If there's one thing Walt Disney Imagineering wants you to know about the Star Wars: Galactic Starcruiser, it's that it's not a Star Wars hotel.
But then what exactly is the two-night experience, which costs just over $5,000 per cabin on average and is fully booked several months out from its opening date of March 1, 2022?
"It's something you do and you participate in," says Scott Trowbridge, portfolio creative executive at Walt Disney Imagineering (WDI). "We are moving our guests from being spectators to participants and inviting them to actually be characters in this story."
Trowbridge describes the Galactic Starcruiser, which WDI bills as a cruise-style experience through simulated space, as "part immersive theater, part live-action role play, part video game and part luxury service experience."
"And it is all of these things at the same time," he adds, "which makes it fun to create."
It's also fun to experience. Recently, I had the opportunity to step aboard the Halcyon starcruiser, albeit still under construction, for a taste of what guests will experience when they board the Chandrila Star Lines vessel for what I can only describe as a cruise-meets-murder-mystery-party voyage... in a galaxy far, far away.
From extremely immersive character interactions (during my time onboard, I helped Chewbacca escape a group of stormtroopers and gained access to a secret engineering room by promising the cruise director I'd stay true to the Resistance) to intense light saber training (I am now fully one with the Force), here's a behind-the-scenes look at my day on the Halcyon.
Really, it's not a hotel
Buzz about a Star Wars-themed hotel goes as far back as 2017, when the concept was first announced at the D23 Expo, a convention for the official Disney fan club. But Ann Morrow Johnson, executive producer and creative director of WDI, says her team knew from the beginning their vision went beyond simple hotel accommodations.
"The easiest way to think about [the Galactic Starcruiser] is it's this giant living ecosystem where you get to take a place in the story," Johnson tells Yahoo Entertainment, adding that in early planning meetings for the Halcyon, a partner commented that the team's combined ideas sounded like a cruise ship vacation, and the format stuck. "It's a simulated cruise-style experience ... where our guests will get to jump on board and 'cruise' throughout the galaxy."
Being no stranger to cruise ships on Earth, I can tell you that the feeling aboard the Galactic Starcruiser is identical, swapping open ocean for the blackness of space: Outside each of the Halcyon's windows, planets, stars and other ships pass as the vessel feels like it's constantly traveling forward. In fact, at a scheduled training session to learn to operate weapons in the ship's bridge, my motion sickness could not be convinced we were in a backlot at Walt Disney World and not moving through hyperspace on a star ship.
It's an interactive experience
After a muster drill in the Halcyon's atrium, things get real.
Brand new characters like Captain Riyola Keevan; her cruise director, Lenka Mok; and Mok's sidekick, an astromech droid named SK-62O, make their rounds in the spacious hall, greeting guests and getting a feel for who may desire to help the Resistance.
"There's intrigue almost immediately," says Wendy Anderson, executive creative director of Disney Live Entertainment. "You get to meet these characters and they're part of the crew and their stories unfold right away."
Characters guests will recognize, like Chewbacca and a few stormtroopers, also make appearances. And WDI hints to other popular characters showing up on board as the two-day experience rolls forward.
As guests interact with Halcyon-specific characters like Sammie, a mechanic who may have an ulterior motive for being aboard the ship, their stories will deepen and branch off from their shipmates.
Sara Thacher, a senior imagineer at WDI, says no two experiences aboard the Halcyon will be alike — like a Choose Your Own Adventure novel, Star Wars-style.
"[Guests will] have invitations to make some choices on which relationships [to have] with characters," she explains. "Who they want to help, who they want to sell out. And, because this unfolds over multiple days, we're able to let those choices matter: Your choices change what comes next for your story. Which characters you've chosen to develop a relationship with will ultimately change what happens."
Costumes are highly encouraged
Aboard the Halcyon, shops will sell everything from galactic dress robes to headdresses designed to turn guests into alien species like Togrutas and Twi'leks. Also for sale will be mechanic outfits similar to the one worn by Sammie and Chandrila Star Lines merchandise, perfect for repping your space cruise line of choice.
WDI hopes guests will begin planning their outfits before they board the ship, leaving an open mind when it comes to a change… if their storyline leads there.
"It's a wide galaxy out there," says Thacher. "We've seen Wookiees who are Jedi. We've seen very debonair members of the underworld and more 'rough around the edges' members of the underworld. We've seen people who are stormtroopers who become members of the Resistance. The way that you dress [on embarkation day] is not destiny, it's just what's the most fun and how you want to look. Your choices are still yours."
Johnson agrees fashion will be a big part of the experience.
"You can dress however fits you in your Star Wars story," she says. "But if you wind up doing some deals and getting involved with some people along the way, that's up to you."
There will be cruise-like activities
From an onboard activities schedule (think: training to use systems in the bridge and learning to wield a lightsaber) to wildly creative eats from around the galaxy in the Crown of Corellia dining room, the Halcyon will be filled with activities reminiscent of a cruise ship itinerary.
There's even an excursion to the planet Batuu: Guests will spend the first full morning of their voyage visiting Star Wars: Galaxy's Edge inside Disney's Hollywood Studios, docking via an exclusive port inside the Black Spire Outpost.
While visiting Batuu, guests will use the Play Disney Parks mobile app, called a "data pad," aboard the Galactic Starcruiser to complete missions for characters aboard the ship, even getting exclusive access to sought-after attractions Star Wars: Rise of the Resistance and Millennium Falcon: Smuggler's Run as part of the adventure, no standby line or Lightning Lane reservation required.
And, while guests may be tempted to exit Batuu to grab a Mickey pretzel or ride The Twilight Zone Tower of Terror, imagineers say there are perks to staying in place and immersing yourself in the storyline.
After all, since Star Wars: Galaxy's Edge and Star Wars: Galactic Starcruiser have been on the same planning track over the last six years, there will be plenty of tie-ins within Batuu that only Halcyon guests will appreciate. Want to find out why we've been rounding up coaxium for Hondo Ohnaka on the Smuggler's Run attraction, for example? You've got to work the storyline in your data pad to find out.
Easter egg alert: Since it opened in 2019, there's been a telling advertisement hanging inside Oga's Cantina, the bar on Batuu. Written in galactic script Aurebesh is an ad from Chandrila Star Lines seeking a mechanic, which Halcyon character Sammie, presumably answered.
The experience is for everyone
Whether you're a life-long Star Wars fan or you're stepping onto the Halcyon with little knowledge of First Orders and Wookiees, the ship, with its sweeping atrium, Sublight Lounge space bar and cabins that each boast a portal window with views of outer space truly has something for everyone.
Trowbridge says that's been his team's goal all along.
"This really works for anybody with any level of Star Wars knowledge or lack thereof," he says. "And, it's a series of invitations to engage — never an obligation. We're very careful about making sure of that, because we know not everyone wants to play at the same level."
"[The onboard character interactions and storyline] are all designed so you can lean as far forward as you want and engage. Or, if all you want to do is sit back and drink a space cocktail and watch the action unfold, that's totally fine," he adds. "We have space for everybody."
For the imagineers behind it, the Galactic Starcruiser is about transporting everyone to a galaxy far, far away and letting them choose between a relaxing vacation and a high-energy theatrical experience while they're there.
"At the end of the day, this is an epic Star Wars-level story where major things and lives are at stake," Trowbridge says. "There are things that culminate in a pretty climatic and satisfying conclusion: It's like building the most epic Star Wars playset and then letting people loose inside it."