Walt Disney Imagineers has hired video game developers over the years to help their line of theme parks, resorts and cruise ships directly connect with millennials and younger guests.
Imagineers has integrated video games into the queues of rides like “Seven Dwarfs Mine Train” and the exit experience of “Test Track,” created interactive treasure hunts using Encharted Art on Disney cruise ships and designed the collectible card game “Sorcerers of the Magic Kingdom,” which unlocks battles with villains from Disney’s animated films throughout the theme park.
Now, Walt Disney World is building the first Disney 360 vacation concept into a hotel. The Star Wars-themed resort will be located near the just-named “Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge” land, which is under construction at Disney’s Hollywood Studios in Orlando. While the Galaxy’s Edge park will open first in Disneyland and later at Hollywood Studios—both in 2019—no opening date for the Florida-exclusive Star Wars hotel was announced.
Bob Chapek, chairman of Walt Disney Parks And Resorts, revealed a first look at this new resort at the D23 Expo in Anaheim this weekend. The Disney 360 vacation resort will be like entering a role-playing game (RPG), completely enveloping guests into an original Star Wars story.
“We’re working on our most experiential concept ever,” Chapek told a crowd of 7,000 at the Anaheim Convention Center. “It combines a luxury resort with immersion in an authentic environment.”
The resort will be designed to look like a giant starship from the Star Wars universe.
“It’s unlike anything that exists today,” said Chapek. “From the second you arrive, you will become a part of a Star Wars story. You’ll immediately become a citizen of the galaxy and experience all that entails, including dressing up in the proper attire. Once you leave earth, you will discover a starship alive with characters, stories and adventures that unfold all around you. It is 100 percent immersive, and the story will touch every single minute of your day, and it will culminate in a unique journey for every person who visits.”
Unlike traditional Disney-themed resorts, this new hotel will essentially serve as a real-life RPG—complete with costumes that guests will wear as they interact with aliens, droids and other Disney cast members. For Disney, this will further expand Lucasfilm’s Star Wars brand beyond the endless merchandising options and steady stream of films and TV projects. Much like the recent Avatar land, Disney will be able to immerse tourists from around the globe in the rich Star Wars universe. These two new theme parks will act as evergreen marketing opportunities for the brand, while also serving as another must-visit destination inside of the parks.
“It will invite you to live your own dedicated, multi-day adventure in a galaxy far, far away,” Chapek explained.
When guests look outside the hotel windows, they’ll see outer space. Disney already has employed this type of technology on its cruise ships, creating Magic Portals for inside cabins that use projection technology to make passengers feel like they have a balcony view (with the added magical touch of different animated and CGI Disney characters making random cameos).
In April, unofficial Disney blog Walt Disney World News Today reported that Disney sent guest surveys detailing a two-day story set in the Star Wars universe that would cost between $900-to-$1,000 per guest. For those who haven’t visited Disney World recently, current top-tier themed resorts like “Animal Kingdom Lodge” and “Polynesian Village” can cost over $500 per night.
These surveys implied the Star Wars starship would replicate the all-inclusive cruise ship experience with buffet breakfasts, lunches and signature evening dining all baked into the price—along with shows and entertainment, as well as theme park tickets to Galaxy’s Edge. The “luxury” accommodations will also include access to a pool area and water garden, fitness area, cantina and robotic droid butlers.
The concept would be that guests, or passengers, would have personal interactions with Star Wars characters and live performers throughout the starship with the option of interacting first-hand or just observing others. The RPG elements will really come alive through programs such as flight training (which is sure to integrate video game elements, and possible augmented reality gaming), ship exploration, lightsaber training and personalized secret missions both on the starship and throughout the Galaxy’s Edge.
Chapek also revealed new details about the 14-acre Star Wars-themed lands. The land is set on an unoriginal planet (the name of which has not yet been revealed) that sits on the outer rim of the galaxy.
Chris Beatty, the Disney Imagineer serving as executive director of the new lands, told the D23 crowd that this “smuggler’s planet” will blend Star Wars characters like BB-8, Chewbacca, Rex and Kylo Ren with new characters.
“It’s kind of forgotten about,” Beatty explained. “People in the know like Han and Chewie, they knew of this place.”
But the story will be completely original, as Imagineers (working with Lucasfilm writers) decided to create something original rather than tying anything directly to the films. This same storytelling concept was employed in the just-opened “Pandora: The World of Avatar” land at Disney’s Animal Kingdom.
“When you step into the world, you’re the hero,” Beatty said.
There will be two anchor attractions at Galaxy’s edge, including one that puts guests right in the middle of a battle between the First Order and the Resistance where guests will feel like they’re inside a hangar bay on a Star Destroyer—built to scale. Visitors will also have the chance to fly the Millennium Falcon in a multi-person experience where each guest is critical to the mission’s success taking on roles like pilot, co-pilot and gunners on a critical mission. Disney built a scale version of the Millennium Falcon’s cockpit and common area on the Disney Dream ship, but this new ride promises to take interactivity to another level.
The RPG elements from the new Star Wars hotel will also be integrated into these new theme parks, and operate independently for guests who aren’t staying at the resort. Each guest will be assigned a “role” before boarding the Millennium Falcon, and how they perform those tasks will earn galactic credits. No details have been revealed yet, but Disney World already uses RFID-powered Magic Bands at its Florida theme parks to connect smartphones, credit cards and even room keys together for a frictionless experience. The potential of connecting this technology with the hotel and Galaxy’s Edge is endless.
Another announcement at D23 that completes the Star Wars offerings will be available at Best Buy later this year. Disney partnered with Lenovo for a new consumer augmented reality headset that works with your smartphone, which will launch with Jedi Challenges. This compilation will include a variety of games, including a Holochess game and a lightsaber training experience—just like the challenges Luke Skywalker faced in the original film 40 years ago.