Walt Disney World Resort Update for March 1-7, 2022by Alan S. Dalinka, staff writer
Walt Disney World Resort Update for March 1-7, 2022
You can view a larger version of each of the photos included in the Update by clicking on the photo. Each photo will open in a separate tab without a caption rather than a slideshow-type gallery like we had in the past. Videos embedded from the MousePlanet Instagram page, are also available on the MousePlanet Facebook page and vice versa.
Writer's Note, News & Views
I have to say that this week presents probably the toughest Walt Disney World Resort Update to write in my time at keyboard. Today, March 1, 2022, Walt Disney World Resort opens the Star Wars: Galactic Starcruiser. This new product is unlike anything that Disney (or probably anyone else) has ever offered before and is being sold at a luxury price-point that probably eludes the vast majority of folks who read our Updates, and, indeed, the general public. It's not even intended for everyone, but, as Disney says, for those guests that love Star Wars and the people who love them.
The niche nature of the offering is what presents the difficulty in writing this week's Update. All of the online vitriol spewed against those of us who were hosted by Disney at this (or any other) media event is just noise. I was one of perhaps 100 media representatives hosted by Walt Disney World at a two-day media event at Disney's Coronado Springs Resort, which included a roughly four-hour highlights tour of the full 2-day/2-night Star Wars: Galactic Starcruiser experience (and, in fact, I had no idea it even included a two-night hotel stay at Coronado Springs until after I accepted the invitation, as the invitation made clear that it didn't include a stay at the Starcruiser). Another similar number of outlets were invited to the full experience earlier last week. The only restrictions placed on me and the other media outlets was to hold off on all publication relating to the media event until after 9 a.m. Eastern time on February 25, and, like at all events, to refrain from photography and recording in any backstage or security areas.
Yes, there is potential for bias when admitted to something for free. Professionals are able to reduce and strive to eliminate that bias in reporting, and, indeed, in the Disney fan community, many of us already spend thousands of dollars to support our Disney interests annually. For example, I'm a 20-plus year Disney Vacation Club member and nearly that long of a Walt Disney World Annual Passholder. I have disclosed before, I am also a 20-plus year Disney stockholder, though the amount of stock I own is neither material in a legal sense nor to my personal net worth. The New York Times was invited to preview the full experience and its report said it offered to pay Disney for the preview (which was refused) and made a $1000 donation to a Central Florida charity that Disney also supports (the article is behind a paywall but was gifted to me by a current subscriber; with a subscription or gift you can view it).
You can also judge the level of objectivity of our peers for yourself watching the review by Disney Food Blog, a fan site with over 750,000 subscribers on YouTube, or by Attractions Magazine, both of which were also invited to the full 2-day/2-night experience media event. For audio podcast fans, I suggest you listen to the Starcruiser episode of Theme Park Rangers Podcast from the Orlando Sentinel featuring its tourism reporter Dewayne Bevil, who also attended the full experience version of the media event (I'll avoid listing our media peers who attended the four-hour media event as well for fear of forgetting to list everyone I know to have been there).
Why it strikes some as odd or outrageous that anyone deign to accept media credentials for an event and then report on it is puzzling at best in 2022 (other than due to jealously, perhaps, or just trying to get eyeballs by stirring up controversy): sports events, theater, films, restaurants, art exhibits, festivals, trade shows, corporations, governments, politicians, and many others provide complimentary access to recognized journalists. MousePlanet was invited by Disney and offered credentials as recognized journalists to events many years before I came around, and it maintains its independence and integrity as a source of news: in the Updates, in particular, we report substantiated information and provide commentary based on our experiences without click-bait headlines or trafficking in rumors.
When the news embargo lifted on Friday morning, I posted a four-minute video tour and commentary from the hosted four-hour media preview I attended. In short, the Star Wars: Galactic Starcruiser is an ambitious first-of-its-kind hybrid of a hotel, theme park experience, role-playing game, video game, and immersive theater experience designed to simulate a luxury cruise in the Star Wars universe during the time period between The Last Jedi (Episode VIII) and The Rise of Skywalker (Episode IX), the same time period as portrayed in Star Wars Galaxy's Edge at Disney's Hollywood Studios and Disneyland Park. With a price tag starting at about $4,800 for two people (there is no discounted solo traveler rate), it is not for everyone, but rather, for those with the means plus the desire to role play, spending two days and two nights in a live theater/theme park version of the Star Wars universe during the time between Episodes VIII and IX.
