Walt Disney World has announced that it will be permanently closing Galactic Starcruiser, its Star Wars “resort.” This covers the official announcement of the closure, dates & details, plus our commentary about the decision.
According to Walt Disney World’s official announcement, the final voyage for Star Wars: Galactic Starcruiser will take place September 28-30, 2023. In other words, it’s one of the first cuts to be made and revealed before Disney’s new fiscal year starts on October 1, 2023.
“Star Wars: Galactic Starcruiser is one of our most creative projects ever and has been praised by our Guests and recognized for setting a new bar for innovation and immersive entertainment. This premium experience gave us the opportunity to try new things on a smaller scale of 100 rooms, and we will take what we’ve learned to create future experiences that can reach more of our Guests and fans,” Disney shared in a statement.
Walt Disney World will be contacting guests booked for voyages departing on or after September 30, 2023 to discuss their options and modify their plans. To prioritize these guests with previously-booked reservations, Walt Disney World is pausing new bookings until May 26, 2023.
The company’s statement goes on to say that they are so proud of all of the Cast Members and Imagineers who brought Star Wars: Galactic Starcruiser to life and look forward to delivering an excellent experience for Guests during the remaining voyages over the coming months.
We want to start by addressing Star Wars: Galactic Starcruiser from a planning perspective. Probably an odd approach, given that it’s closing. However, you will likely have a chance to book it after the dust settles for voyages between now and the end of September 2023, and there are still discounts available for summer voyages.
For those who are on the fence about doing Star Wars: Galactic Starcruiser, we highly recommend it. Not because you’ll have bragging rights a decade from now as one of the very few fans who experienced this limited time offering. Rather, because Star Wars: Galactic Starcruiser is awesome.
The experience is definitely not for everyone, but we think it’s more broadly appealing than some might assume. Star Wars: Galactic Starcruiser is an incredibly well-done, memorable, and personalized experience. Everything about it is amazing. You become emotionally invested in the outcome of the storyline and the whole thing is just immensely satisfying.
Turning to commentary about the closure of Star Wars: Galactic Starcruiser, this is sad but unsurprising news.
Before it even opened, we predicted that Star Wars: Galactic Starcruiser might struggle to find an audience once the initial wave of hardcore fans and affluent enthusiasts got their fix. We also predicted that Walt Disney World would be slow to pivot, and would quietly offer targeted discounts to Cast Members and other groups to avoid publicly “admitting” that the Starcruiser was not a big success. The exact things that have been done to date.
With news of discounts and reduced departure dates, we expressed frustration. Our perspective was that if the status quo was maintained, the Star Wars resort’s woes would only get worse over time. Galactic Starcruiser debuted during a period of pent-up demand and free-spending consumers. Its first year largely exhausted the supply of hardcore Star Wars and Disney fans who have the money and interest in an experience like this. The tides have since turned, and in a big way.
Our point was that those measures did not fix any underlying issues. Namely, they did not expand the audience or appeal of Star Wars: Galactic Starcruiser. It’s a band aid approach that simply resulted in Starcruiser losing less money and failing slower. As we said months ago: if this is Walt Disney World’s only fix, then failure is inevitable.
To that point, another prediction we made even before Star Wars: Galactic Starcruiser opened was that if it failed, it would close. There were possible pivots (past tense), but converting this building to a standard hotel is not one of them. Many Walt Disney World fans seem to assume this is a plausible or inevitable outcome even with the “experience” of Star Wars: Galactic Starcuiser ending. It is not.
Starcruiser does not have a laundry list of amenities that a normal guest would expect of a hotel–everything from a pool to outdoor common areas to working windows. Part of the reason Starcruiser has been such a challenge to market is because it is fundamentally not a hotel. It’s an immersive experience that offers a place to sleep.
Starcruiser is also very small. The entire thing is only 100 rooms. The scale does not work as a hotel, especially given the level of investment that would be required to convert this into a standard hotel. It would be like throwing good money after bad.
