Star Trek: The Experience

Boldly Go Where No Thrillseeker Has Gone Before.

These days, there's a buzz word floatin' around the amusement industry that I'll bet you've heard more than once: Immersive. Talk to any ride designer, show producer or park developer about the next generation of theme park attractions and this potent adjective will almost invariably enter the conversation. "Immersive" has become a three-syllable mantra for anyone striving to create the kind of experience that puts you, the sophisticated Thrillseeker, right into the center of the action.

The goal of an immersive attraction is to develop a captivating story and tell it four-dimensionally, as fully realized as possible, with the paying guest as a major participant. Think Back To The Future: The Ride, Alien Encounter or Terminator 2:3-D - these are some of the first, best examples of what we're talking about. To really pull off this kinda thing, you need two key ingredients: major pools of talent and bushels of cash, a rare combination. Until recently, Disney and Universal were practically the only two forces capable of delivering something you could happily call "immersive."

Not anymore. Paramount Parks, the Las Vegas Hilton and Landmark Entertainment Group have combined their considerable resources to create The New Standard in immersive entertainment. And it's called Star Trek: The Experience(TM).

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Based at the Las Vegas Hilton, this $70 million, 65,000 square-foot museum / show / thrill ride / restaurant / bar / shopping emporium is the culmination of nearly four years of development. Four years may seem like an awfully long time to devote to such a project, but wait'll you discover what that gargantuan effort has produced.

The entrance to the ST:TE complex is found at the rear of the hotel's new SpaceQuest casino. Step through this room's glowing portals and you'll find yourself inside a 24th century space craft, floating high above Mother Earth. Even if you're not into gaming, you'll love the casino's wild sci-fi design - crackling red and blue neon lights, massive steel supports, overhead catwalks and three humungous "windows" that look out at the starlit heavens. If you stare long enough, watching the planets and the neighboring spaceships float by, you might get a bit woozy - it's a pretty nifty effect. And, guys, you gotta make a quick stop in a SpaceQuest rest room. I won't ruin the fun by saying anything more, other than to tell you that those facilities boast the most hysterically high-tech urinals to be found anywhere.

For those of you who do enjoy the occasional wager, you're gonna be mighty tempted by the hopelessly cool blackjack tables, roulette wheels and assorted slot machines. Even the croupiers are dressed to the Nines in futuristic garb. But press on towards that majestic model of the Enterprise you see beckoning up ahead.

Tickets for The Experience are available right alongside the attraction entrance and if you're looking for the best thrill ride deal in Vegas, you just found it: $9.95 is all you part with for this twenty-minute-plus adventure. (Don't get me wrong; I love the Manhattan Express coaster at the New York, New York casino, but a ride on that sucker costs $5, and it is not half the fun ST:TE is).

Of course, if you'd rather bypass the ride/show, you can enter the Deep Space Nine® Promenade for free to eat, drink and shop 'til ya drop. But unless a weak heart, a bad back or a "bun in the oven" forces you to do so, you'd be crazy to miss out on best half of what The Experience has to offer.

After passing beneath the ST:TE entrance arch, you'll stroll along a balcony above the DSN Promenade that houses an exhibit called the History of the Future. Above our heads, suspended beneath a star-filled dome, are three tremendous examples of some of Star Trek's notable vehicles: The Enterprise, The Voyager and a Bird of Prey. On your left is a staggeringly complex time-line of dates in history relevant to the Star Trek Universe, beginning as far back as the 17th century and advancing close to 1,000 years forward. I'm not much of a Trekker, so most of it was news to me, making it that much more entertaining.

On your right are glass cases displaying the largest permanent collection of Star Trek costumes, props, models, and weapons ever assembled. Among the many items available for perusal are: 23 original costumes (Captain Janeway's uniform, Lt. Uhura's uniform, etc.), 8 Starship models, 10 hand-made steel knives and swords (a Klingon bat'leth, a sword of Kahless, etc.), 12 display heads (including a Romulan, a Cardassian, a Ferengi and a Symbiont Trill Slug, whatever the hell that is) and over 100 hand props, things like phasers, propulsion boots, the Picard Family Album and the Borg queen skull and spine.

