When reports started trickling in that demand was waning and bookings were soft for Disney World’s Star Wars: Galactic Starcruiser, I thought to myself, “I have a very bad feeling about this.” Sure enough, the theme park resort announced that the pricey, deeply immersive, role-playing experience will take its final excursion in late September.
While the news is not totally unexpected, it is nonetheless surprising. It’s a rare, major misstep for the corporate behemoth.
About Theme Parks is a reader-supported, ad-free publication. To receive new posts and support my work, consider becoming a free, or better yet, paid subscriber. Paid subscriptions are my only source of revenue here.
The tricked-out hotel opened a little more than a year ago to great fanfare. I was fortunate to have booked passage and found the three-day, two-night experience, which has elements of an interplanetary cruise ship, immersive theater, and a live-action, role-playing game, mighty impressive. Sure, guests are treated to sumptuous meals and engaging entertainment steeped in the Star Wars canon. But it is so much more than that.
Passengers aboard the Halcyon starcrusier are purportedly taking a pleasant, galactic vacation, but quickly find themselves enmeshed in a covert showdown between the Resistance and the nefarious First Order. They can establish alliances, learn how to operate the ship’s navigation and defense systems, explore the engine room, receive lightsaber training, and otherwise become a star in a real-life(ish) Star Wars saga. The experience is tightly integrated with a visit to the planet Batuu, aka Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge at Disney’s Hollywood Studios. Piloting the Millennium Falcon and being imprisoned on a Star Destroyer at Rise of the Resistance take on extra import, as guests’ actions there have consequences when they return to the Halcyon. It is an epic experience that features an especially wonderful group of cast members who inhabit the characters’ roles with panache.
So, what went wrong? Much has been made about the prohibitive cost of the Galactic Starcruiser. A family of four has to cough up about $6,000, or $750 per person, per night for a room. That’s not chump change. It would seem the subset of folks who have both the financial means and a love of the Star Wars universe so abiding that they would commit to the intense experience couldn’t be all that large. Then again, the hotel only has 100 rooms and accommodates a mere 350 guests for each cruise. One would think that Disney must have done its due diligence and crunched the numbers. Could the number-crunchers have made a colossal error?
If it’s a case of supply and demand, couldn’t the company tweak the experience to make it more affordable (thereby increasing demand)? Perhaps, but with so few rooms, it’s likely there isn’t a way to bring the price down and generate enough revenue to make it feasible.
Parsing the statement that Disney released about the closure may provide more clues about why it is pulling the plug.
“This premium, boutique experience gave us the opportunity to try new things on a smaller scale of 100 rooms, and as we prepare for its final voyage, we will take what we’ve learned to create future experiences that can reach more of our guests and fans.”
Let’s put that through the Aurebesh translator. Disney is an acknowledged master of welcoming enormous masses of people to its parks. Prior to the pandemic, some 57,000 guests visited the Magic Kingdom alone on an average day. There are over 36,000 hotel rooms across the Florida theme park resort. Maybe The Mouse is acknowledging that it may not be a master of doing things on a small scale. Or that it really doesn’t want to be in that business.
Perhaps–and I am totally spitballing here–the Star Wars hotel was championed by ousted Disney CEO Bob Chapek in spite of warnings from the number crunchers. Sometimes, leaders of creative companies go with their gut instincts rather than focus groups and data research. Walt Disney, after all, was derided for his harebrained idea, Disneyland. Maybe the attraction was never really embraced by former and returning CEO Bob Iger. Now that he’s back captaining the ship, Iger might be axing the vanity project to help bring closure to the Chapek era.
There is no word about what may become of the Galactic Starcruiser building or any of its features. Maybe Florida Governor Ron DeSantis, who is locked in a protracted and heated battle with the Walt Disney company, might want to repurpose the windowless structure, with its brutalist architecture, small
cells rooms, central cafeteria, and secure yard, as a prison.
Nona is a no-go
On the same day that it decommissioned the Starcrusier, Disney announced that it was canceling its Lake Nona Town Center employee campus in Florida and would no longer be requiring Imagineers and other employees based in California to relocate to the Sunshine State. The project, which was another one of Chapek’s initiatives, was met with disdain by many employees. According to the New York Times, Iger was not a fan of the controversial campus.
But the cancelation of the project can also be traced to the Disney/DeSantis feud, the paper says. Pegged at more than $1 billion, ending construction of the campus and the hundreds of employees (and their tax dollars) it would have brought to the state shows the anti-woke crusader that the company is playing hardball.
Josh D’Amaro, chairman of Disney parks, experiences, and products, hinted that more could be at stake in an email to employees. He said “changing business conditions” influenced the decision to halt construction at Lake Nona. D’Amaro then noted that the company plans to spend $17 billion and generate 13,000 jobs over the next ten years at Disney World, but added, “I hope we’re able to,” as a not-so-veiled threat to the combative gov.
Here’s hoping there’s some resolution–and soon–to this high-stakes battle. I’d much rather focus on what that $17 billion could buy rather than whether or not it will even be spent.
You know the drill. Between the Galactic Starcruiser closing and the Lake Nona shelving, there is plenty to unpack. Please weigh in with your thoughts.
I called this back on a CoasterRadio Coastradamus prediction show, though I admit it was a pretty safe prediction even then. I think we all had a feeling that it may be unsustainable. I am a bit surprised, however, that they didn't just repurpose it into a more traditional themed hotel and drop the rates. Maybe that's still in the cards, who knows.
I wonder if the focus was more Luke, Han, Leah, original trilogy era, if things would’ve been different. Then tie it into what Filoni is doing.