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August 23, 2019 7:17 AM   Subscribe

Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge opened in Disneyland earlier this year to rave reviews of its immersive theming, role-playing “cast members”, and, uh, $200 custom lightsabers. But fans have had a disturbing lack of faith in the new addition, leading to lower-than-expected attendance numbers. Disney blames high hotel prices and, surprisingly, its own even-higher ticket prices, while others find the rides underwhelming compared to the more ambitious original plans.

Listen to the Golden Horseshoe Review podcast on Galaxy's Edge: Part 1 and Part 2.
posted by adrianhon (43 comments total) 10 users marked this as a favorite
 
For what it's worth, the primary reason we decided not to go for at least a year after Galaxy's Edge opened was because it was going to be too crowded. The price hikes only sealed the deal.
posted by tclark at 7:36 AM on August 23, 2019 [8 favorites]


I thought the smaller attendance was because most annual passholders were blocked this summer along with the second ride opening later this year?
posted by fiercekitten at 7:36 AM on August 23, 2019 [5 favorites]


fiercekitten: I'm sure that didn't help, but even Bob Iger admitted the numbers didn't work out in the way they expected:
First of all, helped in part by some of our efforts, there was tremendous concern in the marketplace that there was going to be huge crowding when we opened Galaxy’s Edge. And so some people stayed away just because they expected that it would not be a great guest experience. At the same time that was going on, all the local hotels in the region, expecting a huge influx of visitation, raised their prices. So, it simply got more expensive to come stay in Anaheim. In addition to that, we raised our prices. We brought our daily price up, so if you think about local visitation, we brought the price of a one-day ticket up substantially from a year ago. And then we have opened up Galaxy’s Edge with one attraction instead of two. The second attraction is going to open in January. And so all of those factors contributed to attendance that was below what we would have hoped it would be.
posted by adrianhon at 7:38 AM on August 23, 2019 [3 favorites]


For what it's worth, the primary reason we decided not to go for at least a year after Galaxy's Edge opened was because it was going to be too crowded.

That's definitely why I haven't even bothered to look at prices or any of the logistics.
posted by tobascodagama at 7:38 AM on August 23, 2019 [2 favorites]


In other words, they blocked the annual passholders because they thought there were going to be massive crowds anyway – and there weren't.
posted by adrianhon at 7:39 AM on August 23, 2019 [6 favorites]


Yeah, there’s an idea within the Disney company that they may have bungled the messaging with too many signals that the new attractions would be crowded, and as a result crowds stayed away in droves.

I went! It’s really cool. You should go if you’re in the area. I think it would be prudent to wait until the second attraction opens before planning an out-of-town visit.
posted by chrchr at 7:40 AM on August 23, 2019 [4 favorites]


The company released some info yesterday about the immersive Star Wars theme hotel they’re building at Walt Disney World.
posted by chrchr at 7:53 AM on August 23, 2019


A friend just returned from Disney World in Florida, and the "bounce-back" offer was for this November & December.

This is unusual because it's usually for a date further out -- often, the following year -- in order to get guests to commit to a return trip before they've even left. If Disney is trying to get people back during what should be one of their busier periods, that's a bad sign for occupancy rates.
posted by wenestvedt at 8:00 AM on August 23, 2019 [1 favorite]


I think the other thing keeping attendance low is that outside of the two rides (one of which is not yet open), the rest of the attractions are basically high-end retail experiences for rich kids. Disney theme parks are money sinks to begin with, and Galaxy's Edge seems especially so.
posted by Strange Interlude at 8:18 AM on August 23, 2019 [11 favorites]


That’s the thing, I can’t imagine GE is fun for kids, the whole thing seems pitched to the 42 year old Star Wars fan who can drop 200+ on a custom lightsaber.
posted by The Whelk at 8:26 AM on August 23, 2019 [21 favorites]


"nobody goes there, too crowded it is"

- Yoda Berra
posted by condour75 at 8:30 AM on August 23, 2019 [70 favorites]


My husband and I just went a couple of weeks ago because we'd been reading about the low attendance numbers. My husband desperately wanted to build the custom lightsaber, and we needed some adult time away from our 8 month old.