The Disney representatives repeatedly said to us in the media event that the more guests commit to the experience, the more they will get out of it, and, indeed, even from the four-hour sampler version, that seemed apparent and, for me, not my style of vacationing, which is much more in line with using my DVC membership to stay at Aulani in Hawaii or to stay in a traditional DVC villa at Walt Disney World as a base from which to visit the theme parks.
Now, don't get me wrong. I had fun during the (sometimes exhausting) four-hour tour. As I experienced the Starcruiser, there was a lot of John Williams' Star Wars music accompanying the action. That, to me, is Star Wars, end of story. I'm not interested in role playing for two days, let alone in the Star Wars universe. I have seen all of the Star Wars movies and like some more than others, but living in that world for two days has never been on my personal "bucket list," and, increasingly, I often feel lost in some of its subtleties, as I haven't watched the "Clone Wars" or "Rebels" or investigated the other media that make up what Lucasfilm recognizes as "canon" in the Star Wars Universe. My being over 50 years old and no longer even in my pre-pandemic physical shape probably also factor in for me. In other words, your mileage is going to vary.
Before I close out the writer's note commentary section of the Update, I want to mention the amazing potential I see for themed entertainment in the future coming out of the Star Wars: Galactic Starcruiser both by Disney and its competitors and imitators. Disney has invested a great deal in the behind-the-scenes technology to make this immersive experience work for its intended audience. The artificial intelligence being play tested at Starcruiser now and in its opening "cruises" likely will find its way into other attractions around Disney Parks, including those I may encounter just as a DVC member or Annual Passholder. Regular readers may recall that I also produce The Garry Meier Show Cocktail Hour LIVE video streams on Fridays, and, after returning from the media event, I chatted with the show hosts about my experience as well as the potential for future entertainment offerings.
This 13 minute video is a discussion of my experience at Star Wars: Galactic Starcruiser and what it may mean for the future of interactive entertainment. Alan S. Dalinka.
In the coming weeks, I will collaborate with MousePlanet's Star Wars reporter, so that he can place Star Wars: Galactic Starcruiser in its context within the Star Wars universe. We will share some additional images and video along the way because, indeed, Disney and Lucasfilm say that this experience is now part of Star Wars Canon, just as Galaxy's Edge is.
Star Wars: Galactic Starcruiser Officially Welcomes Guests Today, March 1, 2022
The much-discussed Star Wars: Galactic Starcruiser immersive two-day/two-night experience officially welcomes its first guests today, March 1. Guests embark from the newly built space port just off Osceola Parkway and World Drive (pretty much backstage at Disney's Hollywood Studios behind cast parking behind the back, unthemed side of Star Wars: Galaxy's Edge). Complimentary valet parking is included for those who arrive by car. After being greeted by cast members and passing through a security check point, guests take an elevator themed as a space launch pod (with included small overhead windows to space) to the Halcyon Starcruiser in a galaxy far, far away. Those who have been aboard Disney Cruise Line ships will find the atrium familiar (as I did) and may recognize that theatrical elements of the story unfold here.
From the atrium, guests can also see and access the bridge, the lounge, the gift shop, the turbo lifts, and the stairs. Upon arrival, the atrium also provides guests with their first exposure to the characters that are part of the story that unfolds over the duration of the cruise. Engaging with these new characters provides an opportunity to learn their backstories, as well as the story of the ship itself—which is 275 years old, and has carried aboard many of the familiar characters from the Star Wars universe (like newlyweds Han Solo and Princess Leia, who was so impressed with her time aboard the ship she commissioned and gifted a mural on display in the atrium).
The exterior of Star Wars: Galactic Starcruiser is a largely concrete-faced structure designed to look like a space port.
Photos by Alan S. Dalinka.
