It’s Not Just A Hotel

a group of people standing in a room with large windows

Hey, there.  Thanks for stopping by.  If you don’t follow me on Instagram or were hoping for some actual hotel content, you may want to sit this one out.  If you want to hear me talk about one of the greatest experiences our family has ever had…..well, grab a seat.  Might be worth grabbing a snack and a drink.  I’ve been known to get a bit……wordy.

It’s just a hotel.  It’s only for Star Wars fans.  Why would anyone pay that much to dress up in costumes?

Those are the words I started an Instagram post with on this last evening that Halcyon Starcruiser cruised the galaxy for the entertainment of others.  If you’re not familiar with Halcyon hit the Google and you’ll find plenty of information.

Halcyon Starcruiser was priced in a way that many folks would never be able to afford a voyage.  I was pretty certain we would be one of those families until I figured how to use points and miles to make it happen.  I am not a Star Wars fan.  Not even close.  I’ve never watched a Star Wars movie from start to finish in one sitting.  Our adventure on Halcyon was only because of the passion that my son and wife have for Star Wars.  My daughter and I came along for kicks and watched in amazement as Halcyon turned us into something else.  If not quite Star Wars fans, we were believers.

There are so many stories I could tell about our voyages.  But the only place to start this tale is with the moment I missed.  We boarded Halcyon and I was busy recording everything.  After all, I’m a travel blogger and this is a once-in-a-lifetime experience.  What an incredible way to build content!  And yet, it wouldn’t be until the end of our first night onboard that I realized what I had missed.

Shortly after we boarded we participated in a muster drill.  Someone in a blue costume (they’re called Sajas, I still don’t quite know what/who they are) was there to lead our station.  Kade was his name and he got down on one knee in front of our son.  In an instant they were fast friends.  I didn’t even realize until I was looking at pictures later that evening and saw the connection.

a man kneeling down with a woman in a room with a crowd of people

My son wanted me to play the role of the bad guys (The Dark Side, I’m told).  That meant for large parts of our voyage I was split up from the family.  I missed so many moments they were excited by, but I kept filming everything.  I had no expectations.  I was just “along for the ride”, to see my son enjoy these moments.

a boy in a robe holding a light stick

It really wasn’t until that final evening onboard, as the final twists and turns of the plot brought us to a close that I realized what we had just witnessed.  It was the most immersive experience I’ve ever been a part of at an amusement park (probably anywhere, for that matter).  And, it was one fateful moment that almost never happened which would prove to be the quiet, defining moment of our Starcruiser journey.

a woman throwing rocks in the air

When we boarded Starcruiser there was a group in front of us who had cruised before.  I couldn’t imagine anyone spending the money to cruise twice????  And yet, here they were.  That final night onboard I saw them sitting with Kade (who we came to know as Justin).  I wanted to walk up and introduce myself to Justin and thank him for our incredible adventure.  Very uncharacteristically for me, I got cold feet for just a moment.  And, like that, he was gone, along with any chance of saying thank you.

As luck would have it, the group who boarded with us was also departing at the same time as us.  As they loaded up I walked over and asked if they knew how to get in touch with Justin.  One of them shouted Justin’s internet handle as they rolled away from Starcruiser.

The short version of the next few months was Justin connecting us with the character who played Sammie on our cruise as well as our Lieutenant Croy.  By connecting with them on social media we came to see how many people shared these feelings that we did.  It felt like we created this new family, at once private and at the same time sharing it with this community of passionate fans of Halcyon.

Fast forward a few months and the announcement that Halcyon was closing.  Our family was stunned.  All of a sudden the once-in-a-lifetime experience that we thought would never happen again needed to happen again.  But, how?  With bookings paused we strategized.  When bookings resumed for the remaining voyages we scrambled for a few hours until a friend finally helped us secure a final voyage.  Two of the three characters we connected with would be onboard our final voyage (the third, Preston, was on Batuu but no longer on the ship). I was determined to make the second voyage different.

For the most part during our second voyage I ignored my phone.  I immersed myself in the moment and “joined the Resistance”.  Within a few hours of being onboard, “Sammie” and “Raithe” had taken our son and folded him into the story.  Soon, the entire family was part of the mission.

a group of people sitting at a table

Along the way on that second voyage we made new friends onboard.  The Halcyon Hype House crew in their Santa gear became fast friends.  As we navigated the bridge on our second night with Sammie, “Just Dan” and everyone else on the bridge started chanting my son’s name.  That moment is something I doubt our son will ever forget.  I know I won’t.

