What Have We Learned from Galactic Starcruiser’s First Year?
One year ago, Star Wars fans finally watched an impossible dream become a reality.
Star Wars: Galactic Starcruiser opened to the public.
The so-called Star Wars Hotel allowed Lightsaber enthusiasts to live out their fantasies in a real-world setting.
Much has been written about this uniquely immersive resort over the past year.
In celebration of Galactic Starcruiser’s first birthday, let’s evaluate what we have learned about Disney’s daring gambit and debate what happens next.
A little over a year ago, I wrote about the pros and cons of the Star Wars Hotel.
Since then, Galactic Starcruiser has experienced what I’ll describe as two phases.
During phase one, Disney defiantly told guests that it’d charge whatever it wanted for this inimitable experience.
Prices started at “High” and then went up to “Did You Found Amazon?” room rates for the finest suites.
I’m mostly joking, but I’ll add an anecdote. I sometimes write about the Disney Vacation Club.
This membership program surprised its participants by allowing them to book a three-day/two-night stay on the Galactic Starcruiser using DVC Points.
The cost for this “deal” proved so significant that it automatically ruled out most current DVC owners. Even if they wanted to book, they lacked the requisite points.
The same premise applied to cash rates for many due to post-pandemic hyperinflation.
In short, Disney knew what it had and charged appropriately. You can call the company’s decision capitalism at its finest or unadulterated greed.
Either way, the strategy worked, as the Star Wars Hotel booked fully for each of its itineraries during its first six months in existence. That’s a fact, not hyperbole.
As a reminder, Disney faced a savage amount of criticism before Galactic Starcruiser opened.
Cynics assailed the company for what they described as a cheap-looking hotel with no lasting appeal.
Some Disney haters started the Galactic Starcruiser deathwatch in January 2022 and never really stopped.
They’ve become like the cultists who claim that the end of the world will happen today…no, wait, tomorrow…err, no, maybe next Monday? It’s definitely gonna happen soon, though!
I’m dismissive of these evaluations because they’re best described as pure stubbornness.
All fact-based arguments must acknowledge the unimaginable success of this project during its early days.
Disney knew all along that its first wave of guests would visit the hotel no matter what.
The second wave will ultimately determine the project’s long-term viability. And that’s where the record scratches.
A strange thing upended the Star Wars Hotel’s momentum last fall. Walt Disney World faced not one but two hurricanes.
The more severe of them, Hurricane Ian, devastated Florida and forced cancellations of most Disney activities. Galactic Starcruiser was among them.
Disney hires staff to perform on this “cruise ship” just as it would the Disney Wish. It couldn’t ask workers to spend time at this oddly isolated hotel during a nightmarish weather event.
While the timing may be coincidental, that event disrupted the momentum of the Galactic Starcruiser.
Since then, the news has grown decidedly less positive, at least in spurts.
The Worrisome Signs
Management has since canceled additional “sailings” due to weather conditions. Then, as 2022 ended, demand wound down.
In 2023 thus far, Disney has already canceled multiple bookings. Several summer itineraries no longer show as available.
Disney has provided impacted guests with a 50 percent discount to experience Galactic Starcruiser on a different date.
I should add that this issue may be due to refurbishment needs. Nobody has ever tried anything like this before. So, the upkeep challenges are a bit of a mystery.
Meanwhile, some of the staff members who work at the Star Wars Hotel haven’t renewed their contracts. The hours didn’t prove consistent enough.
Now, Disney has offered its first discounts for the Star Wars experience. First, it incentivized guests with a $700 discount for a split vacation stay.
Management didn’t want to cut the price for guests at Galactic Starcruiser. Instead, it offered a deal for an additional stay at another Walt Disney World resort.
More recently, Disney has rewarded cast members with a 50 percent discount on select Galactic Starcruiser bookings.
That’s an incredible deal and one that cast members wholly deserve since they’re wonderful.
However, the dates are a bit alarming. Some of them are available in March and April.
Last year at this time, I can assure you that no bookings were open in March and April.
Demand has unquestionably dropped, arguably even A LOT.
How concerning is this? Well, let’s take a look back at those pros and cons and decide how this has played out and what happens next.
Star Wars Hotel: Year One
A year ago, I mentioned the obvious pro here that it’s a Star Wars Hotel. People have dreamt about one of those since 1977.
What nobody could have imagined was the experience’s unmistakable quality. It’s a perfect ten by any measure.
Seriously, you’d be hard-pressed to find any Star Wars fan who left the hotel saying that they’d had anything other than a fantastic time.
That’s how the first year should have unfolded. After all, Disney spent countless hours and resources planning this resort and its activities. It should have been perfect…and it was!
My primary concern at the time involved the inability to leave the resort. It’s a somewhat claustrophobic experience. Once you check in, you’re there for three days.
Disney officials anticipated this concern and added a visitation day at Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge, which works strategically and from a storytelling perspective. It’s clever.
Some guests have complained about the structure of the park visit, but that critique goes both ways.
While a few say they lack free reign at Disney’s Hollywood Studios, others complain that leaving Batuu ruins the illusion.
Whenever complaints are mostly equal on both sides, Disney has done its job in satisfying everyone as much as possible.
The other big pro/con I debated involved the Galactic Starcruiser itinerary. It promised all-encompassing activities at the resort.
I worried whether cheap set pieces would break the illusion too much.
In reality, I had this one dead wrong, as did virtually all critics. Those “cheap set pieces” proved thematic and totally befitting the Lucasfilm vision for Star Wars.
If anything, the look and feel of the Galactic Starcruiser is a huge strength, not any kind of negative.
The unprecedented level of interactive amenities established a new standard in tourism, one that other companies are rushing to match.
“It’s the Economy, Dummy”
This famous quote from political strategist James Carville underscores the one inescapable negative from the Star Wars Hotel’s first year.
At the end of the day, Disney has priced Galactic Starcruiser too high for the average consumer, particularly during a time of economic uncertainty.
Throughout Disney’s history, its greatest enemy has been the economy and its own financial constraints.
During the final stages of the Galactic Starcruiser build, the pandemic weakened Disney’s economic outlook.
The company recognized that the same problem applied to guests as well. But it still set the price high during that first year.
Management anticipated the demand for the Star Wars Hotel and priced it accordingly.
However, Disney has since met that first wave of demand and entered the next phase. Here’s where the pitfalls abound.
Disney irrefutably lacks the level of demand for year two of the Galactic Starcruiser that it claimed in year one.
For this reason, the obvious expectation here involves a price cut for this experience, something Disney has been unwilling to do recently with its high-end experiences.
That’s the crossroads the company faces right now. The first year of Star Wars: Galactic Starcruiser has proven an unprecedented success.
Year two is shaping up to be a dramatic step back. There’s a straightforward choice for Disney to make here in terms of price cuts…but will it?
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Feature Photo: Disney