk and Green Milk, which is featured in the Galaxy’s Edge park land. Special alcoholic beverages can be purchased for an additional cost.
The first night onboard the Halcyon, dinner comes with a show. While guests are enjoying bao buns and noodles, the galactic songstress Gaya begins her performance. A mix of pop, jazz and rhythm and blues, she earned an ovation from Lieutenant Croy and the passengers.
Piasecki pointed out that the different colored bao buns reflect different colors in Gaya’s outfit.
The second dinner was a “taste of the galaxy,” featuring dishes based on different planets in the Star Wars universe. It was during this meal that Disney’s culinary prowess was on full display.
Each course was served simultaneously, with dozens of crew members descending into the dining room at once to deliver plates. There was a dish of cheeses and bread, inspired by the molten planet Mustafar; blue shrimp from the jungles of Felucia that arrives billowing in cool smoke; and a beef and seafood plate drawn from the Wookie homeworld of Kashyyyk.
The Galactic Starcruiser does have other options on its menu for those with less adventurous palates or dietary restrictions.
Alcoholic beverages can be purchased in the Crown of Corellia Dining Room as well as at the Sublight Lounge. Guests will recognize many of the signature cocktails, as they are based on traditional drinks, but they have been elevated.
The Hoth Icebreaker is reminiscent of a lemon drop martini, but is served in a unique glass, colored blue and features a vanilla and lemon foam as well as an isomalt sugar garnish.
The bottom line
At the end of the day, future guests will need to decide if what Disney has presented is worth the hefty price tag. The immersive experience is unlike anything any theme park company has attempted before and is a feat of storytelling.
On the last night of the voyage, as all of the passengers were gathered in the atrium watching Lieutenant Croy pace the mezzanine above in sharp militaristic fashion, spitting each word of his villainous machinations, I watched a little girl stand on a velvet cushioned bench.
She glared defiantly at the First Order officer as he recounted how she had pulled on his gloved hand only hours before and called him a “mean old man.” He scoffed and the crowd chuckled as he told her that everything that was happening, the entire blockade, was her fault.
And she didn’t flinch.
Turning to a fellow passenger, I began softly chanting her name. That chant moved through the crowd until it was a roar. Croy was red in the face. She was smiling.
To me, that’s worth the price of admission.