Editor’s note: TPG’s Benét Wilson was a guest of Walt Disney World on a two-night media preview of the Star Wars: Galactic Starcruiser experience. Disney provided her travel to the event and the two-night experience itself. The opinions expressed below are entirely hers and weren’t subject to review by Disney.
One of the most striking things about my stay at the Star Wars: Galactic Starcruiser hotel was the almost unbelievable attention to detail — everything from the look and feel of the bridge to the food and beverages we enjoyed during the stay. We’re all familiar with the phrase “it takes a village,” but in this case, it’s absolutely true.
The village in this case was a mix of Disney Imagineers, Lucasfilm historians and Industrial Light & Magic technology geeks working together to ensure that not one detail of the Halcyon outer space experience was missed. And of course, the Disney cast members — who owned their roles on the ship and created the moments and interactions that brought it all together — were an integral part of the experience, too.
After our two-night media preview “voyage” on the Starcruiser ended, I got the chance to talk to some of the behind-the-scenes Disney team members involved in the project to discuss how they created this one-of-a-kind “Star Wars” experience. Here’s what I learned about the latest addition to Disney’s hotel portfolio.
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Creating an immersive experience was a top priority
For Walt Disney Imagineering’s Jared Sell, bringing the Star Wars: Galactic Starcruiser hotel to life required zeroing in on the details so guests would truly feel as if they had been transported to another galaxy.
“I knew that Lucasfilms and Disney would look for those details and work to find ways to incorporate them in layers as part of the overall ‘Star Wars’ story,” Sell said.
Look at the water dispensers in the atrium, which are a space gray color and recessed into the wall, as an example.
“They serve still water chilled and at room temperature, plus seltzer. It wasn’t just a plain water dispenser,” Sell said. “It’s how we incorporate those simple details as part of the overall story. Did you see the grime in the engine room? You see those details and see what it means to see it old and aged, just like it would in a ‘Star Wars’ movie.”
The “Star Wars” inspiration continues in other parts of the hotel.
“Think about the bridge. That alone gave our team lots of inspiration on what it would look like in battle,” Sell explained. “We take all those details and create an interactive space that’s layered together, thanks to the technology from Industrial Light & Magic.”
Sell’s team took it to the next level by not only creating battles on the bridge made to feel incredibly real (so much so that my heart just about leaped out of my chest when I experienced one during my stay), but by also extending that experience to the cabins so guests in their rooms could watch through the port window as the “ship” jumped to lightspeed while engaged in battles.
“We wanted you to experience being in a ship in a battle and seeing it live,” Sell said.
Through its innovative design, the hotel offers an opportunity for “Star Wars” fans and other guests to break away from reality and live directly in a story, according to Sell.
“They get to immerse themselves to the point that every decision affects their stay in the hotel. You can’t get that experience everywhere you go.”
Everything about the interior and overall design was intentional
Every detail was thought through for the Star Wars: Galactic Starcruiser hotel. From the look of each space to how the tiniest of features would function both in the “Star Wars” universe and as an amenity for guests, Walt Disney Imagineering carefully planned out every part of the property.
Take the guest cabin.
“If there is a crew of five traveling in this cabin, what are the necessities they need?” asked Bryce Schulte, a senior interior designer with Walt Disney Imagineering. “How can we add space-saving features, make the room comfortable and fit it all into the ‘Star Wars’ story?”
“Things like the table beneath the port pulling out when needed, the comfortable rolling stools that fit underneath the desk and the receding lights in the room … We wanted to save space and make it feel real with that ‘Star Wars’ aesthetic,” he said.
I asked about the design of the cabin’s moving maps, which are reminiscent of those seen on airline screens — except with planets instead of more familiar Earthly cities and countries.
“When you check into a hotel, there’s a screen in your room with information, and ours is no different,” Schulte responded. “When you’re traveling [in] space, you need to know where you’re going, and you want it to feel like part of the story. And you can also watch regular TV on the screen.”
But Schulte and his team took things one step further.
“Everything in the cabin and aboard the ship had to be part of the story, so we wanted to take away the traditional logos for all the brands,” he said.
For the cabins, the team worked with Disney amenities provider H2O to redesign the company’s logo to fit the “Star Wars” theme, according to Schulte. Even the Samsung logo you would normally see when turning on the TV was tweaked to instead be a gray-and-white design that briefly flashes so it fit the property’s aesthetic.
