REVIEW: The Starfleet Academy Experience

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.

Sisko on sign outside Starfleet Academy Experience

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.

Wristband scan at the Starfleet Academy Experience

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.

Inside the Starfleet Academy Experience

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!

Medical Bay at the Starfleet Academy Experience

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!

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As a casual fan I thought it was pretty bad, especially the Kobayashi Maru simulator. The highlight was standing on the bridge. I know it’s CBS, but disappointing there was nothing at all for Beyond or the other new films at the one I went to.

I’m in Ottawa. Planning to go Tuesday this week.

Same here, two for one :)

I agree, it was a wonderful experience and even my 2 kids who roll their eyes everytime my husband and I make a Trek reference, liked it too. When we went there were a few modules down, including one of the Phaser trainings as well. I loved how they mixed costumes and artifacts in between the modules. The best part was the transporter and the bridge. A lot of fun!

My friends and I went there last week and we enjoyed it so much. I noticed some items I wanted at the gift shop were gone quickly; however, at least, I bought several nice things like sweaters and hooded sweaters.

Neat! Some time back there was the touring Star Wars Identities exhibit, designed in Montreal by X3 Productions, with similar wristband-activated stations and an ’email your character’ feature at the end. Also had a ton of the original costumes, props and models, and original Ralph Macquarrie concept art.

We went to that in Paris, it was a lot of fun!

Way to go Canada! From, New Zealand

My friend and I went for our birthdays right before we went to see Beyond and make it a full Trek night. I had low expectations and I think he had more fun than I did.

It was nearly empty when we went, with no levels of excitement from the other visitors. But the exhibits were kind of boring, and he “academy experience” want really thought through – I kept wondering why I had to read so much stuff and then mostly it was trivia I already knew. Good for a casual fan? maybe. And for all it being new, it felt run down. For example, there were no badges on any of the uniforms in the display cases!

One thing I did think was pretty cool was that the actor who was trying to teach us Klingon in the video was obviously British or maybe from an African country and it made me wonder if I was learning Klingon with a Nigerian accent.

The neatest part was the end, when you visit the birdie and take the aforementioned lame Kobiashi Maru test. My impression was that the bridge was pretty much the worst version of a TNG bridge. My buddy is more of a TNG fan and actually I had a hard time getting him out of the captains chair and taking multiple pics and selfies. Honestly no reason for one to attend this sober.

However I did take a cool pic from inside a subway car a few days ago of an ad for the exhibit and it features Nichelle Nichols so I was charmed.

I think most of the character acting was done by a company in Montreal. For this show to open in Ottawa it needed to be bilingual French/English. The Klingon character actor was a Francophone who spoke with an extremely heavy French Canadian (maybe with a tinge of Hatian?) accent in English – and even though I’m pretty used to that I’ll admit I had a lot of trouble understanding him (having the prosthetic Klingon teeth in his mouth didn’t help either).

As much as I love Star Trek, I would hate to attend the Academy. Its basically military school, but with a tougher academic work load.

My experience with this 2.5 weeks ago was that it was a total rip off. The medical station was broken(both Tricorders or whatever interactive component) were ripped off the cables… the speakers for the Klingon tutorial station were all blown(and the mic which picks up what you say back wasn’t sensitive enough)… the colored lighting gels in the decorative “Star Trek Wall Style” paneling was poorly cut to fit with the edges sticking up and scotch tape holding them in… The “bridge” thing is laughably bad and all the seats are oversized to a comical level. The monitors for the Kobyashi Maru “game” was near impossible to hear at the two stations I tried to do it on.

The level of “Immersion” was lacking. This exhibit really needed more finesse and a museum/exhibit crew made to look like Starfleet Officers at the career day thing they use as a framing device instead of the disinterested staff standing around joking (loudly, I might add) about how they wonder if they’ll get off work early like the previous day because the attendance is so low.

I’d say save your money on this thing and just buy the ticket for the Space Shuttle Pavillion. That’s where the TOS Shuttle Galileo set piece is in a neat little mock up of a TOS style shuttle repair bay located right under the Space Shuttle Enterprise. Entry to THAT area was worth it. The Starfleet Academy “Experience” was more like a sad high school production paid for by a not so well funded parent-teacher association.

Just waiting for the Bay Area engagement…..

After attending the opening night of the exhibit in Ottawa – a gala that featured John deLancie, René Auberjonois, and The Shatner – I wasn’t very impressed with the displays or the interactive component. A lot of things weren’t working that first night. Brought my wife and two kids along a few weeks ago, and they all enjoyed it. Lots to see for a ‘casual’ fan, but it lacked that immersive element that “Star Trek: The Experience” in Vegas had. In my view, it didn’t match what the Star Wars – Identities show brought to the table a few years ago.

Nice review, thank you.

I just came back, I actually enjoyed it. I did the Star Wars one before and this was WAY better. There wasn’t too much new stuff for me as I’ve been to the Vegas convention and read a lot more about Trek than I should have. None the less I had very low expectations and managed to kill about 3hrs there, it was pretty busy which added to that time. I would recommend it.

My family happened to be in the Ottawa area for vacation last week and we went to this on Thursday. We had a great time! Though oddly, all three of us were highest rated in Command and secondarily in Communications… There was a lot of good stuff there to see and it was lots of fun. Definitely worth the price of admission.

How long does it take to complete the whole tour/experience? Thanks!