Even before Walt Disney World announced that Star Wars: Galactic Starcruiser would permanently close in Fall 2023, there has been speculation and wishful thinking among fans that the interactive multi-day experience would be converted from a cruise on land to a standard hotel. This post covers the many reasons why we strongly believe that will not happen. (Updated September 30, 2023.)
Of course, we could be wrong. In an interview, Disney Parks Chairman Josh D’Amaro stated that “something will happen” when asked about Star Wars: Galactic Starcruiser. That’s only going to add fuel to the fire of fan excitement about the “future” of the Starship Halcyon, and taken at face value, that undermines the entire premise of this article.
When discussing Starcruiser, D’Amaro also indicated that “not everything’s going to work. What did work, though, is we took creativity and storytelling to a completely new level, to a level that had never existed before…It didn’t work commercially. And so, when we realized that, you just make a call and move on.”
With that said, “something will happen” is pretty meaningless on its own and open to projection of one’s own desires and hopes. The optimistic among us might think this is a hint of a reimagining into a regular resort, which would be “something” major happening with Starcruiser. The more pessimistic might think it’ll rot in plain sight, which is also not nothing. (Stated differently, that’s technically something, too!) Of course, there’s a vast expanse of middle ground between those two extremes.
Frankly, I wouldn’t put too much stock in a vague line that’s purposefully open to interpretation. Over the course of the last few years, this site has been very pro-D’Amaro and pro-Starcruiser, so it’s not as if we’re projecting our own cynicism or biases, either. Rather, we’re trying to be realists–and would love to be proven wrong in the coming years.
For now, here are the reasons why we believe Star Wars: Galactic Starcruiser won’t become a hotel. That’s followed by what is likely in the next several years, and our latest update (towards the bottom) as of September 30, 2023…
Tax Write-Down – This interview is a good example of D’Amaro playing the “know your audience” game. He was last interviewed about this topic during the 2023 JPMorgan Global Technology, Media & Communications Conference. As the name suggests, that’s aimed at analysts and Wall Street investors. There, he started with the same sentiment about Starcruiser being envelope-pushing and yada yada yada.
Although accelerating the asset’s depreciation doesn’t necessarily preclude that in the longer run, it also doesn’t comport with conventional accounting practices to do so now with a plan in mind for its future. Quite simply, Disney cannot fully depreciate the asset and then immediately turn around and repurpose it absent significant reinvestment.
So unless you think they’re going to throw good money after bad and drop hundreds of millions of additional dollars on it, Star Wars: Galactic Starcruiser isn’t getting a reimaging any time soon. Then again, maybe the “something” that D’Amaro hinted will happen is accelerated depreciation?! Every fan loves teases of that!
100 Rooms – Star Wars: Galactic Starcruiser has 100 rooms. This makes it far and away the smallest standalone “resort” at Walt Disney World. In fact, it has a lower room count than even DVC add-ons like Bay Lake Tower and Boulder Ridge. To put that number into perspective, most hotels at Walt Disney World have between 750 and 2,000 rooms. There are some outliers that have fewer or more, like Riviera Resort or Pop Century. But every single one with fewer also shares infrastructure with other, larger resort complexes.
It’s a simple issue of economies of scale. There’s a minimum number of Cast Members and infrastructure (buses, dining, amenities, etc.) necessary to support a resort regardless of whether it’s 100 rooms or 400. Obviously, it’s better to spread those costs out over more rooms, otherwise there’s a scenario where the breakeven point is $500 per night and margins are meager unless rack rates are over $1,000 per night. At which point, more consumers balk at booking because there are cheaper and better alternatives. (Basically, a version of the precise problem Starcruiser had, minus the high entertainment costs.)
No Windows or Balconies – Starcruiser has no windows or balconies. The people paying $1,000 per night for a hotel room (or whatever hypothetical cost we’re ascribing here) typically like those types of features.
No Pool – Starcruiser has no pool and nowhere to add one, either. Again, this is the type of thing people expect when paying luxury price points for a hotel.
