Christmas came early for my family, having just had the experience of a lifetime at the Star Trek Official Set Tour “Christmas with the Captains” event in picturesque Ticonderoga, New York. We were joined by not one, but two Trek captains, actors William Shatner, our legendary Captain Kirk, and Anson Mount, Discovery’s Captain Pike.
As a lifelong Star Trek fan, the chance to share James Cawley’s loving recreations of The Original Series sets with my wife Robin and 6-year-old son Julian was a dream come true. Added to that, to walk through these hallowed corridors, peer into the famous Jefferies Tube and explore the entire sound stage with none other than Captain Kirk himself was beyond my wildest dreams. Mr. “Call me Bill” Shatner was the perfect host, regaling us with fond memories of his life, career and fellow Star Trek actors, all inspired by the 23rd Century surroundings meticulously and magically recreated by James and the Ticonderoga team.
First up, before the actors’ arrival, was our guided tour with other guests, led by our guide, Adam, who was knowledgeable and patient with everyone’s questions, including Julian’s. Of course, as in most museums, visitors can’t touch the art, but that didn’t stop Julian from asking. We were thrilled to stand in the Transporter room, stroll to McCoy’s Sickbay and Lab, and even discuss matters of galactic importance in the Briefing Room.
Fun fact, there was a modified Cuban flag in there in honor of Desi Arnaz. As everyone knows, Lucille Ball and Desi’s production company Desilu was responsible for teaming up with Gene Roddenberry and bringing Star Trek to us back in the 60s.
Then came Julian’s big chance to touch something, as we strolled into the corridor and were directed to the one button visitors are allowed to press. It activates the iconic Red Alert sound and lights throughout the entire soundstage, Adam informed us. I lifted Julian up and he pressed the big red button. Whoop, Whoop sounded the klaxon. “The Klingons are attacking!!!” Julian exclaimed as he jumped up and down. Everyone laughed at his enthusiasm and shared their best shaking in the corridor poses.
Of course, they saved the best for last: the Bridge. With screens matching the exact light blinks to the original, it’s like coming home for any fan. Much to our delight, everyone can sit in the Captain’s Chair; just please remember to take any objects out of your back pocket. That’s a vintage Madison desk chair just like the original, and we don’t want to ruin it for the next generations of visiting fans.
Our first taste of what this weekend had in store was over and did not disappoint in the least. We were “on the Enterprise” and to paraphrase Star Trek IV, “We’d come home.”
Friday evening as I waited for Bill’s guided tour of the sets, I had the pleasure to meet Dale and Alice Shingler. They came all the way up from Long Island, as Dale is a devout Star Trek and Shatner fan, specifically, and we shared great memories, not just of Star Trek, but from throughout Bill’s life and career.
Dale ranks William Shatner in the pantheon of greatness with the movie star John Wayne, and you wouldn’t find many to disagree with that among the crowd of admirers there to see this iconic actor. Few performers have such a loving and devoted following — not to mention such a fun, engaging, and entertaining career spanning over six decades — and this encounter to come was a true “bucket list” item for Dale.
Now, it was our turn to board the Enterprise. Fittingly, we “beamed aboard” and met Bill in the famous transporter room. Joined by visual F/X artist, concept designer and creative consultant to the Set Tour, Daren Dochterman, and James Cawley, Bill was in great spirits, sharing stories, inviting questions and showing his true appreciation to all the visitors for the lengths that they took to be there with him that evening. “I can’t tell you how many times I tripped down these stairs,” Shatner noted, explaining the process of shooting the transporter effect, which required the production crew to lock off the camera and the actors would scamper off the transporter pads, to get the seamless shot without camera jitter. I’m happy to report that Dale got his shot with Shatner, checked that bucket list box and stood proudly with Bill on the Transporter pad.
Anecdotes and fond memories of Jimmy Doohan, De Kelley and Leonard Nimoy flowed as we moved from room to room aboard the beautiful Starship Enterprise. In a surprise move, James even asked Daren to do his spot-on impression of Shatner for Shatner, as well as his uncanny Gene Roddenberry impression. Everyone, including Shatner, agreed that Daren nailed it.
After the tour of the sets, we all moved across the street to Madden’s Pub and, at Bill’s request, he set up shop behind the bar, and hosted a beer and pizza party, chatting with everyone, and even personally pouring some of his new James T. Kirk Bourbon. This intimate setting was a blast to share with him, and I was so impressed with his candor and kind nature.
The next day was everyone’s chance to meet Bill on the Bridge, and Julian was understandably anxious. As we waited in line, Julian conducted his own press interviews and recited the famous “Space... The final frontier” monologue. I’ve never been more proud.
We walked onto the bridge, where Shatner sat, in command, directing his team just as he did the crew of the Enterprise, with a smile and a nod. He spoke to our group for a long time, inviting questions that focused on computers and technology, and he acknowledged his own ignorance of how it works.
Gesturing to Julian as he would to Chekov to change course, he said, “What is your name?” “Julian,” my boy responded. “Well, Julian, can you please explain computers to me!?” Julian then went on to summarize a Lego robotics project he completed. “Julian... I still don’t understand... computers!!” Shatner replied in the most Shatnerian delivery ever.
As we exited the bridge, from behind us we hear Bill shout out loud enough for the whole set to hear, “Julian, I expect great things from you!!” Captain Kirk, your orders are received and understood.
Later that day, we just had to do the Set Tour once again, and much to our delight, Anson Mount was arriving just then. Now, we were sharing the Enterprise with Captain Pike, as he toured the sets for the first time, marveling at everything as a true fan himself. Engineering is particularly impressive, and I could tell Mr. Mount thought so, too.
Seeing Julian enjoy the tour was gratifying for Robin and me. Explaining to him that The Original Series takes place in the 23rd Century and that we are in the 21st century really sparked his imagination. “So this is what spaceships will look like in 200 years!?” he asked with a sense of wonderment. He knows that Star Trek is fiction, but I think he was sharing that very instinctive feeling all Trek fans have: that the future, the relationship with technology can be as comfortable, beautiful and fun as they show in so many of the episodes.
I asked Julian what he thought of the whole experience: the sets, getting to meet Bill, and spending the weekend here with us. His answer was simple, “It. Was. Amaziiiiing!”
Russell Meyers is an IT professional and former motion picture booker for Paramount Pictures. He is an avid Star Trek fan and collector, currently residing in New York City with his wife and son.