A journey inside the new immersive “Star Wars” themed hotel at Walt Disney World

ORLANDO, Fla. — We knew it would be a different kind of Walt Disney World vacation when we bit the bullet and packed an extra suitcase…for the costumes.

While Universal Orlando once used the tagline “hop on to the movies,” Walt Disney World’s new Star Wars: Galactic Starcruiser experience (otherwise known as “the ‘Star Wars’ hotel”) lives up to that. Billing in a way an Incredible Hulk Coaster brand roll just can’t.

A satisfying combination of dinner theater, LARP (live role-playing), and video gaming, Galactic Starcruiser is truly an interactive cosplay experience.

During the guests’ 45-hour stay, a cast of Equity actors improvise and half-act a complete “Star Wars” story that guests can participate in – and influence – through the choices they make at the start of their holiday. You can choose to work for the Resistance (the good guys), the First Order (the bad guys), or just be a villain who plays both sides.

“It’s a place where you sleep, that’s technically true,” said Anisha Deshmane, a creative producer at Walt Disney Imagineering who earned a master’s degree in entertainment technology from Carnegie Mellon University in 2013. is truly an immersive two-day story that you and all of the other passengers play a part in the outcome of this particular journey. It’s part immersive theater, part attraction, part place you can stay and sleep and eat and drink.

Courtesy of Matt Stroshane

The Astromech SK-62O droid greets guests in the Atrium of the starcruiser Halcyon in Star Wars: Galactic Starcruiser at the Walt Disney World Resort in Lake Buena Vista, Fla. (Matt Stroshane, photographer)

A Starcruiser stay is a chance to “play ‘Star Wars'” on a grand scale. It also comes with an out-of-this-world price tag.

Starting at $4,809 for two people in a cabin ($6,000 for a family of four), including two breakfasts, two lunches, and two dinners, a Galactic Starcruiser stay is a big swing.

The high cost is related not only to the expense of constructing the framework for the physical experience, but also to the number of people needed to bring it to life, including eight to 12 Equity actors during each stay.

Is it worth it? As with many things, this will be an individual decision. As a lifelong “Star Wars” fan, Galactic Starcruiser exceeded my expectations which had been tempered by uninspired Disney marketing released in recent months. In all honesty, it’s hard to fully describe without giving away the story, which I’ll try to avoid here.

The look of Starcruiser truly resembles “Star Wars” but in a premium style only briefly seen in the movies (Dryden Vos’s yacht in “Solo: A Star Wars Story”, Canto Bight’s casino in “Star Wars: The Last Jedi”).

“We took a step back and said, ‘What does the luxury, high-end ‘Star Wars’ look like in a Starcruiser? “, said Bryce Schulte, interior designer at Walt Disney Imagineering and artistic director of the project on Galactic Starcruiser. “We really created a beautiful interior design language for Chandrila Star Line and the Halcyon Starcruiser that customers will be able to look at , see, touch and sleep.”

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Rob Owen | For the Tribune-Revue

Standard staterooms include one queen bed and two bunk beds at Star Wars: Galactic Starcruiser at Walt Disney World.

The cabins have a “window” that looks out into space (spaceships pass by frequently), a queen bed, and two bunk beds.

Disney’s often impressive attention to detail is second to none at Starcruiser, from the branding for Chandrila Star Line that’s consistent throughout the ship to the labeled box that contains a “thermal blower” (dry -hair) in the cabin bathroom.

Perhaps the biggest obstacle to getting into the swing of playing with the story that unfolds during a Galactic Starcruiser stay is interacting with the actors who play the main characters – the blue-skinned Captain Ryola Keevan; cruise director Lenka Mok, Twi’lek singer Gaya, First Order Lieutenant Harman Croy – because we’re used to just watching characters, whether on stage at the Benedum Center or at Disney Studios’ “Beauty and the Beast” theme park show, no join their story.

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Rob Owen | For the Tribune-Revue

Ouannii and Gaya watch as guests gather in the Star Wars: Galactic Starcruiser atrium at Walt Disney World.

But at Galactic Starcruiser, guests are rewarded for talking to these characters and being drawn into the story, which takes place between “The Last Jedi” and “Rise of Skywalker.” A guest asked Lieutenant Croy if he had met Darth Vader. Croy, offended, retorted: “I think I’m a little young for that!”

