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Welcome to this week in Theme Park News! Given that I, your ringmaster in the circus that is themed entertainment news, spent half the week in Florida's newest getaway and the other half talking about it, we're going to go all in and tell you what it's really like within Disney's new boundary-pushing creation. From virtual gaming to emergency exits to that visit to Batuu, here's the biggest news of the past week by way of a spaceship that has at long last welcomed its first passengers...
STAR WARS: THE OVERNIGHTER
This time last week, I wasn't in Florida on a Walt Disney World work trip — I was in make-believe space as dreamt up by the parent company of a famed film franchise. From days scurrying around an indoor "ship" — that, in reality, is merely a building — to nights cozied up on a top bunk during last week's press preview of Star Wars: Galactic Starcruiser, I got to see it all first-hand, witnessing Disney's first public display of their unabashedly unique entertainment concept.
Galactic Starcruiser is a cruise on land. A spaceship in design, not function. An all-inclusive vacation that transports you far from home and nowhere at all. But, most of all, it's a chaotic delight, sitting at the intersection of immersive theater, video gameplay and themed entertainment, a livable triumph that somewhat unfathomably exists.
Things like this — a cruise on land housed entirely within the world of a single film franchise — don't just happen, they take grit, and I shudder to think how much work it took to push this across the finish line. But boy, do I remain thankful it exists.
Ever wondered what exactly it is like to spend 45 hours in fake space? Two nights in Florida merely pretending to be on another planet? You're about to find out.
A TYPICAL DAY IN SPACE
A launch day aboard Starcruiser goes like this. You'll pull up to the concrete bunker terminal and be whisked away by helpful staff to a "launch pod" — it's an elevator with a well-executed effect — before emerging into the atrium of Chandrila Star Line's Halcyon, the ship you'll be calling home for the next two nights.
First stop, for me at least, was lunch — one of the trip's four self-serve meals of different small plates of bubble waffle grilled cheese, crayfish stew and sweet bread filled with a little surprise, all of which nestled perfectly inside a segmented and delightfully space-y cafeteria tray.
All guests undergo a few key experiences — ship muster, at the start of the "sailing"; bridge training, where passengers use arcade-like gameplay to learn how to defend the ship; and lightsaber training, to practice one's skills. There's also a grand finale where — spoiler alert! — the light and dark sides face off as familiar characters from the Star Wars sequel trilogy take to the atrium's upper deck to engage in a lightsaber battle, complete with a real life force pull, for the entire ship to see.
Yet, beyond that, everyone's experience has the potential to be different, and will vary. Depending on who you speak to, which conversations you partake in within the Play Disney Parks App Datapad — which is essential to Starcruiser's success — or even which dinner seating you choose, your "story" can shift. Complete a task for the cruise captain or a mysterious music manager on board? You'll see your itinerary shift before your eyes, putting you on a path to accomplish future activities. There is plenty of action happening aboard, but it may not always be reflected in your calendar — so only some folks will be privy to what you've got ahead.
GALACTIC STARCRUISER'S DESIGN IS EXCEPTIONAL
Images don't do the cabin justice, which in actuality is roomy and brilliantly designed. Swapping windows for viewports out onto "space" that have a nifty mechanical closure, every detail is meticulous, even the emergency exit hatch within the room that remains perfectly in theme.
The atrium is a marvel, as is Sublight Lounge, which puts Oga's Cantina to shame, while every detail from stair railings to elevator interiors reinforce the idea that, yes, you are inside a ship…even though you very much are not.
It's not flawless — the lighting, particularly in the Crown of Corellia dining room, is tragic given how photogenic each dish is, and cabin amenities could be nicer given the "luxury starcruiser" theme — but overall, it made being inside a place for such a long stretch feel so welcoming.
I've gotten many questions about how claustrophobic it feel, and the answer is not one bit. I was actually looking forward to feeling a little loopy, but it never came — instead, my stowaway and I were more so bowled over by a ceaseless form of exhaustion, likely from the tightly-scheduled itineraries throughout the day. Still, I absolutely could have stayed on board longer, and not just because the journey moved at a rapid pace. (Not like I was the last one off the ship…or anything…!)
SMALL TOUCHES MADE THE ENTIRE EXPERIENCE BELIEVABLE
Yes, the scale of the spaces sold the story, but I found myself more wowed by the thoughtful details. I already knew that when we jump to hyperspace, triggered by bridge training happening at the helm, you'd see it reflected in each "viewport" window on the ship, but nothing could have prepared me for the glee of seeing it happen in real time while inside my cabin stateroom.
