Saying Goodbye to Star Wars: Galactic Starcruiser

Eric Goldman
Movies Sci-Fi
Movies Sci-Fi Star Wars

Well, this is not exactly what I expected to be writing.

Last week, I was nearly ready to publish my original version of this story, about my experience going to Star Wars: Galactic Starcruiser alongside a particularly passionate group of fans, due to it coinciding with May the 4th. On Wednesday, as I was finishing up that story, I’d double checked with Disney on the spelling of a couple of names of people I’d spoken to.

And then on Thursday, it was announced that Star Wars: Galactic Starcruiser was permanently closing on September 30.

So while I’m still going to talk about what it was like doing this experience, it’s now with a very different perspective, since this is now discussing a unique themed experience with an extremely short life, especially considering it’s from Disney Parks. Galactic Starcruiser will be closing its doors less than a year and a half after it opened and, to be sure, will be talked about for years in terms of “What went wrong?” framing.

Last year, before Galactic Starcruiser opened, I paid an initial visit during a press preview that I’ve described as a CliffsNotes look at what it offered. With a ton crammed into four hours, I felt like I got a decent general overview of what guests would find there and got to see what some of the most notable aspects of it are like, but obviously without actually fully immersing in it in the way you do if you are a guest staying there for two nights. As part of a group of press invited to join the May the 4th journey, I’d now have the chance to see what it was actually like, though I underestimated just how much those super fans I was alongside might factor into this particular experience.

Let me say upfront that I thought Star Wars: Galactic Starcruiser was fantastic. My friends and I had such a good time there, as did the others we met, and it felt so bizarre and surreal to learn it was closing right afterwards. But it also had the fundamental issue of being too expensive for most people and too complicated to easily or quickly explain exactly why it was so expensive.

Still, for a brief moment in time, soon coming to an end, it’s delivering something that’s truly next level in terms of immersive experiences and getting to temporarily become part of a beloved fictional universe.


In my Sith best alongside Ouannii

You don’t have to cosplay at Galactic Starcruiser, but it’s certainly encouraged and while I was there, the majority were doing just that, though no, the ones who were in regular clothes weren’t scorned. I don’t generally cosplay, but I was open to it for this – but at the same time, wanted to be comfortable and also keep in mind we’d be in Orlando, FL in May, and it would likely be plenty hot (and indeed it was). That being the case, when my wife and I bought some Star Wars-ready clothes during a visit to Disneyland’s version of the Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge land in Anaheim a few weeks before, I didn’t go with heavy Jedi robes or such but with a t-shirt – except it was a Sith t-shirt!

Many on Galactic Starcruiser took both their costumes and accompanying persona much further though, with elaborate backstories about their planets, their parentage, and what had brought this to this journey upon the luxury ship known as the Halcyon. It was very fun to see this level of roleplaying going on and clearly, almost everyone was a massive Star Wars fan, as one would expect given where we were and the high price most were paying to be there (yes, we’ll circle back to that) and having a great time going all in at a place where every single employee is adding to the experience.

Captain Keevan and Raithe Kole meet in the atrium

Disney calls all of their parks and resorts staff “cast members,” but it especially seems fitting at Galactic Starcruiser. It’s not just that the entire staff have name tags listing a Star Wars planet as their home or that they are in costume as Halcyon staff, it’s that they will fully engage with you in universe and keep up the idea that we’re traveling through space. And this goes for all roles, such as maintenance and housekeeping, all of whom greet you with “Good Journey,” as is custom.

By the end, my biggest takeaway from Galactic Starcruiser was a massive appreciation of the hard work everyone involved puts in. During a Q&A with press, Diego Mendez Bejar (Chef, Food & Beverage, Walt Disney World Resort) and Joey Arteaga (Beverage Manager, Walt Disney World Resort) said it was an unusual but entertaining aspect of the job to find themselves part of the story in this manner. This was particularly true on the second night, when the Taste Around the Galaxy dinner let them present the unusual and colorful foods they’d create, complete with tales of where they came from, including planets like Mustafar and Felucia.

Space food! (including Blue Milk, just out of frame, on tap)

And that’s all before we even get to the primary cast of Galactic Starcruiser – the ones portraying the “main characters” who really drive the primary story being told around you. It’s rather astounding seeing the work the people playing Captain Keevan, Lenka Mok, Gaya, Raithe Kole, Sammie, Lieutenant Croy, Ouannii, Sandro and the Saja do. They are spending hours at a time making sure crucial story elements are conveyed while also mixing in a ton of improvisation, since they spend so much time interacting with guests. If Keevan and Gaya publicly mention they’ll be meeting in the Sublight Lounge bar, they’ll do just that, and guests can then go view their conversation and, if they choose, join their chat, spending considerable time speaking to them. The performers never drop character and fully engage with whatever character you’ve decided to present yourself as – which could be, simply, yourself, from Earth (not that they’ll have heard of it) or a hyper-specific alien with a tale of woe, as some I overheard were armed with.

