Welcome aboard Galactic Starcruiser, a windowless Star Wars space yacht forever moored in a galaxy far, far away alongside Florida’s Interstate 4 highway. It’s not quite Westworld by way of Naboo, but it’s the closest to playing pretend padawan that Disney’s offered to date.
Walt Disney World’s ambitious new project — officially titled Star Wars: Galactic Starcruiser — isn’t just a place to stay; it’s a performance. When it opens to the public on March 1, 2022, each two-night journey will be jam-packed with Resistance challenges and First Order shenanigans unfurling into varied storylines that involve you, the guest, and culminate in a face-off between Kylo Ren and Rey. (Bunking with Luke Skywalker and C-3PO is a non-starter. As goes for Disney’s modern galactic build outs, we’re squarely set between Episode 8 and 9 in the timeline, so they’re nowhere to be seen.)
The hotel might mimic a starship but it operates like an earthbound cruise: Each stay is two consecutive nights with all food, activities, and entertainment included. With a price tag upward of nearly $6,000 for a family of four (almost $5,000 for two), it’s the priciest Disney World experience on offer, one that’s left its most dedicated fans reeling. The ambitious project has been in the works for years, developed in tandem with Disney’s Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge theme park land, offering what Disney hopes is the next level of immersive entertainment for Star Wars fans, gaming buffs, and anyone who’d throw down a few grand to spot Chewbacca from across the bar.
I was among the first passengers to launch into orbit on a recent preview stay aboard the Halcyon — the gem in Chandrila Star Line’s fleet of imaginary spaceships. Here I slept in a capsule bunk bed large enough for most adults, completed odd missions for random characters aboard the ship, and peered out of my viewport into the wonders of “space.” Like Las Vegas for cosplayers, you won’t see sunlight for two 17-hour stretches while aboard the Halcyon, but I found it only added to the effect.
Of course like any good cruise, so much of the experience’s overall success rides on the food, which for captive passengers is equal parts sustenance and activity. Eating aboard the Galactic Starcruiser is not unlike eating aboard your average luxury liner, and the modernist tricks (Blue stuff! Smoke! Ice spheres!) might seem old hat to anyone who ordered from a high-end tasting menu in the early 2000s. Still, within the parameters of an intellectual property cruiser erected in Mickey Mouse’s Floridian backyard, the culinary program is, overall, a feat. (Just look at the Bantha blue milk and green milk on tap beside a Coca-Cola fountain soda machine.)
Disney isn’t new to creating robust theme menus for galaxies far far away — Satu’li Canteen, a fast-casual Avatar eatery, offers earthy grain bowls, while Docking Bay 7 in Disney’s Star Wars theme park land splits ribs horizontally to a prehistoric likeness and fashions cubic, child-friendly chicken nuggets. During my preview stay aboard the Halcyon, breakfast offered some predictables, like buttermilk waffles imprinted with the ship’s insignia, but also yielded two of the trip’s best dishes: a satisfyingly cheesy, eggy potato stack and a corn dog-esque cake batter-dipped Scotch egg atop a turmeric aioli.
The lunch buffet (because what’s a cruise without a buffet?) featured more intriguing bites than I could cram on my single segmented cafeteria tray. A lot of them were familiar, kid-friendly tastes dressed up in space-age packaging — a grilled cheese bubble waffle with tomato cream dipping sauce; a cosmic Uncrustable with PB&J hiding inside a crusted green orb — but others, like a savory granola bar with a curry sauce for dunking, were inventive, tasty, and decidedly un-Disney.
Dinners stuck to the usual cruise script with assigned seating and a repeat server, but the format changed each night. The first was akin to a space bar mitzvah, with Twi’lek diva popstar Gaya performing her hits and leading a short dance party between courses of colorful bao stuffed with “tip-yip” chicken and a mirror-glazed “jogan” passionfruit tart. The second evening had a more on-the-nose “Taste Around the Galaxy” theme, with Mustafarian bread service with whipped cheese dip and Bantha beef short rib. Few dishes were groundbreakers — this is, after all, a pretend ship in the distant parking lot of a theme park — but the kitchen’s wackiest and buzziest creation was also maybe its best: Felucian blue shrimp, served on a platter of dry ice. (In actuality, it’s tiger shrimp soaked in butterfly pea powder, but the otherworldly effect was potent.)
