Aboard the Galactic Starcruiser (CNN) — The gentle purr of the engine hums as planets, spaceships and asteroids pass by in the surrounding windows.
The galactic superstar Gaya dazzles with her songs, capturing the attention of guests and First Order lieutenants alike while colorful alien-inspired cocktails are passed around.
There's a slight commotion in the corner as a group tries to smuggle Chewbacca off the ship -- but the typically watchful stormtroopers seem equally distracted by Gaya's performance so they fortunately don't notice the towering fuzzball and his young helpers.
These are some of the sights and sounds for a passenger traveling aboard the Halcyon, the ship at the center of the Star Wars: Galactic Starcruiser resort experience, opening Tuesday, March 1, at Walt Disney World Resort in Orlando.
To call it a hotel would be uninspired and inaccurate -- it's a voyage. I participated this week in one of the Starcruiser's first journeys (also known as a "media preview").
The first of its kind, Galactic Starcruiser is an immersive two-night stay where guests can experience what it might be like to travel aboard a gleaming starship a long time ago, in a galaxy far, far away. And for Star Wars fans, it's a chance to live out your own story, rather than simply following the trials and tribulations of beloved characters.
Captain Riyola Keevan (center) is one of the new characters you'll meet aboard the Halcyon.
Your story, determined by your choices and actions from beginning to end, coincides with those of the newer "Star Wars" films. Members of the First Order and the Resistance make an appearance along the way.
Alongside familiar faces such as Rey and Kylo Ren are new characters developed for the Halcyon experience. Some of those include the blue-skinned Captain Riyola Keevan who leads the voyage, warm and engaging cruise director Lenka Mok and SK-62O, an astromech droid often spotted rolling around the ship.
Galactic Starcruiser was developed for the past six years alongside Galaxy's Edge, the Star Wars theme park experience in Disney's Hollywood Studios, and it shows.
The events on the Starcruiser are inextricably linked to the very rides and market stalls of Black Spire Outpost and its planet, Batuu, where you disembark for an adventure on the second day of your stay before returning to the ship for a showstopper finale on the last night of the experience.
This isn't just another themed Disney resort. The crew of the Halcyon is committed to your stay as a voyage -- and in true Disney fashion, they never break character. Costumes and galactic-inspired attire are encouraged, and if you don't bring any from your home planet, there are some available (for purchase, of course) onboard.
Halcyon passengers enjoy a meal and performance by Gaya in the Crown of Corellia Dining Room.
While I didn't pack my Princess Leia hair buns and best senatorial gown, my space-themed dresses were a hit (and comfortable in the Florida heat). My fellow travelers, however, definitely enjoyed fully immersing themselves by sporting both familiar and entirely original costumes.
Guests seeking passage aboard the Halcyon should prepare for an action-packed, choose your own adventure-style excursion.
Embark on a space voyage
So let's be clear -- no, you're not really going to space. But there's a lot of attention to detail to simulate the closest thing many of us will have to a cruise among the stars.
This is probably not an experience for the casual fan. And at thousands of dollars for the two-day experience, it's an investment. (More on rates below).
Guests with reservations arrive at an industrial-style terminal to begin their Galactic Starcruiser experience, and even the security teams ask if you're smuggling in any undesirable creatures in your luggage. Passenger service crews fit you with a data band -- typically called a MagicBand for Disney guests.
Here, they're not just your ticket into the resort and parks, but tapping your data band against certain interactive elements in the Halcyon changes the trajectory of your story.
They also ask that you have a phone loaded with the Play Disney Parks App. During your stay, this essentially turns your phone into a data pad, which will help you keep up your unique itinerary, receive messages from characters, take on secret missions and unlock a new level of interactivity in Galaxy's Edge.
If you choose to embark on this journey, make sure you have ways of keeping your phone charged throughout the day because you'll be using it a lot.
The First Order has their suspicions about spunky droid SK-26O and his allegiances.
Once inside the building, you're guided to a Launch Pod. Through view ports near the top, pine trees give way to starlight and the void of space as you jump to hyperspace. Once the doors open, you enter a new world in the ship's atrium where many key moments will transpire during your stay.
The ship comes with its own lore, which will be shared in comic books and novelizations in the coming months. Apparently, the Halcyon was the backdrop for Leia and Han Solo's honeymoon.
Unlike many of the ships in the Star Wars universe, the Halcyon doesn't have that rustic or lived-in feeling like that lovable hunk of junk, the Millennium Falcon. The interiors, and even the SK-620 droid rolling by, gleam with a crisp newness more reminiscent of Dryden Voss' First Light yacht, as seen in 2018's "Solo: A Star Wars Story."
Inside the ship
From the atrium, glimpse the ship's bridge and its massive, starlight-filled perspective, shop the Chandrila Collection for exclusive headtails, outfits and merchandise or stroll inside the Sublight Lounge, where guests can sip on a Cloud of Bespin cocktail and learn to play Sabacc -- the game Han Solo played to win the Falcon from Lando Calrissian.
Decks located beneath the atrium include interactive spots for lightsaber training or helping characters in the engineering room, as well as the Crown of Corellia dining room for meals and entertainment.
For guests needing a reminder of their home planet, since none of the windows offer a view of anything but the darkness of space, the ship includes a Climate Simulator. This small courtyard includes walls of plants from around the galaxy, stone arrangements -- and the sunlight and sky visible from above feels an awful lot like Florida.
There are four decks of small-scale cabins and the ship can hold between 100 and 500 passengers. Each cabin comes equipped with a window looking out into space and a video screen that will connect you to a new droid named D3-O9.
