Nerd Heaven, R.I.P.
Sad news this week: Star Trek: The Experience at the Las Vegas Hilton shut down on Sept. 1 after an 11-year run. This is sad not only because it indicates how weak the whole Trek franchise has become, unable to sustain a once wildly-popular attraction despite that J.J. Abrams reboot waiting around the corner, but also because ST:TE was one of the highlights of my first trip as a grown-up to Vegas, and one of my earliest entries at this here blog.
In honor of its passing, I here rerun that entry on Star Trek: The Experience (although I kept calling it The Star Trek Experience, which I guess is non-canon). I updated the broken link to Quark's Bar; it now leads to a PDF of the menu. From November 29, 2004, this is my tribute to Nerd Heaven.
Just back from my four-day weekend in Las Vegas*, my first visit there in my adult life, and let me tell you what: it is tremendous.
But let me skip for now the gambling, the drinking, the dinner at Wolfgang Puck's, the sighting of Wayne Newton (seriously!), the drinking, the George Carlin show, the half-naked ladies (one showgirl was wandering around the casino in a bikini bottom so small, you could see her birth control patch), and the drinking, and get straight to the highlight of the weekend, Nerd Heaven: The Star Trek Experience.
Conveniently located in the Hilton, where I was staying, TSTE is composed of two attractions, the Klingon Encounter and the Borg Invasion 4D. (And no, I don't know what the fourth D is. I only counted the usual three.) Both of them have live action performances in which actors lead the visitors to various areas for various scenes, finishing in a spacecraft-shaped auditorium with some incredible filmed sequences taking you into the action (much like Star Tours, if you've ever been to one of the Disney parks). The Borg one was better, I thought, mainly because it's more recent, and more technologically advanced; it's based around the Voyager series. The Klingon Encounter was still pretty damned entertaining; it's based around The Next Generation.
But neither show would've been as much fun if we hadn't visited Quark's Bar and Restaurant first. Did I say I was going to skip the drinking? Guess not. Oh my good lord was it fantastic. It's modeled after the bar from Deep Space Nine, of course, and the drinks, oh the drinks! Little ol' nerdy me had a James Tea Kirk (which was basically an Electric Tea, if you know what that is**); my two nerdy friends had Mind Melds, which were some kind of peach-flavored rum concoction. Then we had a round of Harry Mudds (a shot of kahlua, Buttershots Schnapps, cinnamon liqueur, and Bailey's, I think, which my friends claimed tasted like an Oatmeal Cookie, and I had no reason to doubt them), then two more Mind Melds and for me -- I can't recall the name (something nerdy), but it was Vanilla Vodka, Godiva Chocolate Liqueur, Buttershots, and cream; tasted like chocolate milk, with a hell of a kick. And then we got crazy. Two women from our group joined us, so we ordered the Warp Core Breach. This goddam thing is served in a fishbowl. A chunk of dry ice at the bottom of the bowl created a cloud of smoke pouring out of it. Kind of like this:
In fact, exactly like that, only purple. And don't let the scale of that photo fool you; that glass is big as a bowling ball. Then all five of us got straws about two feet long, and we got to business. What's in it? It was delicious, and had a blackberry taste to it; I couldn't really tell you more about it than that. It's in a goddam fishbowl. What more do you need to know?
We also got a visit from some of the in-character employees; two Ferengi had an argument next to us at the bar, and then a Borg came by, saying that he was on the station "for observation purposes only". We took some pictures with him, and he stayed totally in character; when one of the women commented on his lack of a smile, he said, "I am familiar with 'smile'." When we thanked him for the pictures, he said, "Acknowledged." Neeeerrrrrrrrd Heaven.
Then we three nerdy guys went back upstairs to go on the rides. Shows. Whatever you'd call them. The entryway was lined with an insanely detailed Trek timeline on one side, and a Trek museum (biggest in the world, they claim) on the other, filled with costumes, props, photos, etc. Normally the line would be so long, you'd have plenty of time to absorb it all; that day, there was hardly any line at all, and we were staggeringly drunk, not quite in the frame of mind to appreciate it all, so we zipped right through it (except for some reason my friend Scoot kept pointing out Guinan's costume).
The Borg Encounter was first. It started with a costumed crew member leading us into a room and showing us a video on the wall screen; it was the Doctor, from Voyager, telling us some malarkey about how we had all been summoned because something unique in our DNA was highly resistant to Borg probes. His spiel was mercifully interrupted by a Borg attack. Our crewmember escort summoned security, and we were ushered through various other areas, in which Borg appeared, and engaged in battle. We three drunken nerds were highly wrapped up in it all, laughing, screaming, telling them to shoot the Borg! Annoying? Possibly. But our thinking was, if they're going to go to the trouble of pretending there's a Borg attack, why not be courteous*** enough to pretend we believe it?
Then into the seating area. It was an impressively large set, with a giant front viewscreen, two smaller screens to either side, and a "hatch" on the ceiling. With our 3D glasses on, we were treated to a spectacular movie sequence, involving the section we were seated in being carved out of the space station by the Borg, and being brought aboard the Borg ship. The Borg then injected us with their nanoprobes, simulated by blasts of air on our faces and pokey-crawlies in our seat backs and seat bottoms (which made me giggle like the Pillsbury Doughboy). We were confronted by the Borg Queen (whom I suspected was played by Alice Krige, the actress who originated the role in First Contact; when I looked up her name on IMDb, I found that not only was it indeed her, but also that the Borg Invasion actually has its own entry, as does the Klingon Encounter).
Captain Janeway and the Starship Voyager eventually came to our rescue, after five or six minutes of the most realistic 3D effects I've ever seen. A final debriefing by the Doctor, and we were released back into the real world. Which we immediately abandoned for the Klingon Encounter.
This was more of the same; the story hinged on the Klingons abducting our group of tourists because one of us was supposedly Jean-Luc Picard's ancestor. We were rescued by the Enterprise, and taken aboard the ship's main bridge, which was so beautifully reproduced it made me as happy as a little girl. On the viewscreen, a filmed bit with Riker and Geordi appeared, to fill us in on the blah-blah-blah, and then we were taken into the turbolift and sent to a shuttle pod. When the door closed on the shuttle pod, Scoot began poking all the fake buttons on the wall next to him, prompting one of the employees spying on us to announce over the intercom that we shouldn't bother touching the console controls, because they were DNA-encoded to respond only to Enterprise crewmembers. We loved that. Neeerrrrrrd Heaven.
Then began the filmed sequence (non-3D this time), in which our pod alternately tried to escape from, and engaged in battle, various Klingon vessels, with the Enterprise by our side. We then got zapped back to Las Vegas, and the battle continued over the Strip, zooming over and around various Vegas landmarks. So cool. At the end, as we exited the shuttle pod, an employee directed us onto an elevator that would take us to the exit. All three of us drunken nerds cheerily engaged him in conversation, right up to the second the elevator doors closed, at which point one of the other tourists asked us, "Do they pay you to be here?" which cracked up the rest of the group. It seems our unbridled enthusiasm actually helped the other people to have a good time; everyone was laughing and smiling at the end. Which was nice. Ah, sweet, sweet alcohol: makes everything better.
*I started writing this post on the 22nd. So now I'm just back, plus a week.
**Even if you don't know what that is; frankly, your mixological knowledge has no effect on the drink, one way or the other.