As the kids go back to school and the weather seems to have taken a turn for the colder, it’s time to reflect on another lovely summer and in particular the memories you’ve made on your holidays. My family decided a couple of months ago that after our last trip to Orlando was ruined by illness, we’d have another attempt to visit the sunshine state and take in some of the things we missed last time.
The end of the holiday was going to be very Disney oriented (more of that later) so we didn’t go overboard on the parks, but made our way to Disney’s Hollywood Studios, the park with the most Star Wars content and future home to the Galaxy’s Edge/Star Wars ‘land’.
Upon entering the approach to the car park you can see the towering structures to your left, which are the back of the main ‘indoor’ experiences, and a few of the rocky ‘spires’ still under construction. The sheer size of these buildings suggests the attractions they will be housing will be pretty vast upon completion.
Our first stop once inside the park was to the newly-opened Toy Story Land, to hit the main rides there before the queues got too long. And from here you could see the other side of the Galaxy’s Edge development, still heavily scaffolded, but with some distinctive features echoing the concept art and mock-up models that are also visible around the park.
With construction still in full swing, only a few elements look to be completed as you can see, one of which is the shuttle/ship and the aforementioned rocky spires that feature heavily in the landscape.
Once we’d completed the Toy Story rides it was off to the rejuvenated Star Tours which, despite my last visit to Disney being a little over 2 years ago, has undergone even more of a (content) makeover. The entrance had not really changed, although some of the screen content and dialogue from the characters had been updated.
Once in the ride, the basics were the same but over the several trips we took we got to see Poe and BB-8 give us a mission briefing and then revised content for the hangar exit (featuring Kylo Ren rather than Darth Vader) and locations from The Force Awakens and The Last Jedi (Jakku and Crait), before finally hitting hyperspace and ending up on Batuu, the planet that is the home to Galaxy’s Edge.
As you land in front of a rendering of the Black Spires Outpost, Threepio responds to a series of bleeps from Artoo with “What an adventure, but I think this is just the beginning….” Cue the John Williams fanfare and your exit into the Tatooine Trading Post for all your Star Wars essentials (and not so essentials!!!).
Outside the Star Tours ride are still the impressive AT-AT and Ewok village, and not far away is a full-size speeder bike, perfect for those photo opportunities.
We also took in the Star Wars Launch Bay, which I had managed a rushed trip through on our last visit. Video should be going up on our YouTube channel in the coming weeks, but as was promised when the attraction first opened, the content has been rotated and a significant number of props, costumes, models and artwork from Solo: A Star Wars Story were on display.
Having more time than our last visit, we stopped off for pictures with Chewie (who was impressed with my responses to his Shyriiwook with my own garbled wookiee noises, thanks to our chum JaKe’s book, How to Speak Wookiee), BB-8 and the rather intimidating Kylo Ren. The latter had some of the kids quite frightened and I got a feeling for how Rey & Poe felt when confronted by the masked figure, and have even more empathy with the ‘nope troopers’.
I even managed time to stop off at the cantina for a blue milk.
One of the less obvious Star Wars exhibits is housed within the ‘Walt Disney Presents….’ attraction. The first part of this is a little like the Star Wars Launch Bay, a series of models, pictures and memorabilia charting the history of Disney through the years, and you can then watch a short film covering the Disney story. However, part of the exhibition houses a model of the upcoming Galaxy’s Edge and several other models, including an impressive AT-AT. Given that the exhibition is also air-conditioned it was a welcome relief from the 40 degree early afternoon heat!!
One of the other areas that compliments the theme parks is the shopping and entertainment district, Disney Springs. This houses a variety of Disney and non-Disney retail outlets, bars and clubs, to allow you to wind down after a hard day at the parks, dance until the early hours or feed you retail habit. The main focus is ‘themed’ stores for Disney properties, but many of the non-Disney stores showcase their Mouse-related merchandise too.
Of particular interest to Star Wars fans are the two Star Wars specific shops – the Galactic Outpost and the Star Wars Trading Post. Despite it only being mid-August, the Halloween machine was in full effect, with some rather nice Star Wars pins and the limited edition droid R4-BOO18, alongside some of the other merchandise including Solo t-shirts and jackets and a wealth of toys, pins, shirts and artwork from all eras of the saga, and Rebels and The Clone Wars too.
If shopping is your thing, you should also check out the Disney Character Warehouse at the Orlando Premium Outlet village on International Drive (there are several sites across the city so be sure you’re headed to the right one). Obviously with lots of ‘end of line’ merchandise the stock is ever changing, but on our visit there were lots of Star Wars Tsum Tsums (99c each), Her Universe shirts and dresses, and their Solo leggings and t-shirts/gym tops, as well as some gorgeous Rogue One art prints which would have been on their way back with me if I could have guaranteed their safe passage. It is also worth checking out some of the bargain souvenir shops around Orlando as you can pick up trading pins and other souvenirs for much less than the park prices. Plenty of bargains to be had, if you’re prepared to take some time out of your trip to check them out.
So, despite all of this, the real Disney element of our holiday was a 3 night Disney Cruise aboard the ship, Disney Dream. Sadly there was no Star Wars day on this itinerary, but there were several things to give Star Wars fans their fix. Firstly, the onboard cinema was showing the latest Disney movies and as part of their schedule had several screenings of Solo. Only weeks ahead of its home release, it was nice to see it on a big screen again, and interestingly the 10:45pm screening actually had more people in it than the opening night screening I attended! You can also watch the other Disney era movies via the on demand TV service in your cabin (if you’re in it for long enough!!!)
There is a wealth of exclusive Disney Cruise Line merchandise, although there was a minimal amount of Star Wars tie-in merchandise on this ship. I picked up a rather nice lanyard but that was about the only real cruise related item I found, although they did have some of the Solo shirts and toys on sales, as well as lightsabers.
The only ‘exclusive’ Star Wars element to this ship is part of the Oceaneers kids club. Usually reserved for ages 3 to 11 there are several times during the cruise where they have an ‘open house’ for all guests to look around, so we duly obliged to check out the Millennium Falcon experience. There were a few elements to this: a large dejarik table and seating – nice for some photo ops and presumably used to allow the kids to sit and do colouring or puzzles; an area featuring some interactive tablet ‘stations’ where there are trivia quizzes and puzzles for them to complete; a life-sized Artoo (albeit behind glass) – again great photo op; and the main feature, a full sized Falcon cockpit with two seats and interactive screen to allow you to jump to hyperspace (how much fun was THAT!!!), and then pilot the YT-1300 through a variety of planetary locations – although these aren’t exactly canon, given that at one point we were chasing a speeder bike through the forests of Endor, and another we were attacking AT-ATs during the assault on Hoth – the footage was recycled from the Star Tours attraction. Unfortunately due to the mounting queue of people we had little chance to see much more of the content but it was immense fun even in the few minutes we had.
Whilst in the older age groups, the Edge (11-14 yrs) and Vibe (14-18 yrs) clubs had some Star Wars content too, with some trivia quizzes, Battlefront 2 challenges and also the chance to play the VR game Jedi Challenges.
If Disney (not just Star Wars) is your thing, this cruise is brilliant with lots of opportunities to meet the characters and more to do than you can fit in to the short space of time. I’d now love to do one of the other cruises, especially one that features the Star Wars Day to see how they cater for the fans.