For cabins capable of hosting four, they've included older Star Wars era-inspired bunkbeds and a bed that pulls out from the wall -- but it will still be a tight squeeze unless you upgrade to the larger Galaxy Class Suite or Grand Captain Suite. Starcruiser amenities include standard lavatories outfitted with rain shower heads, an interactive TV and a mini refrigerator.
Keep an eye out for an orange blinking light when D3-O9 is ready for a chat. This new logistics droid has a sweet disposition and is capable of real-time conversation by listening in to what you say as long as the link remains active. If you ask nicely, she'll sing you a lullaby or tell you a bedtime story about her hero R2-D2's experiences in "A New Hope."
A standard Halcyon cabin includes a queen bed, two bunk beds and one that pulls down from the wall -- and a well-appointed view of space.
None of the meals or beverages aboard the Halcyon sound familiar at first, but a closer look at the descriptions reveal different takes on the things you know and love if you live in the Milky Way galaxy.
Breakfast and lunch are shared buffet-style like an Earth cruise ship, with unique offerings each day such as vegan-friendly delicate kale polenta and matcha sugar-dusted pastries served with blue butter (or, what happens if you churn blue milk long enough).
Dinner is a lavish affair both nights.
On the first night, Gaya serenades diners with her greatest hits alongside other fellow musicians -- just listen out for some hidden messages in the songs.
The second night offers a "Taste Around the Galaxy," with a very smoky (and extremely blue) take on shrimp cocktail, followed by tender beef short rib from Chewbacca's home planet (which pairs well with a nice Cabernet Sauvignon). And don't forget to save room for dessert: chocolate air cake.
From the moment guests enter the atrium of the ship and passengers fill the room, characters begin to appear. And once the journey is officially under way, nothing about the simple pleasure cruise goes according to plan.
It's a bit disorienting to walk into this environment and be approached by new faces, but you soon get caught up in trying to understand what's happening and feel compelled to help the characters.
Wearing a blue mechanics suit is Sammie. This endearing and earnest everyman is on a mission to aid the Resistance, but he needs your help to do so. Then, there's the sassy and smug First Order Lieutenant Harman Croy, who boards the ship with his stormtroopers shortly after the journey begins.
The activities on your itinerary, and your own poking about the ship, will set your story in motion on day one. Then, you're really pulled into the action during the Batuu excursion on day two, which begins as early as 8:30 a.m.
Droid-piloted transports from the Halcyon take passengers directly into Galaxy's Edge (with no windows or turnstiles to interrupt your immersive experience) and special pins identify you to passenger services crew members stationed throughout Black Spire Outpost.
My fellow voyagers and I were immediately approached by a crew member upon entering the park who asked if we wanted to help the Resistance. When we said "yes," we were whisked onto the popular Rise of the Resistance ride within seconds -- which regularly has a wait of hours -- through a secret passageway.
We also jumped aboard the Smuggler's Run ride to pilot the Millennium Falcon, delivering shipments of much-needed coaxium for the Halcyon's captain that would become crucial to the storyline later in the evening.
When the data pad app is working -- many of us experienced glitches in ours while we were in the parks, disrupting our missions -- you can tune into forbidden radio frequencies to decrypt messages, hack into ships and droids and even take on jobs to help Rey and Finn.
Your Starcruiser stay allows you to book reservations for coveted Galaxy's Edge experiences -- to enjoy drinks at Oga's Cantina, or customize a lightsaber at Savi's Workshop or build a droid at the Droid Depot.
The last "transport" leaves for the Halcyon at 4 p.m. and once you return, you may have a special moment that occurs with an old fan favorite.
Cruise Director Lenka Mok (left) meets with passengers in the Halcyon starcruiser Engineering Room to discuss a secret mission.
Each person's experience on the Starcruiser is highly unique and during my stay, I never ran into anyone on the exact same mission as mine. You can choose to help the Resistance, the First Order, look out for yourself as a scoundrel or try out all the sides.
Regardless of your storyline, the action intensifies on the final night through a series of events that lead to a thrilling conclusion and an epic celebration.
After an early dinner, I found myself running around with Sammie and Chewbacca and working a shield station on the ship's bridge before things came to a crescendo. Without spoiling it for you, it's an incredibly fulfilling way to end your stay before checking out the next morning.
Know before you go
The hefty price tag for the fixed-length, two-night stay, which runs $4,809 for two guests, $5,299 for three guests or $5,999 for four guests, includes most everything except specialty and alcoholic beverages, as well as any merchandise, photos or additional things you want to do in the park like purchase a lightsaber or build a droid.
If you're ready for an adventure with little downtime and a fast-paced schedule, this is the Disney excursion for you. And if you want to explore the Disney parks afterward, build in a day to catch up on rest. I feel like I need a vacation to recover.
The intensity of the schedule and action is meant for Star Wars fans who want to live out their own story. Worried about how your kids might handle it? During my stay, the kids were the bravest and some of the most eager to jump in and help their favorite characters like Sammie and Chewbacca.
My favorite moments of the trip, besides sampling otherworldly food and living inside of the Star Wars universe so near and dear to my heart, were when I felt like I was part of the action. There's nothing quite like feeling a lightsaber come to life in your hands and allowing the Force to guide you as you block training blasts.
But if interactivity isn't your thing, you can also sit back and observe everything -- there's more than enough to take in.
"We designed this for the people who love Star Wars and the people who love the people who love Star Wars," said Wendy Anderson, executive creative director for Disney Live Entertainment over Galactic Starcruiser.
"We really wanted people to feel confident just watching, sitting back having a cocktail and watching the stars streak by, but if they wanted to play deeper, we let them do that. I think we created a container that allows people to feel safe expressing themselves."