Not only do we get to gaze at these gnarly artifacts, we also learn some wild trivia about them. Fer instance: didja know that the original Klingon belt buckle was just a piece of bubble wrap painted gold? Or that Dr. McCoy did his medical scanning with a gussied-up salt shaker? Or that the Klingons of The Next Generation® and Deep Space Nine drank from wine goblets used in the 1956 production of The Ten Commandments? It's Star Trek "edutainment" at its best.

The queue makes a right-hand turn off the balcony and enters an exhibit-lined corridor devoted to alien culture. Here we get to have some close encounters with several of our intergalactic neighbors. Among my personal faves were the three menacing Borg that stand guard over the final portion of the waiting area. Howdy, fellas!

Just ahead, the adventure begins.


Before reading any further, a caveat: the following passages will reveal a couple of this attraction's "surprises." I don't believe that knowledge of what's written here will detract from your own excursion, but if you'd rather "do" the Star Trek Experience totally cold, skip ahead to the next section, introduced with another Starfleet shield.

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Okay, now we're ready to get down to business. Separated into a smaller group, we're ushered into a little anteroom where we watch an overhead monitor sum up the dramatic 30-plus year history of the Star Trek phenomenon. The heart starts to beat a bit faster.

Two chipper hosts lead us into a humble simulator boarding area, asking that we form four orderly rows in front of the loading doors. This dimly lit cell seems pretty drab for something with a $70 million price tag, but before you start missing that ten bucks, your attention is grabbed by the instructional video on the monitors above the ride entrance. It's the usual stuff, no pregnant women, folks with physical ailments, blah, blah, blah,.. hey, the screen's goin' wonky, there's some static, the image breaks up...

One of the hosts, a tad frazzled, starts goofin' with a nearby control panel - "I'm sorry, everyone, we seem to be having some trouble, please stand by." That whiny voice inside your head chimes in - "Well, ain't that sweet... they still don't have this thing workin' right - "

Oh, yes they do.

The monitors go dead. Stroboscopic bursts of light explode before our eyes. The room is plunged into total darkness. A roaring wind billows around us like a supernatural force.

And then, a mere three seconds later, the lights come back on. The small chamber we were just standing in, the walls, the monitors, the ceiling, everything... is gone.

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Ladies and gentlemen, boys and girls, we've just been beamed through time and space to find ourselves on board the Starship Enterprise. There we are, smack dab in the middle of the Transporter Room, facing a Starfleet crew member who seems to have expected our arrival. That's right, the Transporter Room.

Now, I'll tell ya, if The Experience ended right here, I'd have gotten more than my money's worth. I know I'm given to hyperbole, but this "transportation" sequence really does rank as one of the most intense effects I've ever witnessed; there's nothing else like it anywhere. And we're just gettin' started.

The crew member who welcomes us aboard explains why we're here. Seems some nasty Klingons had tried to pull our group through the space-time continuum into their dastardly grasp, but our 24th Century protectors intercepted us in the nick of time. Yes, we're out of immediate danger, but 1) we're still several centuries and many light-years from home and 2) those craggy-craniumed villians know we're stranded on the Enterprise. We've got to keep moving.

We trot down one of the star ship's corridors towards the command center. Take a good look around; even if you're just a casual fan of The Next Generation, you'll recognize the amazing detail with which this environment has been crafted. As you pass by, be sure to read one of the little red doohickeys on the wall panels - they are reproduced exactly as they appear on the show's sets and they're pretty darned funny. But don't dawdle, for just around the corner is the heart and soul of the Enterprise, The Bridge.

We're instructed to line up at the rear of the room, facing the viewscreen. Again, this is as real as it gets, a 1-to-1 scale reproduction of the set: backlit panels, video screens, the works. The Bridge hums with activity as more crew members (real live humans, not some herky-jerky robots) go about the business of piloting a massive space vehicle through the cosmos - very cool. Yet there is one notable omission: the captain's chair is empty.

And that, my friends, is an integral part of the conundrum we've found ourselves in. Commander Will Riker and Lt. Commander Geordi Laforge pop up on the viewscreen to further explain the gravity of the situation - the Klingons want us, and they want us Bad. They have a very good reason for seeking our capture, but that's one plot development I won't reveal. We do learn why it's absolutely imperative that each and every one of us return safely back to the 20th Century. Our only shot at doing so will mean hopping onto a Shuttle and flying through a handy Vortex. The Turbo Lift awaits!

