Thursday, May 04, 2006

Viva Las Vegas

Laura had a conference in Vegas last week, so away we went. And the Star Trek Experience beckoned. My sister Nadja and her husband went there a couple of years back and we knew we had to go.

It was around 2 in the afternoon when we finally reached the Hilton, which is a short walk off the Strip. And then it was another hike to get from the Hilton entrance to the Star Trek Experience, but we made it eventually. We had a quick look down into Quark's -- disappointingly unlike the TV version -- and then went to the ticket booth. We asked about the different options and, because we had a coupon in a Las Vegas tourist attractions booklet, we went for the Latinum experience: both the Klingon and Borg rides and the Behind the Scenes Tour. Not cheap, but when am I going to be in Vegas again?

We walked through the "museum" area, a winding path with panels on the left offering a timeline of the Star Trek universe and exhibits on the right: props, costumes, models, and other neat things.

Before long we were at the line-up for the interactive experiences. What wasn't made clear is that, despite the two marked lines, you line up either for the Klingon Encounter or Borg Invasion 4-D, because when one is running the other isn't. Eventually someone came along and actually explained that, and two lines became one. As you're waiting you can look at exhibits or, if you're close to the front of the line, play along with a filmed trivia game on a TV screen that offers some really easy trivia questions. You can also eavesdrop on people's conversations and figure out who's a fan, who's a visitor to Vegas taking in one of the heavily hyped tourist attractions, and who's the patient -- or not so patient -- nonfannish partner of a fan, wondering what the hell all this stuff is about.

We saw the Borg Invasion first, as it turned out. It takes about fifteen or twenty minutes, but it's the last five minutes or so you'll remember. You find yourself in a room on a spaceship being addressed by a Starfleet officer and, shortly thereafter, by Voyager's Holodoc on a viewscreen, telling you that you or someone in your group may be immune to the Borg nanoprobes, and they'll need to do some research on you. But then the station is attacked by the Borg. You see some of it onscreen, and then you're led by Starfleet personnel out of the briefing room and through some corridors to a shuttle. Along the way you'll see Borg in action and Starfleeters fighting them off, not always successfully. All good fun, and well done, but then you enter the theatre/shuttle and get your 3d glasses, and the best part begins. You're drawn into the interior of the Borg sphere and all kinds of Borgy goodness happens all around you, thanks not only to the 3d visuals but also the sound, the movement of the simulator you're in, and a few neat surprises. It's a lot of fun. However, being led out of the hallways and into the cramped shopping area is a little frustrating, especially if you're in a hurry.

So, on to the Klingon adventure and a lineup again. This time you're one of a group of people pulled through time as part of a Klingon plot to capture and kill an ancestor of Jean-Luc Picard's. Fortunately, you're beamed aboard the Enterprise (1701-D) and get to see a bit of the ship, including the bridge, before the simulator ride. This time you're in a shuttle heading through a rift in time back to 20th century Las Vegas. And the Klingons attack and chase you through some neat spatial phenomena and the skies above Las Vegas. No 3d glasses for this one, but not only is there a large shuttle viewscreen ahead of you, there are also open portholes along the top of the shuttle (in other words, a lot of openings in the set looking out to the very large curved projection screen that the visuals are presented on, making for something that almost feels 3D).

In each case, the ride part is only a third or a quarter of the time taken for the experience (15 to 20 minutes), but it seems like more. And neither would be anywhere near as impressive if simply watched on a DVD, even on a fairly large screen TV. There's a lot of ambient noise and shaking and whatnot that dramatically increases the immersiveness (for lack of a better word) of the experience.

After that, we had time for a beer at Quark's before taking in the Behind the Scenes Tour. I had the Cardassian Ale (Sierra Nevada Pale Ale), Laura had... well, I don't remember the Trekkian name, but it was Newcastle Brown. In other words, they have good beer there. In the restaurant seating section were monitors playing through one of the Star Trek movies (Star Trek VI, IIRC). We were at the bar and the nearest TV was playing "Plato's Stepchildren." Not one of my faves, but what the heck -- find me a bar showing better Trek episodes and I'll happily drink there. (Come to think of it, I was at Zaphod Beeblebrox to see a band a few years ago, and when no one was onstage, the club's big TV screens were showing Voyager's "Dark Frontier". That was kind of interesting.)

And then back to the ticket area for the Behind the Scenes Tour. There were only nine of us in all for the tour, plus Richard, the tour guide, which made for a reasonably sized group. The tour starts off slowly with a guided walk through the museum area, but before long we're in hallways we haven't been allowed in before (decorated with concept art and blueprints for the Experience) and taken behind the scenes of the Experience. Want to see how the transporter trip works? How the turbolift takes you to a completely different location? Want to explore the Enterprise bridge in detail? Want to watch a group of tourists go through one of the simulator rides... standing in the room with the simulators, but outside them, and out of sight of the tourists, watching the simulators rock, dive, and turn? Want to see the costume and makeup areas, and get your photograph taken on the Enterprise bridge and in a Borg regeneration console? All this and more, and it takes a couple of hours before you're completely done.

As blase as I've sometimes been about Star Trek lately, in this post-Enterprise world of the revived Battlestar Galactica and Doctor Who series, this was a heck of a fun experience. The one thing mising is a good booklet or magazine about the Experience. There should really be a good souvenir program/booklet about the place, or even a DVD.

And if you've been wondering why this is on a Star Trek books blog...

There are a couple of books in the Museum, but they don't have copies for sale. Too bad the photo didn't turn out better, but what we have here is The Adventures of Dixon Hill, Private Eye and The Royale. Click on the image for a larger graphic.


At 5:10 PM, Blogger Psiqueue said...

Back in '99, the (X) wife and I went to the Star Trek Exhibit, for my birthday. For me, this was one of the best birthdays I had had in ages. I must have spend over an hour going through the museum part, pointing out all the little details to the little woman. (She was a semi-fan, as you pointed out, but she loved seeing me excited over the props and items being displayed).

Unfornately, they only had the Star Trek experience in those days, so we only got to do the one thing. But afterwards, we had dinner at Quarks (where I had a Klingon aske me how as my "cooked animals flesh" and get cheated out of a huge bill by the resident ferengi. And then we hit the shop off of Quarks. 2 hours and $300 dollars later, we left the place, so that the X could "get drunk and go gamble". At the end of the 4 day trip, I made 3 more trips back to the place, for a lunch and dinner and to get a few other souveniers, while the X stayed at the casino and gambled.

Reading about this makes me wonder if I should take a weekend trip to Vegas this summer, and re-experience the fun.

At 10:43 AM, Blogger Dayton said...

There was a program/souvenier book for the Experience early on (I still have my copy, along with copies of the original food/drink menus), but they didn't update it or create a new one when the Borg ride came along.


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