Convention tips and tricks for Star Trek Las Vegas

vegas_logo_2013The Star Trek Convention in Las Vegas is coming up fast! Trek fans: Do you remember your first Star Trek Convention? If you were like me (a convention newbie in 2011), for your first convention you wanted just three things: to see everything, do everything and know everything. In an attempt to be the most prepared as possible for my first convention, I searched the Internet for any advice or tips I could find for Trek convention-goers. Some of you may remember asking the same questions: Do I need to wear a Starfleet uniform? Do I need to dress up as a Klingon? Do I need to learn the Klingon language? Do I need to eat gagh, drink blood wine and participate in mating rituals? (Okay, maybe not the last one.)

Well, this blog post is NOT an attempt to answer those questions, but I can offer a few tips to those who are new to the convention. These tips may also be useful to those of you who are ‘con veterans’ but are new to the next week’s event, which runs August 8-11.

At the Rio Las Vegas Resort & Casino:

Sign up for a Total Rewards card. Even if you don’t plan to gamble, it’s worth the five minutes it takes to apply online. Have your card number handy when you check in to your Rio suite and you can start earning reward points immediately. Show your card everywhere. Not only can you continue to earn points for comps and deals for future visits to any Caesar’s Entertainment resort, but you’ll immediately reap benefits with shopping and dining discounts while at the Rio. Look for the reduced Total Rewards prices on Rio restaurant menus. Read the FAQs and fine print and shop through Total Rewards retail partners throughout the year — inactivity will cause your points to expire in six months.

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Make advance dinner reservations. Why wait in long restaurant lines with a bunch of overpowering Jem’Hadar? Advance dinner booking may work best if you’re confident you’ll be dining on a particular day and time. For example, if you’re already planning a meetup with your fellow Ferengi for a 7 p.m. Friday night dinner at the All-American Bar & Grille, know you can make that reservation online and not wait for a table. (Not available at all Rio eateries.)

Enjoy the resort and the city. Gamble, shop, eat, drink, go to shows — do all that Vegas-type stuff. Get to know what’s playing and who’s performing, whether it’s part of the convention or not. Relax at the pool. Check out the VooDoo Lounge. Pamper yourself with a spa treatment. Explore one of the new casinos. Smart con-goers pad their stay with a day or two before or after the convention for this purpose. (Also see “10 reasons to stay at the Rio.”)

Ask for a map. Especially if you’re new to the Rio, a small map or smartphone image helps immensely. There’s nothing more humbling (or embarrassing if you’re not alone) than walking for half an hour down the wrong hallway… of the wrong floor… of the Ipanema Tower. Only you suddenly realize your room is in the Masquerade Tower! You could ask for one at check-in or find some handy maps and property info on Caesars’ properties website.

At the Convention:

Pack some snacks. Speaking of long walks, it’s a fair jaunt out from the room towers to the convention wing. Now I (almost) understand why so many ‘non-disabled’ people use those mobility scooters!  At my first two conventions, I found it helpful to pack some granola or protein bars to nibble on between panel sessions. Hopefully, again this year a deli-type food concession will be set up adjacent to the registration rotunda for light breakfast and lunch. You may want to bring along a plastic water bottle to fill up at one of the many water stations.

On a related note: Wear comfortable shoes. Standing, walking, waiting: you’ll need them. Even if you need special footwear to complete a costume or to comply with strict Starfleet (or Guinness World Record) uniform regulations, you’ll eventually want to slip into a pair of flip-flops or sneakers.

Don’t forget batteries and chargers — for the laptops, tablets, cameras, phones, phasers, tricorders or portable transporter devices. I like my Mophie Juice Pack for iPhone – it gives me almost an extra day of usage, while on my cell service network. The alternative is paying $13.95 per day wireless internet access in the room or $22.95 per day for access throughout the resort. Of course for some, like those who require WiFi, those extra fees may not seem like a such a bad deal.