No Amenities – Starcruiser doesn’t have a pool bar (due to no pool). It doesn’t have tennis courts or pickleball (America’s fastest growingsport), either. Name an outdoor amenity–movies under the stars, playgrounds, etc–it does not have those things, aside from a rock garden. It also does not have multiple table service restaurants, lounges, character dining, or pretty much anything you’d expect of a Deluxe Resort.
It does have one (1) bar and one (1) dining area. Both of these would be undersized if the resort were expanded or accessible to the park-going public. Oh, and there’s no space to expand any of this, outside or within the Starcruiser.
Resembles Prison – I may not love the unambitious design of some newer resorts at Walt Disney World, but at least they aren’t themed to minimum-security federal correctional facilities. That may seem like an exceedingly low bar, but Star Wars: Galactic Starcruiser does resemble a prison. This was not a big deal when the ‘resort’ was basically closed and tightly-controlled, as guests seldom saw much of the exterior beyond the porte-cochere. That has an austere and industrial look, but it works well enough for a departures terminal.
As a regular resort, this would be a huge issue. As with so many other modifications on this list, it would require tremendous investment to make Star Wars: Galactic Starcruiser not look like a prison.
It’s Backstage – So much of the armchair Imagineering about the conversion of Star Wars: Galactic Starcruiser into a regular resort is very clearly coming from people who have never seen it in person. Most of that day-dreaming falls apart when confronted with the harsh realities of its operations, environment, and infrastructure.
The biggest impediment to modifications or expansions (aside from money…but let’s assume for the sake of argument that Disney is willing to lose endless sums of money on this–there is precedent for that, just look at streaming!), is the location of Star Wars: Galactic Starcruiser. It’s essentially wedged between roads, Cast Member parking, and the backside of Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge. Cast Member parking could always be relocated…but not the Star Wars land itself. The Starcruiser building is always going to be backstage, and just far enough from Galaxy’s Edge that it’s too inconvenient for walking access, but close enough that it presents a problem.
Maintenance Intensive – Do you know how much it costs to maintain the technology for the outer space viewports in every single guest room and many common areas aboard the Halcyon? Me neither, but I’m guessing it far exceeds the cost of cleaning windows!
That is just one of many maintenance-intensive components of Star Wars: Galactic Starcruiser that is unlike anything at traditional hotels. Even if they totally abandoned all of the ‘show’ features used for the interactive experience, there’s still a necessary minimum to maintain the theme aboard the Halcyon (otherwise it’s just a cold ‘space industrial’ vibe…bordering on ‘relaxed prison’). And as discussed above, those costs are spread out over 100 rooms instead of 1,000 or whatever.
It Wasn’t Built as a Hotel – All of the above might seem really odd and shortsighted on Disney’s part until you recognize the reality that Star Wars: Galactic Starcruiser was not built as a traditional hotel. They bet the farm on this immersive ‘choose-your-own-adventure’ experience, hoping that this role-playing, hyper-themed environment, and interactive entertainment endeavor. Disney really thought it would be a success–failure was not an option, until it was.
In any case, it’s clear from the way it was built that Disney had no plans to pivot when creating Star Wars: Galactic Starcruiser. It would either be a spectacular success or colossal failure, with almost no middle ground. Although they’re talking points, what D’Amaro has said about this being envelope-pushing, ambitious, etc., is 100% true. Star Wars: Galactic Starcruiser was one of the best things Walt Disney World has done in decades.
Sadly, it’s also true that something so good can crash and burn so badly. (Trust me, I get the desire to want to believe that won’t be the outcome here, and that Disney has a bigger picture plan. It’s more comforting to believe that!)
They’ve Let Stuff Rot Before – If you’re a newer Walt Disney World fan, you might be shocked at the idea that the company would just abandon the Starcruiser 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–the list goes on and on.
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). Suffice to say, 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!
