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Disney launches new level of immersion in 'Star Wars' experience

Walt Disney Co's (DIS.N) newest theme park offering aims to make fans forget they are in Florida and instead feel like they are vacationing in luxury in a galaxy far, far away.

The two-night "Star Wars: Galactic Starcruiser" experience, opening Tuesday at Walt Disney World in Orlando, puts guests into a story set on the Halcyon, a sleek space vessel said to be the place where Princess Leia and Han Solo took their honeymoon.

Disney's designers hope visitors embrace the chance to play a role in the fictional world created by George Lucas. Guests on the Halcyon can interact with space droids, or Han's hairy sidekick Chewbacca, and meet new characters.

Crew members will offer training in how to handle a lightsaber or battle incoming threats from the ship's bridge. "Star Wars" costumes are encouraged.

"We are trying to make it safe and fun to play Star Wars," said Scott Trowbridge, portfolio creative executive at Walt Disney Imagineering.

The first-of-its-kind adventure is pricey, starting at $4,809 for two guests. That includes two days and two nights in one of 100 Starcruiser cabins, galactic-inspired food and drink, and a visit to Batuu, the "Star Wars" planet inside the Disney World theme park.

Designers said the Starcruiser experience takes elements from gaming, theater, storytelling and hospitality. Matt Martin, senior creative executive in the Lucasfilm Story Group, called it "immersive theater meets a cruise."

Like a traditional cruise, all guests board at the same time. A captain and cruise director offer a welcome, but things go awry when Stormtroopers appear. Characters ask visitors for assistance, urging them to decide to align with the Resistance or the evil First Order.

"You can choose to lie to a character, you can help them, you can gain their trust, you can double cross folks," said Ann Morrow Johnson, executive producer and creative director for Walt Disney Imagineering. "And you can really continue that relationship with them as you want your story to unfold."

A glitzy dining room offers nightly musical entertainment from an intergalactic diva and band. In the cocktail lounge, visitors can play a round of sabbac, a card game in the "Star Wars" universe. Or they can chill in the atrium without any pressure to participate in the story, the creators said.

"If you want to lean in and wear some of galactic finery and cosplay, it's totally fine," Trowbridge said. "But also if you just want to sit back, wear your Star Wars T-shirt, drink a cocktail and watch the planets drift by, that's also OK."

The company did not disclose what it spent to build the experience, which was in development for more than six years. But executives said they adhered to Disney's famous attention to detail and aimed to create a high-tech, luxury experience.

The Starcruiser is adjacent to Walt Disney World's Galaxy's Edge, one of two "Star Wars" areas that cost more than $1 billion to create.

As COVID-19 cases drop and health restrictions ease, crowds are returning to Disney parks. Revenue for the parks division exceeded pre-pandemic levels in the last three months of 2021.

With the Starcruiser, "there is a significant investment, not only in this particular version we are launching, but also in the technology and underlying capabilities we have developed," Trowbridge said. "We are bullish about expanding the ways in which we can engage with our guests."

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