Honestly, even if Starcruiser could somehow be operated as a hotel without any material changes, it’s not viable. The operating costs of staffing, servicing, and maintaining it–even without entertainment performers–are too high given the low number of rooms. (The margins on Starcruiser are not nearly as healthy as many fans assume. Yes, the price is high, but the operating costs are staggering.)
If you’re a newer Walt Disney World fan, you might be shocked at the idea that the company would just abandon the building entirely. If you’ve been around the block as a Walt Disney World fan, you might remember Pop Century’s Legendary Years, River Country, Disney Institute, Discovery Island, etc.
Heck, you could argue that even Reflections – A Disney Lakeside Lodge and Play Pavilion are similar to this (albeit not quite on the same scale). In short, Walt Disney World has a time-honored tradition of abandoning buildings and letting them rot. It’s as much a part of their rich 50-year history as The Wand, Sorcerer’s Hat, Giant EPCOT Dirt Pit, or in-park tombstones!
Like some of the other aforementioned failures, maybe the physical infrastructure of Star Wars: Galactic Starcruiser will eventually be repurposed. It’s possible the ‘day trip’ concept to the Halcyon that we’ve mentioned previously will still come to fruition at some point, but departing out of Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge and with totally different branding for the experiences. (Color me skeptical about that at this point.)
Regardless of what happens down the road, don’t expect that announcement anytime soon–and don’t be surprised if it never happens. Walt Disney World has let plenty of things rot in plain sight before; this would not be a first. (Starcruiser isn’t really in plain sight–it’s behind Cast Member parking at DHS, and the odd location is arguably part of why it won’t be converted into anything else.)
In other words, this news that Star Wars: Galactic Starcruiser is permanently closing is not going to be followed by another announcement that a “brand-new” Star Wars Resort is opening. That is not going to happen. But who knows, maybe they’ll turn it into a prison–it has the right look and we’ve heard there’s interest in one of those around Walt Disney World!
One of the things that makes this closure news so sad is that guest satisfaction for Star Wars: Galactic Starcruiser is excellent. We’re talking higher scores than just about anything else at Walt Disney World. I have heard this from multiple people with knowledge of the Halcyon, and I have no reason to doubt them. (This also comports with our Star Wars: Galactic Starcruiser Review, which is incredibly positive about everything except for the price.)
I have no issue calling out the many mistakes that Disney has made with this, but the actual experience is not one of them. Star Wars: Galactic Starcruiser having some of the highest guest satisfaction scores of anything at Walt Disney World should be entirely unsurprising for anyone who has actually done a voyage.
For those who haven’t, it’s an incredibly well-done, memorable, and personalized experience. Everything about it is amazing. You become emotionally invested in the outcome of the storyline and the whole thing is just immensely satisfying. Walt Disney World has had its hits and misses in recent years, but this delivers in just about every regard. Star Wars: Galactic Starcruiser is classic Walt Disney World–a true triumph of Imagineering.
How much fans would love the Galactic Starcruiser experience if they could afford the cost is without question the most saddening part of the news that it’s closing. We know a lot of bloggers or vloggers who have axes to grind with Disney or Star Wars. There are plenty of people who have been openly hoping for the failure of Starcruiser. We are not among them. We were cheering for changes because we really, really wanted this to succeed and for more people to be able to afford it. It’s such a shame that so few fans will get to have experienced Starcruiser.
The main problem, of course, is the price. Not to belabor the point here, as the overwhelming majority of discourse about Starcruiser has revolved around the prohibitive pricing. This was patently obvious to just about everyone from the beginning, and one of the biggest reasons why so many fans have been cheering for its failure. (For more thoughts on this expensive pricing, see Is Star Wars: Galactic Starcruiser Worth the High Cost?)
Again, guest satisfaction is incredibly high, but there’s selection bias at play. That only surveys those who did Star Wars: Galactic Starcruiser, which means it’s the perspective of those who could afford to do it. Not polled are the ~95% of the potential audience for this that either could not afford it or don’t want to invest the time in a multi-day live action role playing experience.