Everything is included in the overall price except for cocktails, mocktails, beer, and wine. If you weren’t able to squeeze into Oga’s Cantina, the overwhelmingly packed watering hole inside Disney’s Star Wars-themed Galaxy’s Edge theme park, it’s nothing in comparison to the ship’s Sublight Lounge, a real party-starter whose revelry spills out into an atrium with crimson benches. Like at Oga’s, drinks here are pre-batched, but the menu is split between location-specific concoctions like the Fiery Mustafarian — a mezcal margarita served with a test tube of “lava extract” for increased heat — and more standard options like an Old Fashioned, Negroni, or even your choice of preferred spirit, something the park’s cantina never provided. (Cocktails are also offered tableside at all meals, including a bloody mary with “Carbonite-dipped Bloody Rancor cubes” at breakfast.) There is no cantina band — one of a handful of true misses that feel nonsensical — but complimentary late-night eats, like a smoking cloche with cheese balls, and actually fun digital gambling at the Holo-Sabacc table, nearly make up for it.
The waitstaff exist entirely in story, substituting phrases like “you’re welcome” and “good morning” for “my honor” and “good passage,” while menus use non earth-centric space speak, like calling carbonation “sparkling bubbles,” potatoes “tubers,” and vegetables “flora.” You’re free to come dressed in intergalactic finery, whether that’s Jedi garb, a velveteen senate robe or, like one guest aboard, your flesh tinted a shade shy of International Klein Blue. (My great hope to putz around in the likeness of Emperor Palpatine was squashed by Earth bureaucracy, as adults are not permitted to wear costume masks.)
The bulk of Star Wars experiences on board, however, come from interactive game play with the ship’s characters, both in-person and by way of the Play Disney Parks phone app. Here, a “choose your own adventure” narrative unfolds plotlines and unlocks surprises over the two main days. Follow the Resistance both in person and in your “datapad” and you’ll find yourself summoned to the engineering room of the Halcyon, uncovering codes to break Chewbacca out of the onboard jail; hang back with the First Order and you’ll hatch a plan to sabotage the ship from the inside.
The more you lean in and complete digital odd jobs for these characters, the more action you’ll become privy to. When the story works, it’s magic, but when it doesn’t, it’s exhausting. I felt permanently pressed to do more, and the intertwining plotlines are overwritten, particularly for guests who adore but don’t bleed Star Wars — or even those who may want to vacation while on vacation.
There is also no gym, pool, hot tub and, rather confoundingly, no space spa, despite how welcoming an Endorian seaweed wrap and Hoth plunge pool would have been after a day jam-packed with meetings, tasks, and chores. The two-night stay, both criminally short and overwhelmingly fast paced, needed to be three, but even a few extra hours aboard would help with the feeling of being rushed: multicourse meals are churned through in under 90 minutes and guests are unceremoniously booted off the ship by 11 a.m. on check-out day. Despite covering theme parks full-time, I emerged from the experience exhausted and serotonin-socked — like the culmination of three simultaneous New Year’s Eves.
And even still, with all that, I can safely say Disney’s new, slightly deranged hotel experience is the most fun you’ll have at Disney World. After disembarking, I made up for the vitamin D I’d sacrificed onboard by visiting the Magic Kingdom, where Cinderella Castle and Fantasyland felt banal and pedestrian compared to the ship’s intricately designed interiors; even Dole Whip was bland and uninspired after days of biting into sweet orbs with surprise centers. There’s some kind of magic in a bottle happening within that cruise-hotel’s walls and I, a middling Star Wars fan, somehow left inexplicably changed by it. It’s nothing if not aggressively inventive, which is remarkable for a franchise with this many corporate cooks in the kitchen. Despite some necessary story retooling that could streamline the experience, Star Wars: Galactic Starcruiser is delightfully unhinged — the highest compliment I can give the biggest entertainment corporation in the galaxy.