“Just like in life, the more time we spend together, the more we connect,” said Cory Rouse, Creative Director of Walt Disney Imagineering. “It’s OK to connect. It’s OK to go further. The more you invest in it, the more you will get out of it. »

In addition to the professional actors, the rest of the Starcruiser crew – what you would typically think of as front desk staff, restaurant servers, etc. . They’re happy to share that with guests in much more in-depth monologues than the people stationed at the Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge cash registers at Disney Studios, who often seem to come from the same fishing village of Batuu.

Stephen Lim, guest experience manager for Starcruiser, notes that Starcruiser’s service staff are trained in many areas, from passenger services (front desk) to gift shop, restaurant and organization. activity in the atrium, where much of the story takes place.

“It creates connections in every part of the ship,” Lim said. “We really talked to our crew members about creating a culture where our passengers feel known.”

The backstory created for Galactic Starcruiser is that this ship, the Halcyon, has been in service for 275 years – Princess Leia and Han Solo honeymooned on board in a bit of retroactive Disney-run continuity – but the Halcyon was recently renovated. Keevan and Mok welcome passengers aboard on the first afternoon of the guests’ stay, then the First Order arrives and the story takes flight. Its themes of perseverance and collaboration resonate — especially in a partisan-divided America — in a way that elicits emotions the way “Star Wars” at its best can (think: The Mandalorian’s relationship with Grogu) before turning into a bit of both sides-ism during the story finale, the second and final night of the experiment.

Guests use “datapads” (initially provided; once technical issues are resolved, guests will need to use their own phone, one for each member of their party if they want to play individually) and the Play Disney app to keep track of where they are have to be (lightsaber training; bridge ops training, which is basically playing video games) and when. And they receive communications from the characters with questions that send them on missions (to the ship’s dark engineering room or to unlock the ship’s hold or brig) and on different story paths.

Deshmane worked as a narrative system designer on Starcruiser.

“You think about this connected story, all these pieces that fit together – how the conversation you have with a live-action character continues on your datapad – and the choices you make and the consequences they have . I was working on a lot of the game logic that brings this to life,” explained Deshmane, who before Disney worked in Pittsburgh at Schell Games, including the refresh of the Idlewild trolley ride (“Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood” is became “Daniel Tiger’s Neighborhood”) which debuted in 2015. “I played a lot of pretend as a kid – Fred Rogers taught me well – and this, to me, is the ultimate version of that. You are completely immersed in this story. The things you do actually impact the results you see.

In addition to questions and answers on the datapad, guests can also interact with D3-O9, an artificial intelligence that can be summoned by pressing a button in Starcruiser cabins. I expected it to be simple AI from Alexa, but D3-O9, a computer-animated droid that appears on a cabin screen, was more responsive and understood more than I expected, asking sometimes my 11 year old open-ended questions and not just questions with yes/no answers.

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Rob Owen | For the Tribune-Revue

It sounds alien, but it’s really just avocado toast that’s served at Star Wars: Galactic Starcruiser at Walt Disney World.

The story continues during the first night’s dinner in the Crown of Corelia dining room where futuristic meals are served. These are not theme park fare, but three-course gourmet dinners (with breakfast and lunch buffets) designed to look alien, from blue glazed Felucian shrimp (shrimp cocktail) to whole grain green pear toast (avocado toast).

Brian Piasecki, culinary director of Walt Disney World, said the goal was to put a spin on common food items. For the avocado toast, Piasecki uses a spiral mold typically used for pastries — a mousse or frozen gelato — on a savory item.

“It plays with your head a little bit, and it makes the avocado toast look fancy and different, kinda unique,” ​​he said.

That aptly describes the whole Galactic Starcruiser experience where a race of two and a half days and two busy nights passes like a jump into hyperspace.

“We designed this with the complexities of life in mind,” Disney Imagineering’s Rouse said, noting that no guest is likely to see every detail of the story unfold. “Things continue even if you don’t watch it. It’s not like a movie. In a film, I can see everything. This idea of ​​continuous momentum means that things continue to unfold and things go deeper and deeper. You may be on a (story) track, but there are other paths going on that can impact the overall adventure.

You can reach TV editor Rob Owen at [email protected] or 412-380-8559. Follow Rob on Twitter or facebook. Ask questions about TV via email or phone. Please include your first name and location.

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