Basically, Walt Disney World has something that’s awesome and envelope-pushing, but has high operating costs and even higher price points for guests. The end result is something highly exclusionary that reduces a potentially large consumer pool into a very small one.
The only viable solution would have been expanding the consumer-base. This is accomplished by offering something that’s more approachable, both from a pricing perspective and also a time commitment one. It’s not either/or, it’s both.
Due to the scale and operating expenses, there’s likely only so much cost-cutting that can be done to reduce pricing on the 2-night experience while still maintaining profitability. That’s fine, because price is not the only impediment to people doing Starcruiser–it’s also investing 2 nights of limited vacation time into an experience that might not be for everyone.
As we’ve suggested before, the solution is/was debuting ‘day trips’ aboard the Halcyon. Walt Disney World could offer 8-hour experiences that condense key moments of the storyline into a single day visit. The branching script could be rewritten in a way that hits the major high notes, basically turning the Halcyon into a boutique theme park or interactive narrative experience. (Somewhat like Meow Wolf, but exponentially more expensive.)
This shorter experience would have been very attractive to a wider cross-section of Star Wars and Walt Disney World fans. It also would’ve been significantly cheaper. It would have introduced a whole new audience to Starcruiser, and whetted their appetite for even more. It could have resulted in even more bookings of the 2-night voyage as people learned how good Starcruiser really is. Sadly, all past tense now.
It’s really sad that Walt Disney World didn’t even test this before opting to instead permanently closing Star Wars: Galactic Starcruiser. Perhaps it was hemorrhaging more money than we thought, and was deemed unsalvageable. It just seems like the only attempts made at turning things around–discounts and cutting voyages–were half-measures at best that never would’ve been sufficient. Again, very hard to say from the outside looking in.
Ultimately, we really wanted to see Star Wars: Galactic Starcruiser succeed. That’s why it was so frustrating that Walt Disney World did not make changes to fix the underlying issues, but instead made half-measures causing it to circle the drain a little slower. Now, everything is going to be flushed away at the end of Disney’s fiscal year. This decision has big “we’ve tried nothing, and we’re all out of ideas” energy.
We understood why so many fans were frustrated by the Starcruiser and openly cheered for it to fail. It was dumb of Disney to make this so exclusionary, both in pricing and appeal. There are dozens of ways Disney could’ve approached this so it didn’t alienate so much of the audience. Yet they opted against all of that and remained steadfast in their refusal to fix the underlying issues. In a sense, Disney is getting what they deserve with Star Wars: Galactic Starcruiser failing.
However, this is not what the creative team behind the Starship Halcyon deserve, nor do the passionate performers who poured their hearts and souls into making these characters and the whole experience come alive. It’s also not what Star Wars or Walt Disney World fans deserve–and that includes those who have bashed it. There are so many fans who have done so out of justifiable frustration, but who would actually love the Starcruiser if given a chance to experience it.
Star Wars: Galactic Starcruiser is actually awesome, innovative, and a leap forward for the world of interactive storytelling. Imagineering created something outside the box that offered full immersion, interactivity, entertainment, and personalization in a highly-themed environment. It’s an absolute shame that more fans will not get to experience this, and that Disney is now throwing away the millions of dollars in physical infrastructure and R&D by permanently closing Star Wars: Galactic Starcruiser.
If this news makes you happy or gives you a sense of schadenfreude, that’s certainly your prerogative. However, if you think Star Wars: Galactic Starcruiser closing is going to “teach Disney a lesson,” you are sadly mistaken. Unless the lesson that you want the company to learn is that they should be more risk-averse and push the creative envelope less, in which case: mission accomplished!
Thoughts on Walt Disney World permanently closing Star Wars: Galactic Starcruiser? Think the company will convert it to a regular resort, reopen it as something else, or abandon the building forever? Would you have preferred a more conventional hotel stay at a Star Wars-themed or decorated hotel? Do you agree or disagree with our assessments? Any questions we can help you answer? Hearing your feedback–even when you disagree with us–is both interesting to us and helpful to other readers, so please share your thoughts below in the comments!