Disney Announces Closure of New Star Wars Hotel: Does their Ongoing Battle with Gov. DeSantis Have Anything To Do With It?

Photo By Kaleb Tapp on Unsplash

Disney’s elaborate and immersive Star Wars hotel, Star Wars: Galactic Star Cruiser Adventure, is closing after Sept. 30. The Disney World hotel first opened in March 2022 and has since received mixed feedback on its experience. 

The idea of the hotel was to fully immerse guests in a unique Star Wars adventure as if you’re boarding a spaceship in the Star Wars universe as a character. Guests could learn to use a lightsaber, explore the Bridge and learn the ship’s controls, visit Batuu (Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge located in Disney’s Hollywood Studio), try galactic cuisine, and be a part of the First Order vs. Resistance story first introduced in the 7th Star Wars movie, “The Force Awakens.”

The two-night stay included a standard cabin or suite upgrade, interactive and immersive entertainment, food and beverage (except alcohol and specialty drinks), one-day entry to Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge and Disney’s Hollywood Studios, and valet parking.

The controversy of the hotel was specifically centered around the cost, starting at close to $5000 for two guests in a standard cabin or $6000 for four guests in a standard cabin during a weekday.  For context, a five-night stay at one of Disney’s less expensive resorts, All-Star Movies Resort ($193 per night), four-day tickets without Park Hopper ($426.40 per person), and quick service only meals ($348 per person) could average at around $4000 for a family of four. In comparison, a five-night stay in a more luxurious resort, Disney’s Polynesian Village Resort ($837 per night), 4-day ticket with Park Hopper ($511.40 per person), table service meals ($511 per person), and additional activities ($500 worth) would be close to $7,900 for a family of four. 

When Disney first announced the costs in a video, fan backlash over the starting cost and the hotel’s design caused Disney to remove the video. The video made some people more excited, but others immediately canceled their “voyage”. Later last year, Disney offered discounts between 30 and 50 percent after a decrease in visitors. Now, they’re offering their last voyage on Sept. 28-30. The closure will allow Disney to claim an almost $300 million tax write-off, making it less of a loss to the company than expected. 

Disney’s taxes have been a popular topic of discussion due to Gov. Ron DeSantis of Florida’s disagreements with Disney’s autonomy. Their disagreements started in March 2022, after Gov. DeSantis signed the Parental Rights in Education Act, which has also been referred to as the “Don’t Say Gay” bill as it “prohibits classroom discussion about sexual orientation or gender identity in certain grade levels.”

This act started a debate between conservative supporters and LGBTQ activists and teachers. Disney later joined the debate after its employees staged a protest against the bill. Bob Chapek, the then-chief executive of Disney, made public criticisms of the bill. In April 2022, Gov. DeSantis, as punishment for Disney’s opposition to him, signed a bill to take away Disney World’s status as an “independent special district.” 

In 1967, Disney World was granted their own special tax status, making their 25,000 acre property a district in between other counties, which was called the Reedy Creek Improvement District (now the Central Florida Tourism Oversight District). This meant the theme park functioned like its own county government, making decisions for permitting and planning construction, levying taxes for its own fire and medical response services, road maintenance, and generating some of its own electricity. This allowed Disney to save money in annual taxes and fees, and to build out its resorts more. 

Gov. DeSantis’ bill was set to take effect on June 1 and would have required taxpayers in the neighboring Orange and Osceola Counties to pay for all Disney World services like fire protection and road maintenance, as well as take on their $1 billion in bond debt. The Florida Legislature then decided to allow Disney to keep their tax district and perks, but they were no longer allowed to appoint members of the tax districts board. This power was given to Gov. DeSantis.

In early February at a public board meeting, the previous Disney board passed “restrictive covenants and a development agreement that gave the company widespread control over future construction” instead of the tax district. It also prevented the tax district from using Disney’s name and their characters without company approval, allowing Disney to sue for damages if violated. In April, the new council, appointed by Gov. DeSantis, voted to nullify the prior agreements. One of the board’s lawyers said Disney’s “agreements were ‘improper and illegal’ and that the company had failed to comply with a state law requiring it to notify the public before taking any actions.”

Disney then sued the board and state officials after they nullified the agreements. The company said that it was targeted by government retaliation and their actions had been legal and were approved in open public forums. On May 18, Disney announced they were no longer building their $1 billion office complex in Orlando and separately announced the closure of the Star Wars: Galactic Star Cruiser Adventure. The office complex was a part of their planned $17 billion in investments to Walt Disney World, and it would have provided 2,000 more jobs to the company already employing around 80,000 people.