The park as a whole definitely felt less crowded -- the lines were pretty short, and the spot near Indy and Tarzan's Treehouse that's usually almost impassable was pretty open. I've read that they've worked on alleviating some of the pedestrian chokepoints in the park, so that would also have contributed to the more open feeling.

I'm not a huge Star Wars fan (I like it about the minimal amount I am required to as a certified nerd). But when we walked in to Galaxy's Edge, I took a deep breath and said "Wow!" It was actually a similar feeling to what I get when we drive in Yosemite Valley through the tunnel and the iconic view opens up.

I rolled my eyes a lot leading up to the light saber experience (come on, $200!?), and all but one builder was a dude over 30, but I choked up a little bit when everyone turned on their sabers and something I don't want to spoil happened. The cast member playing Savi has the best job in the entire park, and you could tell she LOVED it.

All that said, Black Spire Outpost (the only public place to get booze in Disneyland) was NOT worth the wait, and I don't think it's just because I was hungry and surprised that they didn't have food. The prices were surprisingly reasonable (about what you'd pay for a cocktail or beer here in downtown San Diego), but oof...the drinks were awful. And we could barely choke down the jello/boba/pop rocks snack we ordered out of desperation. On the plus side, it was really fun to see the droid who used to be the Star Tours pilot DJing in the bar. I missed him when they redesigned that ride.

We didn't end up going on the one ride because the wait times were really long, and it's likely to make me nauseous (I almost tossed my cookies on the similar Harry Potter ride). So yeah, it was mostly a lot of window shopping and sight seeing. They do have an AR mobile game that was kind of fun to wander around and play for a bit, but it didn't hold my interest for that long.
posted by natabat at 8:30 AM on August 23, 2019 [11 favorites]


I don't have the statistics to back this up, but as a Disney travel consumer, I keep my eye on most of the "unauthorized travel" blogs. The general consensus last fall was that there was no "off season" anymore - at least in the low crowd levels I'm used to (once walked directly onto the Little Mermaid ride, not another soul to be seen...) I'm an introvert with crowd issues, so I generally plan out visits for those "low" seasons.

So let's say that historically, the first week of December would be a crowd level 2 (not a ton of long lines for the cheesy older rides, easier to get fast passes). But with everything they've been throwing into the parks lately, let's say that the lowest levels would be a 4 (ten minute wait for cheesy rides, fast passes need to be prioritized). But Disney's goal is to always make more money, so that's fine with them. They know there are market segments that are going to give them money, maybe even splurge on some things like the $80 tickets to get you in an hour early with breakfast, so it's all good to them. So my theory is that they were expecting a baseline of a 5 or higher, all of the nerds swarming in droves to hug Chewy. Their goal is to eliminate low seasons completely, and that's going to shut out a certain segment of us. Blah. (I'm booked for next fall... unless there's another hurricane...)
posted by librarianamy at 8:32 AM on August 23, 2019 [4 favorites]


I was told by someone the only real low season in Florida is January, when the kids are back in school and the weather isn't great. Certainly the fall low season (Sept to before US Thanksgiving) is no longer low.
posted by jeather at 8:57 AM on August 23, 2019 [2 favorites]


It's impossible to underestimate just how much immersive theatre and immersive experiences in general have influenced the design of Galaxy's Edge. I realise this may sound a bit like teaching Disney to suck eggs, but I know first-hand that the Imagineers are huge fans of immersive theatre and ARGs, not least because we consulted for them. So you can see all of these touches in the mobile AR quests and the high-touch in-person experiences and so on.

One reason why people like immersive theatre is because it's much more intimate and personal. It's really cool being able to walk through fictional environments and be right up close to actors; it's an experience and hey, it's all about the experiential economy now. But it's also really fucking expensive because the actor-to-guest ratio is so high! That means expensive tickets and high-priced upselling for things like custom lightsabers and droids. Likewise, there's a reason why the most commercially successful immersive theatre feels more like bars with actors attached.

