Game Design,  Travel

disney star wars: galactic starcruiser hotel’s biggest design challenges

Marketed as “a 2-night, immersive adventure”, Disney’s Star Wars: Galactic Starcruiser hotel is set to open in Spring 2022.  This project, first announced way back in summer 20171, will welcome guests on board a spaceship called the Halcyon.  There, guests are promised a “bespoke experience” including character interactions, fine dining and secret missions, all within the Star Wars universe.

From what I’ve seen so far, it looks to me that Star Wars: Galactic Starcruiser is going to be part interactive theatre, part mobile app, and part Star Wars LARPing (live-action roleplaying), with a whole lot of Disney face character moments like the ones in the theme parks.

In this post, I will write about what I think are some of the biggest challenges in designing the immersive experience of Star Wars: Galactic Starcruiser, particularly related to guest experience.

A Voyage on Star Wars: Galactic Starcruiser is Expensive, Even for Disney

When more details about Galactic Starcruiser were released in August 2021, fans and media were quick to point out the high prices for each “voyage” (2 night stay, or one complete adventure)2,3,4.

The quoted prices for the lowest rated Standard Cabins, were $4,809 for two adults over two nights, from $5,299 for two adults and one child, and from $5,999 for three adults and one child.

Image from: Disney/Lucasfilm

Although these prices include meals and the excursion to Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge at Disney’s Hollywood Studios, they don’t take into account upgrades to a Galaxy Class Suite (4 guests) or Grand Captain Suite (8 guests), or add-ons like alcoholic beverages and special seating at meals.

These prices are high even by Disney’s standards.

Cost Analysis and Comparison to Disney Resorts and Cruises

Booking a two-night stay at the Grand Floridian, a Deluxe Hotel at Walt Disney World, can run up to $3,700+ per night, but that’s for the Grand Suite at peak time.  Regular rooms go for $980+ per night, still an expensive price but topping out at 60% the cost of Galactic Starcruiser, with park admission and food added.

Here’s some of my research and calculations for 2 adults:

  • Grand Floridian, lagoon view, 2 nights, weekend, for 2 adults: ~$980/night * 2 = $1,960
  • Park admission, Hollywood Studios standard single park ticket, peak period e.g. December: ~$150/person * 2 = $300
  • Meals (estimation based on theme park prices, $100/day/person): $100 * 3 days * 2 = $600
  • Total: $1,960 + $300 + 600 = $2,860

The $2,860 total is about 59% of the Galactic Starcruiser’s $4,809.  Adding on amounts for parking (for those who drive) and entertainment included in the Starcruiser does not come close to evening the costs.

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An even bigger discrepancy can be found when comparing the cost to a Disney Cruise.  The quoted $4,809 will take two adults on a seven-day cruise, meals included, in a room with a verandah… with $1,000 left over.

While these costs will be prohibitive to many fans who want the immersive Star Wars experience, it won’t be an issue for others.  Pricing will also affect the design, which we’ll get to later.  But for now, let’s get into other design-specific challenges.

The Impossibility of Fairness and Unique Experiences

As much as we’d like to believe it, it is nigh impossible to create fair experiences for groups of people in this sort of setting.  While Galactic Starcruiser seems to tout one-of-a-kind, unique experiences, there is a limited number of pre-scripted events that will have to occur to keep the larger story on track.

What that means is that some people are inevitably going to have a better time than others, because they were able to catch the right experiences and interactions at the right times.

Image from: Disney/Lucasfilm

Consider the case that everyone enters Galactic Starcruiser as a completely naïve guest.  Designing for this situation is a little easier because everyone starts out on the same footing.  The only difference between getting a “good” experience and a “bad” one would be through being in a certain place by luck or chance.  Designers can track these discrepancies in real time and engineer equal opportunities for all guests.

However, once details about staying at Galactic Starcruiser hit the Internet, many guests will no doubt take a cleverer approach and thoroughly research the experience beforehand, in order to maximise their stay.  This will result in guests that know more about what will happen, and where to be or what to do in certain encounters to get a cool outcome.

Although guests can now optimise their stay with the best encounters, it comes at the price of ruining the discovery and “magic” of finding things out during their stay.  It also leads to a situation where guests start competing with each other for the best, most exclusive experiences, thus ruining the experience for other guests who might not have the same advantage of prior knowledge.

