Disney World Resort announced the closure of one of the most innovative hotels in the world, but did it need to?
The Long-Awaited Star Wars Hotel
After years in development, Walt Disney World Resort opened its Star Wars Galactic Cruiser experience hotel with direct access to Disney’s Hollywood Studios. Its unique immersive experience was intended to captivate Star Wars fans in a limited hotel with just 100 rooms. Guests would arrive at the Star Wars Galactive Starcruiser terminal and find themselves living fully in the environment the classic movies created. Most would take an excursion to Star Wars Galaxy’s Edge inside the park (requiring a separate entrance ticket) but while “onboard” interacting with cast members refusing to break character including Kylo Ren and enjoying the crown of Corellia dining.
The Halcyon Starcruiser experience was unique to other theme parks but revolutionary for its ability to put visitors in the thick of the movies they love. Like a cruise, all food onboard was included and the windowless “Galaxy Class Suite” could accommodate up to four guests.
Trouble Along the Way
The costs, however, were nosebleed high from the start and remained so even through its demise. In fact, after inital bookings slowed, they tried everything. They cut sailings, thinned staff, offered press trips – nothing worked. The only thing they didn’t change was the only criticism visitors ever had – the price.
As I have indicated before, a two-guest cruise (on water, not a pretend one in a concrete Orlando hotel) is rarely as expensive even for a week-long journey as opposed to this two-night experience. In a world where everything is imaginary and the only thing that’s real is the cost, spending $750-1,200/night per guest is ludicrous.
The public agreed. Disney announced it will shut down the hotel in September, barely a year after it opened.
“The brief experiment was niche for many reasons. For one, its price point and subject matter limited it to affluent diehard “Star Wars” fans. Although dressing up wasn’t required, it did invite fans to interact with the crew’s actors for two full days, putting it out of the comfort zone of more introverted guests. Guests who didn’t want to commit to the interactive elements — or who preferred to be cozy in their hotel rooms by 8 p.m. — could miss crucial parts of the storyline. Others disliked the rooms’ design, which only had screens mimicking outer space to look out on; some compared it to a “windowless bunker.” – SF Gate
The hotel sits immediately behind Galaxy’s Edge with its own specific entrance to the park. The opportunity to build an amazing Star Wars themed experience remains, but pricing should have been more inline – at a bare minimum – with other Disney parks. The Grand(ma) Floridian, for example, often prices above the Four Seasons Orlando (an absurd notion for such a dated property) at about $1,000/nt but that allows for up to four guests or about $250/nt. The Star Wars Galactic Starcruiser Experience was at the very least 300% higher.
Why Would Disney Do This?
I personally find CEO, Bob Iger, to be one of the most intelligent and savvy business leaders in the world. Disney had a simple question it asked, “Will guests pay high rates for an immersive Star Wars experience?” The answer was initially yes, then interest waned and sales slumped over time. Any business leader would have to ask themselves if the product was not up to par and from all accounts, it appears the product was just fine. Then the question has to move on to the price, and the market and media were clear – it’s too expensive.
But why would Disney shutter the operation entirely? Is the brand too proud to walk back the nosebleed prices? I know travel agencies would have lapped up an opportunity for special deals to pitch the product. The public would have welcomed an off-peak pricing approach that allowed Disney to save face and future rates while putting heads in beds.
Was the situation so dire that Disney felt it couldn’t recover?
The answer was so clearly price and yet the brand failed to adjust or discount. Disney has an incredibly successful cruise line on an actual ship with actual destinations for far less nightly. How could one justify spending more on a stationary (albeit unique and fully immersive) cruise than on an actual physical ship?
The opportunity for a similar property at a competing resort is a compelling offer. A Harry Potter-themed hotel connected to the associated sections of Universal properties could command a higher price than other properties for the brand with a highly detailed approach. But couldn’t this be achieved for less than $2400/nt?
The hotel is ill-positioned to be used for another theme and it would be such a complete disappointment if it’s converted into office buildings.
Disney was so commited to its product vision that it wasn’t able to separate the experience from commercial viability. It’s a shame because the concept is great and I’d love to see more of this type of innovation rather than leave it as a cautionary tale. Why didn’t Disney find ways to get more aggressive and ensure its success?
What do you think? Did you stay at the Galactic Starcruiser? Could Disney have saved it in some way?