This teen, a Star Wars fan and Disney Cruise Line veteran, offers his take on the Star Wars Day at Sea. He tells you what you need to know to get the best from this one-day celebration of the iconic film franchise — and where Disney could improve the experience for everyone, especially teen fans.

Star Wars Day at Sea

Star Wars Day at Sea. Photo credit: Ellen West

Meeting Star Wars characters. Photo credit: Ellen West

Until October 30, 2012, Star Wars enthusiasts could only fantasize about a day when the iconic imagery and story telling of Star Wars would collide with the magic and success of the Walt Disney Company. Then it happened. Dreams became a reality, and now fans of both franchises stand on the brink of an avalanche of Star Wars content that first impacted with The Force Awakens.

The avalanche is coming. Cinematicly speaking, there is a new Star Wars film coming out annually for the next 5 years. That’s not to mention all of the novels, television shows, video games, park experiences, and other forms of entertainment that are already here, and are inevitably coming.

The question should be posed, then: at what point are we faced with an over saturation of the market? The answer is simple. If the entertainment lives up to the high standard that Disney has in place, we won’t have to worry about getting tired of Star Wars, and Disney is counting on that.  The purpose of this article, however, is to expose one way Disney may or may not already be faltering.

Disney Cruise Veteran

Costumes onboard the ship. Photo by Ellen West

Costumes onboard the ship. Photo by Ellen West

This is an examination of Disney Cruise Lines newest offering: Star Wars Day at Sea. I am going to inform you on what to expect (before the decision), how to prepare (after the decision), and what to do onboard (when it finally comes).

First and foremost, I am comparing Star Wars Day at Sea to nothing, because it is the first of its kind. That being said, I am most certainly viewing it in light of the high standards Disney sets with its cruise line. The SWDAS cruise was my fifth Disney cruise, and I approached it expecting nothing but the best, because that is precisely what Disney has provided on all of my previous sailings.

Obviously, these are high standards to meet, especially when Disney decides to tackle Star Wars and attempt to cater to the fastidious super fans of the franchise (myself included). Nevertheless, I embarked on this journey with high expectations, while concurrently not knowing what to expect.

Too Much Hype?

The result? I summarize SWDAS as over-hyped and under-delivered. At the end of the day, my friends (including a few cast members) gave the overall experience a solid “meh.” At this point I’d like to say if you are considering cruising solely to experience SWDAS, I would not advise it.

On the other hand, it is unfair to take the day itself out of context of the entire cruise (though arguably it should be able to stand on its own). The rest of the cruise, including the dining, entertainment, and ‘fun-factor’ were phenomenal.

Star Wars Day at Sea pinThe issue with SWDAS began with the hype. Disney set it up so well by playing the Star Wars saga chronologically (I-VI) up to SWDAS when they premiere The Force Awakens onboard in both theaters. Naturally, there was a feeling of excitement as each day passed moving closer and closer to the big day, and the hype was felt ship wide by guests, cast and crew members, and even the captain. We were told several times by our waiter, waitress, and dining room leader that it was going to be amazing and unlike anything we had ever seen. Thus, my expectation-less expectation began to grow, warranted I thought, by everyone’s excitement.

Then the day arrived.

The Big Day

For me, Star Wars Day at Sea began at around 7:30 am. I woke up, stepped out of my stateroom, and was instantly greeted by the sweet melodies of Star Wars music playing through the halls. I’ll never forget the song that was playing. I took a deep breath and began heading up the stairs towards breakfast, thinking “this is going to be a day long remembered.”

I was surprised that between my stateroom and the buffet, the only Star Wars I encountered was the music and a gigantic sign on the ‘funnelvision’ stating “Star Wars Day at Sea” (see picture).

The rest of my morning went similarly. My breakfast wasn’t Star Wars. My visit to the teen club wasn’t Star Wars. My walk back to my stateroom wasn’t Star Wars.