All voyages come to an end.  Knowing that we weren’t coming back, my son and I walked around the ship after everyone had gone to bed, snapping a few more pictures to remember as much as we could.  A member of the crew offered to let us into the bridge even after it had been locked up for the night, and also helped us get into the climate simulator.

a boy in a blue uniform sitting on a bench with a sword

We trudged to the elevator the following morning, not quite ready to disembark but knowing the inevitable had to happen.  As we stepped onto the elevator and the doors shut my son burst into tears.  His older sister, often his foil, was quick to grab him in a big hug.

a group of people standing in a room with large windows

Summing It Up

So many folks have told me they don’t get why anyone would spend what it costs for a journey on Starcruiser.  Many of them have said things like, “it’s just a hotel”.  Heck, I get it.  I said the same thing for months.  Maybe that’s a fault of how it was positioned by Disney.  But, it couldn’t be further from the truth.

Here’s the thing.  While I can’t speak for everyone who set foot onboard, many of the folks I spoke to had incredibly high expectations.  These were folks who had spent decades fascinated by the Star Wars franchise.  Heck, my own wife is infatuated with Chewbacca in a way that only makes me feel a little uncomfortable.  Combine the price point of Halcyon and the popularity of Star Wars and the expectations by many were unrealistic.

a woman hugging a person in a garment

But, here’s the thing.  The cast of Halcyon met those expectations.  In many cases, they exceeded them.  In a few cases, they blew those lofty expectations out of the water as we stood slack-jawed wondering how this adventure could get even more realistic.

a group of people in a room with a person in a garment

And, here’s where we get to the part where it makes sense why people don’t get it.  I was 100% convinced Halcyon wasn’t worth the money we spent.  I didn’t blink when given the opportunity for one more voyage.  Had the opportunity for a third voyage popped up, I would have turned myself inside out to figure out a way.

I sat there at 4:30 am on the final morning of our final voyage in the Sublight Lounge.  I couldn’t sleep so I walked down to the lounge to record some videos to help translate what we experienced.  They were mostly gibberish.  I was convinced that was due to the exhaustion (I’ve rarely been more tired than the day after we disembarked both voyages).  But, I sat here tonight trying to record a video for Instagram to say my thanks to the cast and crew of Halcyon.

Once again, I sounded like a babbling idiot. Some will say that comes naturally to me, it’s an easy softball.  But, for a guy who has recorded almost 300 podcast episodes I feel like I can talk my way through most things.  Tonight, once again, words escaped me.

If I can’t explain to you how incredible this was, how could I ever expect you to understand?  I’ve made this passionate plea to some folks who nod their head in understanding but are thinking I’m a bit crazy as they listen to me.  You know who you are.  Others (my podcast co-host Richard Kerr) gently mock my obsession with Starcruiser.

a man taking a selfie

And, here I sit, 1,500 words in and still not able to keep my fingers from flying over the keyboard.

Our Disney journey started almost 15 years ago when a special young lady named Lauren hopped out of a van at Animal Kingdom and introduced herself to our daughter, determined to help her meet all of our daughter’s heroes (princesses at that time).  Along the way, she showed us how special Disney World can be.

Walt Disney set out to build something incredible.  I saw this quote earlier this week attributed to Walt:

“To all who come to this happy place: Welcome.  Disneyland is your land.  Here age relives fond memories of the past, and here youth may savor the challenge and promise of the future.  Disneyland is dedicated to the ideals, the dreams, and the hard facts that have created America: with the hope that it will be a source of joy and inspiration to all the world.”

I think Walt would be elated with what the special folks onboard Halcyon created.  The cast made us all actors in this elaborate show.  They made us the feature of an incredible tale. A tale that didn’t require you to be a Star Wars fan.  It just required you to be willing to open your mind.

I wasn’t quite willing on that first voyage.  Leaving the ship I was ready for another adventure.  I realized too late what an incredible journey I had taken for granted by not living in the moment.

Good fortune brought us back to Halcyon.  It helped us make incredible friendships and memories.

a group of people in clothing

Lady Halcyon is a noble ship but she pales in size compared to the rest of Disney.  She can hold a mere 500 souls on a journey.  Tonight, there were many more than 500 onboard as she made her way through space one last time.  I spoke with so many folks who had experienced Halcyon in the last few days as we arrived at this moment, one that seemed impossible.  And yet, it has arrived.

Halcyon will dock in the morning and let her last passengers go home safely.  Mostly repeat passengers, they’ll take home new memories, enriching the stories they had already told aboard the ship on previous voyages.

As I gaze up at the stars tonight, I know Halycon isn’t real.  I know it’s not one of those dots I see as my eyes trail across a clear, starry sky.  But, it won’t stop me dreaming of one more voyage with my new friends.

Because, it’s not just a hotel.

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  1. Touching and beautifully written piece. I’m a former Disney Imagineer, and your story reminds me of another famous quotation attributed to Walt: “You can design and create, and build the most wonderful place in the world. But it takes people to make the dream a reality.” The cast members you met made the Halcyon a vivid reality. And not just through good acting performances, but with the old-fashioned virtue of kindness. Bravo to them for understanding this is what really makes the magic people long remember.

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