Full Review: Star Wars Celebration in Orlando, FL

And now for something completely different… Sort of.  Disney owns Star Wars so I suppose this counts.  This post is about Star Wars Celebration.

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Star Wars Celebration at the Orange County Convention Center in Orlando, FL

If you’ve read any more than one of my posts you might have figured out that I really love Star Wars.  So much, that we went to the mecca of Star Wars in Orlando in April of this year.  Held at the Orange County Convention Center (this year, some years its in California, some in Europe), Star Wars Celebration is a 4-day convention of, you guessed it, Star Wars.

Lets talk about what you can do at Star Wars Celebration.   There are so many options… Walk the floor, go shopping, go to panels and events, visit the tattoo area, visit artists alley, get celebrity autographs and pictures

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“The only fight: against the dark side. Through the ages, I’ve seen evil take many forms. The Sith. The Empire. Today, it is the First Order.”

There was so much going on that this would be an incredibly long blog post if I were to talk about everything.  One day we were on out feet for roughly 16 hours straight.  I’m going to touch on a few things that were particularly fun and have particularly interesting pictures to share.  Essentially, let this be a guide for if you’re ever at a Con and come across any of these things.

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“Utini!”

The R2-D2 Builders Club:

These guys and gals are so cool.  They build screen accurate, and not-so-screen accurate working R2-D2s and Mouse Droids.  They were all on display in their own room so you could see everyones creations.  They also host races, panels on droid building and droid building history, and are all around awesome.  While we didn’t make it to any of the panels this time around, we strolled through the Droid Builders Room with over 100 droids on display.  Really makes you want to try your hand at it (you know, if you didn’t live in a 2 bedroom apartment and had more room).

The 501st Legion of Stormtroopers:

The 501st Legion is an all-volunteer costuming organization that performs costumed charity and volunteer work.  The costumes are ridiculous.  At Celebration they had an area with some displays of costumes, helmets, photo-opportunity areas, and where a lot of the 501st hung out in costume.  It was so fun to see everyone in their costumes and to see the hard work everyone put in!

Panels:

We went to a bunch of panels.  Some better than others, but none of them disappointed.  While we couldn’t get into the larger panels, like the 40th Anniversary Panel (hosted by Warwick Davis, featuring Kathleen Kennedy), or The Last Jedi Panel (which had surprise guest Harrison Ford), we still went to as many as we could.  Well… We may have been able to get into those panels, but you had to wait overnight, sleeping on the conference center floor.   Warwick Davis (the guy who played Wicket the Ewok) was a fantastic and funny host.  The panels that particularly shined were Anthony Daniels:  40 Years with Theepio, where Warwick Davis and Anthony Daniels displayed a special type of chemistry.

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Warwick Davis and Anthony Daniels
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…Anthony Daniels as a C3PO Tape Dispenser

The Music of Rogue One:  Analysis with David Collins was one of the absolute coolest panels I have ever been to, David Collins completely broke down the score of Rogue One, talked about the themes of the score, its ties to John Williams original score – I learned so much.

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One section of seating for a panel

Finally, the Heroines of Star Wars Panel, which featured Carrie Beck, Ashley Eckstein (Ahsoka), and Tiya Sircar (Sabine) who spoke about the importance of female role models in Star Wars.  The best part of this was the sudden and surprise appearance by Daisy Ridley!  You never know whats going to happen!

Actually, at Celebration 2012, we had a surprise George Lucas appearance at the Star Wars Detours Panel – awesome!  Except no Star Wars Detours…

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Daisy Ridley, Ashley Eckstein, Tiya Sircar, Dave Filloni, and Carrie Beck

Alright, that all being said, lets talk logistics.

I will fully admit, day one logistics were all around poor.  So poor that the company that was running the con, ReedPop, issued an apology.  We waited in a 2 hour, 2 mile long line outside in Florida in the sun to get into the building.  We assume this was because of security bringing everyone through one entrance, but by the time we got to the front they just waved us through metal detectors that didn’t even seem to be on.  Every single thing was a line.  There was a constant 2 hour line to get into the Official Celebration Store, lines for panels (even overnight lines), lines to get food… LINES EVERYWHERE.  While this is my main complaint, the convention was around 70,000 people, so I would have expected some lines, but would have preferred to not wait in the sun for 2 hours to get in the building.  The following days were better, while we still waited in line we were inside, and got on the floor much faster.

There were fast passes available to get into the Celebration Store, allowing you to skip the line, but you had to run over to the store as soon as you got in when the Con opened to get one.

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Panel backsplash

For the large and medium sized panels, a wristband system was in place.  As soon as you enter the building you can choose 2 wristbands, allowing you entry into a given panel.  Once you get your wristband, you’re guaranteed a seat.  If you want a great seat you still need to get there early and queue.  If you’re okay with a mediocre seat, you can show up 5 minutes before the panel starts because you cant bear another minute of waiting in line, and walk right in.  This was done in an effort to mitigate giant lines for every single panel at all times of the day.  We got into a lot of panels, but also learned very quickly not to be picky.  For instance, we really wanted to go to Mark Hamill’s panel or the Carrie Fisher Tribute panel, but the wristbands were gone pretty fast, so we planned second and third choices.  I cant comment on the overnight campout lines because we didn’t participate, however, the 40th Anniversary Panel and the Last Jedi Panel were streamed on the convention center floor (… with some technical issues and some sound issues, but still).