We start to descend, but the Klingons, now mighty ticked off, begin a brutal assault on the Enterprise. We take a nasty hit and the Turbo Lift begins to free fall. Hang on, everybody! One violent jolt after another, the Klingons aren't letting up. Lights flicker, the explosions get louder, things are looking grim. But at the last second, control is regained and the doors reopen to deposit us into the Grand Corridor.

The Grand Corridor is brand-spankin' new, a part of the Enterprise that no one's ever seen before, and like they say, it's fairly grand. But it's just a conduit to the outer doors of the Shuttle Craft, and that's where we get to line up (for real, this time) for the voyage home. Good ol' Geordi explains the safety procedures and the entire left wall of the Craft floats up. Climb in, sit down, buckle up and ask yourself if you feel lucky - cuz the odds ain't stacked in your favor.

Fellow Thrillseekers, the four-minute Shuttle Craft trip is the climax of The Experience, in every way imaginable. My first flight, I rode in one of the rear rows, and most certainly, had a great time. But the next go-round, I managed to end up in the front row, with almost nothing to clutter up the view forward and above: Yowza, yowza, yowza!

It wouldn't be sporting to let you in on everything, but you should prepare for space battles galore, a gorgeous dive through some planetary rings and a trip down the Vegas Strip that no legitimate tour guide will ever offer. It's not as rough a ride as, say, Back To The Future, but it's much more sophisticated. The ST:TE Shuttle Craft is a motion simulator capable of six-axis movement - surge, sway, heave, pitch, roll and yaw - which adds up to a catalog of dance steps that no other current ride simulator can match.

And finally, of course, you do return to the Hilton in one piece. Simply amazing.

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Once you're back on solid ground, you can unwind in the Deep Space Nine Promenade. This second part of The Experience is tamer, but no less involving. Calm your nerves with a refreshment from Quark's Bar and Restaurant (That's Jonathan Frakes, aka Commander Riker, standing beneath the entrance). The drink list includes Romulan Ale, Saurian Brandy and a horrifically potent concoction called the Warp Core Breach. If you're hungry, try one of my recommendations: Glop on a Stick (which tastes suspiciously like a corn dog).

Or, if you want to bring home a prized keepsake, browse through Garak's Clothiers, Zek's Grand Emporium, the Admiral Collection or Moogie's Trading Post. You can find everything from Borg water bottles (under $9) to a Klingon High Council wool jacket ($225). They tell us it's the largest collection of Star Trek-licensed merchandise to be found anywhere. The Admiral Collection, in particular, is a shop no die-hard Trekker should pass up.

As one would expect, it took a veritable army of creative and technical specialists to bring ST:TE to fruition. Jane Cooper, president and C.E.O. of Paramount Parks and Dean Harrold, president and C.O.O. of the Las Vegas Hilton, presided over a tremendous array of talent, one that included:

Rick Berman - Senior Creative Consultant. Mr. Berman has been the guiding light behind all things Star Trek since Gene Roddenberry hired him to produce ST:The Next Generation in 1987. His careful oversight of the attraction storyline and simulator voyage ensured consistency with the established Star Trek Universe.

Tim Fisher - Executive Producer. Mr. Fisher has a long history with Paramount Parks that includes management positions at both Paramount's Carowinds park in Charlotte, N.C. and Australia's Wonderland (before Paramount sold that facility in 1987). He rejoined Paramount Parks in 1995 to oversee the development and construction of ST:TE.

Anthony Ezparza - Senior Vice President, Design and Entertainment. Mr. Esparza has had a long career doing this sort of thing, having gotten his start in 1984 at Landmark Entertainment Group. During his tenure there, he was the key designer for Jurassic Park: The Ride and the Ghostbusters Spooktacular, among many other projects. Since 1995, he's been with Paramount Parks where he handles design development for all of the company's entertainment extravaganzas.

Herman Zimmerman - Design Consultant. Over the last decade, Mr. Zimmerman has been the production designer for all the Star Trek properties, including ST:TNG, ST:DSN and the last four ST flicks. His encyclopedic knowledge of the Enterprise's architectural details is what makes The Experience look so "real."

Rene Echevarria and Ken Biller - Writers. These two fellows collaborated on the attraction's story. Fans of Deep Space Nine should recognize Mr. Echevarria's name - he's written more than 30 episodes for that series. Mr. Biller is a writer/producer for Star Trek: Voyager and has also penned a few scripts for The X-Files.