Holo-sabacc, too, is incredible. Despite only having four seats, everyone seems to have gotten a turn at the table over the duration of the sailing, a perfect all-ages activity while sitting at the sublime Sublight Lounge enjoying a galactic cocktail. (Think: video poker with a hologram effect. It's bliss.)
IT DOESN'T ENTIRELY FIX GALAXY'S EDGE'S MISTAKES
One of the biggest flaws in the execution of the Star Wars: Galaxy's Edge at Walt Disney World and Disneyland is the lack of alien beings and droids co-existing in the theme park land. Each shop has its own proprietor and backstory — Zabaka the Toydarian sells toys, Bina runs the Creature Stall — yet all we see are human faces staring back at us while making transactions. (The sole exception to this is Dok-Ondar within his Den of Antiquities, but there isn't much functionality to interact with him directly.)
Galactic Starcruiser improves upon the issue with the addition of Ouannii, a Huttese-speaking Rodian musician, but with other main characters transforming themselves by way of painted faces and headpieces (albeit well-executed), the interactions still feel distinctly Earth-bound.
Add, too, that there is but a singular droid, SK-62O, moving throughout the common spaces, and we're back at the core issue. Is this really Star Wars if you look around and see human-presenting faces? Is it really believable if the only physically active droid in the land is an R2-D2 in the gift shop and SK-62O here? Not quite. (There's an in-room logistics droid, D3-O9, who appears on screen, but it's unclear if it will be used frequently beyond a "limited test period.")
There's one thing I thought would be an issue that, in actuality, wasn't at all. I had anticipated the lore of the original trilogy might hang heavy over the experience, since we're not really seeing any film characters — Rey, Kylo Ren, Chewbacca — we haven't already experienced in Galaxy's Edge itself, but it wasn't a problem. Since passengers have the ability to spend such face-to-face time protecting Chewy or assisting Rey, it ups the ante to a level that isn't quite reachable within the theme park land, and excels upon pre-existing offerings.
THAT TRIP TO BATUU IS DIFFERENT, BUT NOT IN THE WAY YOU'D EXPECT
Emerging out into Disney's Hollywood Studios isn't a new sensation for anyone who's visited theme parks as much as I have, but this visit was unlike anything else. Maybe it's the mental shift from being in a wholly themed environment overnight, perhaps it's the seamless arrival that plops you directly into the land without the crowds, buses and the ticket-takers at the front gate, but you will walk into Batuu feeling different. (And with more ownership over the land, thanks to that passenger-exclusive Halcyon pin affixed to your outfit.)
With a transport vehicle back to the hotel directly from the land, it's easier to come and go form Batuu than it has been for any Disney World park…ever, really, but I didn't anticipate how nice it would be to have cast members on hand to assist with anything throughout your day.
That's distinctly different from what I'd long assumed would happen while there — that Starcruiser guests would interact with the land's attractions, Rise of the Resistance and Millennium Falcon: Smugglers Run, on a deeper level, but participating in the rides really only clocked within the datapad in a superficial way, meaning that long-touted promise that your reputation would follow you throughout the land never quite came to fruition.
The game interactivity isn't drastically different beyond the Play Disney Parks App functionality within the land already, but there are a few small surprises for guests visiting from the ship — and the activities you do partake in will affect what happens later that evening back on board.
YES, IT'S A CRUISE. NO, IT DOESN'T LEAVE LAND
I used to think the lingo was just heightened PR speak, clunkily existing within the boundaries of backstory that inform the design, aesthetic and activities of the space. After temporarily living here — on board Chandrila Star Line's Halcyon ship — it's the only way to possibly explain the heightened reality one exists within on board. Eating whatever food you want, including late-night bar snacks, because it's all complimentary? Cruise. Housekeeping that goes above and beyond to leave fun surprises behind, like your Grogu onesie laid out on the bed? Cruise. Not opening your e-mail for two days, living in an interior room with no view of the sun and becoming instantly close with the servers and employees aboard? Cruise, cruise, cruise. It takes a suspension of belief to make it a reality, but with so much attention to detail throughout the "hotel", it really drives the concept home. This is a cruise on land, a spaceship in the sky, a transportive vehicle that moves you without actually moving.
LINKS! LINKS! LINKS!
- Hooray! Disneyland has announced the return of nighttime entertainment and it couldn't come soon enough. Main Street Electrical Parade, Disneyland Forever fireworks and World of Color will return on April 22, 2022, while Fantasmic will return to Disneyland on May 28.
- Those theme park reservations at Disneyland and Disney World? Looks like they're here to stay.
- Hersheypark is getting two new Jolly Ranchers-themed attractions this summer.