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Waiting for The Last Jedi Panel to start

While I would have loved to have attended the Last Jedi Panel, watching the trailer with thousands of other fans standing on the convention center floor, in my Rey cosplay, was a moment that is pretty special to me as a Star Wars fan.  The excitement was palpable.

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Still waiting for the trailer!

Finally, I highly recommend leaving the convention for lunch instead of waiting at the food stands in the convention center.  There are 5734957430 hotels and restaurants near by, all of which will be less crowded.

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Overall, I definitely recommend going to Star Wars Celebration if it comes back to Orlando.  But, you have to be willing to go with the flow.  No more panel wristbands?  Thats okay, you get to see surprise Daisy Ridley at a different panel.  Wait in a two hour line?  Look at the awesome costumes!  You’re going to have fun, regardless of the hiccups you may encounter.  Just enjoy it.

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Snackin’ Around Disney’s Hollywood Studios: Backlot Express

Hollywood Studios, as many of you may know, is going through a bit of a transitional period.  Here is a somewhat recent article from the Orlando Sentinel describing some of the changes.  Essentially though, Hollywood Studio’s is becoming more and more Star Wars-ey by the day.  Not that that’s a bad thing.

Backlot Express, the old standby of a quick service restaurant near the Jedi Training Academy and the Indiana Jones Epic Stunt Spectacular, is still around, but recently went through a menu overhaul.  While the food is pretty standard, it has gotten a bit of a Star Wars theme, featuring items such as the Royal Guard Burger (1/3 lb Chargrilled Angus Beef Burger, topped with Barbecued Brisket, Pepper Jack Cheese, Lettuce, Tomato and a Pickle on a Dark Bun served with Carrot Sticks or French Fries – I’m not really sure I get Royal Guard from that, but whatever), and the Dark Side Chicken and Waffles (Darth Vader Waffles topped with Chicken Breast Nuggets served with Maple Syrup, this one makes a little more sense).  You can also get the really cool souvenir steins that are pictured in the menu above.

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Chicken Fingers and Fries with various dipping sauces from Backlot Express.  Sorry about the napkin on the left, I think I ate a chicken nugget before I took the picture and then didn’t want to touch my phone.

Because I have a thing where I absolutely need to get chicken fingers and fries at least once at Disney, we got the Chicken Breast Nuggets – 8 Pieces served with your choice of Carrot Sticks or French Fries ($9.49), and split it.  Honestly, chicken fingers and fries are a pretty standard item that doesn’t change much from park to park.  The serving size is decent, and its a solid choice for picky adults or children.  What I like most about Backlot Express is that there is a larger-than-is standard amount of sauces to dip your fries and/or chicken breast nuggets in (including ketchup, yellow mustard, honey mustard, ranch dressing, and BBQ sauce), and the location/theming.  Also, through a little bit of Disney “pixie dust” we got that cool little light up Millennium Falcon that I was super excited about all day.

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Outdoor seating at Backlot Express

I especially like to sit and be able to watch part of the Jedi Training Academy, or just sit in the shadow of a looming AT-AT while I eat my lunch.  Either way, its a pretty great location.  They have also recently added this cool seating area which is pretty great for people watching.

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AT-AT and Jedi Training Academy Stage near Star Tours and Backlot Express

So Drinking Ever After, what are your thoughts on Backlot Express at Hollywood Studios?

I do completely recommend giving Backlot Express a shot if you’re looking for a quick service lunch or dinner at Hollywood Studios.  However, I’m a bit biased because I actually prefer Backlot Express over any of the other quick service food options at Hollywood Studios.  For example, I inexplicably hate ABC Commissary for really no reason, so generally I choose Backlot Express for any quick service dining needs I have.  The Star Wars theming helps with this, because I absolutely love Star Wars.  But overall, the food you’re getting at Backlot Express is pretty standard, there is plenty of seating and the location is great.  So overall, recommended!

On another note, I do also enjoy the Sci-Fi Dine-In Theater at Hollywood Studios and highly recommend it if you’re looking for a sit down restaurant!

Disney Full Review: Star Wars Galactic Spectacular Dessert Party

Before I even start this review, I’m going to say that I highly and fully recommend the Star Wars Galactic Spectacular Dessert Party at Disney’s Hollywood Studios.  As long as you like Star Wars.  And I guess if you’re indifferent but you really like dessert.

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Star Wars!!

The dessert party costs $69.00 per adult and $39.00 per child (tax and gratuity are included in the cost) and comes with unlimited dessert and savory snacks, unlimited alcohol/non-alcoholic beverages, a souvenir Chewbacca Stein, and reserved viewing for the Star Wars fireworks show.

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Star Wars A Galactic Spectacular Dessert Party:  Lanyard with map of included events.  You can access all of these areas throughout the day without paying to enter the dessert party, but some of these areas will be closed off during the dessert party.