There’s a generous helping of skepticism and snark in this article, and I can appreciate that the tone may be a bit off-putting for some Star Wars and Disney fans who love Galactic Starcruiser. A lot of people have been dancing on the grave of the Halcyon, and the degree to which Starcruiser has inspired anger and contempt–rather than indifference–is relatively unprecedented.
We get the basis for those frustrations and sense of vindication, in seeing this fail–Starcruiser is seemingly symptomatic of a larger problem at Walt Disney World (but that’s a bit beyond the scope of this post). Regardless, we’re not dancing on any graves with this–we loved Starcruiser. This is more of an ‘if you don’t laugh, you’ll cry’ type of things.
As for the possible realistic future of Star Wars: Galactic Starcruiser, my guess is that the building will sit empty for a couple of years. At some point, Walt Disney World will determine that the ongoing costs of security and minimal maintenance will exceed those of demolition. I wouldn’t expect that to happen for at least a few years, though. (That’ll also give legs to regular “rumors” about its future for the foreseeable future.)
Demolishing the building seems like the most likely long-term outcome in light of the accelerated depreciation. Even absent that becoming public knowledge, I wouldn’t have expected the building to see any guest-facing usage. Maybe it could’ve become a training center or offices for Disney’s Hollywood Studios, but even that would’ve likely required more money than it was worth for conversion.
The reasons for Star Wars: Galactic Starcruiser not seeing guest usage in the future are more or less outgrowths of various entries on the list above. Some fans have speculated that Walt Disney World could use the restaurant space for a dinner show, which does make sense in theory. After all, that dinner show has already been developed and the dining room exists inside the Halcyon. Given the popularity of Oga’s Cantina and other dinner shows at Walt Disney World, it’s safe to say it would sell out even at $100 to $150 per person. So why not recoup some costs?
The problems pertain to infrastructure. Parking is insufficient outside the Starcruiser, the whole building and grounds would need to be staffed and secured, and bus service would need to be available from the parks. Those are a lot of added costs that would quickly erode the profitability of a dinner show held inside the Starcruiser building.
However, that doesn’t mean a dinner show won’t happen. The obvious alternative would be simply building one in Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge–in the exact space that was originally set aside for a restaurant over by Oga’s Cantina! The venue could be larger, correct viewing angle issues with the dining room aboard the Halcyon, and it would not have the same infrastructure issues as the Starcruiser, as the existing land and park would support it.
This is one big example where investing more would not be an example of throwing good money after bad. Rather, it would be a savvy move with upfront spending increasing margins and decreasing operating expenses in the long-term. The appetite for a Star Wars dinner show is endless, and this would be a license to print money. If D’Amaro actually is sincere in his sentiment that “something will happen,” my best guess is that it’ll be this. Not only that, but it would round out Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge, strengthen the land, and improve its numbers. It’s too obvious not to do.
One stopgap option that I could see happening is debuting a dinner show at Star Wars: Galactic Starcruiser, testing and adjusting there, and then adding a purpose-built venue in Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge a couple years later.
September 30, 2023 Update: With today being the final Starcruiser voyage and many of its most ardent admirers being among those on the last several voyages, a lot of rumors and ‘chatter’ (not quite rising to a rumor, but more than just speculation) has been leaking out about the future of Star Wars: Galactic Starcruiser after the final voyage.
First things first, most of the characters and Cast Members aboard the Starcruiser are being reassigned to other roles. For those who were hoping that the aliens and other original characters would appear in Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge (as originally intended!), maybe don’t hold your breath. Josh D’Amaro has hinted in recent interviews that he wants to bring back atmospheric entertainment to the land, but hasn’t committed to anything. Nevertheless, we’d expect this to happen at some point. Not with the full slate of Starcruiser characters, but with a subset of them, and likely as a soft reboot of Galaxy’s Edge.
As for Starcruiser itself, there are no immediate plans to do anything with the building. It’s our understanding that it’ll essentially be mothballed for at least the near to medium term, which is to say that the building will essentially be preserved. They’re not going to demolish it, but Imagineering also is not going to get in there and immediately start construction on something new. So this is good or bad news, depending upon how realistic your expectations were for its future.