Take your time in the dealers room. You may want to plan your tour around the dealers room. For example, you might compare the dealers room to the galaxy: Divide it into quadrants and get ready to explore… or assimilate. Back in 2011, I had the temptation to run around and see every vendor and celebrity in the first hour of the first day. Now I take my time: talking to the vendors, enjoying the parade of fans, chatting with the celebrities, shopping for souvenirs and collectibles — posters, shirts, jewelry, accessories and props.

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Take advantage of phone apps, websites and social media. Regularly check Twitter using the hashtag #STLV. This is a great way to stay in the loop with all the impromptu meetups, breaking convention announcements or last-minute schedule changes. Keep track your convention activities with Bloodhound, a smartphone app developed for business conferences. With Bloodhound, you can customize your own schedule of events, view maps, connect with other attendees, and link to Twitter and Facebook.

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Help set a new Guinness World Record for most Star Trek costumes in location. After my blog post on Trekmovie.com about the record attempt, I found a webpage outlining the costume regulations. It’s from a Texas Lottery promotion’s attempt from earlier this year. Please set your alerts and alarms to be there. Hopefully the powers that schedule events this year won’t put competing sessions during the half hour or so it takes to complete the World Record attempt.

Finally, and probably the most unnecessary tip: Have fun! I say “unnecessary” because at my first two conventions, I was so amazed and impressed! There’s no dispute — Star Trek fans are the best! They’re the most friendly, patient, courteous, helpful, fun-loving, tolerant convention attendees! Where else can you find several thousand people with different backgrounds, ages, nationalities (or from different planets?) with one common bond? If the Star Trek community is like a big family, the convention is a big family… on vacation!

Please add to this list: What convention tips can you suggest?

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Note: Please check out Trekmovie.com for “all things Star Trek,” including news, information and opinions about Star Trek TV shows, movies, events, science & technology, and celebrities. This article is cross-posted there.

Gift ideas for the geek in your life: Geek Nation Tours

Griffith Observatory is one of the stops along the "Exploring Trek Sites" tour (photo courtesy of Teras Cassicy)

Soon after “The Hobbit” movie hits theaters Dec. 14th, film-induced tourists again will be converging on New Zealand, as so many did following the “Lord of the Rings” trilogy. All types of media, whether books, music or film, have always had a influential grip on travelers’ destination choices. Also notable is another type of film tourism which cropped up recently: “on location vacations,” in which travelers can subscribe to a list of current filming locations so they visit places in hopes of catching a glimpse of their favorite celebrity or be lucky enough for a chance to sign on as an extra.

These and other genres of specialized pop-culture tourism over the past decade or two has gained great popularity, especially as filming locations become more exotic and surreal. Niche tourism has taken a new angle recently with the popularity of media or fan conventions and events relating to comic books, video games, sci-fi, fantasy and horror, anime, movies and TV shows – many fall within the realm of “geekdom.”

At the 2011 Star Trek convention, I first encountered Geek Nation Tours in the vendor (dealer) room. Immediately this innovative travel business piqued my interest. Geek Nation Tours is a tour operator of – just like it says – planned trips and vacations appropriately pointed to geekery, which includes themed vacations about science fiction, films, fantasy, war games, battlefield miniature collections, to name a few. There’s also a tour for Lego lovers. Geek Nation Tours also includes historical “geekness,” and added to its list of tour offerings are vacations surrounding historical battlefield events like Gettysburg and Waterloo.

Last summer at the 2012 Star Trek convention I had the chance to talk briefly with Geek Nation Tours owner Teras Cassidy, who is planning a couple of tours for 2013 with a definite appeal to geeks within the blogosphere of AZGetawayTravel.com.

One tour includes events of a war gaming convention called Duel Con, at the Mesa Hilton. On “Geeking Out at the Duel Con” tour, participants can enrich their convention experience with activities they may not have considered on their own, such as a tour of the Battlefoam facility in Gilbert, Zombie target practice at local shooting range, (no, not real Zombies, of course) and a Jeep trip along the Apache Trail. The tour includes accommodations, exclusive Duel Con Welcome Dinner, Duel Con VIP weekend passes, Apache Trail and Desert Jeep tour and swag, according to its website. This happens at the end of September 2013. (Hint: it still might be a great Christmas gift idea for the geek in your life.)

