This summer the focus of our family travel was a little different from other years. You see, in April 2015 my husband found out that Star Wars Celebration 2016, billed as the Ultimate Star Wars Fan Experience, was scheduled to take place in London in July, 2016. It was usually in Spring when he wasn’t able to get time off work, but this time it was in summer and he really wanted to go. I thought about it for about a minute and said, “sure, why not?”
Well, 16 months after that conversation I found myself in a Docklands Light Rail car headed to the ExCel Convention Centre in London, sitting between two fully costumed Storm Troopers and an extremely elaborate alien from some Star Wars spinoff that I’d never seen before wondering what on earth I’d gotten myself into. I am very familiar with scheduling flights, researching kid friendly sights and museums, navigating new transit systems and basically managing all sorts of challenges that come with family travel. But attending the world’s largest Star Wars Convention was brand new to me. (Full disclaimer here: I haven’t even seen all the movies!) So what was the verdict? Turns out Star Wars celebration is a lot of fun and makes a great family trip!
Star Wars Celebration 2016 took place over three days, Friday to Sunday with various events spread out over the three days. My husband was able to go down and pick up our passes the day before which saved us a bit of time the first day. Doors opened at 10 am each day, but lineups to get in started much earlier. Each day had several “gala” events on the main stage, which seated about 4000 and they started handing out wristbands for these at 6:30 am each day. Some events like the closing address were full by the time we arrived at 8am. Most still had seats available much later.
Everyone going in had to pass through security checks and from there you went to a large hall where you could either line up for event wristbands or join the lines waiting to get in. There is nothing to do while waiting but sit on the open concrete floor so if you want to arrive early with kids bring entertainment. Once the doors opened you had open access to the convention centre floor with a wide range of exhibits and booths.
Star Wars Celebration is not an event for people who don’t like crowds. It was packed on the Friday and only got busier as the weekend went along. There were tonnes of things to do but pretty much everything involved lining up and waiting. And lining and waiting. And waiting some more. Fortunately there was a lot to look at while waiting, but I found it a bit overwhelming at times. Even the food booths had huge waits; I remember telling the kids that I didn’t care what they wanted for lunch, we were getting whatever they had at the place with the shortest line!
But while it was crowded, overall it was a “fun” sort of crowded. Even though I wasn’t a huge Star Wars fan, I enjoyed the vibe. People were considerate of the kids for the most part and everyone was just there to have a good time. Still, I learned pretty quickly to do the most popular things early on and to pack a lunch to avoid wasting an hour getting food.
I always thought my husband was a bit nutty with his Star Wars obsession. Turns out he barely even registers on the Star Wars “fanatic-o-meter”. There were people there in the craziest, most elaborate costumes you could ever imagine. There were fan clubs with incredibly detailed full scale models that must have taken tens of thousands of hours and dollars to make. It began to feel perfectly normal to stand in line for a hot dog between a fully outfitted Ewok and Darth Maul. There was a Cosplay competition at one point during the weekend, but for the most part it was noncompetitive and all for fun. Everyone we met was happy to pose with the kids for pictures and talk about their costumes.
Great Family Travel?
So is an event like Star Wars Celebration a good travel destination for families? Overall, we had a lot of fun. All four of us went on Friday and Sunday, while my husband and six year old son spent the day there on their own on the Saturday. There were a lot of families at the event and the overall feel was very family friendly. It seems that more and more people are introducing their kids to their favourite geeky pastimes and events like these reflect this. It turned out to be the highlight of our trip for my son and my daughter enjoyed it as well.
How much did we enjoy it? Well, we ended up buying tickets for the next Star Wars Celebration in Orlando in 2017! We learned a lot from this experience and we hope to have even more fun at the next one. We’ll be sure to try to do more on the first days and try to get to more of the gala events. We’ll bring more snacks and food and prepare the kids for the lines and crowds. And who knows, maybe the rest of the family may even be able to convince me to dress up for the next one!