Disney's Star Wars experience: How a unique hotel was created

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The brightly lit atrium is the primary gathering place in Galactic Starcruiser.
The brightly lit atrium is the primary gathering place in Galactic Starcruiser. Photo Credit: Jamie Biesiada

ORLANDO -- Ten years ago, the Walt Disney Co. closed on its $4 billion acquisition of Lucasfilm, officially taking ownership of the Star Wars universe.

Stays at Galactic Starcruiser include a theme park "shore excursion" to Star Wars: Galaxy's Edge.
Stays at Galactic Starcruiser include a theme park "shore excursion" to Star Wars: Galaxy's Edge. Photo Credit: Jamie Biesiada

Since then, Disney has grown the franchise exponentially and brought it to life with the 2019 opening of Star Wars: Galaxy's Edge, the immersive themed land in its Florida and California parks.

But Galaxy's Edge -- set on the fictional planet of Batuu, in the Star Wars galaxy's Outer Rim Territories -- couldn't quite contain Star Wars.

"We have such a large audience in Batuu and so much story to tell," said Marc Rothschild, a live entertainment producer at Disney. "Where else could we tell it? How can we make your time in Batuu, on that planet, longer, where these stories continue to develop?"

Thus, Star Wars: Galactic Starcruiser was born. While it is technically a hotel, Disney describes it as an "experience." Guests embark on a two-night adventure aboard the Halcyon, Chandrila Star Line's flagship vessel, and participate in their own Star Wars journey.

"We wanted to fill the time with really exciting adventures, and we really wanted this story arc," Rothschild said. "We wanted to give you time to develop your own character and then make your own alliances."

Guests' actions aboard the ship and in Batuu impact their experience on the Halcyon. They can align with the First Order, the Resistance or with the smugglers.

Cabins aboard the Halcyon feel very much like cruise ship cabins.
Cabins aboard the Halcyon feel very much like cruise ship cabins. Photo Credit: Jamie Biesiada

Rothschild said the Halcyon's designers wanted to make time for a "shore excursion" to Galaxy's Edge, which takes place on the second day of the voyage, as well as a "big payoff" in the end. That payoff includes a thrilling finale to the storyline introduced on day one, with fireworks (in space) and a swelling John Williams soundtrack.

The experience was designed to be two nights to keep it action-packed, he added.

Interactivity and personalization were taken to the next level thanks to a "datapad," a smartphone with the Play Disney Parks app. Guests use it to communicate with characters and get special assignments  on Batuu and on the Halcyon.

"We wanted it to be a guide for you," Rothschild said. "We wanted it to be a place where you can get secret information that can't be as broadly communicated to a larger group. But also something that you're not dependent on; something that enhances your experience, but not that you're actually in a video game."

The crew members aboard the Halcyon offer a high level of service. Rothschild said they were hand-picked.

Considering the hotel is supposed to be a luxury cruise through space, there is almost no natural light throughout common spaces or in cabins. Rothschild said that was a consideration from the get-go.

To combat that dearth of natural light, designers created bright, airy spaces such as the atrium, a mostly white, two-story main gathering area. The Climate Simulator also offers a respite: It's an open-air room filled with vegetation.

The Hoth Icebreaker takes a lemon drop to another galaxy.
The Hoth Icebreaker takes a lemon drop to another galaxy. Photo Credit: Jamie Biesiada

Cabins aboard the Halcyon feel very much like cruise ship cabins. They are smartly designed and while not large, cabins make good use of space. In fact, Rothschild said, the spaces were designed with input from Disney Cruise Line. They include a number of innovations developed by the line, including under-the-bed storage and a pull-out desk.

"You'll see a lot of similarities in there," he said. "We have the unique bunk beds, which they don't have, but that was our fun take on what a cruise in space would look like."

Otherworldly food and drink

Another area where the "cruise in space" theme shines: food and beverage. 

Jenn Mariano, beverage program manager for concept development at the Walt Disney World Resort, said drinks were created with taste as the first priority. From there, the team added some standout twists.

Take, for instance, the Hoth Icebreaker. It's essentially a lemon drop, Mariano said, but its vanilla-lemon foam, decorative sugar work and distinctive, pointy glass give the drink out-of-this-world appeal.

"It's mostly about taking that base of something you know that the guests are going to love, and then add twists and elevate it," Mariano said.

Disney is mum on what makes the Iced Felucian Shrimp Cocktail blue.
Disney is mum on what makes the Iced Felucian Shrimp Cocktail blue. Photo Credit: Jamie Biesiada

All of the food served on the Halcyon was driven by the story, said Brian Piasecki, culinary director of concept development at the Walt Disney World Resort. Among the first considerations: "Where are we going? What are the planets? What's the journey?" Then, food concepts were developed based on what might grow or live on any given planet.

Piasecki is most proud of the Iced Felucian Shrimp Cocktail served during the "Taste Around the Galaxy" dinner on night two. The shrimp are a shocking shade of blue. It took about six months to develop the recipe, which was inspired by an episode of the Star Wars TV series "The Mandalorian."

The shrimp are said to come from the foggy jungle planet Felucia.

Piasecki was mum on what makes the shrimp blue, only saying, "It's a good, all-natural, obviously safe process."

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