The upcoming Star Wars hotel takes this to an extreme – even more personal, even more exclusive, even higher-touch, and no doubt way more expensive. I don't know how Disney squares this circle because if everything gets perceived as being too expensive and elite, it could harm the whole brand.
posted by adrianhon at 9:29 AM on August 23, 2019 [9 favorites]


The upcoming Star Wars hotel takes this to an extreme – even more personal, even more exclusive, even higher-touch, and no doubt way more expensive. I don't know how Disney squares this circle because if everything gets perceived as being too expensive and elite, it could harm the whole brand.

Anticipated pricing is somewhere around $1,000 a person a day. My family would love this, especially me to be honest, but I am not ready to pay that...even though I do actually want the actors to be both decently paid and safe, which probably takes a lot of invisible staff I don't see. But if I'm paying that much money I am taking my family somewhere else in the world, and we will get a few cosplaying friends to do an afternoon at the park with our el cheapo fake lightsabers instead.

I do think that there will be families who pay for this, both 1% families and families that will save/go into debt for it. But it won't be mine.
posted by warriorqueen at 9:38 AM on August 23, 2019 [4 favorites]


$1000/night average cost per guest is exactly what I guessed as well! (self-link)
posted by adrianhon at 9:46 AM on August 23, 2019 [2 favorites]


It is as though Disney has forgotten about the importance of 'brand', and with a company based on a famous mouse, that's really saying something.

I haven't been, but I've heard they had originally planned then dropped any reference to the original Star Wars trilogy--not even Darth Vader. What started it all and got fans initially excited about the story has been wiped from existence. Heaven help the Disney accountants if they have to pay any royalties to George Lucas.
posted by eye of newt at 9:46 AM on August 23, 2019


Fear factor? California Today: Shootings Rattle California; Why Disneyland Attendance Matters, NYT, August 6, 2019. A direct connection between the two topics isn’t made by the author, but the inference seems obvious.
posted by cenoxo at 10:10 AM on August 23, 2019 [2 favorites]


I was at Disneyland last week. Here are my thoughts on Galaxy's Edge:

1) The main walk into the area is very cool, with music and moisture colletor-ish structures. The first things you hit are an A-wing and X-wing on their pads getting fueled/serviced. Apparently Chewy will sometimes come out and bang on the X-wing a bit.

2) As noted, the overall design is very cool and Star Wars-y. Lots of rough looking boxes mounted to walls with lights and buttons all over them, cables hanging down, blaster damage on walls, etc. You can use the app to decode the language and play games, I guess.

3) Walking into the area where the Falcon is sitting is pretty jaw-dropping, especially at night. For someone who saw the first movie when he was seven, it was a pretty religious experience.

4) The Falcon ride, Smugglers Run, is pretty cool, not amazing. You do get to spend a few minutes in the "lounge" area of the Falcon where the Dejarik table is (I had to Google that, I'm not that hard core). You get assigned to be a pilot, gunner, or engineer, with a total of six people. I was an engineer, which meant frantically hitting buttons and flipping switches whenever the pilots hit something or we got shot. I did get to let out a little "yahoo!" when the hyperdrive kicked in. Oh, and your performance is tracked with your Disney account, so when you, say, go to buy food the cast member will tell you how well or poorly you did on the ride. That's persistent, so the more you go the more your reputation is known around the area. I'll be interested to see how that plays out.

5) It is actually rather intimidating when Stormtroopers and Kylon Ren wander by. They're large and in charge! We were with a family whose eight year old was dressed as Rey, and Kylo Ren gave her a stern talking to. It was pretty cool.

6) While having the cast members dressed in costume is cool, they really could stand to make the place more lived in. They need some aliens and droids wandering around. And I'd love it if they could figure out a way to show ships taking off - maybe with a cleverly placed screen in the ceiling of the market area.

7) The round bottles of Space Coke are cool for a minute but I didn't bother keeping one.

Overall, it's a fun place to wander around, and I definitely want to go back when the new ride finally opens. Go in the evening, it really shines then. I think they can, and probably will, do a lot more with it over time.

