Feature Article

We Playtested Disney's Immersive Star Wars: Galactic Starcruiser Hotel, Here's What We Learned

Star Wars: Galactic Starcruiser will be Disney's first immersive hotel experience. Is it everything Star Wars fans have dreamed of?

When Star Wars: Galactic Starcruiser opens in March of 2022, it will be a first for Disney. The immersive two-day/two-night experience is part hotel, part theme park, and part Disney cruise, all wrapped into a single experience. Guests will essentially spend a couple of days inside of the world of Star Wars, aboard a luxury cruise ship that happens to be home to some shenanigans between the First Order and resistance forces.

Just how immersive will it be, though? GameSpot was able to attend an early access playtest of several aspects of the experience to get an idea of just what Disney has developed for guests and the results were a bit mixed. While the immersive story elements are by far the standout of what we experienced, the gaming aspects of the Galactic Starcruiser playtest left us wanting more. It cannot be stressed enough that what were previewed were several unfinished aspects of the experience, compacted into a single day. Construction on Galactic Starcruiser continues with the opening day set for March 1, 2022.

The setting

Upon arriving at Galactic Starcruiser, you're introduced to the Halcyon, the jewel in Chandrila Star Line's collection of luxury cruise ships. It serves as your home and immersive playground during your stay. The ship itself is beautifully designed to both resemble the Star Wars world fans are familiar with (there are plenty of '70s-era technological flourishes in the design) while also showing that this is a high-end cruise, from velvet seating in the atrium to a high-class bar filled with vibrant colors, specialty cocktails, and a working holographic sabacc table that you can play. No, we didn't see the table in action, but it should be pretty entertaining.

Additionally, the rooms are a lot more comfortable than the concept art may have led you to believe. While the standard room is a small space, it can comfortably sleep four adults. There's a double-size bed in the middle of the space, with two twin-size bunk beds that are long enough to accommodate tall adults. So while they may look like they're built for children, looks can be deceiving. What's more, the bunk beds use a thinner mattress that Disney says they developed specifically for the space to be comfortable without being too thick.

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When it comes to a Star Wars immersive experience at Disney World, you might expect this massive space stuffed with people. On the contrary, the various rooms to explore in the Halcyon are small, intimate spaces that make having an individualized experience feel possible.

In total, the hotel features 100 rooms, which--in theory--means there will be a maximum of 500 guests at any given time--though chances are there will likely be less with single and double occupancy in a number of rooms. That's far less than any other resort property Disney owns, leading to a more exclusive experience (which makes sense when you remember the price tag). It also leads to some pretty memorable immersive moments aboard the Halcyon.

Immersion

The most exciting element of Galactic Starcruiser is that you are essentially the star of your own Star Wars movie. It's been promised that guests will be able to choose how interactive they want their experience to be and will, in fact, get to choose their own path within the story. That could mean you choose to be sympathetic to the resistance, helping them carry out missions on the ship, thwarting the First Order. On the other hand, if you feel like working with the First Order to stop the resistance, that option exists as well.

To that end, Disney is being very careful to not throw around words like "good" and "evil" when it comes to guests on the ship. Instead, as the company's portfolio creative executive and Imagineer Scott Trowbridge explained, who you side with is a matter of different points of view. While we, as fans of the movies, look at the First Order as the bad guys (because they are the bad guys), there are plenty in the Star Wars galaxy that fall in with them and you will have the opportunity to do so.

During our brief visit to the Halcyon, this was exemplified through the day's most exciting activity. With a ship full of passengers assembled in the ship's atrium, a First Order officer flanked by Stormtroopers walks on board, searching for a resistance operative (Spoilers: It's Chewbacca). It should be noted that none of the characters encountered during this preview were in their final costumes in makeup. Some looked more ready than others, with the person playing Chewbacca wearing a Chewie hoodie and a sash with his name on it. Obviously, once Galactic Starcruiser opens to the world, this won't be an issue.

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For this particular experience, I chose to work with the resistance to smuggle Chewie out of the atrium, while the First Order interrogated other passengers. While it might not have felt as high stakes as a blaster fight in The Empire Strikes Back, it was simply fun and is exactly the kind of thing you'll want to do when you walk aboard the ship.

More important than hiding a Wookiee from the First Order, though, is how full the room felt. In addition to your fellow passengers, Galactic Starcruiser has a cast of costumed characters to interact with. Some, like various members of the Halcyon's crew, will be central to the story and help guide you to sidequests during your stay. Others, like a musician strumming a guitar--which was a placeholder for an instrument to be implemented closer to launch--are there to round out the experience.

It's those moments, when the story takes the lead, that Galactic Starcruiser shines. And, thankfully, it looks like there will be a lot of those moments, including some level of interconnectivity with what happens during an excursion to Star Wars: Galaxy's Edge in Disney Hollywood Studios. It remains to be seen how connected the two will be, exactly, but a brief moment in the finale of the Galactic Starcruiser experience did make a brief mention of something that occurs on the Rise of the Resistance attraction in the parks. Hopefully, the connections between the two entities go even deeper, though we will have to wait to see how that plays out.

Regardless, from dinners in the ship's fine dining room to guests exploring on their own and taking part in a variety of pre-planned activities, there will be plenty of story to delve into during the two-night experience.