Landmark Entertainment Group - Attraction Designer/Producer. Landmark is an amusement industry powerhouse that's been the creative force behind some of the biggest, best theme park attractions in the world. Any true Thrillseeker will be familiar with the names of their finest work: Jurassic Park: The Ride, Kongfrontation, Terminator 2: 3-D. Gary Goddard, Landmark's CEO, David Thorton, Senior VP/Producer and Luc Mayrand, Creative Director, all contributed their considerable talents to make The Experience come alive. Next up on Landmark's slate: the Aliens: 3-D attraction for Everland Park, Yong-In, Korea.

McFadden Systems - Motion Simulator. This outfit has been shaking things up since 1963, when it was founded to develop products for the military simulation industry. In the subsequent three and a half decades, McFadden has become the industry leader in creating "hydraulic control force loader" simulation systems, delivering equipment to airframe manufacturers and aerospace R&D firms around the world.

Electrosonic - Film Projection System. This group helped design and install the complex film projection system for the Shuttle Craft simulator theatre. The high-tech equipment includes the film projector (a Christie Westrex electronic projector for 8-perf, 70mm stock), a 10Kw lamphouse, reeling system, and the custom-built fisheye lens. Electrosonic is also creating the projection systems for the upcoming "Adventures of Spiderman 3-D" mega-thrill ride at Islands of Adventure.

Scenic Technologies - Scenic and Special Effect Production. A member of the Production Resource Group, Scenic Technologies handled the manufacture and installation of all the sets and "action equipment" for The Experience. Between the Transporter Room and Turbo Lift sequences, they had their work cut out for them. Fortunately, they've had plenty of experience doing the same sort of work for theatrical productions, theme parks, trade shows, hotels, casinos and restaurants all over the country. ST put together the more than 100 tons of scenery used in the EFX! show at the MGM Grand Hotel.

Rhythm & Hues Studios - Ridefilm Producer. This production house creates both live action and computer-generated sequences for commercials, movies, rides, music videos and games. I can guarantee that you've seen at least one example of their prolific output: The Coca-Cola(TM) polar bears; Babe, the talking pig in Babe; effects work in Speed 2 and Batman and Robin. It took R&H's 75-person staff 13 months to put together the action and effects-packed four minutes of footage shown during the Shuttle Craft trip.

Mario Kamberg - Film Director. Mr. Kamberg, who directed the simulator ridefilm, is another visual designer well-versed in the world of thrill rides. He developed the concept and directed the film for Universal's Funtastic World of Hanna-Barbera(TM), and is currently working on the Seafari attraction for the planned Universal theme park in Japan.

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And last, but not least, there's the delightful participation of both Jonathan Frakes and LeVar Burton who reprise their Next Generation roles with spirited gusto. Oh, and Patrick Stewart, too. Yes, even Captain Jean-Luc Picard makes a brief appearance of sorts during the final moments of this adventure.

Hats off to all!

Star Trek: The Experience

  • The starfields presented throughout the Experience contain over 15,000 stars.

  • There's a quarter mile of neon light tubes, a half-mile of flourescent light tubes and ten miles of audio cable worming through the Experience.

  • It takes the combined processing power of twenty-two computers (OSD 9000, Windows and DOS machines) to operate and coordinate the attraction's many segments.

  • Twenty-four laserdisc players and 28 video monitors and projectors are scattered throughout the facility.

  • The simulator dome screens are each 60 feet across and weigh more than 4.5 tons apiece.

Star Trek Miscellany

  • The first episode of Star Trek, created by Gene Roddenberry, debuted September 8, 1966.

  • Since then, the original series has become the single most successful show in syndication history.

  • Between the 4 series (Star Trek, ST:The Next Generation, ST:Deep Space Nine, and ST: Voyager(TM)) over 325 hours of Star Trek programming have been created, with no end in sight.

  • Star Trek: The Next Generation received 11 Emmy Awards during its 7-year run.

  • Eight Star Trek feature films have been released and a ninth is on the way for later this year.

  • Pocket Books has published (are you ready for this?) more than 145 works of fiction and non-fiction based on Star Trek, and in 15 different languages, to boot. Forty of those titles in the Star Trek novel series have made the New York Times bestseller list, a feat easy to believe when you consider that...

  • Thirteen Star Trek books are sold every minute in the United States. Staggering, ain't it?

  • Star Trek conventions are held every weekend of every year, in at least four different cities.





© Robert Coker.
All Rights Reserved
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