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All life forms will enjoy the Las Vegas Hilton's `Star Trek: The Experience'

The "Star Trek" motto may be "to boldly go where no one has gone before," but Trekkers from around the world are going to be taking the same trip in the coming months - a trek to Las Vegas to be part of Star Trek: The Experience.

And they're not going to be disappointed. The Experience is the coolest thing to happen to "Star Trek" since the Enterprise-E.The 65,000-square-foot attraction at the Las Vegas Hilton cost $70 million and took more than three years to get up and running (the opening was delayed six months, from July to January). And from the moment you walk up and see enormous scale models of the original U.S.S. Enterprise (the movie version), the Enterprise-D, the Voyager and a Klingon Bird of Prey, a sense of excitement is palpable for fans.

Part of what makes the Experience work is that, within the logic of "Star Trek," what happens makes sense. And that's no surprise, because "Trek" executive producer Rick Berman and his team approved everything that went into the Experience, which is a co-production of Paramount Parks and Hilton.

"What we wanted to do was to create an experience in which the participants could feel as though they were part of an adventure, but they didn't have to pretend to be something else other than what they are," said Ken Biller, who co-wrote the script with fellow "Trek" writer/producer Rene Echevarria.

"The three of us spent a lot of time trying to come up with a way to make it believable," said Berman, "Star Trek" executive producer (and executive consultant on the Experience) who asked Biller and Echevarria to work on the project. "It's kind of hard when you have people in Las Vegas in the present time and you want to make them believably be out in space 400 years from now. So we came up with what we thought was a good idea of how to rip them from one century to another."

To that end, visitors to the Experience are "kidnapped" from the ride by a band of renegade, 24th century Klingons. Their commander is out for revenge against Capt. Jean-Luc Picard, and they have gone into the past to eliminate one of the captain's ancestors - meaning one of your group is that ancestor.

The Klingons manage to pull the tour group through a rift in time to the 24th century, where the adventure begins.

"I think it's a clever idea, and I think it helps with the suspension of disbelief," Berman said.

The ride includes a quick beam-up to the Enterprise-D. ("I thought that was the coolest thing I've ever experienced on an attraction like this," said Jeri Ryan, who plays Seven of Nine on "Voyager.")

Visitors will visit an exact replica of the Enterprise's bridge, take a trip in a turbolift, walk down the "never-before-seen" grand corridor of the ship to the shuttle bay and hop in a shuttle. Without giving too much away, there are running battles with Klingon ships, harrowing escapes and a bit of a surprise ending.

The shuttle voyage operates much like the "Back to the Future" ride at Universal Theme Park and the "Star Wars" ride at Disneyland. "Star Trek: The Experience" employs a six-axis dome projector that creates stunningly realistic pictures that appear in front of, above, below and to the sides of the ride - although if you look way up or back you can see the edges of the dome and the picture.

(The ride will shake you around a bit and made a few of the riders queasy, but it's no more nausea-producing than a tame amusement park ride. There's no age limit, but children must be at least 42 inches tall to go on the ride.)

But visitors to the Experience will have a much more realistic journey than do the actors on the various "Star Trek" series. The actors do their work without all the sound and visual effects, often working in front of a "blue screen" to which the special effects are added later by computer.

"This is better than blue screen because there's nothing on that," said Michael Dorn, who plays Worf on both "Next Generation" and "Deep Space Nine." "You can't see anything, there's nothing there. We do all our own shaking.

"This is cool."

And Ryan agreed.

"That's the big difference between the bridge on the Experience and ship that we shoot in on the set - this actually works," she said. "This stuff makes noise. It does go beep-beep-beep when you push the buttons and the doors do go whoosh when they open. We don't hear any of that. It's much more real than what we do."

With all of "Star Trek" to choose from, Berman and his team chose the "Next Generation" TV series ship and crew as being the one that "people felt the most comfortable with." But it's not exclusively a "Next Gen" attraction.

"It was very important that we involve the original series and `Deep Space Nine' and `Voyager' throughout the entire attraction, which I think they've done quite nicely," he said.

Similar discussions were held about what alien race to use as the bad guys in the 22-minute ride itself.

"There might be some now who would argue that the Borg have become a better group of villains, but I think the Klingons have traditionally been the most beloved people to hate in `Star Trek,' " Berman said. "And, also, the Birds of Prey have got to be the coolest of all the alien spacecraft."

Jonathan Frakes (as Commander William Riker) and LeVar Burton (as Lt. Comm. Geordi LaForge) both appear in the experience, offering instructions and background to the visitors. And you'll hear a voice message from Stewart's Capt. Picard.

"I was thrilled to participate," Frakes said. "And even though I knew exactly what was going to happen, it was still exciting."

Visitors who pay the $9.95 admission price first visit the History of the Future Museum. It's a wonderland for Trekkers, filled with more than 200 costumes and props from the various series and movies - a time line of "Trek" history that carries through all of its incarnations. And there are exhibits (including video montages) celebrating various alien races like the Vulcans, Klingons, Ferengi and Borg.

After the ride, visitors enter a replica of the Promenade deck of space station Deep Space Nine, which features a string of shops offering all sorts of "Trek" merchandise. The products range from $4 magnets to $12,000 Klingon uniforms, with everything from $35 Starfleet uniforms to $20 Starfleet teddy bears to $6 pins to $2,000 custom leather jackets in between.

And there's also Quark's Bar and Restaurant, where Trekkers can dine on Isolinear Chips and Dip, The (Turkey) Wrap of Khan, Frozen Gagh, Glop on a Stick and even Tribble Tenders (which taste just like chicken). There's also a selection of alcoholic drinks (including the Pattern Buffer and the Warp Core Breach), non-alcoholic beverages (like Data's Day) and even Raktajino, or Klingon coffee.

Just outside the restaurant is a food replicator, where visitors can push various buttons to see holographic simulations of everything from Klingon Gar'h to Ferengi Brubworms to a Best Earth Burger.

Quark's and the Promenade can be entered without paying the admission price of the ride itself.

In addition to the actors in the ride, most of the shopkeepers are "Bajorans" and actors portraying Klingons, Ferengi, Vulcans and even Borg wander about. And they all stay in character at all times.

(One imposing Klingon, upon hearing that a 10-year-old girl had gone on the ride three times, said, "Ah, she is indeed a warrior.")

Although there's no gambling of any kind inside the attraction, visitors must travel through the Hilton's new SpaceQuest casino to reach the Experience. (The casino, obviously, has a space theme but it's generic - there are none of the "Star Trek" trappings.)

"Star Trek: The Experience" is getting rave reviews, not only from the thousands of fans who lined up to see it the moment it opened but from those who are as intimately involved with "Trek" as anyone - including Majel Barrett-Roddenberry, the widow of "Star Trek" creator Gene Roddenberry and the only person to be involved in every incarnation of the franchise.

"I just never dreamed it could look like this or function like this," she said. "And the functioning part is really spectacular. You just can't imagine until you're there as to how good this really is. . . . I'm speechless. I wish I had more superlatives."

Even the perfectionist Berman admitted that he was extremely pleased with the end result.

"Here, for the first time, people who are fans of `Star Trek' are going to have the feeling that they did experience it," he said. "That's why, in a funny way, I think that "Star Trek: The Experience" is a great title.

"If people come away with a little bit of that, then I think this was all worthwhile."

The Las Vegas Hilton - home of Star Trek: The Experience - is located just off the Strip at 3000 Paradise Road, Las Vegas, NV 89109. You can call the Hilton at (702) 732-5537.