Visit to Vegas is out of this world Enterprising: 'Star Trek: The Experience' at the Hilton is a hi-tech, motion-simulation ride into the 24th century.

March 22, 1998|By Lisa Alcalay Klug | Lisa Alcalay Klug,SPECIAL TO THE SUN

After years spent dreaming about the Starship Enterprise, Trekkies can finally live out their fantasies -- at least for a brief interlude from an Earthly existence.

Besides New York City and Luxor, Egypt, the 24 century can also be visited by Las Vegas tourists. In January, the Las Vegas Hilton debuted "Star Trek: The Experience," a $70 million high-performance, hi-tech, motion-simulation ride.

Once we reached a model of the Enterprise hanging overhead and passed the ticket takers, we entered the History of the Future museum, an attraction within the attraction. This exhibit spans the 30 years in which the four "Star Trek" television series and eight motion pictures were made.

Costumes, alien masks, weaponry and props glittered in display cases. High-definition monitors played clips of Mr. Spock and Bones (a k a Dr. McCoy) and other highlights of the show. And a detailed time line spelled out the history of Captain Kirk & Company. A total of 200 items -- from a $3 copper coil from "Star Trek: First Contact" to a $10,000 Klingon Duras sister costume -- make the exhibit the most extensive permanent collection of Trekkie memorabilia assembled.

After about a half hour of checking out the exhibit and waiting in line, we reached the entrance to the space voyage. Staffers led us and a group of about 30 people into a small room and gave us the safety spiel. Suddenly the lights flickered, the walls glowed and tiny points of light sparkled on us. As the lights returned to normal, it was as if we had somehow crawled through our televisions into a Federation Transporter Room. A uniformed Starfleet officer materialized, tapped his combadge and said, "Transporter to Chief. We have them. Repeat, we have them." Our moment had arrived. "You have just," he told us, "been beamed aboard the Starship Enterprise."

Tension building

The ship, at Yellow Alert, was in a crisis, and we were right in the middle of it. We passed through an air lock and down a corridor, while urgent messages played over the communications system. The tension built until we finally walked into the nerve center of the great ship: the bridge. It was an exact replica, built on a one-to-one scale, of the set used in the second "Star Trek" series, "The Next Generation."

On the viewscreen, Commander William Riker, played by actor Jonathan Frakes from "The Next Generation," told us why we had been beamed aboard.

A Klingon captain named Korath discovered a "temporal rift in the space/time continuum" and found a way to transport us through it. Fortunately, as Lt. Commander Geordi LaForge (LeVar Burton) explained on the viewscreen, Starfleet Intelligence got wind of Korath's plan, intercepted us mid-transport and beamed us aboard the Enterprise.

But the instant Korath brought us into the 24th century, the captain of the Enterprise, Jean-Luc Picard, disappeared. This "Next Generation" commander (Patrick Stewart) once defeated Korath in battle. The Klingon's plan was to kidnap an ancestor of Picard so that Picard himself would never be born. One of us must have been that ancestor!

To restore the space/time continuum and bring Picard back, Riker and LaForge would be sending all of us back to the 20th century via a shuttle craft. Suddenly, a fierce-looking Klingon appeared on the viewscreen and ordered Riker to hand over Picard's ancestor. Riker refused, and as we were led away from the bridge, the ship went into Red Alert. Sirens blared, and lights flashed as the ship prepared for a Klingon attack.

To get to the shuttle bay, we boarded a "turbolift," which looked like an elevator. But just at that moment, the ship came under fire, and the turbolift went into free fall. Lights whizzed by, faster and faster, as we plunged 17 levels. (Actually, the turbolift didn't drop at all. It only turned 180 degrees and was bumped about a bit.)

As we exited, Starfleet officers told us to board the shuttle craft as quickly as possible to prevent the Klingons from capturing us.

Once we sat down and buckled up, a bit of the magic dissolved. I was reminded of Disneyland's "Star Wars" attraction, Universal Studio's "Back to the Future" ride and other simulations.

Through a giant window at the front end of the cabin, we watched the shuttle-bay doors open to the great unknown. We blasted out of the hangar, glimpsed the Enterprise and rocked and jolted our way at warp speed through asteroid belts, in a race with Klingon battleships and other near disasters, until we entered the Earth's (20th century) atmosphere. The Klingons followed us to Las Vegas, but the Enterprise stuck close behind. Before the Klingons could capture us, Starfleet officers succeeded in destroying their ship. Ultimately, our shuttle "crashed" into the Hilton, and the voyage ended. The whole ride lasted only four minutes. It was exhilarating but left me a bit nauseous.

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