To preface: like Bella Swan in “The Twilight Saga: Eclipse”: “I am Switzerland.” I get “both sides” (er, all sides?) of this ongoing argument about the cost-benefit analysis of Disney World’s new, highly immersive Star Wars hotel experience.
I’m not for or against dropping upwards of $4,800-$6,000 for a two-night, all-inclusive stay onboard the Halcyon Legacy luxury starship, the fancy, in-universe name given to the hotel that’s supposed to make guests feel as if they’re cruising in space. To most people, that’s quite a bit of money no matter what you’re spending it on. For the Galactic Starcruiser experience, the $4,800 you’d spend on a two-person, two-night experience includes your room and board, all meals and drinks excluding alcoholic beverages and an “excursion” to Galaxy’s Edge at Hollywood Studios.
Backlash surged even before early reviews for Starcruiser dropped. Critics, fans and travel experts said the Starcruiser didn’t look “Star Wars enough” but more like a futuristic space trip. They naturally said the price tag was way too high for what you got, especially since it was only two nights and one day at one Disney park.
But the backlash against Disney and the media who attended preview stays and tours of the Starcruiser hit a fever pitch just days before the experience opened to the public on Tuesday.
Besides more critiques of the pricetag, criticisms and attacks were leveled at members of the media who visited the Starcruiser and shared coverage—from traditional written reviews and video recaps to Twitter threads, TikTok shorts and photo guides.
Let’s gets some context out of the way:
The term “media” here includes traditional news reporters, travel bloggers and “influencers” who create content about lifestyle, travel and the theme parks. The argument about who is considered “media” in today’s world is a column for another day.
Members of the media were invited to preview and gather content to share on their respective platforms. Some media were invited to experience the full two-day stay “onboard” the Halcyon along with an excursion to Galaxy’s Edge at Disney World.
Other media were invited to do tours of the hotel and various experiences, but did not stay overnight.
No, I did not attend either and I was not invited to.
Media previews and events like this one are always free.
I’ve attended my fair share of free media previews and exclusive experiences—from covering the opening of Galaxy’s Edge and Pandora: The World of Avatar at Disney World to being among the first to ride Hagrid’s Magical Creatures Motorbike Adventure coaster after meeting some of the Harry Potter stars.
Covering the theme parks is fun and has offered me (and sometimes my husband) unforgettable experiences that few others have had. But it’s also (bear with me) hard work. Exhausting work. And, whether you like it or not, essential work—at least in Florida, where so much of our economy is based on tourism.
And yes, I’ve had plenty of scorn and jealous comments leveled at me—mostly from family or friends who are really just poking fun at my sheer luck at being able to make my nerdiness a whole career.
But the media drama that has unfolded on social media surrounding the Galactic Starcruiser and the press’ coverage of the hotel is something unprecedented. And there weren’t just two sides to these arguments.
Some Twitter users—a lot of them on the infamous community DisTwitter—accused members of the media of being “shills” for Disney and incapable of writing or saying anything bad about the company or its products. Some accused media members of being pressured or even hired by Disney to positively cover Starcruiser and other events in order to keep their exclusive access.
Others just attacked the very notion of free media events, especially one that included a two-night, all-inclusive stay plus (probably) plenty of gifts and souvenirs.
For the sake of context, most reporters, bloggers, photographers, influencers and the like don’t get paid for the hours they attend events like this. Rather, they likely get paid based on the content they produce from said event—only made possible by the hours they spend writing, editing, producing, etc.
As for influencers, many rely on content views and engagement to grow their fan base, which means those with sizeable audiences can charge more for paid marketing campaigns with clients. The system is similar to digital advertising at traditional news outlets: The higher the numbers on your website, the more you can charge companies who want to advertise.
But back to Starcruiser.
Many seemed to hate the fact that it appeared as if the media event was largely bloggers and “influencers” instead of traditional news outlets. That’s likely because of social media algorithms, which favor the content put out by influencers and other content creators instead of more traditional journalism. Again, that’s another column for another day.
And it didn’t really matter what type of content someone posted—videos, photos, threaded thoughts or lengthy review articles. The combination of Disney and Star Wars made for a volatile cocktail of scorn and outrage thrown at anyone who dared say anything positive about their experience on the Starcruiser.
One travel journalist, Brooke Geiger McDonald, experienced some especially cruel attacks after she posted a picture of herself comforting her two sons at the end of their Starcruiser stay. She said the boys “got us so deeply invested in our stories…that the experience was both a dizzying blur and one we ended up caring so much about that we cried when it was over.”