The location of the dessert party portion of the evening is inside the Star Wars Launch Bay.  The tables are all standing cocktail tables.  You can wander around the Launch Bay during the party, and there are costumes and props from the movies throughout the area, as well as a few costume characters.  Stormtroopers walked around randomly (we thought they could be a bit more interactive), and there were Jawas that were a bit more interactive in one of the rooms.  There are a few rooms to choose from in regards to tables, the “funnest” room is probably the one where the Jawas hang out, which is partially patterned to look like the Mos Eisley Cantina, but if you want a place to sit try to get there a little early and find a table near one of the benches along the wall.  There are also storm troopers that walk around the area during the party, though we wished they had a little more interaction.  The highlight of character interaction during the dessert party was definitely the Jawas, so make sure you seek them out.

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Dessert buffet table and standing cocktail tables before the dessert party started.  In the back (behind the employees) is the bar/drink area.  In the very right hand corner of the picture is the frozen nutella serving area.  Its easy to miss but make sure you make your way over to it!
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Jawa at the Star Wars: A Galactic Spectacular Dessert Party

Lets talk about the drinks.  Both alcoholic and non-alcoholic drinks are available.  Of the alcoholic drink options, all were honestly very meh.  I tried all of them, and my favorite thing to do was mix the overly-acidic watermelon lemonade drink with the non-alcoholic but very much overly sweet “Jettison Juice”.  The line for drinks can get LONG, there is only 1 bar and bartender, but they try and mitigate a rush for the bar upon entry by handing out drinks as soon as you walk in.  On another note, we tipped the bartender and he gave us one of the strongest drinks I have ever had.  You will also want to get a drink before you head outside for the fireworks (they’ll give you a warning) as there are no drinks available outside.  Plus you can stick the cup in your Chewbacca stein for some added outdoor fun.

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Non-alcoholic drinks.  There was also coffee, tea, and soda available.  The menu is hard to read (it was dark in there), but it says “Jettison Juice:  Passion Orange Guava Juice with mango syrup.  Lunar Lemonade:  Watermelon Lemonade.  Soft Drinks.  Water.”
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Alcoholic drink menu:  I liked the Cosmic Citrus Twist the best, but it was better once I added “Jettison Juice” to it.  Swamp Milk was definitely interesting, but I got the impression it wasn’t very well liked because the bartender gave me a small sample to try before I committed.

And onto the food!  We had actually done a similar dessert party during Star Wars Weekends a few years ago, and my main complaint was that there was TOO MUCH dessert (I know, I know, weird complaint, but it seriously ended up making me sick from all the sugar).  There is, of course, a gigantic variety of desserts to try. But there are also some savory snack options like hummus, “lightsaber” olive and cheese sabers, fruit, etc.  I managed to make a meal out of it and skip anything substantial for dinner.  My top recommendation for dessert is the blue milk panna cotta (seriously I dream about it, I must have had 4, at least). If you read other reviews they will most definitely also touch on the bread pudding, which was good but a little too sweet with the addition of candy to it, and the frozen nutella.  The bread pudding is self serve and has toppings available like cookie or brownie crumbles, fresh berries, whipped cream, vanilla sauce, and chocolate sauce.   But guys.  Get the frozen nutella.  Its amazing.  I’m not sure what I was expecting, but its basically whipped nutella (so not that heavy) that is flash frozen with liquid nitrogen, and you can top it with raspberry or chocolate sauce.  Seriously.  Get it.  Seriously.  It also looks disgusting in the picture I took so I’m skipping that one.

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Buffet table at the Star Wars: A Galactic Spectacular Dessert Party

When you book the dessert party you will get a reservation time of 6:30 or 6:45pm (probably, I didn’t check every date), depending on the timing of the fireworks show, which will start around 7:45 or 8:00pm.  The fireworks show is 14 minutes long, and about 15 minutes before hand you will be led (by stormtroopers!) outside to a reserved viewing area where you will be given your (empty) souvenir Chewbacca stein.  There is no seating in the reserved viewing area.  We were close to the end of the line of people and still had a great view of the fireworks/show, even though I’m only about 5’1 on a good day.  The fireworks show is one of the coolest things I have ever seen at Disney, and makes use of projection effects, lasers, music, and fireworks.  Its seriously awesome.

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Movie props in the Launch Bay

So Drinking Ever After, what are your thoughts on “A Galactic Spectacular Dessert Party” at Disney’s Hollywood Studios?

If you’re a fan of Star Wars, you should consider this experience.  Even if you’re not a giant fan of Star Wars, its definitely a cool experience.  I guess if you HATE Star Wars I wouldn’t recommend it.  Overall, the food is great, especially considering the addition of savory items and fruit, the drinks are not that great but free, and the fireworks are amazing.  Overall, I’m really glad we did it, and we would certainly consider booking another reservation on an upcoming trip.

I’ll also add this slightly related tip:  If you or someone in your party has the Disney Chase Visa card there is a Star Wars character meet and greet in the Launch Bay daily from 11:00am to 4:00pm.  We happened upon it by chance and met Kylo Ren with absolutely no line, which was really cool.  You also get free photo downloads.  Keep an eye out while you’re there.