Related: What’s new at Disney World in 2022
The brand was seamlessly incorporated into merchandise
Like other sections of Walt Disney World, the Star Wars: Galactic Starcruiser makes sure guests have access to the latest and greatest keepsakes during their stays on the Halcyon.
“We knew the Galactic Starcruiser hotel would be a great experience, but we wanted to elevate merchandise in The Chandrila Collection gift shop to capture the story, including apparel, toys, jewelry, mugs and accessories,” said Cody Hampton, senior manager of brand merchandising for Lucasfilm. “We created different buckets, allowing guests to bring home a part of their adventure. We have a Christmas ornament with a planet storm. We have the Halcyon in models and keychains that both light up.”
There are also magnets, coasters and a wine stopper that all reflect the marble countertop in the ship’s Sublight Lounge.
For those keen on taking home a more unique item, the hotel has you covered, too.
“You can buy a version of the galactic card game Sabacc played in the lounge, complete with authentic tokens,” Hampton said. “We have the gray velvet cloak Padmé Amidala, queen and then senator of Naboo, wore in ‘Star Wars: Episode II — Attack of the Clones,’ a tunic worn for lightsaber training and a replica of the uniform worn by Captain Riyola Keevan for children.”
Among the prized items in the shop is a life-like lightsaber with different blade colors and a miniature operating SK-620 droid. Most of the items sold at the hotel are not available online, according to Hamilton, so you’ll want to do all of your shopping during your stay.
Food at the hotel needed to fit the setting
While most hotels offer a selection of cuisines at their on-site eateries, standard options wouldn’t do at this far-from-standard property.
“We worked with our friends at Lucasfilms and Disney Imagineers to come up with food names,” chef Brian Piasecki, who oversaw the concept development for the food served at the hotel, explained. “We looked at planets along the course of the Halcyon. As we identified planets, we explored what meat, plants and vegetables are grown there.”
I ate a delicious bantha beef tenderloin with a tamarind glaze from the planet of Tatooine, one of several items Piasecki described as “food that was part of the immersive experience.”
Another eye-catching dish was blue shrimp with seaweed and pickled mushroom served on a handblown plate from Spain.
“That blue shrimp was a challenge that took us six months to get it the right shade of blue throughout the shrimp flesh,” Piasecki said.
The Disney Imagineers and Lucasfilm were impressed with what the culinary team did, according to Piasecki.
“Of course, we wanted the ‘Star Wars’ geeks to like what we did, but we also hope the non-geeks also feel a connection to the story and say ‘now we get it'”, Piasecki said. “I’ve been with Disney for 31 years, and this project is the most fun I’ve ever had.”
Drinks required a dose of ‘Star Wars’ magic, too
Just as the dishes available to guests stick with the “Star Wars” theme, cocktails and other beverages needed to feel intentional and appropriate for the environment, as if your favorite characters would order them during their travels.
“We worked with Disney Imagineering and Lucasfilms on drink names,” Jennifer Mariano, Disney’s concept development project manager for beverages, said when describing the beverage options available at dinner and in the Sublight Lounge. “One of our last meetings before the hotel opened was when we finalized the Mandalorian Sling, our take on a classic Manhattan.”
There’s also the Hoth Icebreaker, which was created to simulate the desolate, frozen and uninhabitable planet of Hoth, according to Mariano.
“We wanted to make something that looked different and that people would want to drink it and want more,” Mariano said. “It’s similar to a Lemon Drop despite the blue color and includes an ice shard from the planet Hoth.”
I really enjoyed my time at the Star Wars: Galactic Starcruiser hotel. The details were a big part of what made the story feel less like an elaborate role-playing getaway and more like a real trip through hyperspace.
The experience itself was extraordinary, but after interviewing some of the people who made it happen, I’m even more impressed with how the team of Disney Imagineers, Lucasfilm storytellers and Industrial Light & Magic wizards worked together to create a whole new realistic world based on the “Star Wars” franchise.
While I didn’t get a chance to interview George Lucas, I have a feeling the famous mastermind behind the “Star Wars” universe would give his seal of approval to this flawlessly executed property.
Featured photo by Wyatt Smith/The Points Guy.