The most interesting possibilities, and why we’ve buried this update down here, all revolve around a future dinner show. There has been a lot of chatter about this (see the recent reader comments from Maggie below for a portion of it), all of which suggests that Walt Disney World is actively exploring ideas for a Star Wars dinner show. Whether any of this sees the light of day for guests is completely unknown at this point, and just because Imagineering is doing tests doesn’t mean management will bite. They’ve already been “burned” once by Starcruiser, so there’s likely a level of apprehension here beyond that of other projects.
However, between D’Amaro’s comments and the rumors from fans and Cast Members…something is likely to happen with the best ideas from Star Wars: Galactic Starcruiser. With the benefit of zero inside knowledge, our bet is a dinner show held inside Starcruiser that ‘departs’ from Galaxy’s Edge is launched at some point in 2024. Should that go well, we’d expect construction to begin on a proper venue inside Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge for a dinner show to open in 2025 or 2026. Either of those things could be accompanied by a soft reboot of the land that does more to break the timeline and introduces more characters. (The Mandalorian and Baby Yoda appearances have been a smash success.)
Beyond that, I wouldn’t be surprised if other elements of Starcruiser make their way into Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge. The “what” of this really depends upon how much of the R&D is rolled into the accelerated depreciation. Remember, it’s not just the physical, window-less building that’s taking the write-down. Even with the way Disney spends, that structure probably didn’t cost $300 million to build.
It’s the tangible products of research and development, technology, and fancy fixtures that were rolled into Star Wars: Galactic Starcruiser. For example, everything affixed to the atrium of the Halcyon that won’t be repurposed elsewhere is going to be depreciated this fiscal year. (Some of these assets were particularly problematic and contributed to the project going way over budget.) If there’s no intention to reuse certain set pieces and props, it’s probably pretty easy to bundle that into the building and depreciate it all at once.
However, there was also tangible technology that was produced via Imagineering R&D that Walt Disney World and Disneyland might want to reuse for Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge (or even elsewhere). Things like that fancy new lightsaber, the Yoda effect (trying not to spoil it), and other showpieces.
There’s a strong chance of those being added to new entertainment along the catwalks in the land, Savi’s Workshop, Oga’s Cantina, and elsewhere. So much of this was originally intended for the land, and it’ll just be a matter of Disney expressing an appetite to invest more into the land. (A bit beyond the scope of this post, but I could definitely see that happening with a bit of a soft relaunch that breathes new life into Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge in a marketable way.)
Honestly, I think the loss of the wow-moment features from Star Wars: Galactic Starcruiseris precisely what Walt Disney World and Star Wars fans are really worried about when they hope that it has a future and is reinvented as something different. Sure, there are some who are hoping September isn’t their last chance to step about the Starship Halcyon. Most are worried that the things that made the Starcruiser a magical experience that captured lightning in a bottle will be gone for good. But the Starcruiser faithful are not lamenting the loss of a windowless, prison-esque building nestled backstage by a parking lot.
Obviously, whatever the future holds will never be the same as Star Wars: Galactic Starcruiser. Some of what made it so special to so many–especially the sense of community and camaraderie–will be gone for good. But there’s a saying to the effect of, no good idea really dies at Imagineering, it simply fuels another in the future. That holds true here. The building itself and so much more were not good ideas, but there are kernels of greatness here and there, and those will likely find homes in the decade to come in Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge and beyond.
Think D’Amaro is sincere in saying “something will happen” with Star Wars: Galactic Starcruiser? Or do you suspect the perspective of this article is more realistic, and the building is likely going to be demolished eventually with the good ideas filtering down into Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge and beyond? Thoughts on Walt Disney World permanently closing Star Wars: Galactic Starcruiser and taking a $300 million write off? Still think the company will convert it to a regular resort or reopen it as something else? 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!