The Star Wars: Galactic Starcruiser at Walt Disney World has sailed its final voyage. The immersive experience said goodbye to guests for the final time on September 30, 2023 after less than two years of operation.
The two-night, three-day experience invited guests to live out a Star Wars story in a unique blend of storytelling and roleplaying. Guests were encouraged to create their own unique Star Wars identity and get involved directly with the unfolding story.
Fans of the Galactic Starcruiser took to social media to express their sadness about the closure. There’s been tearful goodbyes, questions about what went wrong, and lots of speculation about what Disney will do with the 100-room building.
How did we get to this point?
Problems Before Opening
The Star Wars: Galactic Starcruiser faced a ton of adversity long before it opened. Disney struggled to explain the concept from the very beginning. The marketing surrounding the experience ranged from confusing to cringey, leading to Disney to pull one of its early promotional videos due to online backlash.
Many couldn’t understand how the Galactic Starcruiser was any different than a hotel themed to Star Wars. That’s a big problem when the experience carries a large price that dwarfs deluxe resorts. With the Galactic Starcruiser lacking traditional resort amenities (like a pool), if guests didn’t understand what made the building special there was zero chance they’d buy in. Guests struggled to see the value proposition.
But, even if Disney could have clearly explained what the Galactic Starcruiser was, the concept was targeted at such a narrow audience that it was always destined to fail. The pool of potential visitors who want to roleplay, love Star Wars (specifically the new trilogy), and have the discretionary money Disney demanded is extremely small. A Venn diagram exercise should have forced Disney to rethink their plans before breaking ground.
It was always an unlikely needle to thread. Even repeat guests, of which there were quite a few, weren’t enough to prop up the small pool of interested guests.
Did the Galactic Starcruiser Promise Too Much?
Disney tried something brand new when they developed the Galactic Starcruiser concept. The overall idea behind guests interacting with characters and becoming apart of a Star Wars story was first pitched/announced for the Galaxy’s Edge lands at Disneyland and Walt Disney World. But, Disney elected to move many of those ideas behind a paywall at the Galactic Starcruiser.
A large portion of the Galactic Starcruiser experience relied on an app. Guests interacted with the app to receive communications and missions from characters who were around the ship. As a guest made connections, or completed various tasks, they’d receive updated messages within the app. There’s a lot of moving parts going on from a technical perspective behind the scenes to keep everything moving. Maybe too many moving parts. And maybe too much reliance on a phone – just like the rest of Disney.
The Galactic Starcruiser also suffered from a storyline that guests couldn’t really influence. That’s despite Disney stating “your choices will matter” when promoting the experience. While it was possible to join the dark side and help the First Order, in the end the First Order always loses. There’s understandably a suspension of disbelief needed on the Galactic Starcruiser, but that becomes increasingly more difficult once it’s clear the story will always play out the same way.
Disney could’ve created new storylines for the Galactic Starcruiser. Apparently it was the plan to develop new stories and even holiday events. But, considering how massive we heard the costs were to develop the original story, it’s not surprising Disney didn’t pursue that idea further.
While Disney made big promises, there was a large amount of criticism over the end product’s theming. Some knocked the ship’s design for not feeling like Star Wars. Others noted objective problems such as the Crown of Corellia Dining Room lacking a true identity (and maybe resembling a cafeteria). The hype Disney tried to build combined with the price produced wild expectations that could never be fulfilled.
Overall, the Galactic Starcruiser was an experience where guests got more as they put more into it. It rewarded exploring and talking to everyone. But, the more hands-on experiences such as lightsaber training and flying the ship fell more flat and distant from Disney’s promises. Cast members, as always, stole the show.
Money – A Galactic Problem
Money was the root of the Galactic Starcruiser’s demise. The cost of a voyage coming in around $5,000 for a room (or more) for a two-night experience stole the headlines as soon as it was announced. Disney struggled to explain the value proposition as much as they struggled to explain what the experience was.
Critics of the Galactic Starcruiser are quick to point to Disney’s greed and the big price as why the project failed. That cynical take is misguided and misses the enormous cost it took to both build the Galactic Starcruiser and keep it running. Disney priced the Galactic Starcruiser high because the cost to run it was just as high.
Consider that while Disney did roll out some select discounts, they never dropped the overall price for a voyage. This would’ve been the next logical step to take long before closing the doors entirely, but it wasn’t feasible. They would’ve dropped the price if they could. Dropping the price would force Disney to alter and reduce the experience, and that would mostly render it null and void.
The financial problems should’ve been spotted long before the Galactic Starcruiser opened. Early planning should’ve noticed the necessary price required to keep the doors open wasn’t sustainable. There’s a lot of blame to go around, but the bulk of finger-pointing should start with anyone who thought the Galactic Starcruiser could work at a price point that had to be so high just to turn a profit.
An Unfortunate End
We’re not celebrating the demise of the Galactic Starcruiser. In fact, we’re sad it didn’t work. The vast majority of reviews from guests were positive. The experience developed a passionate following of guests who made multiple repeat visits. We’ve even seen guests with Halcyon tattoos!
The Galactic Starcruiser reportedly had the highest percentage of favorable guest reviews of any Disney property. Regarding the big price tag, most guests felt they got a good value for what they paid. Few who actually went on the Galactic Starcruiser left mad at the price or the experience.
We applaud Disney for trying something new and ambitious, and we hope the lessons learned here are the correct ones. Disney needs to try innovative things or risk becoming stale. However, they need to take more calculated swings that better understand what their target market really wants and can afford. The problems were obvious before the Galactic Starcruiser opened. How did Disney fail to recognize them?
More importantly, Disney needs to avoid the urge to play it too safe now that the Galactic Starcruiser has closed. They also need to stop removing the unique theming from their resorts, though that’s an argument for a different day.
What’s Next for the Galactic Starcruiser Building?
Disney is taking a big tax break by closing the Galactic Starcruiser through accelerated depreciation. Immediately, the only purpose the building will serve is to save Disney money. The future for the building and the area beyond that is less clear.
The building can’t be easily repurposed into a traditional Star Wars hotel despite a loud portion of the Disney community believing it’s possible. The building is lacking many basic hotel amenities, and would require a lot of costly modifications and additions before it could operate as a regular hotel.
Supposedly, Disney has a plan. Disney Parks Chairman Josh D’Amaro said in June 2023 that “something will happen” with the Galactic Starcruiser building. D’Amaro didn’t provide any hints or clues as to what that means.
The Star Wars: Galactic Starcruiser will go down as a fascinating piece of Disney history. Despite its ambition, it may ultimately define modern Disney’s misguided approach at its parks and resorts.