Star Wars: Galactic Starcruiser is an immersive experience unlike anything Disney's ever done.
A voyage costs thousands, but the food, character interactions, and activities are worth it.
I've done this trip three times, and nothing like this award-winning experience exists elsewhere.
On Thursday, Disney announced its Star Wars: Galactic Starcruiser in Florida would make its final voyage in September after being open for just one year.
Often mislabeled as simply a hotel, the immersive Orlando experience simulates a luxury space cruise on the Halcyon starship, giving passengers a starring role in a "Star Wars" adventure. During the two-night stay, guests explore and learn to operate the ship, wield a lightsaber, and dine on galactic cuisine, all while being drawn into a storyline by a cast of characters.
The award-winning experience has been criticized for its steep price tag — the two-night voyage starts at $4,800 for a two-person cabin and can cost upwards of $6,000 for a family of four. But I think it's worth it.
I've been on the Galactic Starcruiser three times, twice with my family and once with a group of superfan adults, and I can confidently say it's Disney's most ambitious and innovative endeavor. And its closure is a huge, heartbreaking loss.
The Galactic Starcruiser more than delivers on the promise of a high-end, immersive experience
When my family stepped out of a launch pod and into the Halcyon's stunning atrium for the first time last February, we had no idea what to expect — or how deeply the next 45 hours would impact us.
We knew what was included in our voyage — themed accommodations, entertainment, meals and non-alcoholic drinks, activities like lightsaber and bridge-ops training, and a visit to Star Wars: Galaxy's Edge at Disney's Hollywood Studios.
But nothing adequately captures on paper the essence of the Halcyon experience.
My kids squealed with delight as they clamored into their bright-orange "Star Wars" bunks and watched stars, planets, and passing ships outside of our room's "window" while chatting with a droid on the screen in our room.
Our meals also tapped into our collective imagination about what out-of-this-world "Star Wars" food might taste and look like.
Simple dishes took new and exotic forms — lattice-work bacon and blue Bantha-milk yogurt for breakfast, a bright-green puff of sunflower butter and jelly for lunch, and electric-blue shrimp surrounded by dry ice at dinner.
On one night of our trip, we knew we'd be treated to a dinner performance by galactic superstar Gaya, but we didn't expect an artist so talented and a set list of songs so catchy, fans would beg Disney to add them to streaming platforms for a year.
And at every turn, from the dining room to the atrium, crew members were on hand to cater to guests' every need, delivering true VIP service.
The interactivity is the experience, and there's simply nothing else like it
Before our first voyage, we knew we'd rub shoulders with "Star Wars" characters, some iconic and some we'd never met. But we never imagined how deeply we'd connect with them — or how much they would come to mean to us.
These character interactions aren't your basic theme-park meet-and-greets. Guests forge alliances with masterfully portrayed characters that quickly get to know guests, calling them by name and tapping into their personalities, easing shy kids out of their shells and turning self-professed nerdy adults into heroes for a day.
Both of my sons, Auden and Jude, quickly become devoted to the characters on board, tuning into hushed communications, delivering secret messages, and accepting invites to covert meetings. Jude felt so important to the cause that he could barely eat dinner the second night, worried the captain might be looking for him and need his help.
Moments like these are the heart of the experience for fans of all ages. A voyage on the Galactic Starcruiser means getting to play your own role alongside characters that aren't larger than life — they're your friends and allies (or foes).
To fans who experienced it, the Galactic Starcruiser was an unprecedented achievement for Disney
I'm not alone in my sentiments. Todd Martens, a writer for the Los Angeles Times who covers interactive and themed entertainment, mourned the Starcruiser's closure, writing on Instagram that the experience is "the best thing Disney has done since the original Disneyland."
Nick Tierce, writer and immersive-experience designer, wrote on Twitter that Galactic Starcruiser is "the most ambitious & formally unprecedented project Disney ever created", calling its existence a "miracle."
My kids and I have cried each time we've left the Galactic Starcruiser. The experiences made us feel a sense of belonging and emotional connection, not just to the experience, but to each other, something no other family vacation — even much longer ones — has ever achieved.
Many who've experienced Starcruiser also love the sense of camaraderie and community that comes with it — and have returned again and again. During my May voyage this year, I met superfans on their third, fourth, and even seventh trips. There's even a Galactic Starcruiser Post-Voyage Support Group on Facebook with over 1,000 members.
When the experience closes, we'll still find ways to have small "Star Wars" moments at Disney World, but it won't be the same. The characters won't call us by name and send us on missions or make my kids feel like legends essential to the cause.
And after the Halcyon makes its final return to Earth and the last passengers disembark, it will remain a beautiful space that I sincerely hope Disney puts to future use.
But if it's no longer an open stage, a blank canvas for the crew and passengers to fill with life and energy by creating their own "Star Wars" stories each voyage, it will finally be what it's too often been mistaken for — just a hotel.
Read the original article on Insider