Why Did the Star Wars Hotel Fail (Part 2)

Why Did the Star Wars Hotel Fail (Part 2)

In part 1 we took a look at the marketing failure of the Star Wars Galactic Starcruiser.  People had absolutely no idea what the Star Wars Hotel was going to be, which was a LARPing experience, Disney Marketing had no idea how to sell that. So they didn’t. 

Even the name was wrong. It was too long, too convoluted, and told you nothing about it.  Remember when Disney would name stuff Frontierland or Space Mountain?  Back then the attraction had a title that was meant to attract, it was supposed to give you a clue what was there. Not pummel you with brand awareness. Now it’s stuff like: Star Wars: Rise of the Resistance, or Millennium Falcon: Smuggler’s Run. However, Star Tours is just named Star Tours and it feels more like Star Wars than anything Disney has made since they acquired the brand. 

Where did this thing start life anyway?  

Arguably Disney has been providing things like this since Disneyland opened in 1955.  The Princess meet and greets have been doing LARP on a small scale since Disney Parks first opened.  The Adventurers Club was a nightclub at what is now Disney Springs, that was more or less set on the last night of the British Raj, and remains much missed to this day.  

Something like the Star Wars Hotel was first “blue skyed” for a failed project called Beastly Kingdom.  Imagineering never throws away an idea they just put it back on the shelf and bring it out again later. In my humble opinion, the only time this concept could have worked was when Disney was talking to JK Rowling.  A two-night adventure at Hogwarts could have worked.

In 2012 Disney World launched Agent P’s World Showcase Adventure at EPCOT.  Guests who paid for the game would get a Verizon flip phone and start looking for clues about what Doctor Doofenshmertiz’s latest evil scheme was.  The phone would occasionally send you messages from Major Monogram or Carl the Intern. When you found a “clue” the phone would interact with the “clue” and you would be rewarded by a prop doing something, lighting up, activating a Perry the Platypus statue, stuff like that.  It wasn’t much but some effort was expended on Disney’s part, and kids loved it.  It was removed after Covid and now EPCOT is exclusively the province of child-hating gay couples and drunks. 

Anyway, when Galaxy’s Edge was in diapers, Disney decided to put a version of this game into the Star Wars expansion. It was to be part of an interactive experience with some stories that would be going on like: Assist Han Solo in smuggling something.  Hide Luke from the Stormtroopers and help him find a Holocron. Or serve the Empire and hunt down the rebel scum. They were also going to have R2 units puttering around as well as actors in various  3PO droid costumes. Stormtroopers would occasionally harass guests.   And once a day there would be a floor show where Luke would have a lightsaber fight with Darth Vader.  There was going to be a white glove restaurant and lounge. There was even some serious talk about a Star Wars resort.  And just writing about all this is depressing the hell out of me.

But that was when Tom Staggs was the Chairman of Disney Parks and Experiences. Then Staggs was bumped up to being President and COO of the Walt Disney Company, basically, Iger was declaring Staggs to be his heir apparent (because that is how it works at Disney). Bob Chapek became Chairman of Parks and Experiences, where he would become one of the most hated men in the history of that division. 

In 2015, Ike Perlmutter blocked Staggs from becoming the next CEO of Disney during the interview process with the board of directors.  This did two things, one it left Bob Iger seething with hatred for and swearing revenge on Ike Perlmutter, two it opened up the job of Iger’s heir again.  Chapek knew that as a chairman he was automatically in the running and he also had an excellent resume, having worked in both Disney’s marketing and the home entertainment divisions.  Given Iger’s obsession with digital distribution, Chapek’s drive to put as much Disney content as possible on DVD and then Blu-ray put him on the right track, adding Parks’ experience to that list and he’d be the most qualified candidate in the company.  What Chapek would now need was some headliner projects to skyline himself to the BOD. 

Among these was a rebuild of EPCOT to include a new show called HarmoniUS, (which would absolutely suck) and the most experiential immersive attraction in the history of Disney Parks, the Star Wars Galactic Starcruiser.  Effectively he was taking all of the things that were supposed to be going on in Galaxy’s Edge for free and putting them behind a paywall.

Let’s take you through a trip on the Halcyon.  A lot of passengers made this a split trip, they’d plan part of their vacation at one of the Disney World Resorts with a couple of nights set aside for the Star Wars Galactic Starcruiser.  Although, others made a special trip and had to park in a special reserved and gated lot.