Oh, and as noted above the park was generally not too busy, no total choke points anywhere, wait times no longer than 45 minutes for most of the big rides.
posted by schoolgirl report at 10:18 AM on August 23, 2019 [4 favorites]


Or perhaps no attribution of malice is needed, just overwrought production. See also Spacewreck: The Captain EO Story, Mental Floss, March 23, 2017.
posted by cenoxo at 10:21 AM on August 23, 2019 [2 favorites]


I was told by someone the only real low season in Florida is January

They told you wrong. According to Touringplans (basically the only source anyone should trust), early september is still 2-4/10 crowd, whereas January is pretty solidly in the 6-8s overall.
posted by dmd at 10:34 AM on August 23, 2019 [1 favorite]


I saw the nice fun pre-EO 3D show as a little kid (people blowing dandelions into your face and the like) and cried and left EO in the middle because it was way too much for me. I had forgotten.
posted by jeather at 10:34 AM on August 23, 2019 [1 favorite]


I've been getting Disney credit cards by Chase ads in the mail. As in going into credit card debt is the only way an average family can afford Disney these days.

A co-worker of mine took his family during The Limited open time when you had to stay in the Disney hotel. I asked him if it was worth it and he said they had a great time but didn't want to think about what the cost was because it would ruin the memory for him.
posted by CostcoCultist at 10:41 AM on August 23, 2019 [1 favorite]


Hmm, my family had passes for the last four years, but we gave them up this summer because we figured the Star Wars stuff (which I'm kinda neutral on anyway) would have pushed the already crowded park into the unbearable realm. As it stood, we usually only went 8am to ~3pm since that's all we could take, crowd-wise.

But, sounds like the opposite has happened. if like 10k more people a day aren't showing up, maybe we'll get the passes again this fall.
posted by sideshow at 10:59 AM on August 23, 2019


I realise this may sound a bit like teaching Disney to suck eggs, but I know first-hand that the Imagineers are huge fans of immersive theatre and ARGs, not least because we consulted for them

So can you get the Adventurer's Club back somehow? Please? Kungaloosh!
posted by JoeZydeco at 11:38 AM on August 23, 2019 [3 favorites]


And, by the way, the immersive idea for the Star Wars hotel sounds radically fantastic and whatnot... but how do you keep guests from constantly stopping the interactions with Stormtrooper selfies and pose/reposed instagram interruptions?

(If the Stormtroopers confiscated all your mobile devices at check-in, I'd be cool with that)
posted by JoeZydeco at 12:03 PM on August 23, 2019 [1 favorite]


I've seen videos of the custom lightsaber attraction and it's pretty cool, but I don't know if it's $200 worth of cool for me.

The videos I've seen look like the actual experience and build thing is a bit crowded, fairly short and hurried just like any other Disney experience. After a pre-selection process where you pick out from a basic style, you are presented with a tray of a limited amount of parts that essentially Lego together with a sort of A-B-C-D recipe where you have an array of parts for A, another for B, and so on, with a fairly specific order of assembly.

Which, yeah, they have to do it like this. It's not like everyone wants to spend all day of an expensive park visit in a workshop. (I mean I would, but it wouldn't be a profitable attraction because real model shop materials and tools are expensive if you're not marketing a product!)

The Disney cast members DEFINITELY get into it and they may actually have the best job in Galaxy's Edge.

So I guess at this point I'm just a couple of klicks shy of being enough of a Star Wars fan and/or ex sword nerd to be into it.

But on the other hand at inflated Disney prices that's also a competitive cost with the sort of high end cosplay lightsabers available online.

On the other-other hand at that price level you probably get a more durable product and better sound/light options, and the option of dueling-grade plastic blades that won't shatter if you actually want to do some sparring with someone.
posted by loquacious at 12:39 PM on August 23, 2019 [2 favorites]


Anecdotal, but of the people I know who've gone (who are all varying shades of SW nerd), they loved walking around the place, but rapidly ran out of stuff to do that wasn't buying an expensive saber or droid, and one was chastised for dressing too closely to a character... for basically wearing a hoodie and pants. In general, it seems like Galaxy's Edge feels a little underbaked, and that Promising the Moon article certainly seems to have a detailed breakdown of why that happened.

loquacious, you can definitely get non-Disney dueling grade sabers for around $250 that have a crazy amount of customization. A quick search didn't seem to turn up a quality comparison, but I'd bet there's one up somewhere.
posted by tautological at 1:17 PM on August 23, 2019 [1 favorite]


