What Went Wrong with Disney’s Star Wars Hotel?

One year ago this week, Walt Disney World made the surprise announcement that it would be permanently closing Galactic Starcruiser, its “Star Wars hotel.” This came amidst struggles filling ‘voyages’ despite discounting, but was nevertheless surprising that it happened so fast.

The closure of Star Wars: Galactic Starcruiser itself was not a shock–we predicted that as a high-probably outcome even prior to it even opening–but the abrupt manner after only a little over a year of operations was. Surely, we thought, Disney would attempt to pivot once the initial wave of hardcore fans and affluent enthusiasts got their fix.

Nope. Instead, Walt Disney World announced the Starcruiser would make its final voyages by the end of the fiscal year, taking accelerated depreciation of a whopping $300 million. On the plus side, I guess, Disney did manage to sell out the final voyages in fast fashion as the hardcore fanbase that had quickly formed around Starcruiser–and those who thought they had more time to wait for discounts or whatever–rushed to book spots on the remaining months of voyages.

The struggles of Starcruiser are well-documented. We’ve written a number of articles about it over the years. It was a fascinating and troubled topic even pre-closure. Many fans absolutely adored it, whereas others loved to hate it. Starcruiser crashing and burning so spectacularly after under 2 years of operations has only added to the mystique. It will be deconstructed for far longer than it was constructed and operational.

In the grand scheme of the Star Wars and Disney fandoms, very few people had the opportunity to experience it. We’ve previously remarked about how there were dozens–if not hundreds–of YouTube videos about the Star Wars hotel that were watched by exponentially more people than ever stayed at Starcruiser.

One such video just dropped within the last week, and is singularly responsible for renewed interest in the doomed project:

The Spectacular Failure of the Star Wars Hotel” by Jenny Nicholson has already racked up nearly 5 million views with roughly 30,000 comments. It has “broken containment” from the Star Wars and Disneyspheres into the broader internet. I’ve had several people ask for my thoughts on it–from regular readers to non-Disney normies (that’s how you know it’s a big deal).

Aside from a scattering of clips I’ve seen on social media, I have not watched it. The video is roughly 4 hours long, which is like a weeklong viewing affair when translated to being a new parent working around the demands of a baby. (I can’t even watch a 2 hour movie without breaking it into multiple viewings.)

I’ve heard the video is incredibly thorough and well-done, and a lot of people whose opinions I trust have said it’s well worth watching and is actually concise because it’s so dense with information. So I can’t really recommend it, per se, but I also haven’t read Anna Karenina and am similarly confident that’s good content despite my lack of firsthand knowledge.

Nevertheless, I can’t open social media without seeing arguments about the video…and people keep asking for my opinions on it…so I’ll offer some indirect, roundabout thoughts on Starcruiser that (hopefully? maybe?) will suffice. Obviously, that’s not the same, but the alternative is writing my “response” in 3 years when I have free time, and I feel like the moment will have passed by then.

Most of the questions I’ve received about the Starcruiser and/or that video have been variations of this post’s title. (The rest have been super-specific stuff, many revolving around “influencer culture,” for lack of a better term.) Spoiler: I don’t have an answer to the titular question because there is no single thing that went wrong with Galactic Starcruiser. It was pretty much everything.

The main problem, of course, was 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 cheered for its failure. (For more thoughts on this expensive pricing, see Is Star Wars: Galactic Starcruiser Worth the High Cost?)

Basically, Walt Disney World had something that was awesome and envelope-pushing, but had astronomical operating costs and even higher price points for guests. The end result is something highly exclusionary that reduced a potentially large consumer pool into a very small one.

The margins on Starcruiser were not nearly as healthy as many fans assumed at first. Yes, the price was high, but the operating costs were staggering due to the high number of frontline Cast Members and performers, as well as the low number of rooms. It was basically a math problem, and I’m still shocked that Disney greenlit Starcruiser knowing it would be so expensive (for them) to run and require high occupancy rates.

Some fans still don’t seem to believe this, which is odd to me. If the only thing Disney needed to do for Starcruiser to be a success was lower prices…they would’ve lowered prices! It’s not like they wanted the thing to fail and to take the tax writedown. Disney would’ve been much better off had Starcruiser succeeded and actually made money.

This is just one of several ways Disney boxed themselves in with Starcruiser and didn’t have much room to pivot. Another example of this is the character choices and setting–as with the land itself, it’s fair to say there probably would’ve been more interest if Darth Vader and other familiar characters and environments were featured. The whole thing made more sense as a “wish fulfillment” experience that would’ve let adults relieve fond memories of formative films from their childhoods.

Then there’s the niche nature of the experience. Starcruiser was a live-action role-playing game and interactive entertainment kinda endeavor–and one that required multiple days to experience. The time and nature of the experience were two big barriers to entry, with the high cost being the third of the trifecta. We heard from so many Star Wars and Disney fans who were curious about Starcruiser and could’ve afforded it as a splurge, but ultimately couldn’t justify the risk of their vacation time for an unknown concept that they might’ve not enjoyed. Hard to blame ’em!