A few years back, I attended an invited media event featuring Disney Cruise Line's "Star Wars Day at Sea" while Disney Fantasy was docked at Port Canaveral between its voyages. Aboard the Halcyon, a similar scene is set for guests: rather than the Empire and Darth Vader as it was aboard the Fantasy, here it’s the First Order and Kylo Ren that threaten the peaceful voyage. But while most of what I saw of the DCL "Star Wars Day at Sea" experience seemed focused on photo opportunities, activities for younglings aboard, and theatrical show elements that were not interactive, at the Starcruiser, from this point on, it seems to be really up to the guests to decide just how much they want to play: Make up a backstory (like which planet you are from—Cloud City, perhaps?) and join the Resistance or help the First Order? You can be a double agent, or even switch sides from time to time as the wind and story go. You can also decide not to engage and watch the story unfold (and you can even tell the characters to back off if that sort of thing makes you uncomfortable—it's Disney World after all), but that could diminish what you get out of the experience (again, see the Writer's Note and think about whether this kind of experience is for you before you book it).
Meet the captain of the "Halcyon." Video by Alan S. Dalinka.
Without a doubt, the cast are fully committed to their roles and play them for the entire 2-day/2-night experience. Indeed, using your "data pad" (your smart device using the Disney Play app) you can communicate with the characters during the experience. The more you communicate and engage, the more you will find that you're asked to help on tasks and missions that can take you to different places around the ship. As the experience also includes Batuu as a port of call (which guests arrive at aboard a transport vehicle that docks at Star Wars: Galaxy's Edge near the First Order gift shop and which my tour did not include), missions can continue there, including one Lightning Lane access per guest for Millennium Falcon: Smugglers Run and Star Wars: Rise of the Resistance. Guest actions on those missions on Batuu then have consequences back aboard the Halcyon. Indeed, because Halcyon passengers are issued a special pin to wear while on Batuu, cast members there also can share stories that are relevant to the overall experience. And, yes, if Halcyon passengers wish to explore other parts of Disney's Hollywood Studios before last call to return to the ship, they are free to do so (but, again, that will take time away from that immersive Star Wars story that you paid a premium for when you booked the experience).
Aboard the Halcyon itself, as long-advertised, guests ages 7 and up can receive lightsaber training against a remote. It was sort of a 3-D video game with Star Wars storytelling interwoven. Guests also receive bridge training at four different stations to operate and defend the ship should the need arise (and, of course, it does later—during the media preview, we only received training on two stations which, for me, did not help during the moment it could have come in handy during a battle and I ended up at a different station than I had been trained on). All of this is like the biggest screen you have ever played a video game on, but with more Star Wars storytelling that ties in to the overall experience.
There are parts of the experience, particularly on the bridge, that are like playing part of a giant video game. Video by Alan S. Dalinka.
My tour of the Halcyon included the standard guest cabin, which has doors that slide: in the Star Wars movies, you don’t see doors that swing open and closed. The cabin is small, like a cruise ship stateroom. Rather than a window, it has a viewport to space that's in sync with what you see outside the ship. No matter where on board you have a view, so if the ship is at hyperspace speed, or there's a battle or an asteroid field, that's what will be on the stateroom's viewer, too (there is a real-life emergency escape access from the cabin as well, but we did not get to see it on the tour). In addition to the queen-size bed and bunk beds that are larger than they appear, there's an additional bed under the more traditional video screen (which has access to the sort of programming you find in other Walt Disney World Resort hotels), and a table that pulls out from under the view port. I didn't get to see one of the handful of larger guest suites that are also onboard.
It's a "cruise" cabin. Though themed to the luxury-side of the Star Wars universe (compared to, say, Millenium Falcon, which is always described as a "hunk of junk"), the cabin's size and utility is not unlike the interior staterooms on Disney Cruise Line ships. The bathroom is definitely larger than on ships. The cabin has only a virtual view of "space" outside that corresponds with the on-going story. If you are involved in the ship's activities, though, you are probably not going to spend a lot of time in the cabin while awake, and, indeed, ship activities can continue to happen late into the night. Video by Alan S. Dalinka.
