Saturday, May 20, 2023

Star Wars Galactic Starcruiser to Close September 30


In a somewhat surprising move, Disney announced today that the Star Wars Galactic Starcruiser is taking its "final voyage" this coming September 28-30, 2023.  This post will discuss what happened, why it's happening and what it might mean for future projects.

This blog didn't talk all that much about the Starcruiser for two reasons - one, this is WDW-centric blog, largely focused on the parks, and this technically doesn't qualify.  And two, we never had the opportunity to experience it firsthand, so there was no sort of "review" that could be done that would be reflective of our own personal feelings.

If you didn't know, I'll try to briefly summarize was the Galactic Starcruiser is (and isn't).  For many casual fans, this is largely known as the "Star Wars hotel", which is only somewhat accurate (and one of the problems with guest expectations versus reality).  It's more like a cruise to nowhere (except outer space!) with a largely fixed itinerary, specific "voyage" dates and cabins far more reminiscent of cruise ship spaces instead of luxury rooms.

The experience is largely a two day LARP-fest (that's live action role playing, for you non-nerds), where you are encouraged to dress in Star Wars-appropriate clothing and interact with a ton of (by all accounts very good) cast members who play people you would meet on your journey.  You did get the opportunity to take a special "transport" to Hollywood Studios to continue your themed adventures in Galaxy's Edge but otherwise this experience was largely park-free.  As always, Disney Tourist Blog did a great job reviewing this when it first opened - read that piece if you want more details.  

Given that this post and the related news is about the closing of this experience, I think you can guess how things have gone.  The Starcruiser opened on March 1, 2022, meaning it will only have been in operation for nineteen total months before closing for good (and while in Disney terms, "for good" isn't necessarily true, it's hard to believe that this experience will ever reopen in the form that it has existed in up until now).  Given the reported $2 billion price tag, this has to be seen as a major failure for Disney.

The more important question is why did it fail, and what that might mean for future large scale projects such as this.  From before it even opened, there were many critics in the Disney community.  One of the major issues people had was the high cost.  A two person stay for two nights ran around $5,000, and a four person room (say, with your kids) was at least $6,000.  The cost of a Disney vacation in general is obviously not cheap, but the premium on this short experience made it cost prohibitive for many.

One of the related problems here is that people (especially families) who wanted to experience the Starcruiser would be the same demographic that wanted to spend a week at the parks.  And for roughly the same cost, they would largely choose that second option.  To try to combine both the Starcruiser and, say, another two or three days at the parks was still much more expensive than a normal park trip.  And if they were doing it instead of the parks, it likely wasn't worth it to pay for airfare to Florida for a two night experience.  

This was a tough sell for many, and Disney recognized this.  It was marketed as an exclusive experience - the Starcruiser only had around 100 rooms in total, way fewer than any Disney resort, even a luxury one.  Disney knew that the appeal was limited, which was really both a feature and a bug - this was a niche experience that not everyone was going to enjoy.  I suspect Disney counted on strong word of mouth and FOMO from the millions of Star Wars fans around the world, which would lead to continued bookings.  Instead, the demand fizzled rather quickly, and Disney resorted to offering discounts on the experience.  I suspect these didn't move the needle much, given the news.

The nature of the experience was probably not for everyone anyway, even if they were already Star Wars fans.  The interactive elements probably made a lot of introverts uncomfortable - think the interrogation section of Rise of the Resistance ratcheted up many degrees.  That would limit the pool of potential visitors even more, once word spread of what the experience actually entailed.  And that's with most of the reviews being positive!

Star Wars: Galaxy's Edge in Hollywood Studios is a big success, especially Rise of the Resistance, which still draws the largest crowds on property most days.  But people who like Galaxy's Edge get their Star Wars fill by walking around the shops, seeing the little details placed throughout the land and doing upcharge experiences like making a droid or a lightsaber.  In other words, the land is already so well themed that many people don't feel the need to spend an additional $5,000 and up for an even more detailed Star Wars experience.

One of the most interesting features of the Starcruiser was that there were no real windows to the outside world.  Both the rooms and shared spaces instead featured projections of outer space that made it appear you had gone to another world.  But Space 220 at Epcot provides a similar experience in that regard, and while getting a reservation there is difficult, it certainly costs less than two nights in this "hotel."

Between the cost, the Star Wars saturation (or burnout, depending on your perspective) and the niche market, it isn't incredibly surprising that this didn't work in the long run.  Without experiencing it personally, I'm still sad to see it go, mostly because it was a big swing from Imagineering, and the level of thought and detail that went into it is classic Disney.  I can't find all the good Walt quotes now, but there are plenty about failing repeatedly in order to succeed.

My biggest worry though is that this is not how Disney upper management really feels.  Imagineering was given a long leash to create something incredible here and it ultimately did not succeed.  Will Disney be willing to allow them to take another similar shot?  A new theme park ride is one thing (and often necessary) but what about a wholly unique experience like this, with such a hefty price tag?  I'm concerned that this was their one shot, and it will continue to be pointed to as a failure when new and exciting ideas are pitched in the future.

Perhaps I'm not giving Disney (and Bob Iger, in this case) enough credit.  Maybe they'll just take the loss on this one and learn from it, making the next "new thing" even better.  But it's hard to be optimistic about the future of similar projects at this point, and we'll have to wait and see whether this situation impacts further "big swings" that Disney would take.  

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