Yesterday’s news that Disney will be closing the Galactic Starcruiser (aka the Halcyon, aka the Star Wars Hotel) in September absolutely broke my heart. Because I haven’t been yet! I’ve wanted to go so much and was hoping to plan a trip for February.
Unfortunately, while this news is terribly sad, it’s also not wholly unexpected. The Starcruiser has had trouble ever since it opened. The high price point, unusual conceit, and level of fannish commitment required for full enjoyment seem to have kept it operating at low capacity.
So, last night as I was nursing my sadness about probably never getting to go, I started thinking…
If I were going to design a Star Wars hotel for Disney World, one that might stand a better chance of succeeding… what would I do?
I freely acknowledge that I know nothing about hotel operations, so everything I’m going to say here is pure thought experiment and speculation. Disney’s also never been explicit (at least that I’ve seen) about why the Starcruiser was so much more expensive to operate than its other properties, so I’m just guessing at what problems need solving.
I am fairly familiar with Disney Parks and their hotels in general, though. Not at the level of the influencers who go all the time, certainly, but I visit regularly, I watch those influencers, and I read a lot of the behind-the-scenes stuff that makes it online. This does not make me an expert. I’m being really clear about that because I don’t want anyone thinking I’m claiming to be.
But what I am an expert in? Is immersive entertainment. That’s actually my day job now. I’ve learned a lot about balancing the environment with the theatre of the imagination — and practicality with idealism in storytelling. I can also look at what patterns WDW hotels have used before — what things seem to work for them, as determined by the people who really are experts.
So, blending experience and observation, here’s my thought experiment on if I were designing a Star Wars hotel for Disney World:
From where I’m standing, these would seem to be the major things that need to work for an immersive Star Wars hotel to be both sustainable and worth the effort:
The price point.
Getting people in.
The balance of immersion and entertainment offerings with the practicalities of people on vacation.
Telling a coherent story.
So these are the things I’m going to think about when imagining an attractive vacation destination.
A new premise -- and a new structure to go with it
I suspect that one of the Starcruiser’s big failure points is its initial premise: that you are on a cruise, just in the stars rather than on water.
It’s a neat idea! And many people have said it works once you’re there -- but getting people there is clearly part of the problem. Many folks who might have been interested in a Star Wars hotel heard “but you’re basically locked in for 60 hours, into a cinder block with no windows” and balked. (That’s exaggerating the reality of the experience, since I don’t think anyone could actually stop you from leaving the hotel, and there’s an outing to Batuu -- but still, I think that’s what many people heard when examining the premise). It seems restrictive, which isn’t what most people want when they’re booking a Disney World vacation.
So that basic concept would need to change if we want to appeal to a wider set of potential customers.
Fortunately, we have some models to work from.
Many WDW hotels aren’t single buildings. Many of them have a central hub and then little pods of bungalows or smaller motel-style buildings -- and sometimes, those areas will vary in their theming.
A Star Wars “hotel” should implement that kind of design, with a central hub that’s your spaceport, and different pods representing different planets.
Those different pods could allow Disney to offer different experiences and, critically, different price points. Some more basic lodgings could be geared to the high end of Value / low end of Moderate resort pricing, while the fancier locations or those with more immersive elements could be higher.
Different pods would also encourage repeat visits, something else that seems to have been a problem with the Starcruiser. But you shouldn’t have to be staying in a pod to visit it -- once you’re checked in at the spaceport, you can go anywhere within the complex.
Here’s where my nerdery gets to shine. If someone said to me, “Hey, I need a plan for just such a hotel right now,” here’s what I could spin out really fast:
Give it a cool name and an identity of its own, but this is the central hub -- the check-in lobby, main restaurants, and some large central features where you could incorporate some of the elements from the Starcruiser.
The spaceport is also where you fix part of the challenge of telling a coherent story: the timeline.
The timeline has been an issue for Disney Parks for a while. Even back before Galaxy’s Edge, Hollywood Studios had to balance the prequel and original trilogy eras. But often they just… let it slide. Darth Vader shows up during Jedi training? Sure. Why not? Mash-up the planets used in Star Tours? Sure, awesome. And gods know the Hyperspace Hoopla never gave a single damn about continuity.
Because the thing is, people visiting -- especially kids -- want to see the characters they love. They want Darth Vader and Chewbacca and Rey and BB-8 and Amidala and Grogu.