Other outlets, like theme park and entertainment blog ThrillGeek, reposted some of the attacks sent their way, including general outrage that its reporters didn’t have to pay anything to experience Starcruiser. Founder Clint Gamache has been vocal about the hate he and ThrillGeek had received in the last week, including attempted digs at media attendees being given a piece of paper from Disney telling them what to say.
That piece of paper was probably a one-sheet, a common document used in press kits. Marketing and public relations professionals hand these out all. the. time.
There were even 8-minute-long YouTube videos complaining about media coverage of Starcruiser and accusing some of the “social media influencers” of not actually liking Star Wars. Don’t even get started on this type of gatekeeping in the Star Wars fandom.
Based on the outrage, you’d think Disney only hosted bloggers and influencers. But many major, traditional news outlets sent reporters to Starcruiser. And, their reviews were largely positive.
CNBC (bravely) said it’s worth the hefty price tag, “if guests are willing to dive in and play along.”
A CNN Travel reporter said “to call it a hotel would be uninspired and inaccurate – it’s a voyage” and praised its immersiveness. They also said “if you’re ready for an adventure with little downtime and a fast-paced schedule, this is the Disney experience for you.”
Even the stalwart Gray Lady of traditional newspaper journalism, the New York Times, chronicled nearly every detail of the “premium experience” of a Starcruiser stay. The reporter also provided transparency about their media experience:
“(As part of a pre opening media event, a New York Times reporter stayed at the property. Disney refused to accept payment but suggested a charitable donation of $1,000 for a two-night stay. The Times made a donation for that amount to Second Harvest Food Bank of Central Florida, which serves the area around Disney World and helped furloughed Disney employees during the pandemic.)”
Two of Florida’s largest newspapers, the Tampa Bay Times and the Orlando Sentinel, also sent reporters to Starcruiser. The Times said Starcruiser “felt like a cruise ship on land.” The Sentinel had a bevy of stories and guides, including an FAQ and a list of “cheap tips.”
IGN said Starcruiser is far from a relaxing experience, writing the biggest critique “is that Galactic Starcruiser wants to be both an immersive story experience AND a hotel vacation, trying to pass it off through a cruise-ship format that doesn’t sell either particularly well.”
So the big question here—besides “is Starcruiser worth the money?”—is, why all the hate for the media and the hotel?
I don’t think the outrage can be summed up by labeling it jealousy or FOMO or even ridiculous gatekeeping of the fandoms.
I think it largely has to do with the luxury and exclusivity of the experience, whose price tag clearly caters to families with decent sized chunks of disposable income.
Like with anything with a high price tag, there are people who see the $4,800-$6,000 price and immediately shout about all the other things they’d rather spend that money on. Or, all the other things that cost the same amount or less that arguably offer more bang for your buck.
People don’t like being excluded or priced out of an experience, especially one so themed to a particular franchise that tries to offer stories and characters that are as inclusive as possible.
Robert Niles, founder and editor of Theme Park Insider, shared the same sentiment in a column for the Orange County Register.
“That makes the high price of this adventure so frustrating to some. If you get priced out of going to an NFL game, you still can watch teams on TV. If you cannot afford concert tickets for your favorite musicians, you always can listen to their recordings. But there’s no media substitute for the visceral experience of themed entertainment.”
It’s clear most Star Wars fans really, really want to stay at this hotel. But it angers them that they just can’t afford it. Hell, it angers me, too. I’m a huge Star Wars fan and I’d jump at the chance to travel “aboard” the Starcruiser. But, personally, spending upwards of $5,000-$6,000 on a trip to Paris for a week sounds like a better investment for me and my husband.
It’s no secret Disney Parks tickets and experiences have surged in price in recent years. There have been countless reports and think pieces about how Disney is increasingly excluding more and more families, particularly middle class families. And with that comes the loss of the signature Disney “magic.”
A poll done by Insider in 2021 found that those who make less than $75,000 a year are the ones most likely considering Disney vacations. In the same series of reporting, Insider said the “quintessential family vacation” is now too expensive for many of the company’s biggest fans.
The question of whether this experience is worth the price of admission depends on who’s asking. There are plenty of people who will save up or fork over a chunk of their savings to have their own little Star Wars story at this hotel. There are other fans who just want to spend their money elsewhere.
Will Disney’s Starcruiser “fail” like some hope it will? Probably not.
Will paying guests have the time of their lives during their stay at the Starcruiser? Probably.
Will Disney take their feedback into account and eventually offer more affordable Starcruiser experiences to make it more inclusive of all Star Wars fans? I hope so.