Our car had just as many lightsabers in its trunk (four) as it did suitcases.
This wasn’t an ordinary family vacation. Instead of the beach or possibly the mountains, the O’Connells plugged Walt Disney World into the GPS and headed south to a galaxy far, far away. Actually, to sunny Orlando, Florida, where Disney’s Hollywood Studios had been converted to a Tattooine playground for the annual Star Wars Weekends.
Beginning May 18 and running through June 10, Star Wars Weekends pay tribute to George Lucas’ two trilogies as well as to the animated television series, Star Wars: The Clone Wars. In addition to the long-standing Star Tours ride – which has been converted to 3D and remade to include footage from the prequel trilogy – Disney’s Hollywood Studios welcomes special guests for unique Star Wars-themed events meant to satisfy the Jedi in each of us.
Earlier this year, my oldest son, P.J., was lucky enough to accompany me on a work trip
to the legendary Skywalker Ranch outside San Francisco. It was a once-in-a-lifetime trip … but it didn’t sit well at all with P.J.’s younger brother, Brendan (who’s actually a bigger Star Wars
nut than his older sibling).
Right then and there, we decided to do something special for Bren, as well. I’d been hearing about the Star Wars Weekends in Orlando for the past few years, and Disney had been beefing up the exhibits with each passing season. We finally decided to book a trip and give it a shot. Come along for the ride as I try and convey the wonder, excitement and, yes, merchandise of Star Wars Weekend. (Did you expect anything less from a Lucas-inspired event?)
And if you are in the vicinity, come by and see it yourself
. As mentioned, it runs weekends through June 10.
The centerpiece of Disney’s Hollywood Studios is Mickey’s Sorcerer’s Cap from Fantasia. Underneath it is a massive stage used for character visits and live concerts. Our Star Wars visit ended with the “Hyperspace Hoopla,” a party featuring several Star Wars characters and some of the cheesiest cantina music the galaxy’s ever heard.
Thirty-two years after Han Solo was frozen in carbonite, guests to Star Wars Weekend were invited (for $99) to have their likeness digitally copied and applied to an 8-inch carbonite keepsake at the “Carbon Freeze Me” exhibit. I wonder how Solo would feel about his physical pain and temporary blindness being turned into a vacation souvenir?
Walking around the park makes visitors very hungry. Thankfully, there were Darth Vader cupcakes (made with chocolate and peanut butter icing). If these are being served on the Dark Side, I’m joining … immediately.
Wash that cupcake down with an R2D2 mug, which holds roughly 2,000 liters of lemonade. Parents, make sure you know where the Lil Jedi’s room is. You’ll be stopping. Often.
And on your way, you might run in to a pint-sized Stormtrooper!
Shopping is a key component of Star Wars Weekend. Guests could stop and shop in the Tattooine Traders, right outside of the Star Tours ride …
Or take your money to Darth’s Mall!
The Nu Art Gallery could be found inside Darth’s Mall, where collectors could grab amazing prints with Disney and Star Wars themes. These were a few of my favorites.
Costa Alavezes’ “Donald Duck as Darth Maul”
“Easy Being Green It Is Not,” by Peter DeSeve
Maya Gohill’s “Wookie Family Portrait”
And this awesome “Jango Fett,” by Christian Waggoner
But the reason any family should travel to Disney for Star Wars Weekend is the ability to have your kids meet and interact with park employees dressed like their favorite Star Wars characters. Ask Brendan, and he’ll tell you he met the real Luke Skywalker. (And credit Disney for finding a guy who looks close enough to fool my 4-year-old.) He even swears the guy’s lightsaber – which doesn’t turn on – is blue, because according to Brendan, this is Tattooine Luke, and his lightsaber has to be blue.
Hard to argue.
Star Wars Weekends take over the Disney Hollywood Studios in Orlando, Florida from now until June 10.