Jedi Training

Star Wars cruisers. Photo by Ellen West

Star Wars cruisers. Photo by Ellen West

My younger brother wanted to do “Jedi Training: Trials of the Temple,” so my family and I went to the appropriate location and sat down to wait. There were several guests waiting there in the theatre dressed as iconic Star Wars characters. Finally!

As the show time approached, some cast members appeared and began selecting younglings to join the training.

Unfortunately, out of approximately 900 children on the ship, they only picked 16 to participate. The show that followed will seem very familiar to anyone who has done “Trials of the Temple” at Disney’s Hollywood Studios in Orlando, because it is essentially the same program, with a few minor changes, and one less villain. On the positive side, yes, they kept Darth Vader. I only attended the first show of five that were taking place that day, but I suspect they all adhered to the same format.

Joining the Costumed Fun

Will as Kylo Ren. Photo by Disney Cruise Lines

Will as Kylo Ren. Photo by Disney Cruise Lines

After the show, I decided that if there wasn’t going to be enough Star Wars, I would bring my own. I went to my stateroom and began the 20 minute process of getting suited up in my homemade Kylo Ren costume. I was ready to join the fans already costuming aboard the ship.

Once ready, I began a solo stroll to the main atrium to see what was happening. Nothing. There was a Disney photographer set up against a black backdrop, and since there was no line, I walked over to have a few pictures made in my costume.

A group of 10 or so people accumulated while I was getting my photos taken, and once I stepped off of the backdrop, I realized that they all wanted their picture taken with me. So, I stepped aside and began posing for pictures with little Princess Leias and tiny Stormtroopers.

A line began to amass, and 90 minutes later, there were more than 100 people standing in line to get their picture made with Kylo Ren.

But it was me. Somehow, I had the longest line on the ship, and it’s not because I have the best Kylo Ren costume in the world. It’s because that was the ‘coolest’ thing going on at that moment.

Making My Own Fun

The rest of the day was mediocre at best. There were character meet and greets, but they were just OK.’ More on that later. Don’t misunderstand me, I had a blast! I was able to pose with kid and adult fans alike for a solid 2.5 hours that day, and seeing the joy on their faces made SWDAS a day I will never forget At this point, I wasn’t quite ready to abandon all hope that SWDAS could still somehow redeem itself.

But dinner was just dinner. They had beautiful Star Wars menus, but there was no show or anything out of the ordinary about it.

Star Wars on the big screen and characters on deck. Photo by Ellen West

Star Wars on the big screen and characters on deck. Photo by Ellen West

After dinner, everyone was so ready for “Summon the Force: An epic stage show featuring a grand fireworks finale set to the unforgettable music of Star Wars!” That translated into Disney parading the Star Wars characters that were on board out on stage while a montage with clips from the movie played, ending with a firework show. If you’ve seen “Symphony in the Stars” at Hollywood Studios, this may seem familiar, because it was merely a highly condensed version of that. The promised epic stage show was nothing more than an exhibition, and the fireworks were simply a smaller version of something that already exists.

Directly after the show, I ventured across the ship to a Star Wars Superfan Contest, only to find that it was for ages 18 and up, and that I could not participate. With that, my SWDAS was over.

The next day, I spoke with the director of the Star Wars events that had occurred, and he seemed more than confident in what had transpired. When I asked if this was a trial run to see what worked and what didn’t, he was self-assured that DCL had provided a success.  During the rest of the week, I talked to as many people as I could about the isolated SWDAS experience, and every individual was underwhelmed and offered criticism.

Search Your Feelings

Star Wars Day at Sea

Photo by Ellen West.

My advice to those of you who want to venture onto a Disney cruise with the SWDAS would be to ‘search your feelings.’ Disney may have taken Master Yoda’s advice a little too far when he said “Adventure, heh. Excitement, heh. A Jedi craves not these things!”