Believe me, I sympathize with wanting to tell one story, at one point in time. I love Batuu and its story. I read the tie-in novels. I adore it.
But for something this ambitious to be sustainable, it has to be more flexible. It has to meet the expectations of the people who come wanting to see their faves -- in the same way that all the Princesses can share a hall, despite coming from wildly different times and worlds. The magic of Disney can allow for some handwaving.
And this is, honestly, an easy worldbuilding fix. Slap some signs up in the spaceport warning that “this sector of space is currently experiencing temporal instability; we apologize for any inconvenience or displacement”.
Conceit and Theming: The visual design here can borrow a lot from what I’ve seen of the Starcruiser, I think, but I’d love to go further with making it feel like a bustling place. Lots of travel ads for different planets as well as products that would exist within the world. Propaganda posters for the Empire / Rebellion / First Order / Resistance. I’d also want lots of audio design here, so it feels like you’re hearing ships lift off and arrive as you go through.
Restaurants! Maybe a food court that features stations for different planets and their local delicacies.
Virtual games like the Batuu Bounty Hunters, centralized here but maybe sending you on “missions” to different planets, encouraging folks to run around to different areas of the hotel complex. This is how you build in more immersion for the folks who want it.
Different “portals” to get you to the different pods. You could do something fancy here with how people physically move - a tram or contained moving walkways - but if we’re keeping it simpler and more economical, I think there could be neat design behind just plain sidewalks, designed to look like hyperspace lanes.
Hotel staff stay in-character, as they do in Batuu.
Gift shop: Maybe it breaks the immersion a little, but -- it would be fun to have a gift shop that sold more of the cosplay-esque clothing options that you get in Batuu and sell more of the Star Wars books! Especially since you could easily feature the books that connect to the pod locations.
A movie theatre! Just continually showing Star Wars movies and television.
Lots of character meet-and-greets. Literally whoever you want on rotation. Temporal instability!
Go the extra parsec: This is where I suggest things that could really go above and beyond with the immersion -- maybe not things you’d plan for on day one, but things you could leave yourself space for, once the hotel’s doing well.
For the spaceport: Give this building some spaces that are, essentially, black box theatres -- places where you could easily change out the decor and scenery, allowing them to take on different vibes over time. Then, you can swap in new shows and entertainment, character meet-and-greets, digital experiences, Jedi training, whatever. But it stays flexible and fresh, encouraging repeat visits even to the “boring lobby” part of the hotel complex.
Endor / Kashyyyk
Conceit and Theming: One or two pods themed around forest adventures. This is your most kid-friendly area. Small building clusters, like in Port Orleans Riverside, but designed to look like they’re treehouses! If Endor, this is clearly an Ewok village.
An absolutely epic playground (Who else remembers the Honey, I Shrunk the Kids: Movie Set Adventure from then-MGM Studios? Like that. Heck, if you’ve still got some of those pieces mothballed, slap some fresh paint on ‘em and stick ‘em back in!). Lots of cargo nets, slides, kid-safe rock-climbing features. Maybe a stormtrooper helmet xylophone in there somewhere.
A good kid-oriented pool with a water slide.
Character meet-and-greets with Chewie, Ewoks, obvy, but maybe also the OT crew in their Endor gear.
Go the extra parsec: Design an immersive element not unlike the Quests I do at camp. Set start times, a one-hour adventure that takes you all around the pod, including to some “secret” locations. Guided by one performer who leads them around and gets them access. A mix of puzzles, physical games, and character encounters.
Conceit and Theming: I know, I know, it’s not a major location. But it could serve a particular need for this hotel complex! The Niamos pod could be a little more sparse and budget-friendly than some of the other sections -- a way to give those of us who love Star Wars but do not love shelling out thousands upon thousands of dollars a feasible option. Simple motel-style section, not a lot of frills, but comfortable and relaxing, and a good jumping-off point for getting into the parks.
Wave pool with a little beach.
Maybe an arcade -- could be fun to do a Star Wars-ified version of the sorts of carnival games you’d see at Boardwalk.
Go the extra parsec: Build in some optional immersive elements like needing to sneak around the shoretroopers to complete a mission.
Conceit and Theming: Tranquil and beautiful, but family-friendly. Here’s where you go luxe and set up your DVC villas. Super luxe. We have so many great examples of Naboo interiors to work with!
Really beautiful pool area with lots of natural features (and a pool bar).
Maybe a higher-end restaurant?