Another tour of interest to Arizona Getaway Travelers (okay, mainly me) is the Star Trek tour, “Exploring Trek Sites: Hollywood to Vegas with Larry Nemecek.” The August 2013 trip starts in Los Angeles with a welcome dinner at Cirroc Lofton’s restaurant. (Cirroc played Jake Sisko on “Deep Space Nine.”) The following days of the tour are filled with filming location visits and meeting Star Trek actors from select Star Trek television episodes and some of the full-length movies. The real treat is that participants will have Nemecek (“Dr. Star Trek”) accompanying them. Nemecek is well-known in Trek fan circles as being one of the foremost authorities about all things Star Trek and has written books and produced documentaries on the subject. After tour-goers visit several filming locations in California, the group will travel to Las Vegas for the Star Trek Convention.

Cassidy said Geek Nation Tours, which he founded in 2008, “is really a child of the recession.” He decided to fine tune his travel agency business and run tours to locations in which he was interested — “geeky places, places that cater to specific interests like comics, sci-fi and toy soldiers. I have been a geek my whole life; I own a travel agency… and the business originated from there.”

Not all who come along on these tours are geeks. Cassidy has coined what’s called the “Parallel Universes” department, where some separate activity arrangements are made for non-geek spouses or family members. They can enjoy portions of the tour with a wider interest, then take time for such activities as shopping, spa trips, sports and visits to other nearby tourist attractions.

“We even have a property in Huatulco, Mexico… that you can get your geek on, and visit tropical beaches as well,” said Cassidy.

Geeks with some booking savvy could probably put a similar tour together on their own, but it’s doubtful it would have the same amount of detail Geek Nation Tours puts into their tours. Plus, Cassidy arranges all the “guest speakers and geeky celebrities” for the tour. All the participant has to do is “just sit back and enjoy the ride.”

His business attracts geeks from around the world of all ages, but most range from 28 to 35. Many of his clients are those who have been dreaming about a such a specialized vacation, and now that Cassidy as made these available – they have the chance.

“Mostly we find that our tours attract socially savvy, financially secure people that have a deep passion for what they love and want to share it with others,” Cassidy explained. “We provide tours to destinations that allow them to get the social, intellectual and ‘geek itch’ scratched at the same time.”

Geek Nation Tours appears to be doing quite well. Cassidy says his customers are happy with the service. “Honestly we have not had a customer complaint yet. That is five years of doing tours and five years of satisfied participants. This is something we are very, very happy about, indeed.”

Find AzGetawayTravel.com on Twitter and Facebook.

Note: for more photos of past Geek Nation Tours vacations, visit the Facebook page

Geek Nation Tours owner Teras Cassidy and TrekMovie.com science writer Kayla Iacovino at 2012 Star Trek Las Vegas Convention

Star Trek actor Bobby Clark describes his role (photo courtesy of Teras Cassidy)

Gettysburg tour attracts the U.S. history lovers (photo courtesy of Teras Cassidy)

Grauman's Chinese Theater in Hollywood, part of the Trek Sites tour (photo courtesy of Teras Cassidy)

10 Reasons to stay at Rio Las Vegas

Rio All-Suite Hotel and Casino in Las Vegas

A long weekend at the Rio All-Suites Hotel and Casino in Las Vegas recently made me realize there’s a lot to like about this resort. I’m not saying the Rio can compare with the flashy newer resort casinos, but it wasn’t hard to come up with 10 reasons the Rio should be near the top of any budget-minded Vegas vacationer’s lodging list.

10. Shopping

Exploring the the Masquerade Village shops, we found many deep discounts on a variety of goods, such as Las Vegas souvenirs, travel incidentals, sundries, apparel and food.

9. Rooms

Because Rio is an all-suite hotel, rooms are more spacious than other Vegas hotels. Most rooms have sofa-beds, refrigerators, larger floor space and expanded bathroom vanity areas.

