Monday, Jan. 5, 1998 | 10:12 a.m.
Hollywood celebrities were beamed in and "Star Trek" fans were beaming as the Las Vegas Hilton and Paramount Parks shuttled heavy crowds through the weekend opening of the city's next must-see attraction.
Star Trek: The Experience, the much-delayed $70 million collaboration, opened its doors to the public Sunday after a black-tie gala attended by dozens of television and movie stars Saturday night and a fan preview just after midnight Sunday.
On the first day of operations Sunday, thousands went through the attraction, a 22-minute presentation placing guests in a "Star Trek" action sequence, highlighted by a four-minute motion-simulator ride. Paramount and Hilton officials were unavailable this morning to give an exact guest count.
Fans who arose early and battled crowds to get on the ride on the first day weren't disappointed.
No one got up early enough to beat Ron Hebda and Tom Startzman from being the first of the general public to enter the attraction.
The forty-something Las Vegans said they started standing in line at 7:30 for their 11 a.m. experience.
Startzman, a self-proclaimed Trekkie, said he was planning to return with a friend in two weeks even before he had taken his maiden voyage.
Hebda, who is a fan of the original television series, said he was impressed by the detail throughout the museum.
"You can really see the difference in the costumes compared to what you see on TV," Hebda said, referring to the numerous costumes and artifacts from four television shows and eight movies on display in the museum. "It's like day and night."
Startzman said he is a big fan of "Star Trek: The Next Generation."
"There is no comparison (to the first series)," he said.
When Hebda and Startzman emerged from their "experience," they couldn't contain their excitement.
"It was great," Hebda explained breathlessly. "I want to do it again while it is still $9.95."
Park officials called the $9.95 admission an "introductory rate" and did not indicate if and when a change would occur.
Both Hebda and Startzman felt the experience was a good entertainment value.
"It was very believable," Startzman said. "The bridge with all the sound effects was really cool."
How does The Experience stack up against the sets used for the four TV series and the movies? That was one of the questions Saturday when the media and VIPs had a chance to "boldly go where no one had gone before" during a special preview.
"I think it's much more realistic than the sets," said Jeri Ryan, who portrays the newest character in the newest TV series, Seven of Nine in "Star Trek: Voyager."
"In the attraction, things actually work. You push a button and something lights up, you go to the doors and, byshhh, the door opens," Ryan said.
Ryan's appearance was one of the most anticipated of the evening Saturday. Observers of the show say her appearance in the cast has rejuvenated the three-year-old series.
Fans standing outside the attraction during a VIP gathering at Quark's Bar screeched when she appeared briefly to wave at the crowd.
The more than 3,000 local invited guests to the Saturday gala were left muttering when they discovered all the Hollywood stars and Paramount executives were at a separate party. Only Garrett Wang, who portrays Ensign Harry Kim on the "Star Trek: Voyager" series, made a brief appearance at the ballroom where the local invitees were gathered.
Many of the invited guests waited more than three hours in line to ride the attraction, which personnel said was down about 40 minutes due to technical difficulties.
Navigator Giovanna Hubbard said a lot of Star Trek fans came through the experience Saturday night and early Sunday morning dressed as their favorite character.
"One biker guy was dressed up as a Klingon," she said.
While gesturing to the crowd outside the attraction's entrance, located in the Las Vegas Hilton's Space Quest casino, Paramount Parks spokesperson Susan Lomax said the interest generated by the opening "is beyond our wildest dreams."
Rick Berman, co-creator and executive producer of the two shows currently in production, expects the attraction to get a big boost from loyal fans.
"For all of us who have been used to watching 'Star Trek' in two dimensions, this is great addition," Berman said.
Dean Harrold, president and chief operating officer of the Las Vegas Hilton, added that the new attraction isn't just for "Star Trek" fans alone.
"All people are interested in the future," Harrold said. "And this is the future."