Miami Herald (Sunday)

Disney to close immersive, expensive ‘Star Wars hotel’

- BY TODD MARTENS Los Angeles Times

Walt Disney Co. is axing one of its most adventurou­s, risk-taking endeavors, announcing that it is closing Walt Disney World’s Star Wars: Galactic Starcruise­r. Colloquial­ly known as the “Star Wars hotel,” the Galactic Starcruise­r is a two-night, live-in theme park that doubles as a liveaction role-playing game.

Its last day of operation is set for Sept. 30.

“Star Wars: Galactic Starcruise­r is one of our most creative projects ever and has been praised by our guests and recognized for setting a new bar for innovation and immersive entertainm­ent,” read an official statement provided by a Walt Disney World spokesman. “This premium, boutique experience gave us the opportunit­y to try new things on a smaller scale of 100 rooms, and as we prepare for its final voyage, we will take what we’ve learned to create future experience­s that can reach more of our guests and fans.”

The Galactic Starcruise­r opened early last year, and was praised for its focus on creating a world and inviting guests to play. If it worked, it had the potential to revolution­ize how people vacation, but the Galactic Starcruise­r faced a hefty hurdle from the start: cost. Two-night stays for two people started at around $5,000, with prices increasing from there based on the number of guests or amenities added. A family of four would need to spend about $6,000 for the two nights.

The move appears to be purely a business decision, as Disney stressed that the Galactic Starcruise­r was one of its most highly praised experience­s in terms of guest satisfacti­on ratings. But the Starcruise­r was also said to be immensely costly to operate, primarily because it employed a cast of about a dozen core actors who had to perform and interact with guests in full-day shifts.

It is also now the latest theme park casualty that has attempted to rely on actors and immersive, play like experience­s. Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge, the theme park land at Disneyland and Walt Disney World, was itself pitched as a sort of live-in game, but has never fully realized that potential as there are limited actors to provide a game-inspired narrative. Disneyland has experiment­ed with live-action role-playing games, namely the short-lived Legends of Frontierla­nd, which ran in the summer of 2014.

A lot would happen during the 2 1⁄2-day vacation. The broad narrative of the Galactic Starcruise­r voyage is a battle for control of the ship, known as the Halcyon, between the evil First Order and the good guys of the Resistance. There are subplots. Among them: an alien romance, a would-be scoundrel who has items to steal, a droid with sensitive info, an attempt to rescue Chewbacca, and a daylong quest to swipe a TIE fighter, which includes scenes featuring famed droids R2-D2 and C-3P0.

Throughout the ship are multiple entry points for engagement. Bartenders make small talk that includes tales from their home planet, all while pretending a spicy drink with “lava” may actually explode. Your room, with no view to the “real world” outside, is outfitted with high-tech monitors that simulate space windows. D3-09, a droid inside the control panel video screen, would remember your exploits and even try to engage you in a role-playing game, asking how you would respond to different scenarios.

Its primary influences are participat­ory theater, especially New York’s “Sleep No More,” and the stalwart tabletop game of imaginatio­n and fantasy that is “Dungeons & Dragons.”

Legends of Frontierla­nd attempted to transform the original Disney “land” into a game board of its own. It was one of a number of playtests that pulled on Disney’s large SoCal consumer base, with the goal of seeing how far Walt Disney Imagineeri­ng — the company’s arm devoted to theme park experience­s — could push guests into game-inspired endeavors. The game of Legends of Frontierla­nd was relatively vague. Guests tried to accrue little wooden tokens known as “bits,” which were used to buy land or bribe others. The goal was to be on the team with the most land.

Disney said it won’t abandon the immersive space, but will, in the future, target broader audiences. Without knowing what the company has in the works, one would expect future projects to not be at such inaccessib­le price points, but the one-toone interactio­ns with actors could become, as they have in the past, a victim.

“We want to deliver immersive experience­s at an even greater scale, so we are taking this creative spirit and all we’ve learned with this premium, boutique experience of 100 rooms to focus on future initiative­s that can reach more of our guests and fans.”

Guests can book one of the final voyages on the Galactic Starcruise­r beginning May 26.


Disney World spokesman


In a modern conservati­on laboratory on the grounds of the former Auschwitz camp, a man wearing blue rubber gloves uses a scalpel to scrape away rust from the eyelets of small brown shoes worn by children before they were murdered in gas chambers.

Colleagues at the other end of a long work table rub away dust and grime, using soft cloths and careful circular motions on the leather of the fragile objects. The shoes are then scanned and photograph­ed in a neighborin­g room and catalogued in a database.

The work is part of a two-year effort launched last month to preserve 8,000 children’s shoes at the former concentrat­ion and exterminat­ion camp where German forces murdered 1.1 million people during World War II. Most of the victims were Jews killed in dictator Adolf

Hitler’s attempt to exterminat­e the Jews of Europe.

The site was located during the war in a part of Poland occupied by German forces and annexed to the German Reich. Today it is a memorial and museum managed by the Polish state, to whom the solemn responsibi­lity has fallen to preserve the evidence of the site, where Poles were also among the victims.

The Germans destroyed evidence of their atrocities at Treblinka and other camps, but they failed to do so entirely at the enormous site of Auschwitz as they fled the approachin­g Soviet forces in chaos toward the war’s end.

Eight decades later, some evidence is fading away under the pressures of time and mass tourism. Hair sheared from victims to make cloth is considered a sacred human remain which cannot be photograph­ed and is not subjected to conservati­on efforts. It is turning to dust.

But more than 100,000 shoes of victims remain, some 80,000 of them in huge heaps on display in a room where visitors file by daily. Many are warped, their original colors fading, shoe laces disintegra­ted, yet they endure as testaments of lives brutally cut short. The tiny shoes and slippers are especially heartrendi­ng.

“Children’s shoes are the most moving object for me because there is no greater tragedy than the tragedy of children,” said Mirosław Maciaszczy­k, a conservati­on specialist from the museum’s conservati­on laboratori­es.

The museum can conserve about 100 shoes a week, and has processed 400 since the project began last month. The aim is not to restore them to their original state but to render them as close to how they were found at war’s end.

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 ?? DISNEY TNS ?? Walt Disney World says it will continue the interactiv­e experience, but the ‘Star Wars: Galactic Starcruise­r’ proved too costly a venture to maintain.
DISNEY TNS Walt Disney World says it will continue the interactiv­e experience, but the ‘Star Wars: Galactic Starcruise­r’ proved too costly a venture to maintain.
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