Friday, May 26, 2023

Oysters, a Piglet, and a Galactic Plot

My parents had some nice moments with their very cute grandson today.

Mom, Tom, and I took Ernie out for dinner and gave Lydia some rare time to herself. We checked out a new place this time: Matts' Rotisserie & Oyster Lounge in Redmond Town Center.

I did have some secret dealings afoot, as is my custom, unbeknownst to grandparents or cute little baby people. My schemes surrounded Disney World's Star Wars: Galactic Starcruiser. I am a life long Star Wars nerd. My disease has been somewhat dormant for a while, especially with how bad I perceived the latest trilogy to be. I recently revealed to Lydia that I used to collect Star Wars action figures and was such a geek about it that I kept them in their original boxes. Is that better or worse than if I opened them and played with them? It's hard to say. You know, Lydia and I went on a trip to Guatemala once to see some Mayan ruins. When I realized that the area was used as a filming location for Yavin 4 in Star Wars Episode IV: A New Hope I brought photos from the movie so that I could recreate the scene and make Lydia take pictures. 

During covid we met up with my parents in Springfield, IL to go to a giant bell tower concert at the Thomas Rees Memorial Carillon in Washington Park. Of all the songs in human history they played "The Imperial March" and another Star Wars song. Was that a coincidence? No, I contacted them days in advance and made a request that they do so.

On another occasion I crashed a tech conference thing just to gain access to an early screening of Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker.

So take any "I didn't realize John would pay several thousand dollars to do a days long Star Wars cosplay" protests from Lydia with a grain of salt. After I exhibited all of those strange behaviors she then proceeded to have a baby with me. So, this is really on her as much as it is me at this point.

Anyway. I was really excited when the attraction was announced. I didn't know the details but I knew it was like a Star Wars hotel type of deal and that if you looked out the "windows" you'd see the stars, like you were on a starship. Sounded pretty cool. Then I heard the insane price tag of the thing and went into "wait for a sale" mode.

Well apparently everyone went into "wait and see" mode because it was open for about a year and a half before Disney announced they were pulling the plug. After the announcement they immediately took down the booking system while they rescheduled all of the previously booked customers who had had dates that were past the shut down date of September 30.

I was vexed by these developments. I think in the back of my mind I was always going to check this experience out, it was just a question of when. This shutdown situation was really forcing my hand. Is it worth all the money? How would we take care of baby Ernie while simultaneously waving laser swords at our enemies in space? Could we drop him off in St. Louis on the way to Florida to spend some time with his family there?

I read a lot about the hotel and the shutdown drama and one article in particular pushed me firmly into the "let's do this" camp: the Los Angeles Times' "Disney pulls plug on high-priced Star Wars: Galactic Starcruiser, a blow to immersive entertainment". My whole life I've enjoyed the immersive qualities of video games and theme parks and this article sort of explained the history of companies trying to blend the two and how difficult it has been. It really positioned this hotel experience as something special and that it dying not only sucks but its failure will reverberate and will likely dim immersive entertainment that comes afterwards. The author described it as "arguably the most ambitious tourism project undertaken by the Walt Disney Co. since the creation of the original Disneyland."

Another profound thing the article did was place Starcruiser in context with other experiences I enjoy that I didn't realize were connected: that awesome Omega Mart by Meow Wolf experience we did in Vegas. Escape rooms. I was so excited about being immersed in Universal’s Wizarding World of Harry Potter this year that I bought a friggin' wand and cape.

It may seem kind of silly but I think this article and some of the other research I did was sort of an awakening for me about who I am and what I enjoy. Ok, so now I was interested in making this happen, and Lydia was willing to humor me. Actually pulling this off was the next hurdle. I had concerns that this was going to be unpleasant. They had shut down online booking so the only way to secure a spot was to call in. The phone were set to open today at I think like 7am but eastern time, which was going to be painful. People were talking about their strategies for how to get through on Reddit. I spotted in a couple of the comments a kindly travel agent offering to help people book a spot. She was very responsive and after I got past my own wariness that she was a scam artist, I committed to book with her if she could get us a spot. This may be the only time I've worked with a travel agent in my life.

I was nervous about putting all of my faith in this lady I just "met" a day ago so I was halfway between excited and trying to be cool in case we couldn't go. As Yoda said "train yourself to let go of everything you fear to lose." Our main request was to get a spot as late as possible. Beverly the travel agent nailed this and got us a spot on the September 26th voyage! The "hotel" works like a cruise ship, so you can't just check in and out as you please as with a typical hotel. Here everyone enters and leaves as a cohort for a "journey" that lasts two nights. Our journey was set to be the second to the last one before they pulled the plug.

How exciting! I explained the situation to one month-old Ern Dawg and he enthusiastically requested that he be allowed to come with us instead of rotting in stinky Missouri or Illinois while we had all the fun. Sure thing my dude. We invited Linda to come with us and help us with the little man and have some fun for herself along the way. I still felt like our room wasn't going to be full enough, though, so I invited my long time friend Hank to come along as well. I say "invited" but after the initial invite there was a bit of arm twisting. I think he wanted to go but didn't want to be a bother on what seemed like a family vacation. We had half jokingly talked about going just the two of us, and with the Starcruiser shutting down this was as close as we were going to get to that ever happening.

What a life. I'm definitely thankful to have the resources to support my strange whims and the family and friends around me to share in the experience.

Look how cool this is going to be!

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