That being said, if you are already looking to go on a Disney cruise and have young Star Wars fans, it is a very cool experience. Unfortunately, cool is the highest praise I can attribute to the event. However, I would deter no one who wants to experience SWDAS, and the next paragraphs are for those of you who have already booked this cruise or are still feeling confident about the journey.

What to Expect

Star Wars Day at Sea

Photo by Ellen West

Towards the beginning of the cruise, you will receive a slip to sign up for character meet and greets. This was Disney’s way of trying to minimize lines for one character. The only issue is, your only options are Tattoine, The Dark Side, and Bespin and you have to pick two, ranking all three in order. You don’t know who you are signing up for, until now:

  • Tattoine is C-3PO and R2-D2 or Darth Maul. The characters rotate, so you have a 50-50 shot as to who you will get.
  • The Dark Side is Captain Phasma or Darth Vader
  • Bespin is Chewie or Boba Fett.

I was told that the sooner you hand the slip in with your preferences, the more likely you are to receive your preferred choice.

Now, for those of you who have younglings who want to do Jedi Training, I advise you do it at Hollywood Studios. If that isn’t an option, you’ll want to show up a solid 45 minutes before the event starts aboard the ship and sit near the front of the auditorium. The best chance your child has of getting picked is by sitting on the front row and wearing a Jedi costume. Even then, you aren’t guaranteed anything.

If your family is into costuming, or just has a casual Star Wars costume from last Halloween, I would suggest attending the Guest Costume Celebration. As the name would imply, all of the guests with costumes gather in the main atrium, and then have a chance to stand before the crowd in an exhibition type manor while a few of the guests are picked to be ‘interviewed’ about their costume and fandom. It doesn’t sound like a lot, but it’s worth a view.

Star Wars buffet carving. Photo by Ellen West

Star Wars buffet carving. Photo by Ellen West

Another thing to watch out for is roaming characters. Jawas, Stormtroopers, Tusken Raiders, and Zam Wessell travel about the ship throughout the day, so keep a sharp eye out and you might bump into them for a photo opportunity. The Jawas, Tusken Raiders, and Zam Wessell tend to hang around the atrium on deck 4, while the Stormtroopers alternate patrol on the outside of deck 4 and the top of deck 11 (pool patrol can be found on your navigator). Ahsoka Tano from Star Wars: The Clone Wars and Star Wars: Rebels makes an appearance on stage during the Summon the Force deck show, but I did not see her throughout the day. That being said, I might have just missed her.

Finally, I would say if you are going to do SWDAS, you need to attend the Summon the Force deck party. The best seat in the house is on the top deck, against the rail. If you are standing facing the funnelvision, you want the Mickey slide to be directly on your left. You’ll be able to see the stage, the screen, and have an unobstructed view of the fireworks on your right.

In conclusion, Star Wars Day at Sea is simply “Do, or do not. There is no try.” You either do it and make the most out of it, or simply choose to opt out. It certainly won’t detract from your family vacation, but it may only slightly enhance it. SWDAS does not live up to Disney’s standard of exceeding expectations and then some. There is an apparent lack of ‘Disney standard’ activities, but overall, you will still have a blast with your family on any Disney cruise.

Learn about Star Wars: Season of the Force merchandise at Disneyland and learn about other places to go to indulge your inner Jedi.

Have you experienced the Star Wars Day at Sea? What did you think?

This post was written by Will West. Will is an avid adventurer. From age 2, when he managed to start a car and shift it into drive, there’s been no stopping him. He’s now a 17-year-old high school senior who has a passion for life. The National Park Service has awarded him more than 50 commendations for his commitment to protecting, preserving, and learning about America and her natural beauty…in the form of Junior Ranger badges. In addition to appreciating the National Parks, Will enjoys Walt Disney World and Disney Cruises.  In his opinion, he has an unrivaled collection of Star Wars memorabilia. So when these two forces merged, it was of galactic proportion!  His other groundbreaking accomplishments include the art of playing and arranging piano compositions, and he strives to “Live Inside Out.”