Travelers seek out-of-this-world experiences, and Walt Disney World plans to enable them through a “Star Wars”-based hotel, a concept that could send the trend of immersive vacations into hyperspeed.
The resort, announced this month, will use interactivity, role-playing and technology to create a simulated trip to outer space. The company will even throw droids into the mix.
“From the second you arrive, you will become a part of the ‘Star Wars’ story,” said Bob Chapek, chairman of Walt Disney Parks and Resorts. “It is 100 percent immersive, and the story will touch every single minute of your day.” He described a luxurious atmosphere with characters, starships, rooms with interstellar views and multiple days of “unfolding adventures.”
Themed vacations are not new, said Scott Brush, a hotel consultant based in South Florida. From dude ranches to zombie cruises to Civil War re-enactments, folks have explored other ways of life. But in Central Florida, it’s about to get otherworldly.
“Everybody else is doing it. Disney is just taking it up to a new level,” Brush said. The company already operates some heavily themed hotels, such as Disney’s Animal Kingdom Lodge and Disney’s Art of Animation Resort.
There are plenty of people willing to play – and pay – along with a “Star Wars” theme, said Dave Parfitt, editor of Adventures by Daddy, a travel website.
“You see entire families at Star Wars Celebration dressed up as cosplayers, so I could definitely see where you would have subsets of families that are going to be all-in on this and checking in and being as immersed as possible,” Parfitt said.
Participation in activities related to the films remains high. A pop-up cantina called Scum & Villainy has sprung up in California, and the coast of Ireland has gotten a bump in tourism because the upcoming “Star Wars: The Last Jedi” filmed there, Parfitt said.
“There are lots of people trekking out to these areas,” he said.
While guests in the future Disney hotel will live out the scenario of being on a space station, visitors to existing Great Wolf Lodges are greeted with another remote theme — that of a northern woods.
“As soon as you check in, you get wolf ears. … Right away we’re kind of beginning that adventure,” said Erin Wallace, chief operating officer. “You definitely feel you’re in a north woods-type lodge, a rustic lodge.”
The woodsy sense and accompanying décor, including a working fireplace, run from the lobby, through an indoor water park and into themed rooms, she said.
“The key for having an immersive family resort is you don’t have to leave the property. You have everything right there that you can do,” Wallace said. Great Wolf activities include ropes courses, rock-wall climbing, miniature golf and a game named MagicQuest, activated throughout the resort with wands that summon fairies, goblins and dragons.
A sense of community also thrives in the immersive experience, Wallace said.
“Every night we do story time,” she said. “Literally, families come down in their pajamas. They listen to a story being told to them from a great big book, gather in the lobby and have that story time nighttime routine.”
Great Wolf Lodge operates 14 resorts, with three more opening within a year. In 2016, the Wisconsin-based company purchased 50 acres near Disney Springs for consideration.
“We definitely are exploring what we can do in Orlando,” Wallace said.
Meanwhile, Disney fans are anxious for more details about the “Star Wars” hotel. Within a week of the announcement, comments to the Disney Parks Blog included anxious queries about the resort’s level of luxury, swimming pool, room rates, wedding packages, Disney Vacation Club possibilities and how to get on a yet-to-be-announced mailing list.
They want to know where and when, too. Disney hasn’t revealed location or time frame yet.
“I think it’s a brilliant idea,” Parfitt said. “And I bet if Universal wasn’t already planning this for Harry Potter, they soon will be.”
Universal Orlando has announced plans for two hotels on International Drive on the old Wet ‘n Wild water park site. It has not announced their themes or if it has any expansion plans for the Potter franchise.
“We feel like this could be the start of something very, very big,” Chapek said.
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