Case Study: Sleep No More

A good case study is Punchdrunk’s immersive theatre piece, Sleep No More.  This retelling of Macbeth has guests wander a six-floor set where scenes take place simultaneously.  Guests can choose to follow or observe certain characters, or explore the empty themed rooms.

The problem?  Some characters and scenes are better than others.  And these are the ones that gather the largest group of audience members, making them the hardest to experience.

Sleep No More has a cult following of fans who return to the show multiple times.  These fans wait in line hours before the show starts to get in as early as possible, and know the best routes throughout the building to try and position themselves for one of the coveted “one-on-one” scenes, where performers take one audience member at time into a private space for a special interaction.

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Because there is a limited number of these one-on-one interactions, audience members who don’t know about them and who don’t strategise are more likely to miss out.  This gives well-researched guests or returning guests an advantage over newcomers.  Therefore, first-timers at Sleep No More usually have a less interesting show.

There is nothing wrong with trying to maximise your experience.  But designers must design against this to ensure that the competition between guests does not remove opportunities for naïve guests.

Image from: Disney/Lucasfilm

Replayability and Return Visits

The high price point comes back into play here.  Sleep No More is a $100 or more ticket for roughly 3 hours, which lines up incredibly well with the cost of Galactic Starcruiser.  The cost of a hypothetical 72-hour run of Sleep No More would be about $2,400, which matches the per-person rate of a Galactic Starcruiser voyage almost exactly.

But because Sleep No More is a much shorter 3 hours and does not require an overnight trip, it is far easier to justify return visits.  For Galactic Starcruiser, the stakes are higher, and guests need to be able to accomplish everything they want to the first time, or else feel cheated if they miss out.

Group Participation

Finally, Disney faces a big hurdle of group participation.  The theme parks are branded as fun for the whole family, focusing on making memories together.  However, without the freedom of creating your own itinerary, families may find it more difficult to enjoy the Galactic Starcruiser adventure together.

Role-playing games and interactive theatre require a level of buy-in and suspension of disbelief that is not comfortable for everyone.  More than that, the Star Wars focus may alienate non-fans within a family group.

Image from: Disney/Lucasfilm

Conclusions and Suggestions

To address the design challenges outlined in this article, here’s what I think Star Wars: Galactic Starcruiser could do.

  1. Fairness – Create equal opportunities for guests to participate in experiences, without relying simply on luck or prior knowledge for encounters.  This may require actively monitoring guests and ensuring that those who “miss out” are given ways to make up for it.
  2. Unique experiences – Cast members should present as many “magical” moments as possible, and think outside of the box to go above and beyond, even more than in the theme parks.
  3. Group participation – Not everyone will want to interact, so allowing for spaces to relax, shop, or participate in non-Star Wars activities will be helpful.

The stakes and expectations are sky high for Star Wars: Galactic Starcruiser.  Come Spring 2022, it’s going to be fascinating to hear how the immersive experience pans out.

References Cited

  1. Fickley-Baker, Jennifer. “Plans Unveiled for Star Wars-Inspired Themed Resort at Walt Disney World.” Walt Disney World Resort. Disney Parks Blog, 15 July 2017. Web. 5 September 2021.
  2. Chen, Eve. “New Disney Star Wars: Galactic Starcruiser hotel stay will cost more than a mortgage.” Theme Parks. USA Today, 5 August 2021. Web. 5 September 2021.
  3. Gartenberg, Chaim. “Disney’s Star Wars hotel is just like Westworld: only for the wealthy.” Entertainment. The Verge, 4 August 2021. Web. 5 September 2021.
  4. Paynter, Sarah. “Disney’s Star Wars: Galactic Starcruiser hotel will send your wallet into hyperspace.” Real Estate. New York Post, 5 August 2021. Web. 5 September 2021.

Additional References

  1. Schoolfield, Jeremy. “‘We’re Gonna Save the Galaxy’: Check Out the First Commercial for Star Wars: Galactic Starcruiser at Walt Disney World Resort.” Walt Disney World Resort. Disney Parks Blog, 4 August 2021. Web. 5 September 2021.
  2. Fickley-Baker, Jennifer. “Star Wars-Inspired Resort Planned for Walt Disney World Resort Promises to be ‘Unlike Anything That Exists Today’.” Walt Disney World Resort. Disney Parks Blog, 11 February 2018. Web. 5 September 2021.