DURING our welcome aboard by Captain Rivola Keenan, there was a twinkle in her eye as she insisted: “This may be more than your regular cruise.”
And she wasn’t wrong, as the ensuing 48 hours enveloped us in the world of Chewbacca, Rey Skywalker and Kylo Ren in a magnificent story-beyond-the-movies that took us deep into the realm of a galaxy far, far away.
Welcome to the Galactic Starcruiser, Walt Disney World’s latest – and very possibly greatest – creation in the heart of Orlando.
Part hotel, part experience and part real-life video game, the Starcruiser offers a unique two-day journey into the Star Wars realm, and we were along for a world-exclusive preview ride ahead of the official opening.
The basic idea IS like taking a cruise, with a set embarkation time, scheduled meals and activities, cabins for accommodation and even a “shore excursion” to the Planet Batuu (the Star Wars land in the neighbouring Disney’s Hollywood Studios theme park).
But that’s where the sea-going similarities end. Instead of a humdrum gangway, we reached the Starcruiser Halcyon by rocket-powered shuttle (okay, a simulator ride) and were immediately immersed in an all-encompassing space adventure.
Emerging into the Halcyon’s atrium, the futuristic, two-deck-high surroundings – definitely more Coruscant than Cunard – were absolutely dazzling.
With “windows” providing panoramic galactic views, a totally sci-fi Captain’s bridge, holographic images and a keen-as-mustard crew, it was a high-tech, high-energy, high-fashion statement in space-age glamour.
Oh, and there were characters. Lots of characters.
From new faces like blue-hued Captain Keevan, Lieutenant Croy of the First Order and droid SK-620 – a close relative of R2-D2 – to well-known figures like Chewie and Rey, we were surrounded by living embodiments of this cinematic universe.
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And they were keen to take us along in their light-speed wake, weaving a complex story of the Resistance while also providing the kind of deluxe touches that justify the astronomical price tag (more of that later).
Cruise Director Lenka Mok had prepared a full array of activities for each passenger. Ours started with Bridge Ops Training – and the chance to fire the ship’s laser cannons! – and continued through a second-seating dinner, Sabacc lessons in the Sublight Lounge and Lenka’s evening toast.
Haven’t tried your hand at Sabacc? This card game has featured in the films, books and Mandalorian TV series, and it plays out via a hologrammatic screen in the lounge.
On the Halcyon, there is an afternoon tournament, and everyone is urged to give it a try.
Or we could play Galactic Trivia, indulge in the Cantina Chronicles – an exotic (non-alcoholic) cocktail tasting and story-telling session – or take part in the Droid Racing tournament.
The headline activity, though, was Lightsaber Training in a specially-equipped pod, where we learned how to parry and block laser rays. After half an hour, it felt like we’d had a serious workout.
The unique nature of this “cruise ship” carried over into the cabins, where our cosy quarters had their own window onto the starry void outside, plus D3-09, an on-screen “Logistics Droid” that acted as our personal assistant for the voyage. Siri eat your heart out!
Our first morning was dedicated to visiting Batuu on the ship’s “launch pods” (actually a heavily disguised transport vehicle through a back-stage area of the park into the Star Wars land).
We were free to wander through the immensely themed extent of the planet’s Black Spire Outpost, with special access to the two high-profile rides and lunch at Docking Bay 7.
Back on board, dinner in the Crown of Corellia Dining Room was an attention-grabbing highlight. A Supper Club-style restaurant, it featured the considerable vocal talents of “galactic superstar” Gaya – the Star Wars galaxy’s answer to Lady Gaga – as well as a delectable array of
Galactic haute cuisine? You bet. Disney’s kitchen creativity is well-known at its fine-dining hotel restaurants, but the Starcruiser took it to a new level with special techniques and presentations that turned things like a curried chicken salad into an alien work of art and served up blue shrimp on a platter smoking with dry ice.
In true Star Wars fashion, the bread was purple, milk was blue and the butter came from a Bantha. If it sounds bizarre, it looked sensational and tasted just as good (especially the Seared Kashyyyk Whitefish, which seemed suspiciously like grouper).
The creative cocktails also came with a sense of planetary style, like the Hoth Ice Breaker with its elaborate “ice” decoration and snow foam.
"JOIN THE BATTLE"
But we were really here for the adventure and, in that respect, the Starcruiser delivered a spaceload. Via our “datapad” (a purpose-designed app on our mobile phone), we were able to plug into the underground story happening all around us in whispered secrets.
We chose to join the Resistance, and were linked to a series of “missions” to help out at key moments in a bid to foil the onboard elements of the First Order, culminating in an epic battle between Rey and Kylo Ren with us passengers as mere open-mouthed by-standers.
However, all this supreme Jedi role-playing fantasy comes at a pricey premium. The basic cost for two adults in a standard cabin is an eye-watering $4,809 (£3,350), while a family of four could pay as much as $7,000 (£5,150) in peak season.
True, it includes all your food and (non-alcoholic) drinks, the onboard entertainment, admission to Disney’s Hollywood Studios (normally $140/£105 per person), and valet parking.
It is also a singularly exclusive voyage. There are only 100 cabins, for a maximum of around 300 people per trip, but that is still a price-tag of Death Star proportions.
The $7,000 question, of course, is: Is it worth it? A two-day stay at Disney’s top regular hotel, the Grand Floridian, with one-day theme park admission, all meals and additional entertainment costs around $2,500 (£1,850) for two.
But it’s not the Halcyon Starcruiser.
A three-night Disney cruise for two, which includes all meals and entertainment, will set you back about $3,155 (£2,350) for a cabin with verandah (the nearest thing to that star view).
But it’s still not the Halcyon Starcruiser.
No, we’re in uncharted territory here and it might just depend how big a Star Wars fanatic you are. For many, the idea of living out a true galactic adventure might just be priceless, and that’s certainly how it seems.
It is already fully booked throughout March, April and most of May and June, which suggests there are a lot of eager fans ready to pony up for their personal star-cruise.
And, judging by our experience, this will direct the full power of The Force against your wallet. So, we can only advise, “May the Bank Balance be with you…”
The Galactic Starcruiser opens on March 1. For more details and to book, visit the Disney World website here.
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