Roleplaying

And the creatives behind Galactic Starcruiser made it clear that while there will be a number of costumed characters aboard the Halcyon, the guests themselves are encouraged to roleplay as much as they feel comfortable. For instance, this is the first Disney park experience where guests are not only allowed to wear costumes, but it's encouraged. In fact, for those that don't show up with their best Star Wars gear, there will be both Chandrila Star Line clothing and costumes inspired by iconic Star Wars looks available for purchase. And for those that want to go full alien, it was hinted that there might be makeup artists aboard the ship to help with that transformation. So depending on how deeply you want to invest in the story of Galactic Starcruiser, there will be levels of immersion for just about anyone--even if you just want to sit in the bar and drown yourself in space cocktails.

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As for the kinds of characters you can roleplay, there are a few roles you can choose from. The primary roles are those sympathetic to the resistance and the First Order. However, it was also teased that you could choose to be an operative of the underworld--much like Han Solo--or Jedi. It wasn't clear if you would be an actual Jedi or simply aligned with them. That's all information Disney says will come later as it continues to disclose information about this immersive experience. But it was clear that this particular aspect of Galactic Starcruiser is what shines brightest. During these moments, you simply get to be someone existing and interacting inside of the world of Star Wars, whether that means you're plotting to crush rebel scum or helping the resistance pull off some sort of scheme.

Games

While the immersive storytelling elements of Galactic Starcruiser work so well, it's the gaming experience that came up a bit short during this early preview. Three individual elements were shown off that were varying degrees of fun, but all seemed designed to be enjoyed most by families with small children.

The most anticipated experience on Galactic Starcruiser is likely lightsaber training. After all, who doesn't want to learn to wield a lightsaber--especially after Disney showed off a working replica which has a blade that fully emits from and retreats into the hilt? This is where fans are likely to be disappointed.

Trowbridge confirmed in a group interview that guests will never actually use that lightsaber, but that it will be part of the Galactic Starcruiser experience. If we had to guess, there will be a moment in the story where Rey is involved--given that it's her saber--and will wield it to ward off the First Order.

Instead, you will be given what feels like a high-end, yet slimmed-down lightsaber replica with a fixed blade. You power it up and all of the sounds and vibrations you would expect are there, but if you walk in expecting to get to play with the new one Disney has developed, let this serve as a warning.

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As for the experience itself, it was underwhelming. Senior R&D Imagineer Sara Thatcher stressed that of the experiences being previewed, lightsaber training was the furthest from its final form. What the experience boils down to is several rounds of using the saber replica to meet beams of light being projected in patterns. You take turns between using sabers and deflecting shields to meet the beams of light in what will undoubtedly be a fun activity for a family to partake in, especially if that family includes younger children. It remains to be seen what the final version of lightsaber training will be like, but if you're expecting a high-throttle experience more akin to Beat Saber, temper your expectations.

Speaking of tempering expectations, let's talk about bridge training. This is another of the pre-planned activities in every guest's itinerary. In groups, you will head to the bridge at the front of the ship and learn how to operate the shields, weapons, and other aspects of driving the ship that aren't actually steering it.

All four of the stations, though, are more or less mini-games. For instance, the shields station amounts to eight people playing Breakout together on a massive circular screen-top table. The weapons are a rudimentary shooting game where one person aims while the other fires--not unlike the two-person steering on the Millennium Falcon: Smugglers' Run ride at Star Wars: Galaxy's Edge.

In what feels like a reaction to complaints that Smugglers' Run is only entertaining if you wind up as one of the pilots, bridge training has everyone get their chance to try each of the four stations. While, in theory, that's a great idea, it ends up meaning you are in training for too long a period of time. By the end of our cycling through the stations, I was more than ready to be done pushing buttons and move on. This is partly because we were essentially playing Atari games with better graphics, but more than that there was plenty to explore aboard the Halcyon and while there were story elements injected into bridge training, it's these moments where it feels like the story is on the rails, rather than a free-roaming adventure.

The last experience we got to try was in one of the "crew members-only" areas. The setup was wonderfully done, with a crew member asking if we could help the resistance, before sneaking us into the engineering room to complete a task. Unfortunately, once in there it was chaos and there were little-to-no instructions on what we should be doing. Per Disney, that's not how this particular experience was supposed to play out. There should be more clear directions in the future. It was also noted that this same engineering room will play a role in other story activities and you might have clandestine meetings with characters while there. It also happens to have an opening into the ship's brig, so perhaps you'll help plot out a jailbreak.

These are just some of the game-based activities that will happen on the Halcyon and given that none of these experiences are in their final form, we cannot be sure what the final experience will be like. With that in mind, most of these particular experiences, as mentioned before, play as though they're aimed at families, rather than hardcore adult fans.

That said, there will be plenty of adult Star Wars fans that feel as though they are living out a dream come true. While I didn’t love the gaming aspects of the preview as they were presented, the immersive elements made me want to put on a costume and play a role. It's the sort of thing we've all dreamed of experiencing. What would you do if you woke up in a Star Wars story? Now, you'll actually have the chance to find out. Here's hoping that in its final form, you'll feel like your dream is becoming a reality.

Star Wars: Galactic Starcruiser opens March 1, 2022.

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chrishayner

Chris E. Hayner

Chris E. Hayner is an entertainment editor at GameSpot. Prior to his work at GameSpot, he contributed to a number of outlets including The Hollywood Report, IGN, Mashable, CBS Interactive, Tribune Media, and Nerdist. Beyond writing about TV, movies, and theme parks, Chris co-hosts and produces GameSpot's wrestling podcast Wrestle Buddies with Mat Elfring. Chris loves all movies, but especially Jaws and Paddington 2.

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