Viva Las Vegas – the official 50th Anniversary Star Trek convention
To boldly go…. As the saying from the opening of Star Trek goes and I’ve certainly done my fair share of that this year. Lots of new places visited, maybe not always so boldly but they’ve been great experiences and I’ve just had another with a big trip to Las Vegas for the Official 50th Anniversary Star Trek Convention considered by many to be THE event of the year to celebrate the franchise. I’ve heard a lot about it from friends who have been before, wanted to try it and what better year than the 50th Anniversary plus a chance to see somewhere else completely new.
I will get to the convention but first, what of Las Vegas?
Well it’s a long way, it’s hot, very hot and like no place I’ve ever been. Did I say it was hot? but then I’ve never been to a desert before. As this trip was about the convention there was limited time to see the city itself and do tourist things but I did get to experience some of it. I took a direct flight from London which was around ten hours and while this wasn’t too bad I was very glad to get there and be off the plane.
A couple of friends were on the same flight so we shared a taxi from the airport and as they were staying in different hotels I got quite a good tour around taking in lots of places I’d seen on TV and in films.
I was staying at the Rio which is slightly off the strip but was where the convention was being held. This seemed like a good option and as it turned out I liked the hotel and it was good to be on site and a room upgrade wasn’t a bad start either. It was huge, although why was there a window from the main room into the bathroom? Very odd.
The first day was spent with friends shopping for supplies and having lunch at an Applebee’s in a totally non-tourist area. A great idea to get some cheap snacks and drinks in and to see a bit more of where we were. This was a shopping area for locals, away from the casinos and huge hotels near the strip and great to experience. I’d been introduced to Applebee’s in New York and they do some great food at a good price so that was a really nice start, especially as eating in the hotel was very expensive though we did well there too using the much better value breakfast and lunch buffet at the Gold Coast casino across the road from the Rio.
I wanted to catch at least one show while there and booked to see the musical Rock of Ages that I’d not got round to seeing in London which was great fun, lots of fabulous rock songs to clap and sing along to, well worth seeing. Also went out to the Neon Museum one evening with some friends. This sounds very strange as it’s a collection of neon signs from old casinos and buildings that tell a kind of history of Vegas. Even though it was evening it was still very hot but being dark we got to see the restored signs lit up and it was actually very interesting and nice to get out and feel I was doing something a bit more touristy.
On the last night the most monstrous pizza I’ve ever seen was ordered, even between three of us it was hilariously huge and then we hit the strip and walked through some of the other casinos like Caesar’s Palace, the Bellagio and The Venetian getting a feel for what makes Vegas the place it is. This was about 1am and it was still hot, loud, busy and the impression was that Vegas is really just a collection of casinos with hotels stuck on. Unfortunately it was too late to see the Bellagio fountain display so will have to leave that for another visit but the Rock and Roll Jesus singing Johnny Cash on the sidewalk was fun.
It was fascinating to walk around and see all this but unless you have the money to gamble, want to see lots of shows or go shopping I’m not convinced Vegas has all that much to offer, or at least I didn’t see much beyond that. I guess that’s what it’s all about but that’s not really me so while I’m glad to have been there and seen it I’d only go back for a short visit in future and use it as a stopping off point to somewhere else. It was a great experience though.
And so to the main purpose of the trip, the Convention.
I‘ve only attended one convention outside the UK, Fedcon in 2015 which was very enjoyable but this would be my first US event. I bought a Copper level ticket which was $499, not cheap but this got you a fixed seat for the whole five days of the event, entry to the Saturday night Gala Concert and when you consider how much UK organisers charge for some of the panels they run, it wasn’t bad value when considered in those terms.
Working out when guests were attending and signing was the hardest part. Some were in a specific signing room, some were just signing at a specific time on a specific day in the main hall and some were in the vendors room running their own table and setting their own days and times.
On the plus side for those that were signing over a few days it was easy to walk up to their table and spend time chatting as there was rarely any queue but on the negative prices were more than in the UK (even before the exchange rate dropped) though there were some rare guests and people who do cancel a lot so well worth considering paying the extra. Once the schedule was worked out it was actually quite a relaxed event although I didn’t need to meet many guests and only had three photo ops which were all on different days so no clashes to deal with and so probably had it a bit easier than some.
The layout was good, a huge main hall with great sound and screens (and water coolers situated around), secondary stages which I didn’t actually get to, a big vendors hall, Quark’s Bar and various free photo opportunities around the corridors such as the Borg regeneration alcoves, the kind of thing that would be charged for at a UK event. There was also a wonderful memorial sign for Anton Yelchin which quickly filled up with messages of remembrance and tribute.
I can’t list all the guests who attended as there were over 100 from all the different shows but the big attraction for many was the first convention appearances by Whoopi Goldberg and Kirstie Alley. I bought photo ops with both but couldn’t afford autographs too but was very happy with that. I also met James Darren (who I had seen in London previously but didn’t get a photo with), Robert Duncan McNeill, Cirroc Lofton and Ronald D Moore who signed for free after his panel. Most others are regular visitors to the UK so worth waiting for but got chance to chat to all of these for longer than I probably would elsewhere which was great.
I also wanted autographs from Greg Itzin for the show 24 which I had watched earlier in the year, and John Billingsley. Both are rare in the UK so well worth meeting but this is where things went a bit sideways and highlighted one of the issues with the organisation. They were only signing on the Wednesday evening and were included within the Gold ticket package so they had to get through all Golds before calling ordinary autograph ticket holders. This session was due to take place while I was seeing Rock of Ages so my friend very kindly agreed to queue for these but they clearly underestimated how long it would take and she was still waiting as I came out of the show. After a lot more waiting we were the last two people to meet Greg at 11:33pm (I checked lol).
This was frustrating as if there had been some kind of twitter progress update there would have been no need for my friend to just sit in the hall for so long but that was the only major negative encountered.
All the panels I saw were very good with particular highlights being Whoopi Goldberg, Kate Mulgrew, the Deep Space Nine ones and the one with the Ferengis Rom and Nog from DS9. Whoopi really threw herself into it and was great to listen to. Most were well moderated by knowledgeable people and had generally interesting questions. The vendors room was easy to get around too although I understand it was bigger this year, had a good variety of things for sale and while I don’t buy a lot of memorabilia I did pick up a few items and was mostly excited to buy my own Tribble. Might be silly but I’ve been wanting to get one for ages.
The Saturday night Gala concert was a run through music from various Star Trek films and TV episodes which is always good to hear but could have started earlier as it went on very late. On Sunday night the Star Trek themed Rat Pack concert rounded things off featuring Max Grodenchik, Armin Shimerman, Vaughn Armstrong, Jeffrey Combs, Casey Biggs and Bill Burchell. Well what would Vegas be without the Rat Pack? Great fun with classic songs given a humorous Trek lyric makeover.
I enjoyed the convention. There was a lot going on and most things worked very well, photo collection was good as it was never crowded and there was lots of space and it was mostly easy to meet the guests I wanted to. It was surprising how many people from the UK were there but it was nice having friends around to share it with and I had some nice people next to me to chat to as well. What was missing was more about the current films and particularly the new upcoming TV show.
That aside it was a good event and trip but would I go again? yes I would.