A unique feature in the cabins is the Droid Link. Disney Imagineering is play testing an artificial intelligence video droid character named D3-O9 that can interact by voice with guests. Play testing means that Disney is not guaranteeing that it will be available on every voyage. D3-O9 has a personality of her own (think a sassier version of Siri or Alexa), and can bring guests up to speed on story elements that are happening in parts of the ship that they may have missed because the guests were elsewhere.
Play test the new interactive droid which represents Disney's artificial intelligence character initiative that may get extended to other parts of the Disney Parks and Resorts experience in the future. Video by Alan S. Dalinka.
Mealtime, like on typical seagoing cruise ships, is in a dining hall. Of course, it is all highly themed to the Star Wars universe. Daytime meals (which we did not see during our tour) are buffet-style. Dinners are table-service (with two scheduled seatings). During meals, an intergalactic diva, Gaya and her band perform. She and her entourage also play a role in the overall story on the ship. Indeed, if you watch the tour video in the writer's note above, you may spot her in the atrium just after I boarded.
At Star Wars: Galactic Starcruiser, dining is a big part of this first-of-its-kind immersive vacation experience that engages all your senses. 💫 With the Halcyon starcruiser about to launch, get a glimpse at its otherworldly culinary experiences: https://t.co/85JCJLOscH pic.twitter.com/27yTYSJvSd— Disney Parks (@DisneyParks) February 25, 2022
Gaya is a diva and performs at dinnertime in the dining hall. She and her band may or may not also be involved in critical elements of the overall story aboard the ship. Video by Alan S. Dalinka.
To me, the big-picture story on the ship is what you expect from the most recent Star Wars films: the First Order thinks it rather odd that the ship is always in the vicinity of Resistance activity and suspects collaboration (OK, change First Order to Empire and that's the original trilogy films, too). In addition to the ship's cast of characters, other familiar Star Wars characters including Chewbacca, First Order officers, Storm Troopers, the "Force" of Yoda, probe droids, tie fighters, Rey and Kylo Ren, and others all turn up. Each guests's pathway to the ending will depend on their decisions and their actions but, Disney says, the story's ending will always be the same for guests. Without being a complete spoiler, let's just say it's a Star Wars-type ending.
Guests of Starcruiser have some exclusive merchandise purchasing opportunities. With a reservation for a Starcruiser experience, guests can pre-order some items from shopDisney.com. On board, there is a gift shop, and after departing, there are additional merchandise purchasing opportunities.
At the media event for Star Wars: Galactic Starcruiser, Disney shared views of items available for purchase by those that take in the experience. Merchandise was not available for purchase on my tour and I did not receive any. Photo by Alan S. Dalinka.
For those who want to get even more into the stories associated with this new experience, Disney-owned Marvel has released a comic book series about the ship (some of which quickly sold out its first printing) with more to come. There is also a new series of novels hitting the shelves that tie into the Halcyon.
This & That & Reminders…
…Walt Disney Imagineer Zach Ridley shared a first look at the boarding area for Guardians of the Galaxy-Cosmic Rewind attraction scheduled to open this Summer at EPCOT. We previously shared looks at the ride vehicles themselves (and I even got to sit in one at the Destination D23 event at Disney's Contemporary Resort and found it quite comfortable and at the media event for the Resort's 50th Anniversary, Adrienne Vincent-Phoenix and I got to stand inside the "gravity building" under some of the tracks to take in the mammoth scope of this new attraction (and shared Zach Ridley's official views of that at the time too).
…Congratulations to all of the participants of the runDisney Princess Half Marathon Weekend. In particular, congratulations to Pennsylvania runner Georganne Watson, a former University of Kentucky track star, who won her first runDisney Half Marathon by inching ahead in the final 100 yards to secure the win by only 7 seconds! The final runDisney race weekend of the season is the new Springtime Surprise Weekend (March 31 – April 3). For availability and the next racing season that begins this fall, visit runDisney.com.
