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Tuesday, November 18, 2003

Who will take charge of these people?

Herein being a factual account of the events of Monday, November 17th, 2003 involving myself, Howard M. Lewis Ship, my wife Suzanne, and Mr. Craig McClanahan in and about the "Star Trek: The Experience" attraction at the Hilton Hotel in Las Vegas, Nevada.

So here at ApacheCon, part of the point is to meet people you otherwise only know by an e-mail address or a bio on a web page. One of those people being my <sarchasm>bitter blood-rival and mortal enemy</sarchasm> Craig McClanahan, creator of Struts and lead developer of JSF. Craig was manning Sun's booth and passing out CD's with NetBeans on it and we chatted for a few minutes.

Flash forward to the reception at the end of the day, and Suzy and I found ourselves in line for the appetizer buffer with Craig again; later we ran into him again while talking with Justyna Horwat (another member of the JSF team) about mutual friend Greg Burd. Craig and I chatted a bit about HiveMind and such and then the three of us (including Suzanne) decided to head over to Star Trek: The Experience.

Perhaps we were inspired by the entertainers hired for the reception: a couple of Klingons, a Ferengi and a Borg. They stayed well in character, though I almost got a reaction out of the Borg when I asked him "what's it like to work for Microsoft?"

If you haven't heard of "The Experience", it's a hoot. It's a portion of the casino dressed up to look like a Star Trek set ... lattice-works of aluminum and chrome, lasers and neon. This leads back to sizable museum of Star Trek props. Overhead are large models (about the size of a good SUV) of Star Trek ships: Voyager, Enterprise-A and Enterprise-D and a Bird of Prey. Keeping in character, the props are labeled as historical artifacts, often attributed to entities such as the Klingon National Archives, Vulcan Science Academy and so forth.

The props, especially those from the classic series, provoke a strange reaction: a wave of nostalgia, and simultaneous incredulity at how cheap and cheezey the props actually are (even those props from the more recent series). Craig is a secret (or not so secret) fan, and was right in there with the references and trivia (his favorite race: Cardassians).

However, the heart of the attraction is the The Experience itself. A group of about thirty are led into an antechamber and lined up in front of doors leading to the motion ride ... except that's not what happens. Instead, the whole lot of us are beamed across time onto the Enterprise (a very fun effect involving wind, twinkling lights, darkness and an elevator). This is where this blog's title comes in: a crew member asks the question of the ride operators; from there, we're escorted down a a realistic Enterprise corridor to the bridge, find out about the ride's "plot", ride an out-of-control turbolift and, eventually, end up in a shuttle craft (the motion ride itself).

The ride is typical motion-ride fare, again enhanced by the theme and environment. It is also one of the more violent (in terms of large, jarring motion) rides of this type I've been on, especially if you sit towards the back.

All-in-all, quite a bit of fun, and quite lovingly put together. It uses seven or eight live actors (and some interactions with pre-recorded segments featuring Riker, LaForge and Picard), so it is somewhat involved. I kind of wished more small children had been in the mix, because all of us adults could only enjoy it somewhat sheepishly. At the end of the ride, after they try to shill Star Trek credit cards, we're let out into a gift shop (shades of Disney) and "Quark's Lounge". We bought a couple of drinks and deserts ... all with Star Trek punny names or references. I had the Tranya (if you visit The Experience, I hope you will relish it as much as I) but could as easily have ordered a "James Tea Kirk" or a "Wrap of Khan".

Entry to The Experience allows you to visit the museum and ride The Experience as many times as you like. We decided to finish checking out the prop displays (we had been interrupted earlier when we chose to ride The Experience) and it was nearly closing time for the museum. We ended up right at the entrance to the ride, just as they were ready to run it for the last time. And the three of us were the only ones in line.

I lobbied that we should just take off: it would just be the three of us, the ride is a bit hokey, and I felt guilty that they should have to run the whole thing just for us, instead of going home early. All three of us hemmed and hawed a bit and, suddenly, we realized that we did want to ride it again ... and then the chucking started. Which turned into giggling. Which led to uncontrolled bouts of laughter. And it was infectous ... several of the "crew members" couldn't keep a straight face when they saw the three of us. The line "Who will take charge of these people?" was just hilarious when the actors outnumbered the audience (and the audience was so incapcitated with laughter that a sleepy kitten could have taken charge of us). We were making jokes about the Klingons using nitrous oxide on us ... I also made a lame joke about hebephrenic particles that no one got (I had been drinking, in my defense).

The actors rotate through different roles, which is nice for them; I suspect working at The Experience would be totally unbearable otherwise. They tried to stick to their lines; for example, asking us to move forward into the bridge to make room (even though there was just the three of us). The second trip let us see a lot of detail you can miss on a single pass: for example, the comm panels at the back of the bridge are live ... initially they show scanner data about the three Klingon ships, then switch to a bio of the Klingon captain when he hails the Enterprise. They're also helpful to lean on when you can stand any more from laughing too hard (just don't let the bridge crew see you).

By the end of our second pass through The Experience, I was having trouble breathing from laughing too hard for too long. My throat was raw and I felt physically beat up. I can't promise you that you'll enjoy it nearly as much as we did (some experiences simply can't be recreated) but it might just be worth a visit, if you are a Trek fan (and can stomach the $30 entrance fee).

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