Another issue was the marketing of Starcruiser, with the company having a difficult time conveying what it was (and wasn’t). What most affluent consumers able to afford Starcruiser’s prices actually wanted was a boutique hotel set in the Star Wars universe, but that’s not what it delivered. (On a related note, here’s Why Walt Disney World Will NOT Reimagine Starcruiser Into a Star Wars Hotel.)

This is just a partial list of what went wrong with Starcruiser. (There’s a certain 4 hour video you can watch that I assume offers a deeper dive into all of this and more.) I would’ve loved to see Disney at least try to pivot, but I can also understand not throwing good money after bad. Starcruiser was booking to half-capacity a year after it opened.

While it’s easy to Monday morning quarterback and assert they should’ve done X or Y differently, and that would’ve fixed everything, I’m skeptical that would’ve been the case. The problems were more fundamental and multifaceted. In actuality, I suspect its original creation would’ve had to play out differently for the outcome to differ. (Still, I wish they would’ve tried day trips to the Halcyon.)

I’ve also been asked my thoughts on the video itself–and have seen a lot more of “The Discourse” in the last week on social media. Let’s start with the title, “The Spectacular Failure of the Star Wars Hotel.” It’s weird to me to see people arguing about whether Starcruiser was a failure.

From my perspective, this point is well-settled. Given that the Star Wars hotel closed and Disney took a massive $300 million writedown on it, of course it failed. Going out of business is incontrovertible evidence of failure. So I’m not interested in relitigating this question. If Starcruiser succeeded, you could still book voyages on it.

I guess you could argue that it was actually a creative triumph or the true success was the friends we made along the way. All of that seems like a stretch. Creatives don’t operate in a vacuum, and even if the experience was fantastic for a select number of guests, the bottom line is that it wasn’t booked enough to remain in business.

Again, it resulted in a $300 million loss for Disney. Let that sink in, because it means the bare minimum that Disney sunk on this project was $300 million. It’s possible that Starcruiser lost even more, but they’ve recycled some of the assets and didn’t take a writedown on those. I know Disney has become so adept at losing money with movies and Disney+ that it might seem like Monopoly money at this point, but that’s real money. Imagine losing your wallet full of $300. Would you excitedly tell your spouse about this great success, or feel upset about it?

The fact that something perceived so positively by many/most of those who experienced it still had to close isn’t exactly the ringing endorsement that some fans believe it is. I don’t think that makes it better–it makes it worse! “We had this great thing people loved but it lost a ton of money and also was seldom fully booked until we announced its closure” isn’t something to brag about.

To be abundantly clear, this doesn’t undermine your enjoyment of Starcruiser and passion people still have for it. It doesn’t invalidate the work Imagineers and so many other talented Cast Members undertook to bring it to live, and breathe life into it. There are a lot of people who have (very understandably!) grown attached to Starcruiser, the people who inhabited its spaces, the stories they experienced, and friends they made along the way. That is great–I loved it, too!

But I also don’t need a label of “success” to be the enduring legacy of the project. And I know that, no matter what I or anyone else says, that absolutely will not be how Starcruiser is remembered. It’ll be as a costly and colossal flop that Disney pulled the plug on less than two years after it opened. That doesn’t undermine anyone’s memories. I happen to love the movies Mulholland Drive and Popstar: Never Stop Never Stopping (Sarah says I shouldn’t admit to that) despite both flopping–a fact about which I never think while watching them!

I’ve said this before, but Starcruiser reminds me of the Adventurers Club–but with childhood love of Star Wars and a massive barrier to entry in the price. Both were also immersive experiences that involved a degree of role-playing, or at least had an in-group dynamic. People formed friendships and forged strong bonds through both.

Many fans found their adopted “families” at both, and the closures hit certain people hard. In the case of Adventurers Club, the diehards held out hope for years that it would return–clinging to every bit of speculation, rumors, and/or wishful thinking. It was painful to watch, even secondhand.

It’s probably fair to say that the same thing is already happening with Star Wars: Galactic Starcruiser, which is why so many people are taking this video–or anything negative–personally. It’s perceived not as a critique of the creative and business decisions of a multi-billion corporation, but an attack on family. It is personal. (Not for me. I really liked Starcruiser, but not that much.)

I understand why it’s happening, but it still seems misguided to me to pick apart this video, trying to poke holes in the arguments. Even without watching it in full, I’m glad it exists. And this is without knowing whether I’d agree or disagree with the substance of the video.

In fact, I probably would not agree with some of the specific critiques given that we really enjoyed Starcruiser and she didn’t. (Our full Star Wars: Galactic Starcruiser Review is mostly positive.) But that doesn’t much matter–she can’t invalidate my experience just like I can’t invalidate hers.