Runners dreamed and achieved during the @runDisney 2022 Disney Princess Half Marathon Weekend presented by Corkcicle! ✨ From magical miles to fairytale finishes, it was a truly memorable time. Read more highlights from #PrincessHalf Weekend: https://t.co/df7t8uXb5x pic.twitter.com/ataO9cZFTi— Disney Parks (@DisneyParks) February 28, 2022
…With Disney Company's acquisition of 20th Century Studios assets being more fully integrated into the company, it should come as no synergistic surprise that films released by that studio are finding their way into Disney Parks too. This week, Disney's Animal Kingdom added its latest sand sculpture, this time themed to the "Ice Age" films.
In celebration of @IceAge on @DisneyPlus, guests at Animal Kingdom can now take a photo with a larger-than-life sand sculpture that took 50 tons of sand and several days to create. To learn more about the "Ice Age Collection" and new Disney+ originals ➡️ https://t.co/uopZ467v3V pic.twitter.com/tvzvOUwoUU— Disney Parks (@DisneyParks) February 26, 2022
…The 2022 EPCOT International Flower & Garden Festival gets underway starting tomorrow, March 2. As of publication there are still some not-as-yet announced performers for the weekend Garden Rocks Concert Series (though, it would not be surprising for those to be announced later today or tomorrow if Disney has worked out the rest of those details). The topiaries and flowers started making their way into park before even last week's Update, and, no doubt, will all be in place in time for the Festival's opening. This week, Disney Parks Blog shared a look at the merchandise collections available during the Festival - though no word on whether we may see more Figment Popcorn buckets or some other item that catches collectors' attention the same way.
…At Magic Kingdom, the Cinderella Castle stage show, "Mickey's Magical Friendship Faire" made its debut on Friday, and is now playing multiple times daily. In coming days or weeks, I will make my way over to get my first look. I decided against going on its debut day and cancelled the Park Pass reservation I had booked due to a combination of my overall schedule last week plus that day's forecast for nearly 90° weather, large Princess Marathon crowds, and the interest in the return/update of a daily castle show for the first time since the temporary closure of the Resort back in March 2020.
…Local Green Atlanta, a "Health Spot" that specializes in vegan, vegetarian, and pescatarian options joins the Disney Springs dining lineup this month.
The newest addition to our neighborhood is bringing you culture, hip-hop and fresh healthy greens in just one bite! Get ready to taste all the goodness of @localgreenatl when they open their #DisneySprings location this March. pic.twitter.com/ZOh20D2CQ7— Disney Springs (@DisneySprings) February 28, 2022
…REMINDER: Disney Vacation Club announced the return of its Moonlight Magic events in 2022. As before the pandemic, eligible DVC Members can get complimentary after-hours access to these in-park events on select nights by advance registration. Eligible DVC Members with resort reservations get earlier registration access and the possibility of more complimentary admissions based on the number of guests on a qualifying resort reservation. In the past, the balance of the eligible membership has had an opportunity to register as well though capacity sometimes filled quickly. The 2022 announced events are:
- EPCOT: March 17, 2022 and March 31, 2022
Registration opened last week for DVC Members with resort reservations; subject to availability, registration opens to all eligible Members on March 8
- Disney's Hollywood Studios: May 24, 2022, June 16, 2022 and July 14, 2022
Registration details to be announced
- Disney’s Animal Kingdom: July 26, 2022, August 31, 2022 and September 28, 2022
Registration details to be announced
…REMINDER: The Walt Disney Company's annual meeting of shareholders is coming up March 9 and will be streamed via webcast at disney.com/investors. The annual meetings don't necessarily address new offerings for the parks and resorts (those usually come at D23 EXPO or, to a lesser extent, Destination D events), but it may provide some interesting viewing.
…REMINDER: The Mighty St. Patrick's Festival is back in full swing this year from March 11-17 at Raglan Road Irish Pub & Restaurant at Disney Springs with top Irish bands flown in for the celebration. "The most authentic Irish festival in America" will be on the street outside Raglan Road with five outside bars, St. Paddy's merchandise, and more. According to Raglan Road:
This year's Mighty Festival musical lineup will shine with top bands flown in from Ireland including Jig Jam, known for their captivating brand of CeltGrass; and the Lisa Canny Band, blending pop and hip-hop with traditional Irish rhythm. Rounding out the lineup will be: Emerald Shore, rocking the house with their vibrant trad music; Men of Aran, charming audiences with electric energy and sublime musicianship; and Blain Curtis, a talented Dublin songwriter/guitarist mixing Irish ballads and modern Irish songs. The Raglan Road Irish Dancers, plucked from the casts and stages of the world's greatest Irish dance shows, will perform throughout the festival.