Maybe some higher-end shops with jewelry, fancier clothing.
Padmé Amidala meet-and-greet (and handmaidens! Let’s meet the handmaidens!)
Go the extra parsec: Some artsy activities to embrace Naboo’s reputation as a cultural center. Painting, music, crafts -- easy to do with kids in groups, but something with unique Star Wars flavor.
I’d also really love to figure out a way to bring in a Gungan water/underwater feature, but I can’t think of a practical way to do that. Maybe a basement aquarium of some kind? Or work it into the pool somehow?
Conceit and Theming: I know, I know, it’s not a major location and the only bit we see of it on-screen is a slum. But here’s the thing: Solo did not do a great job with Corellia. In the old EU, Corellia is… well, more balanced than most worlds we see. It’s not a bleak wasteland mono-biosphere; it’s not a haven of the wealthy; it’s not a wilderness. It’s… a planet. Not unlike Earth! It has richer and poorer areas, luxury resorts and backwater towns, industry and agriculture. So this could be an opportunity to build out a new location! I’d go for a hotel in Coronet City’s entertainment district — a fun, fast-paced vibe, something a little more urban-feeling to set it apart from most of the other pods.
This pod could be dialed up or down when it comes to immersion. It could be a little more “normal” to welcome guests who aren’t super-fans… or, you could go hardcore and give it a big story, where Something Is Happening relevant to the galactic war that needs your help, intrepid visitor! Maybe with a tie-in novel. That I write.
Droid depot -- or something like it but instead of building a droid, you’re building a model starship (Corellia’s known for its engineering!)
Han and Chewie meet-and-greets.
Go the extra parsec: Take the concept of Oga’s Cantina and straight-up build a dance club with DJ R-3X spinning the galaxy’s hottest tunes!
Rebel/Resistance Base (Yavin IV / D’Qar / Ajan Kloss)
Conceit and Theming: Me, I’d go with Yavin IV, because the temple look you’d get there is so iconic. This pod would be a more self-contained experience, more similar in concept to the Starcruiser. This is where you get a more stripped-down hotel experience (bedding more like the Starcruiser, bunks, etc) but the most story. Maybe there’s an Imperial/First Order spy that you have to find. Maybe you need to help Han and Chewie with some smuggling. This could have lots of digital missions, tied in to the datapad you use in Batuu.
Features: Lots of interactive virtual games. Lots of character interactions -- OCs and familiar characters. Frankly, all the best parts of Batuu, just more of them.
Go the extra parsec: X-Wing flight simulators. Bring back some of that tech used in the old DisneyQuest, update it for the 21st century, make it a whole thing.
Conceit and Design: Here’s where we go for the glamour, and for an experience perhaps more closely aligned to the original Starcruiser. I’m envisioning this with a feel sort of like Riviera, very sleek and glam. It’d be neat if there was some visual trick that made it look like the building was actually just the top peak of a much larger structure.
Mix of rooms and studios at a lower price point with multi-bedroom villas.
Rooftop bar (obviously). Maybe a rooftop pool?
Here’s where you put a “museum” feature like they’ve had in Hollywood Studios at various points in time and like we see in Andor.
Go the extra parsec: Build in a Jedi temple and do lightsaber training here.
Wrapping It Up
So those are my ideas! I could certainly come up with more planet-themed pods -- and probably will, just for my own mental amusement.
And truly, I think -- with my admitted total lack of hotel expertise -- this could work. It would be a lot to design and build, but a concept like this would have broader appeal, bringing in more visitors and thus generating more income.
It’s less fully immersive, true -- but I think you could still offer the opportunity for immersion for those who want it. The real windows might look out onto Florida, but you could still include fake windows looking out onto CGI-generated locations, especially in the hallways and such. You could build in as many character experiences as you wanted and could afford. Maybe there could be certain weeks where there’s even more of a set story — times that are more of the lock-in experience the Starcruiser offered, but that aren’t the default setting for the resort.
So, hey, Disney Parks, if you’d like to bring me in to help make this vision a reality? I’m an immersive entertainment professional, and my email inbox is always open. There’s more where this came from!
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Great ideas! I wrote off the Disney Star Wars cruiser almost as soon as they said they were building it… and announced the price. Offering a tiered Star Wars universe experience at multiple price points- including “affordable”, TYVM- might have saved them.
This sounds amazing. I've never been to any Disney property, but this would get me there.