Photo by Jason Leppert
Yesterday, the Disney Cruise Line put on its first ever “Star Wars Day at Sea,” part of eight scheduled theme cruises for 2016 aboard the Disney Fantasy, and it was a blast, filled to the brim with “oh, cool!” moments for fans and newbies alike.
Immediately upon leaving our stateroom for the day, John Williams’ iconic score pleased our ears as we strolled down the hallway, and once we made it to the atrium, imperial officers were on site to protect the ship from the rebel alliance. In fact, PA and video announcements were made periodically warning us of rebel activity and even the arrival of one Darth Vader (pictured above).
Elsewhere in the adults-only Europa section of the ship – complete with its Gaudi-like bathrooms, reminiscent now of Tatooine – lounge renditions of “Star Wars” music played, and remixed versions blasted on deck at the Galactic Dance Party. Even the classic '70s disco number and original Star Tours ditty made the rounds, as did “The Imperial March” 9-note phrase on the ship’s horn, exclusively on these theme cruises, beyond Disney Cruise Line’s other signature melodies.
Guests not well versed in the ways of the Force were brought up to (light) speed by Tony Giordano, show director for Walt Disney Creative Entertainment, at a “Star Wars” 101 session that was even an enjoyable recap for fans. Also in the Buena Vista Theatre, the Guest Speaker Series featured Wendy Anderson, executive creative director, Walt Disney Imagineering, who spoke on how “Star Wars” is currently available to experience in Disney’s parks and very briefly on what is to come. Honestly, I expected a bit more here, thinking that guests might come to include members of the film saga’s cast and crew, but that was not the case, at least not yet.
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Kids got in on the franchise fun in several ways that started with Padawan Crafts in Disney’s Oceaneer Club, recreating the popular BB-8 droid from the new “Star Wars: The Force Awakens” movie in paper plate form, and the Padawan Mind Challenge ramped up to test their trivia knowledge in the interactive D Lounge.
But the most immersive experience for child participants and adult spectators were five instances of “Jedi Training: Trials of the Temple,” an engaging show, remounted from the parks, where kids are chosen at random to come up on stage and face their fears as the young Jedi hopefuls defeat Darth Vader in a light saber duel. Plus, tweens and teens got to play the “Star Wars: Battlefront” video game in their exclusive spaces.
For all guests, it was exciting to partake in three staged photo-ops themed to Tatooine, Bespin or the Dark Side. Upon boarding, guests were given the option of selecting their preferences and were provided scheduled times to smoothly meet the likes of C-3PO, R2-D2, Chewbacca, Darth Maul and even Captain Phasma, making her Disney parks and resorts debut onboard.
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Besides these half dozen or so characters, others roamed about the ship for impromptu encounters that evenly spread the “Star Wars” interest about the ship. Stormtroopers patrolled the pool, Boba Fett watched over the upper deck, dramatically perched in the smoke stack no less, and even the lesser known Zam Wesell and one of Jabba the Hutt’s Gamorrean guards wandered about.
Of course, Episode VII, the new seemingly unstoppable film, played during the day, and earlier in the week, the prequel and classic trilogies were screened theatrically, a rare treat to see them on the big screen again. Even the “Star Wars Rebels” TV show and old “Star Wars” film trailers were played on Funnel Vision outside.
Also throughout the week has been the opportunity to purchase exclusive merchandise, not just cobranded between the franchise and cruise line but specific to “Star Wars Day at Sea.” The Disney Design Group graphic designer responsible for the logo items, John Henselmeier, was also available to chat about his creations and sign everything.
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During the afternoon were two “Star Wars” Costume Celebration times, featuring some of the wonderful guest cosplay onboard and showcasing the hours of dedication to bring the classic and new characters to life. For anyone who has been to Comic-Con International or Disney’s own D23 Expo, you’ll know just what kind of costumed crowd to expect. Every character from Yoda to the Ewoks was represented, and highlights included a jovial Jabba the Hut recreation and an expertly crafted Rey wardrobe.
Before dinner – which was also “Star Wars”-themed, including a Han Solo frozen in carbonite sundae – “Star Wars” Saga: Tales from a Galaxy Far, Far Away was presented for the first time on stage. This retelling of the three classic films, as found on the newly reimagined Disney Dream, usually occurs across three separate segments in the kids facility, but on “Star Ways Day at Sea,” the entire trilogy is condensed into a half-hour interactive show. Guests of all ages are invited to play different characters and recite their signature lines as the abridged story is reenacted. All in all, it was a really fun concept that really depends on the enthusiasm of the players to sell the experience, and some participants were better than others.
After a brief taped appearance by JJ Abrams, director of “Star Wars: The Force Awakens,” discussing the Force for Change charity initiative in partnership with UNICEF, the night came to a grand crescendo with Summon the Force, an evening deck show and fireworks display similar to the line’s usual Pirates in the Caribbean one. Most of the characters seen throughout the day took to the stage with added lighting effects, pyrotechnics, light saber wielding, Yoda voiceovers and film clips and credit crawls, leading to a grand display in the sky perfectly synchronized to the soaring “Star Wars” score. It truly was a moving experience that filled the upper decks with emotion and more fans than I had ever seen before on previous Disney cruises.
The day was capped, for those still awake, with a final themed buffet, complete with Sith-inspired pulled pork sandwiches on dark-side buns, and a “Star Wars” Superfan Contest decisively crowning a trivia victor. A “The Force is Strong on This Ship” window cling awaited guests returning to their staterooms as did an overlay on inside stateroom Magical Portholes of the Death Star, at night, and the Millennium Falcon, during the day.
Besides on dedicated charter cruises, seldom before has such an extensive undertaking ever been seen aboard a ship. While no plans have been announced for “Star Wars Day at Sea” to continue beyond its initial run of eight sailings, I’m strongly guessing – with contemplative hand outstretched, wishing it to be true – that we haven’t seen the last of the Force on the Disney Cruise Line.