Welcome to the final frontier of tourist traps, as Sin City morphs into Spock City at the Las Vegas Hilton. The January grand opening of this $70 million attraction (including a motion simulator ride) drew actors from the sci-fi saga and hordes of fans.
Star Trek: The Experience, now open to the public, is beaming up Trekkers and theme park fans alike for an admission fee of $14.95.
Like any Vegas attraction, you have to brave the casino crowds (in this case, the Hilton’s new space-age themed SpaceQuest Casino) to reach Star Trek: The Experience.
Entering under a silver arch, visitors line up in a queue that snakes around the edge of the cavernous attraction. The first portion of the line has a “Star Trek” time line on the left and costumes and props in display cases on the right.
Well-edited montages of scenes from all the “Trek” incarnations are shown on huge video screens. Giant models of the USS Enterprise, USS Voyager and a Klingon Bird of Prey hang from the ceiling, and the majestic “Star Trek” theme songs blare all around.
“Risk is our business,” says Capt. James T. Kirk (William Shatner) in one film clip. “That’s what this starship is all about. That’s why we’re out here.”
Visitors stare at the screens, transfixed, exclaiming when a scene from a favorite episode plays. Familiar props also draw comments.
“That looks like a danish,” said one man as he pointed to a picture of a mushy-faced alien with a head that looks like, well, a danish.
“Did you see those little gremlin things?” a woman asked her companions. “They’re fuzzy critters. I called them Ewoks, but that’s from ‘Star Wars.”’ She means Tribbles, the alien fur balls that vexed Captain Kirk in an episode of the original “Star Trek” TV series, and later made an appearance on a “Star Trek: Deep Space Nine” episode.
During my visit last month, there were surprisingly few kids in the line. Most folks appeared to be tourists between 18 and 49, many clearly fans of the space saga. But we saw no one (aside from the attraction’s staff) wearing a “Star Trek” costume.
Star Trek: The Experience took about 45 minutes total, with 20 minutes waiting in line to get on the ride. But there was always something to look at, so it didn’t feel like a long wait. Unless of course, you were a worker at Star Trek: The Experience. A security guard in the “Strange New Life Forms” display area echoed the words of an alien Ferengi on a video monitor.
“Females are not allowed to earn profit,” the Ferengi, and the security guard, said in unison. “This is the end of Ferengi civilization as we know it.”
“Oh man, I’m glad I’m leaving in 15 minutes,” the guard added.
The ride itself begins with a trick. Visitors are made to think they’re about to board a motion simulator, but suddenly the room goes dark, a gust of wind blows and when the lights come back you’re not waiting to board a ride. You’re standing on an Enterprise transporter pad (“Star Trek: The Next Generation” era).
A Starfleet officer greets the crowd and explains that everyone has been sucked forward in time. You’re escorted to the bridge, a realistic recreation of the set from the 1987-1994 syndicated TV series (except for the lighted emergency exit signs, of course). On the bridge, Commander Riker (Jonathan Frakes) appears on the forward view screen to explain the situation with Lieutenant La Forge (LeVar Burton).
A rocky turbolift journey takes the 20th-century visitors to a shuttle bay, where the group boards the actual simulator ride (made to look like a Federation shuttlecraft). The shuttle chases after rogue Klingons in a confusing story that doesn’t matter much.
You’re jostled about for four minutes, feeling as if you may really be zipping through space, before the 24th-century heroes find a way to return you to the Las Vegas Hilton in 1998. This ride is similar to Disney’s Star Tours and Universal Studios’ Back to the Future rides, but the “Trek” tale is too complicated and confusing. Don’t try to understand, just enjoy.
Upon exiting the shuttle, you’re released into a re-creation of the promenade from TV’s “Deep Space Nine,” including shops for buying “Trek” trinkets. This is where the costumed characters roam, including a Klingon with an attitude.
“It’s customary to ask permission first,” the Klingon barked when I snapped a photo of him. The guy is part of the attraction. Who knew Klingons could be so sensitive? After I begged his forgiveness, the Klingon huffed, “You humans always have an apology ready.”
Then we made our way to Quark’s Bar & Restaurant (named after the avaricious Ferengi character on “Deep Space Nine”). Like Planet Hollywood, the food at Quark’s was overpriced, but tasty. And it all fit the “Star Trek” theme. Burgers and pizzas were triangular, an approximation of the ever-changing “Trek” logo, and the menu, written by the same people who write for the TV shows, offered an amusing read.
A chicken fajita gets renamed The Wrap of Khan, a hamburger becomes a Hamborger, and for dessert there’s a Pie of the Prophets. (If you don’t get the jokes in these names, you’re not a “Trek” fan.)
There’s even a cool special effect that comes with a drink called the Warp Core Breach ($14). This concoction - rum and vodka are among the ingredients - serves two and comes in a smoking, oversized fishbowl. Watch at the bar while it’s being made. A dispenser fills a glass, but a lighting effect makes it look like liquid is actually rising from the glass into the dispenser.
One thing at Quark’s made no sense: When clips from “Deep Space Nine” on a large-screen TV ended, a Pepsi commercial starring the Spice Girls began. The Spice Girls? In the 24th century? Who would have imagined they’d be around even next year?
Turns out Pepsi products are served at Quark’s, with no Coke in sight. Yes, the Spice Girls spot is a blatant commercial, but the Ferengi are part of a capitalist culture where greed rules. Somewhere, Quark is smiling.
MEMO: For more information about “Star Trek: The Experience,” contact the Las Vegas Hilton at (702) 732-5537.
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