Knowing the experience will end soon, I can’t stress how impressive the work these people do is and how many conversations I had with fellow guests about how integral it was. And yes, I’d be happy to see famous Twi’lek musical performer Gaya sing again one day, or catch up with the boastful Raithe or courageous Keevan, should these characters pop up at Galaxy’s Edge or somewhere else.

Black Spire Day

A large group gathers on Batuu for May the 4th... I mean Black Spire Day

Galactic Starcruiser uses all the trappings and terminology of a cruise ship and it’s funny to realize how swept up in it you can get. Yes, you’re actually in a non-moving building, but the idea is you are taking a trip through the galaxy and everything’s meant to sell you on that idea, starting with the viewports depicting space outside, which are both in public areas and inside your room. If the ship goes to lightspeed for those who are inside the bridge, it goes to lightspeed for everyone, who all see the familiar imagery from the Star Wars universe at the particular viewport they might be nearby at the moment. Yes, obviously, I know I was in a building the entire time, but I still think of it as a journey or trip.

The cruise ship mentality extends to using the idea of a day excursion to allow you to visit the planet of Batuu – AKA Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge at Disney Hollywood Studios. Sure, you could wander out to the other parts of the park if you choose to, but by the point we went there, it felt completely wrong to go see, say, The Twilight Zone Tower of Terror or Mickey and Minnie’s Runaway Railway while in the middle of being so immersed in Star Wars. Plus, it was during this visit to Batuu that we were reminded it was May the 4th in a big way. That’s because Galaxy’s Edge was absolutely packed and the number of people doing some form of cosplay – not just those who were coming from Galactic Starcruiser but guests who’d entered from the front gate – was far larger than I’m used to. A huge group were gathered in front of the First Order TIE Echelon because they knew at some point, Kylo Ren and First Order Stormtroopers would arrive, even if a specific time wasn’t clear.

The shuttle from the Halcyon to Batuu

Amongst the fun of so many dedicated Star Wars lovers were downsides to be sure – like showing up several minutes early for our reservation for Oga’s Cantina, only to be seated 20 minutes or so late, because of how overcrowded it was on this day. But most of my time in Galaxy’s Edge was concentrated on fulfilling missions I was being sent as part of the Galactic Starcruiser storyline. I didn’t know how much I’d become invested in this aspect, both on and off the Halcyon, as you use your “Datapad” (AKA the Disney Play App on your phone) to receive messages from those aforementioned main characters and choose your path. Sometimes, they simply want you to go find an object and scan it, while other times. on the Halcyon, you’re being asked to meet with others.

This is where you really get to mix things up, because while my wife and friends chose a more noble journey, I had decided to go all in on helping the First Order. I rejected offers on my Datapad from Lenka Mok to assist Resistance scum (which led her to stop reaching out to me) and instead agreed to do every nefarious thing Lieutenant Croy asked, splitting off from my party to run around and gain information we could use to take down the Resistance cell onboard the Halcyon.

My new best friend on the Halcyon was Croy, as seen here on my Datapad screens

There is a lot of overlap in these tasks even if you’re on a different track than others. For instance, all four of my group needed to try to get in contact, via datapad, with the same forger (who would work for anyone if the price was right, naturally) and it’s clear that everyone is asked to do variations of the same big mission moments. Whether First Order or Resistance, for instance, you’re going to end up back on the bridge of the ship, using the training you got earlier on your journey to get through a precarious situation.

However, there is something to be said for how different it can all feel being part of a group of people all loyal to the First Order, as I was, vs. my friends, who were working with Resistance collaborators Lenka Mok and Raithe. Comparing notes later, I learned that my path gave me information about things to come the others didn’t have and vice versa. Plus, embracing my villainous side meant I learned the fun of repeatedly yelling “For the Order!” while meeting with the actor playing Kroy, who was so fantastic in the role.


If you look carefully, identification for the esteemed Baron Papanoida (played by a dude named George Lucas in Revenge of the Sith) can be found in the Halcyon's cargo hold

What really surprised me during my time at Galactic Starcruiser was learning how many people were back for their second or third time, and I was told some had done it even more, though I didn’t hear that first hand. This of course stood out because this experience was something so many would never be able to reasonably do, given the high price. Galactic Starcruiser’s cost had been its big problem from the moment everyone found out it cost $4,809 for two people for the two night stay, or $5,999 for four people. Yes, this includes your food and beverage and your ticket to Hollywood Studios but that’s still one person paying around $1500 (if you’re splitting your room with three people) to $2400 (if you’re with one other person) for just under 48 hours in total.

