By Ken Pozek
Just a few weeks ago, we departed on our second trip aboard Star Wars: Galactic Starcruiser. My family was one of the lucky first guests to enjoy the experience the first month it opened. So when we saw they were discounting trips a few months ago, we jumped at the chance to go again. Only to find out they’d be permanently shuttering the experience later this year.
There’s been widespread coverage of the blue shrimp and storyline upon the Halcyon (the name of the Starcruiser "ship"), but nothing has been covered more than the cost of the trip and now its quick demise. On average a family of 5 will pay in upwards of $6,000 for their 3 day, 2 night stay. With many jeering the cost as something Walt himself wouldn’t have wanted. Yet, this isn’t the first outlandishly expensive thing Disney has created:
Disney Vacation Club, or DVC, is their timeshare product. Many people pay 20-50k upfront plus yearly maintenance fees to belong.
Club33 is an exclusive club with a limited number of members. As a member, you get access to private in-park clubs, as well as other perks. There’s a club on both coasts (Disneyland and Disney World). Costs for this exclusive club are officially unknown. However, online reports show an initiation fee ranging from 30-50k plus an ongoing renewal. Both coasts reportedly have a multi-year waiting list.
Adventures by Disney, or ABD. These are Disney’s exclusive private and group-guided programs that range from $4000 to well over $100,000 per person!
The Starcruiser didn’t fail because of the lack of value received for the trip you embark on. In my opinion, it failed because it was marketed incorrectly. Even my Star Wars fan friends thought it was just a cool hotel with a little show. Who’s spending $5-7k to stay for 2 nights at a hotel in Orlando? Instead, the hotel was a byproduct of the immersive experience you’re paying for.
If the goal of an immersive experience, whether in the parks, a movie, or a themed hotel, is to leave the guests with an emotional connection to a brand, well then the Starcruiser succeeded on a deeper level than anything else I’ve experienced. Unfortunately, I’m not sure that story was ever properly told. At least not by Disney’s marketing arm.
For 48 hours you’re enveloped in a Star Wars story. One that has elements of Choose Your Own Adventure mixed with a tale familiar to so many. With recognizable characters like Rey, Storm Troopers, Kylo Ren, and Chewbacca, you’re also introduced to new heroes and villains alike. A scrappy engineer named Sammie, a galactic superstar named Gaya, her smuggling manager Raith Cole, a conniving Lieutenant Croy, and several others that help you craft your story. It’s up to you to decide where your allegiance lies, and ultimately how you want to spend your time. Making it uniquely both your story and theirs. And yes, all set inside certainly one of the most themed hotels you’ve ever witnessed in your life. In fact, it’s a masterclass in theming that the Walt Disney Company knows so well.
As you move about the ship the story unfolds around you and the music changes right on cue, as if you were really in a movie. From the sweet signature scent in the atrium that hits you as you “board the ship”, to the massive window that looks out onto the galaxy when you first enter your stateroom.
"It doesn’t take long for you to realize this is so much more than a hotel stay. It’s something you won’t soon forget. And that..that’s what you’re paying for."
The exclusive experience that ties all your senses together, creating an indelible mark in your memory. One that’s greater than any concert you’ve attended or movie you’ve watched. It’s something quite frankly you have to experience to fully appreciate.
So while some may feel the Starcruiser will go down as an epic failure, there are a few items I feel should be celebrated as wins for Disney:
1. The Technology
Disney’s Achilles heel has secretly been technology. It’s sad to think one of the largest entertainment companies in the world struggles so much with developing great technology. The Starcruiser gave them a playground to test new ideas and refine old ones. From Rey’s retractable lightsaber to the multi-day live-action role-play tied together with the clever use of their Disney Play app, the in-room AI assistant “D3-09”, and so much more. It was hard to turn a corner and not think “Wow. I’ve never seen something quite like that before”.
2. Customer Service
Disney’s customer service struggled through the height of covid. Many said their competitors lead the way with care throughout the pandemic. The care and thoughtfulness we received on the Starcruiser was a return to old with over-the-top attention to detail. Two small examples: I mentioned to a crew member that I’d miss the smell in the atrium when I returned to my planet. Within hours a candle (not available for purchase anywhere) with the same smell appeared in our room, at no charge. My girls love sparkling water. They had this amazing in-wall flat, chilled, and sparkling water dispenser. My eldest daughter mentioned how great it was to a crew member. Not long later did we have chilled sparkling water in our room. It’s the little things that go a long way.
It was easy to forget you were inside a windowless hotel for days. If it wasn’t for the comms telling us when/where to be, it’d be easy to lose track of time. On this second trip, my family and I decided to go all in with the storyline. The more you played into it, the more the cast members brought you into the story itself. This was all made even more believable due to the ship. The Halcyon. A 275-year-old, recently restored vessel, crewed by a proud set of beings from all across the galaxy. From the interactive engineering room, to the bridge that visually tied in going into hyperspace from the front of the ship with vast screens, all the way back into the staterooms. It was hard not to feel like maybe you really had be transported to outer space and into a galaxy far far away. This feeling of immersion should be leaned into by Disney in future projects.
As we disembarked on the third day, we all had very similar demeanors on our faces. Thrilled we had been a part of the action. Sad that it was over.
One of my favorite passengers that I met had recently retired from the Space Force (yes you read that right). This was his retirement gift to himself and his family. He went full-on dressed up as Kylo Ren, but not the one you’d automatically think of. Instead, it was from the SNL skit in 2016. Kylo as “Matt the Radar Technician”. He remarked, “You know if this was 1/2 the price but that required 1/2 the experience, I wouldn’t want it. We saved and splurged and it was more than worth it”.
I wholeheartedly agree. And I think Walt would too.
In a time of political culture wars dividing our country, Disney was able to create an experience that brought fans together and celebrated a tale as old as time. Good vs Evil.
In my book, that’s a win. A win for Disney, a win for our family, and a win for the future of themed entertainment.
The Orlando Real is sponsored by The Pozek Group. If you’re thinking of buying or selling a home in Orlando, reach out and we would love to help!
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