It’s not just us, either. There are dozens upon dozens of glowingly positive reviews for Starcruiser all over the internet. And not just from bloggers, vloggers, influencers, etc. Countless average guests considered it the best thing they’d ever done at Walt Disney World. It had one of the highest guest satisfaction scores at Walt Disney World of all-time.

I suppose you could say every one of these people is biased or suffered a mass hallucination after catching Gaya’s gaze. Or there’s the more straightforward explanation…a lot of people who did Starcruiser really liked it?

From what I gather, Jenny’s voyage was a comedy of errors and issues that Disney declined to fix–or did so belatedly. I’ve also seen comments suggesting she did X or Y the “wrong” way, which strikes me as patently absurd and dismissive. Given the price point, the service and attention to detail should’ve been immaculate.

Sadly, this is nothing new or unique. We heard from others who either had negative experiences or for whom Starcruiser didn’t “click.” Although secondhand, there are anecdotes of guests not realizing what they had signed up for and having a disappointing time. To be clear, this was not our experience–ours was amazing and Disney firing on all cylinders at the highest caliber. But we are not everyone.

One thing that is/was key is distinguishing between the terms expensive and luxury when describing Starcruiser. Something can cost a lot of money–as this did–without being luxurious–as this was not. This is a common thread with Walt Disney World. We’ve pointed out time and time again that Disney cannot hold a candle to real world luxury hoteliers, which is why they outsourced that to Four Seasons several years ago. Disney mostly does themed resorts, not luxurious ones.

The specifics here don’t really matter, anyway, since the thing in question is dead and gone, so it’s not like my review can persuade anyone to do Starcruiser or vice-versa. At this point, everything written or recorded about Starcruiser is essentially a postmortem on the project, with much of it serving as a cautionary tale or a prism for commentary on Disney as a whole.

And that’s why I’m glad “The Spectacular Failure of the Star Wars Hotel” video exists. Because–at least from a couple clips that I’ve seen–it essentially views Starcruiser as a symptom of a larger and systemic problem. The company’s proclivity for treating Walt Disney World like its cash cow–nickel and diming guests, charging more and offering less.

We’ve been critical of the company, with Is Disney Ruining Its Reputation? and Disney’s Reputation Falls Further covering the company’s self-inflicted brand damage and loss of goodwill in the last several years. That has happened, at least in part, because Walt Disney World is charging more and offering less as compared to 2019.

Starcruiser is seen as the culmination of this, which was precisely why there was so much schadenfreude among Disney fans about its failure. Fans cheered for Starcruiser’s downfall not necessarily because it was bad in isolation, but because it was the biggest and boldest exemplar of a problematic trend. The most expensive upcharge at a time of ever-increasing upcharges. Starcruiser opened at the height of that, in the darkest days during the Chapek era when everything was being cut…except prices.

Although we first covered the topic many years ago in Is Disney World Eroding Fan Goodwill?, the trend really accelerated post-pandemic during the pent-up demand “era” when Walt Disney World was doing record-breaking numbers regardless of the guest-unfriendly decisions and changes they made. (See also, Top 10 Guest Complaints About Walt Disney World and Walt Disney World Could Fix the Guest Experience by Improving These Things.)

From my perspective, there is way too much uncritical commentary of Disney. This site certainly doesn’t shy away from positivity when it’s warranted–but we also aren’t afraid to offer blunt and frank assessments when those are warranted. One of the reasons Disney Adults are the subject of so much derision (besides the fact that we’re super cool and everyone is jealous of us–clearly) is because there’s so much unflinching positivity or knee-jerk negativity in the community. (Critical commentary is distinct from negativity–you can be reflexively negative by complaining about any and everything without offering thoughtful and coherent critique.)

This is the main reason I’m most looking forward to watching the 4 hour Star Wars hotel video. I don’t really care about Starcruiser itself anymore–what’s done and gone is gone–it’s how the lessons learned (or not) by the company will be applied (or not) in the future at Walt Disney World that really matters to me.

Planning a Walt Disney World trip? Learn about hotels on our Walt Disney World Hotels Reviews page. For where to eat, read our Walt Disney World Restaurant Reviews. To save money on tickets or determine which type to buy, read our Tips for Saving Money on Walt Disney World Tickets post. Our What to Pack for Disney Trips post takes a unique look at clever items to take. For what to do and when to do it, our Walt Disney World Ride Guides will help. For comprehensive advice, the best place to start is our Walt Disney World Trip Planning Guide for everything you need to know!


Thoughts on what went wrong with Star Wars: Galactic Starcruiser? If you’ve watched “The Spectacular Failure of the Star Wars Hotel,” what was your take on the video? Did you also experience the Star Wars hotel? Do you agree or disagree with its 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!

74 Responses to “What Went Wrong with Disney’s Star Wars Hotel?”
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