8. Value

Being a short distance off the strip means lower room rates.  Rio is one of several Caesar’s Resorts with no added resort fees, which makes staying here more practical for travelers on a budget. Rates range from $69 for a basic king or 2-queen suite to about $300 for a large 1100-square foot suite. Seek out discounts on deal websites like smartervegas.com or visitlasvegas.com.

7. Discounts

While we’re on the subject of value: If you enlist in the Total Reward’s program, you then have the opportunity for greater discounts at shops, restaurants, bars and shows. Every dollar you spend at the resort or casino earns you credits to advance to higher benefit tier levels. Ask for additional information about deals, discounts or passes at check in. Also, compare drink prices — since they vary bar to bar. Or simply sit for a spell at the slots and sip your sauvignon — gratis.

6. Dining

Rio has a wide variety of dining options that includes a basic Burger King Whopper Bar in the Masquerade Village, to an upscale Martorano’s with Italian fare. We found good value at the Sao Paulo Café for breakfast, Sports Deli for sub sandwiches at lunchtime and All-American Bar & Grille for dinner. Meal portions are large so most diners could split an entree and still feel well-fed.

Rio Resort and Casino is dog-friendly

5. Dog Friendly

I’m not quite sure why anyone would want to bring their dog to a Vegas resort/casino, but there are certainly are people who do, and the Rio accommodates them with its PetStay program.

Pool area at the Rio

4. Spa , salon and fitness center

While your spouse is busy at the blackjack tables, you can enjoy a massage, spa pedicure or salon facial. At the fitness center, pay a daily fee of $22 or $55 for three days, so you won’t have to interrupt your workout schedule. The spa is conveniently located adjacent to the pool area.

3. Nightlife

Dance into the wee hours at either the Crown Theater Nightclub or the Voodoo Lounge. The latter is 50 and 51 stories up, on top of the Masquerade tower. As you would expect, the views are spectacular. But be prepared to shell out a good chunk of precious winnings for drinks and dinner.

Upside-down Carnival parade "float" from Show in the Sky

2. Entertainment

Rio regularly features Penn & Teller, a magic act with a little bit of everything including “knives, guns, fire, a gorilla and a show girl,” according to the website. Bachelorette-partying girls and their future mothers-in-law won’t want to miss the Chippendale dancers’ show. Add these to special performances by singers, comedians, dance troupes and celebrity imitators and you’ll get a wide variety of entertainment offerings. But we think the best entertainment is the free “Show in the Sky” which is performed hourly Thursday through Saturday evenings at Masquerade Village.

Star Trek Las Vegas convention attendees pose for photos

1. Host to the Star Trek Convention

This, in my opinion, is the best reason to stay at the Rio. This was the second year Creation Entertainment has presented its Star Trek Las Vegas event at the Rio. I like the convention at the Rio Las Vegas for several reasons: Convention corridors are wide; restrooms are plentiful; eateries are abundant; meeting rooms and exhibition halls are large enough to hold record-breaking numbers of Trek fans. Staff is courteous, friendly and employees themselves get caught up in the Trek excitement — they too transform into “Trekkies” for the weekend. Plentiful small group rooms are perfect settings for celebrity photo ops and autograph sessions. Smaller stage halls are used for geeky panel discussions, Star Trek collectibles auctioning, planetary science presentations — even children’s craft sessions. Some Trek fans are still disappointed the convention moved away from its longtime home at the Hilton, but I think the Rio is a good fit. I overheard some grumblings, but they were the usual gripes about high drink prices, smoky casinos or long front-desk lines. But I’m one Star Trek convention-goer who’s happy with the Rio hosting the event. It’s hard to imagine Star Trek Las Vegas at any other resort.

Star Trek Convention may be the ultimate getaway

For the ultimate vacation, spend a few days at a Las Vegas Star Trek Convention. I’m completely serious: if the purpose of the ultimate vacation is to temporarily rid one’s mind of all everyday stress then a Las Vegas Star Trek Convention could be the ultimate vacation.