So, beyond simply having the money to do so in the first place (I appreciated the couple with the shirts saying “Broke” and “Spoiled,” respectively), why were people coming back to do Galactic Starcruiser again, as notably impressive as it was? Once you’ve done it, you’ve done it, right?

New mechanic Sammie debates his future as he accompanies Stormtroopers (while one of the passengers joins them)

Well, you would likely have quite different experiences on multiple visits, especially because you could choose a different story path, which was the case for most of the repeat visitors I spoke to. People who were Resistance last time were First Order this time, someone who was a Smuggler last time could switch things up and follow the Saja for a story connected to the Force, and more, on top of the variables that would change regardless from simple human (or alien) interactions.

No matter what you do, the same central story is being told which has the same big conclusion in the ship’s central atrium involving Kylo Ren and Rey – and some key moments of truth for many of Galactic Starcruiser’s original characters – but for much of your time, you would be able to feel like you were seeing a story you’ve heard before but from a very different perspective. Except here, you’re actually experiencing being in it, but on a different team, each time.

Happening upon Rey's showdown with the Stormtroopers (which is how I found out Rey had snuck onboard the ship!)

I could absolutely see the appeal, even as I felt like even just by going once, it was exciting to simply get a glimpse of the stories happening around you. In fact, one of my favorite moments during the whole experience was waiting in a hallway with my fellow First Order loyalists, as we prepared to meet with Kroy in Engineering to attempt to sabotage the ship, only to see a group pass by who were attempting to keep Rey from being spotted by Stormtroopers – and them witnessing Rey using the Force to hold them off. My specific path and tasks meant I never had any personal interaction with Rey, but it was really fun to see this peek at this different tangent others were experiencing.

Meanwhile, part of the interweaving storylines involve musicians Ouannii and Sandro having a burgeoning love story, which was something I only got glimpses of. But during the end of the journey, Sandro introduced a song that he noted several guests helped him write – thanking them by name – and I was very amused to think about the people who’d been on that specific story track and had spent quality time with Sandro, going all in on something that was a rather small subplot from my point of view. It all adds to the “you are really here” interactive theater feeling, all of which is operating on a grand scale inside the Star Wars universe.


Traveling through hyperspace

I didn’t have to pay to go to Galactic Starcruiser, having been brought there to cover it as press, and the fact that Disney invited me and several others so close to when the closing announcement was made seems to underline how sudden the decision must have been. Prior to the invitation, my wife, Trish, and I had discussed if we’d ever want to save up the money to go to Galactic Starcruiser. While she loves Star Wars too, it’s safe to say I’m a bigger fan, and she felt she’d want to use her money towards something else – and a trip that lasts longer than two days – even as I knew I would be willing to save up that money and hopefully find three friends who would be willing to do the same and go with me one day.

So how had my perspective changed now that I’d been lucky enough to go for free? Well, honestly, most of my overall impressions from that four-hour preview I saw last year were reinforced. Galactic Starcruiser was truly an incredibly impressive accomplishment. I had my quibbles here and there with specifics of certain aspects, such as how the lightsaber training you take feels like it’s not as impactful as it could be and without any payoff (at least for my story track), unlike other elements. But at no point did I feel like they’d skimped on the experience or doubt that a tremendous amount of work went into both creating it all and then implementing it over and over again. And by the end, not only was I thinking I’d still be willing to save up to come back one day, but Trish now said she’d consider it too.

A popular ship onboard a ship

Last year, I wrote that to consider whether Galactic Starcruiser was worth it, I felt you’d need to check several boxes, not just as a huge Star Wars fan (okay, there are a lot of those), and not even by simply having the money to do it in the first place (there’s that massive obstacle), but also by deciding if you’re truly all in on this sort of interactive theater experience. You could know every Star Wars fact in the world and absolutely adore the franchise and still not be the kind of person who thinks it’s a good time to be asked to participate in this type of roleplaying event, especially for an extended period.

If you’re not participating and simply observing, I just can’t imagine ever spending the money to go because the entire thing is built around that interactivity. You could just sit in a corner and only passively watch but that sounds like a massive waste of money. And, of course, no matter what, that price was just too high for many, no matter what is involved.

The Halcyon's atrium

Even before the decision to close was made, Disney realized they needed to try and make this accessible for more people. In the year since it opened they had notably begun to introduce discounted prices on certain dates that offered up to 30% off, first for the likes of Disney Vacation Club Members and Walt Disney World Annual Pass holders and then to those who have the Disney Chase Visa card.

30% off is considerable and there’s a big difference between one person spending $1050 for two nights (assuming they share a room with three others) vs. $1500, even if it’s still, yes, over a thousand dollars. But that amount doesn’t cover your transportation to Florida if you’re not a local or account for the extra night you might need at a hotel before your check in the next day, depending on where you’re coming from.

