For all of you who have fantasized about going to Starfleet Academy, there’s finally a way to get a little taste of it: The Starfleet Academy Experience. It launched in May in Ottawa, which makes sense. Canada has a lot of appreciation for Star Trek: this is the country that gave us Trek postage stamps (first, before the U.S.) and now Star Trek coins. It also gave us William Shatner, James Doohan, and me, so I admit I have a little bias there.
I was lucky to see the exhibit at its awesome location in New York City, on the Intrepid aircraft carrier, which hosts an Air & Space Museum. My 12 year-old son, who’s more of a casual fan, came with me to check it out a few weeks after it opened.
As soon as you get close, you can tell you’re in a Star Trek Zone. There are different Trek characters on posters stretching all along the sidewalk next to the ship, and we saw a few people in front of the doors in uniform. That got a bit confusing until we realized they were fellow visitors, and not staff, but they added to the authenticity of the whole thing.
Once inside, you’re given a wristband to wear throughout the experience. At each station, you use your wristband to check in and then your progress is charted as you make your way through various tests and exercises.
We didn’t have to wait for more than a few minutes for any of the busier stations, and since part of the fun is that you’re in a crowd of all true Star Trek fans, there was always someone to talk to, as well as lots of engaging things to look at. The Academy Experience can handle about 300 people at a time, and the non-VIP tickets are for scheduled entrance times, so while it was busy, we never felt cramped or unable to get to the things we wanted to do. The longest line was for the phaser training, and that’s because (a) one of the two stations was down and getting repaired, and (b) everyone wants to do phaser training! (I scored better than my 12-year-old, by the way, and he plays a lot more video games than I do.)
They did a great job on the look and feel of the whole thing. It mostly has that Enterprise-D Next Generation vibe. (“No bloody A, B, C …”) There are panels everywhere giving you information about different fields (Navigation, Communications, Science, Engineering, etc.), principles, and highlights of exploration, most loaded up with clips from all the different live-action series. The interactive quizzes they’ve scattered throughout run for two minutes and are pretty fun, full of scenarios that our crews have encountered and asking you what decision you’d make; this is how they determine your area of specialization at the end.
I skipped the Klingon language tutorial, because even in that perfect fan-crowd I just felt a bit silly, but I did all the others. Including the phaser training, I’d say the big highlights were the medical bay, where we used the medical tricorder to get info and then diagnosed some wounded Klingons, and the transporter. You get to position yourself and beam up, and the video is emailed to you at the end. So fun!
Wait! There’s one more highlight to come. After you’ve talked to other Star Trek fans, taken tests, watched clips, and had a look at the great costume display from all the series, you find yourself on the bridge! You can sit in Captain Picard’s chair (yes!), man the security station, take a position at Ops, or camp out at one of the side stations and fail the Kobiyashi Maru. (I failed completely, while my son rescued a lot more of the crew than I did. Next time I’ll just have to reprogram it first.)
Again, they do a great job monitoring the amount of people flowing in, so everyone had time to get a photo in the Captain’s chair and check out each station.
Once you’re done there, you get one last wristband check-in to find out what department you’ve qualified for and where your other attitudes are, along with your transporter video. Everything gets sent to your email address too. I used my real name while my son decided he wanted to be called “Hugh Jass”–he’s 12!–and I thought they were pretty accurate. I was admitted to the Science department with an aptitude for Command, and my son was a Tactical Officer with an aptitude for Engineering.
The final stop for us was the gift shop. There were a couple of bizarre items there, like some legless Kirks and Spocks in dramatic poses, but lots of great stuff too. We picked up a graphic novel of the original teleplay (not the one that aired) of “The City on the Edge of Forever,” a Star Trek watch, and an insignia-shaped zippered holder for loose change.
On the way out, we stopped by a Star Trek Beyond booth where they were giving out free mini posters. When we chatted up the guy there and started talking Comic Con, he gave his cohort a meaningful look, then handed over branded earbuds as well. “Only for the people I like,” he said.
If you can get there, go! It’s part gallery, part exhibit, part game, and part role-play, truly a great experience for any fan, and provides photo ops galore. We probably spent almost two hours there. (I milked every moment while my son ran around and came back a few times.)
Wisely, they’re keeping the New York installation up through October, which means anyone coming to the big Mission New York convention should take note and buy themselves some tickets. After that it goes to Calgary. More locations are in the works, you can get details here.
Want more? Check out this full video tour done by TrekMovie’s Michael Nguyen.
Beam me up!