Either way, embarkation was done at this outdoor “terminal.”  Really, just a concrete lobby and it was way too small for the amount of people arriving all at once.  Since you arrive between one to four, It’s the hottest part of the Florida day, and you are stuck outside for way too long in your hot-ass Jedi robes. 

It’s about a 30-40 minute wait which isn’t bad for Disney World but you are paying a minimum of $6K, to start your trip by standing in a bus terminal.  There’s just a touch of Fyre Festival about this, which isn’t the best way to start anything. Cast Members who will be the only thing that makes this trip enjoyable bring you cold bottled water which would cost four dollars at Galaxy’s Edge. Maybe that was meant to be luxurious but I’ve stayed at luxury hotels, a concrete bus stop with bottled water is not a luxury experience. 

You finally reach the elevator that will take you up to the second floor and they play this video.

A LARPer I talked to said this is a smart way to do things because a lot of places don’t think to brief people about the difference between a real and fake emergency. The one time she ran into an emergency, people thought it was just part of the show until it was nearly too late and a genuine panic happened. 

Your luggage is whisked away and searched if there is anything that looks like a gun it will be confiscated along with pocket knives and scissors.  You, yourself go through the usual Disney pat down. 

The elevator doors finally open, and you now have to push your way past the influencers who are videoing literally everything. The door closes and play has begun. The elevator/launch pod takes you up to the Halcyon while a video of your trip to the starship plays on a tiny, tiny screen. 

The tiny screens were kind of thing throughout the “trip.”  When you leave the elevator and fight your way past more influencers videoing literally everything, you’re in the central atrium. The only ship’s “windows” are on the inaccessible second-story walkway (it’s actors only), again, they aren’t too big.  A cast member collects you and escorts you to your incredibly tiny cabin, the CM fills you on the ship’s lore along the way.  The personal attendant probably feels deluxe. The cabin absolutely can not. 

This actually makes it look bigger than it really was.
This is alleged to be a 5-person cabin.

There are closets that are bigger than these rooms.  Now, I’ve been in a cruise ship cabin and yes, they are dinky but this is pointlessly so because you are not really on a ship.  It’s barely the size of a closet.  You can sleep in it but not much else. If you’re trying to cosplay steerage, you’re okay but clearly, this wasn’t meant to be the case. 

5-person cabin aboard the Disney Wish

The bridge is at the front of the atrium and is usually locked off unless there is an in-game story going on and it’s the only place with large “windows.” As this is a Disney attraction there is a massively overpriced gift shop as well. You pay for everything with your magic band (I forget what they called those on the Halcyon, it’s RFID bracelet)

There is a ship’s lounge, where the all-important booze is kept. Close by is the Climate Simulator, which perfectly and flawlessly simulates a hot-ass Florida day, (it was a courtyard for claustrophobics who had no business being in this game).  Also, a ship’s brig, perfect for breaking Wookies out of, and a cargo hold that you might or might not be able to access depending on your storyline.

Once you ran through a few briefings, you’d have dinner. The reviews are mixed about how good the food was, some people seemed to genuinely love it. Others felt they weren’t getting anywhere near what they should have for the money they spent. I will grant that the complaints about the small portions were groundless. Since this was a buffet, if you wanted more food you just took more food.

The restaurant had a stage show; Gayia (a tentacle head lounge singer) and her female-Greedo backup, they both had stories if you wanted to find out about them. The female-Greedo was named, Ouannii appeared to be the fan favorite. I can understand it. She was clearly being played by the kind of hyper-energetic Disney cast member that comes straight from the college intern program, they throw themselves 100% into their roles. Her mask was fully animatronic and had a lot of pre-recorded Greedo gibberish.

Dinner was where you started interacting with the NPCs.  There were three main story branches; Resistance, Smuggler, and First Order.  Toward the end of the night, your interactions with the various NPCs would trigger the story track you were now locked into for the rest of the voyage.

Time to call it a night.

Your dinky cabin comes with a tiny head, a view screen (TV), and a porthole (TV).  Apparently, there was more to the porthole than just a TV.  If you got close to it you could kind of look around the starry infinite.  However, it had a blinding LED strip around it, (probably to keep your pupils tiny so the porthole’s effects work better).  It was too bright to sleep with it on, so you’d have to turn off the whole porthole at night.  

The real purpose of the trip was of course the LARP that began in earnest the next morning.  That was as I said, the Star Wars hotel’s first function and primary obligation. And in all fairness, that was the one thing it genuinely delivered on.

As usual, my two-part article has now turned into a three-parter.

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