Our room on the Halcyon

Many times, I’ve seen someone snark on Twitter about how Disney was daring to charge $5000 to cram into a small hotel room with up to three other people. Now that I’ve experienced Galactic Starcruiser, I feel oddly defensive about it – wanting to jump in and explain ‘No, no, this ultimately wasn’t about it being a hotel, it was about the entire experience!’ But really, I get why people make that complaint. Because from afar, how could it not feel like that? Everyone called it “the Star Wars hotel” when it was in the works and the easiest part of Galactic Starcruiser to convey via photos is the living quarters and they ARE small and not worth that money on their own. Because the money truly was for everything happening outside your room, which kept you very busy, in a notably exciting way, morning to night.

I don’t know if Galactic Starcruiser was ever destined to last a long time, because it felt like the cost to run it must be so high and it came with a notable ceiling on who could or would pay for it. I have no idea if the building will be retained or used in the future, making use of all the Star Wars theming and effects built into it – there are a lot of things that would need to be done to make it work for any sort of short stop by, as some have suggested – but it felt like any attempts to keep it in its current form, while cutting back on what you did and who you encountered, would only make it feel like a hollow version of what it is.


What a Wookiee!

The decision to close Galactic Starcruiser was made in the midst of a ton of huge cost cutting moves Disney is currently undergoing, including laying off thousands of employees and canceling plans for a billion dollar new campus in Orlando. My guess is that if this weren’t all going on, Galactic Starcruiser may have stuck around a few more years, likely getting some storyline makeovers. Rumors abound that they were already talking about changing things up and moving the entire storyline to a different era than the sequel trilogy time period it was in now. During my visit, imagineers Bryce Schulte and Chelsea Whikehart wouldn’t confirm anything was in the works, but certainly seemed to acknowledge the possibility, noting the “big galaxy” Star Wars existed in.

Now, all of those ideas are moot, which is a shame, as I am very sorry to hear that Galactic Starcruiser is closing. As a lifelong Star Wars fan, I had a blast on it. But I know I was very lucky to be experiencing it, especially cost free.

It was an honor to assist Lieutenant Croy (seen here on the Halcyon's bridge) alongside others who understood the importance of bringing Order to the galaxy.

Galactic Starcruiser was taking the kind of immersive theme park concepts that was first leveled up by The Wizarding World of Harry Potter at Universal and then continued by both Disney and Universal with the likes of Pandora – The World of Avatar, Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge, and Super Nintendo World, to its highest level. You weren’t just stopping by an imaginary world you loved, you were spending considerable time there – sleeping there, even! – and completely surrounding yourself in it and going all in on the idea that it was all real and happening around you. Which is so fun! As others have observed (albeit some more ominously than others), it felt a bit reminiscent of Westworld, but without the murder – and where the only robot is the droid SK-620.

It’s really too bad that the reality of how much it took to run the place, its small capacity, and the unrealistically high price it cost to go added up to it not making financial sense in the long term and that it’s going to become a thing of the past and, for most, a weird bit of trivia. Because the Halcyon was great for the short time it lasted.


The Sunlight Lounge bar (note the Sabacc table on the bottom left).

Amongst the Bridge Training or Lightsaber Training you’d find on your itinerary, and the important standout tasks you were given, were many optional choices for different times of day, which really added to the entire experience. There was something to be said for the simple pleasures to be had between the bigger missions – the times you could just sit and chat with friends both old and new over drinks at the Sublight Lounge or take a lesson in the ship’s atrium about how exactly you play Sabacc (everyone else seemed to understand that game far better than I did, though I still had a good time).

And then there were the moments generated by the guests themselves, while making full use of where we were and the opportunities that presented.

Near the end of my journey, following the big grand finale gathering for Galactic Starcruiser – lightsaber fight included – I was both curious and amused to see first a couple of passengers, then several more, than an increasingly large group of over 40 people gathering in the Halcyon‘s atrium, all dressed in the Narkina 5 prison outfits from Andor

Narkina 5 gathering on the Halcyon (electrified floors not included)

First, the group gathered for a photo, and then they began running up and down the stairs to the other levels, all while chanting “One way out!” – though in a humorously and respectfully toned down and quiet manner, because it was approaching midnight and some guests were no doubt already in bed.

As it turned out, these were all folks who had connected online beforehand – many of them among those aforementioned returning guests – and discussed how they could all have fun together while on the Halcyon, deciding they’d discard the characters and costumes they’d been portraying for the brunt of the journey for their own big final gathering as the Narkina 5 prisoners. And it was a blast to behold! It made me wish I had one of those prisoner outfits. It was one of those awesome communal moments for Star Wars fans, with one hell of a pre-made set to work with.

After all, we were in space!

Eric Goldman
Eric Goldman is Managing Editor for Fandom. He's a bit obsessed with Star Wars, Marvel, Disney, theme parks, and horror movies... and a few other things. Too many, TBH.