With the Disney sabers, while the build quality and materials are apparently very good, it seems like you're mostly paying for the little ceremony that goes with them. Which honestly is a little bit compelling, especially if you skip the dueling blade add-on that basically doubles the price.
posted by tobascodagama at 2:25 PM on August 23, 2019


Anecdotal, but of the people I know who've gone (who are all varying shades of SW nerd), they loved walking around the place, but rapidly ran out of stuff to do that wasn't buying an expensive saber or droid

I would agree with that. That's why I say they need to build out the world more, so there's more to look at and interact with as you're walking around if you don't want to spend $100 to build a little droid or $200 for the saber (and there are some way more expensive items in one of the stores, like crazy pricey sculptures and stuff). I think they're relying too much on people using the app to interact, getting missions from cast members, and so on. There just needs to be more little things, not anything major (other than the Rise of the Resistance ride). As I said, having droids noodling around would be really cool - I had visions of some gussied up Boston Dynamics robots marching through the center of the area freaking everyone out.
posted by schoolgirl report at 2:59 PM on August 23, 2019 [2 favorites]


It is actually rather intimidating when Stormtroopers and Kylon Ren wander by. They're large and in charge! We were with a family whose eight year old was dressed as Rey, and Kylo Ren gave her a stern talking to.

I hope she showed him who was in charge like this Rey did.
posted by longdaysjourney at 7:57 PM on August 23, 2019 [2 favorites]


My coworker is going tonight, I will see what she thinks.

I also assumed it was going to be too crowded to go for like a year.
posted by jenfullmoon at 1:00 AM on August 24, 2019


200 dollars is a lot. Expect that is the STARTING price for a duel ready lightsaber bought from any non-Disney outfit, for people like me who actually like whacking the heck out off each other and not just keeping it on the wall. I wonder how the electronic is to actually keep it that low.
posted by thegirlwiththehat at 1:03 AM on August 24, 2019 [1 favorite]




I have to say, as a former LARP storyteller, I'm extremely impressed that they're going to try to pull off that thing LARP storytellers always dream about, viz. an immersive, role-playing experience with hotel-level hospitality that mundanes will pay for.
posted by ob1quixote at 2:27 PM on August 25, 2019 [1 favorite]


mundanes

Is that a real term that the LARP community uses for non-LARP folks? I don't think I'm offended because it's pretty tame and fitting but I'd never heard it before. Basic indeed.
posted by RolandOfEld at 7:08 AM on August 26, 2019


RolandOfEld: “mundanes”
Apologies. I think, like much of LARP culture, its origin was the Society for Creative Anachronism. In my defense I always thought of it as mostly meaning people who have never spent a weekend in the woods wearing elf ears rather than something demeaning. I note that the SCA jargon file [PDF] now suggests using "moderns" instead.

In any case, my oft-stated goal as a storyteller was, "Everybody pays $50. Everybody gets to be Luke Skywalker." My "LARP hotel" dream was removing the barriers of heat, bugs, forest paths, no decent bathrooms, and feeling self-conscious to allow everyone to have that feeling. I thought somebody, somewhere, sometime was going to open a fantasy themed resort. Especially with the success of the Lord of the Rings and Harry Potter movies during the Aughts. I never imagined it would be Disney and actually be a Star Wars themed resort.
posted by ob1quixote at 8:19 AM on August 26, 2019 [2 favorites]


*Still* waiting for Jenny Nicholson's take!
posted by Chrysostom at 10:54 PM on August 28, 2019


ob1quixote: RolandOfEld: “mundanes”

Borrowed from Xanth, yeah?
posted by team lowkey at 12:18 AM on August 29, 2019


*Still* waiting for Jenny Nicholson's take!

IIRC, she had two visits booked, and I think the first of those happened earlier this month. I can't remember if she said she'd be waiting to do a video until after her second trip, though.
posted by tobascodagama at 5:45 AM on August 29, 2019


Yeah, she was saying she might have to do it in chunks, since there's so much material *and* the place is actively changing, so as to invalidate some stuff.
posted by Chrysostom at 7:37 AM on August 29, 2019


Jenny Nicholson: Star Wars Land, an excruciatingly detailed prequel
posted by The Whelk at 11:31 AM on September 17, 2019 [1 favorite]


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