Ipanema Tower at Rio Las Vegas, view from our suite.

Recently I returned from four days at Rio Las Vegas, and for those four days, not once did I mull through the stress of world economic woes, nasty party politics, unemployment or family health problems. For four days, I was a “Trekkie” – albeit an imposter – more like a “wannabe;” I was a convention “newbie” in a Starfleet uniform.

Convention attendees pose for photos

So here I was in the Rio Las Vegas and I wasn’t here to see magicians Penn & Teller or the Chippendale dancers. I was here in “Sin City,” the “Entertainment Capital of the World,” but I wasn’t here betting at game tables, or even shopping at designer boutiques — not even wandering around with a half-yard of some flavored vodka-infused slushie drink.

Rather, I was entertained by everything Star Trek. I was overwhelmed by the intricate costumes and make-up of the attendees, many even acting their parts from five different television series and 11 movies. I was attending panel discussions, with examinations of such various topics as “Which Star Trek Captain was Best” or “The Geek Girls of Star Trek.”

Fans in costume take on their Star Trek character’s role

My eyes were opened wide on this trip. My son had made several trips to Las Vegas, with friends to the convention and I never realized what kept him wanting to return each year. Now I know. The energy here is both electric and magnetic. There are star sightings everywhere and of course, I’m not referring to those massive balls of plasma in space. Dozens of celebrities casually interact with convention-goers. Many pose for photos with the fans; other sign autographs. But it’s more. It’s the camaraderie, the friendships, that seem to transcend time, and well, space.

Team members from TrekRadio.net and TrekMovie.com

The Rio Las Vegas is an excellent property for this convention and accommodates the attendees very well with ample room for the large sessions, smaller venues for the panel discussions and many meeting rooms for the photo ops and autographs. Lots of eateries meet the needs of all types of wallet sizes and a variety of menus meet the desires for different cuisines. The casino even featured some Star Trek-themed slot machines.

One highlight for me was the merchant’s room – a large exhibition hall that holds all the memorabilia vendors displaying a wide selection of posters, stickers, shirts, hats, jewelry, you name it! Dealers sell everything from those furry little Tribbles to ocean cruises with Star Trek celebrities. I was fortunate to hear three Star Trek Captains speak at one presentation as William Shatner, Sir Patrick Stewart and Kate Mulgrew took the stage in the main ballroom. But perhaps the part that I’ll never forget was watching Leonard Nimoy bid farewell to his fans, indicating this year would be his final set of Star Trek appearances.

The Tribbles booth in the merchant room is an especially popular stop for the younger fans

After the presentations, panels and appearances during the day, the nights come alive with parties throughout the Rio. Some require VIP tickets, or cover charges; but others have minimal fees or no charge. The party we attended at Rio’s McFadden’s Irish Pub boasted a drink menu that would have made Deep Space Nine bartender Quark proud. Servers rotated around the pub with Warp Core Breach drinks – an explosive concoction of various liquors and fruit punch; and James Tea Kirks – a kind of Long Island iced tea with Blue Curacao. One party featured Star Trek trivia for those with excellent memories – these were very entertaining to watch even if the answers were far beyond the reach of convention newbies like me.

Friends Kayla and Susan enjoy their “James Tea Kirks” at McFadden’s Pub

In fact, it doesn’t matter if you’re unable to memorize lines from The Original Series (TOS), The Next Generation (TNG), Deep Space Nine (DS9) or other television series. It makes no difference if you can’t distinguish the costumes, culture and language of a Klingon from a Romulan or a Cardassian. (No, not Kardashian!) What is important is the entertainment value this convention can produce. There were activities for children; a kid’s craft workshop was on the agenda for Saturday morning. Trekkies are all ages; they come from all walks of life, from all parts of the globe… maybe even the galaxy? All are brought together for a common passion for Star Trek. Anyone who comes to a Star Trek Convention and isn’t thoroughly entertained and relieved of all stress and worry – the definition of an ultimate vacation — is probably from another planet… or maybe an assimilated cybernetic organism (“Borg”).