May the force be with you: Disney markets Star Wars Day at Sea

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Rick Ronchetti, a passenger from North Caldwell, N.J., plays the role of Han Solo while his sons, Logan 4, as Luke, and Colin 7, as Anakin, battle with lightsabers
Rick Ronchetti, a passenger from North Caldwell, N.J., plays the role of Han Solo while his sons, Logan 4, as Luke, and Colin 7, as Anakin, battle with lightsabers Photo Credit: Johanna Jainchill

ONBOARD THE DISNEY FANTASY — Disney Cruise Line's sold-out, inaugural Star Wars Day at Sea on Jan. 13 represented a new way for the line to market and package the many popular brands that its parent company owns.

Walt Disney acquired Lucasfilm for $4 billion in 2012 and promised to release the next trilogy of Star Wars films; the first installment was "Star Wars: The Force Awakens," the blockbuster December release that has raked in more than $1.8 billion in worldwide ticket sales as of press time.

The move gave Disney the opportunity to create rides and experiences using the iconic Star Wars characters, gadgets and vehicles at its parks, where it is building Star Wars-themed expansions, as well as on its ships: The line recently put a Millennium Falcon simulator in the Oceaneer Club on the Disney Dream.

The Fantasy's Star Wars Day at Sea represented the cruise line's first time marketing a series of cruises, eight in all, with a one-day ship takeover by a theme from one of its popular franchises.

The line did something similar last summer on the Disney Magic and Disney Wonder on sailings in Norway and Alaska that included decorations and events inspired by Disney's hit movie "Frozen," but not to the same degree.

One of the reasons Star Wars is an optimal franchise for the line to market is that movies like "Toy Story" or "Frozen" are immensely popular but are directed primarily at children, although adults certainly appreciate them, too. Star Wars' appeal, on the other hand, spans generations. With the first installment coming out almost 40 years ago, the Star Wars Day at Sea attracted many families, with three generations dressed as Wookiees, Stormtroopers, Jedis and droids.

The 'force' is with Disney Fantasy passengers

And as Disney probably anticipated, the sailings brought on some passengers who were new to the line.

Rick Ronchetti, in Han Solo garb while watching his two sons battle with lightsabers dressed as Anakin and Luke Skywalker, was one of them.

"[Star Wars] was the only way my wife could get me on," he said. "My wife is a huge Disney fan. Star Wars got me hooked. It's been pretty awesome."

Knowing that Star Wars inspires some of the film industry's most die-hard devotees, the line did not want to let them down: The day's theme crept into every part of the ship experience.

"We worked with Lucasfilm and determined the best experience would be for the story to own the whole ship and make the day really immersive," said Tony Giordano, show director with Walt Disney Creative Entertainment and the creative force behind the Star Wars Day at Sea events.

Several times, the ship's mighty horn played the "Imperial March" theme from the Star Wars movies, John Williams' musical scores played on the ship's speakers all day long, all menus were tweaked — Obi Wan Shroom Steak, anyone? — and the crew wore special t-shirts and name tags.

All of the day's activities were Star Wars-themed, from Jedi training sessions to Star Wars trivia challenges, and for newbies there was a Star Wars 101 learning session. A telling detail is that during the Star Wars Day at Sea, there were no other Disney characters to be found on the ship.

Disney has more Star Wars Days at Sea planned, all on the Fantasy's Western Caribbean cruises through April, but it is unlikely there won't be even more in the future, given the inaugural's obvious success and the fact that there are at least two more Star Wars movies on deck.

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