Reservations are encouraged for guests who plan to celebrate at Raglan Road. On St. Patrick's Day only, March 17, Raglan Road will open at 10 a.m. with a $20 cover charge for guests 18 and older; (first-come, first-served—no reservations on this day only); younger patrons may enter free of charge.
The Usual Writer's Note
The health and safety protocols in the State of Florida remain unchanged: there is no statewide vaccine mandate, COVID-19 testing, face covering requirements or business capacity restrictions. The State repeatedly has blocked enforcement of municipal and county-imposed restrictions as well during the course of the pandemic. Private property owners, like Walt Disney World Resort, set requirements for visiting their property that you must be aware of if you decide to visit.
If you're traveling to or from overseas, be sure to check with the places you're visiting and traveling from or through for the latest rules. Though the United States government loosened international travel restrictions for entering the U.S.A. at the end of 2021, it remains important to check on and abide by the most up-to-date COVID-19 testing and vaccine requirements for entering the United States whether as a citizen, permanent resident, or visitor (and be aware of who needs a visa).
As for visiting the Walt Disney World theme parks, Disney Park Pass reservations are required for admission in addition to a valid ticket. If your tickets have the Park Hopper option, Park Hopping only becomes available after 2 p.m. daily, and only after you have first visited the park for which you have made a reservation that day. There have been instances where Magic Kingdom has reached capacity and paused admission of Park Hoppers, and Disney reserves the right to do so at all the parks.
Sales of new Walt Disney World Annual Passes continue to be paused in all categories except the Florida Resident Pixie Dust Pass. Disney reserved the right to pause those sales when it reintroduced its new Annual Passes. Current Passholders may continue to purchase renewals in all tiers regardless of the pause in new sales. We have not heard any suggestion, as yet, that new pass sales will resume. As we noted earlier this winter on MousePlanet.com, Florida Residents can purchase discounted two, three, or four day tickets for weekday theme park visits (with additional restrictions and, yes, reservations are not included but still required).
As of publication, face coverings are optional for all guests in outdoor locations around Walt Disney World Resort. As of February 17, face coverings are optional for fully vaccinated guests in most indoor locations; non-vaccinated guests are expected to wear face coverings indoors (though, as previously noted, Florida does not permit businesses to ask customers to prove their vaccination status). Face coverings remain required on enclosed transportation such as buses, monorails, and Disney Skyliner per Federal mandates. Walt Disney World Resort encourages eligible guests to get vaccinated.
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Resort Reservations, Ticket Advice & Special Offers
Note: MousePlanet does not edit past Updates to reflect price increases; for up-to-date prices, check the most recent Walt Disney World Resort Update.
This page of DisneyWorld.com features all the offers the Resort has publicly announced.
Annual Passholders can save up to 25% and Florida Residents can save up to 20% on rooms at select Disney Resort hotels for stays most nights through March 10, 2022.
Thinking about Hawaii? Walt Disney World Annual Passholders also can save on stays on select rooms over at Aulani, a Disney Resort and Spa in Ko Olina, Hawaii, through April 8, 2022: up to 30% for stays of 5 or more consecutive nights, and up to 25% for stays of 4 consecutive nights (from my personal experience, even as a repeat visitor to Oahu, a week is a good amount of time to spend on the island, particularly if you have a rental car or other transportation arranged).
You'll probably have an opportunity to see more Aulani on "American Idol" this week too...
A warm 🏝 ALOHA 🌸 to the return of ABC’s @AmericanIdol to @DisneyAulani in Hawaii for an all-new round! ☀️ The search for #TheNextIdol starts on Feb. 27! Find out more: https://t.co/6JYEC26PtK pic.twitter.com/vDMV6ZKrgu— Disney Parks (@DisneyParks) February 10, 2022
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