From January 3,1998 to September 1, 2008 Star Trek fans had a haven to call their own when the Las Vegas Hilton ran the attraction Star Trek: The Experience. Part indoor theme park, part museum; the $70-million-dollar attraction had components that all faithfully recreated the science fiction world of Captains Kirk, Picard and the shows’ other heroes and villains.
Visitors were greeted at the entranceway by an enormous hanging model of Kirk’s Enterprise from the movies. Inside the attraction’s main circular layout, which recreated the Deep Space Nine (DS9) Promenade from Star Trek: Deep Space Nine, (the Experience’s fact sheet claimed that the entire area was 65,000 square feet), other overhead models of ships from Star Trek’s many incarnations were a sight to behold. For the record, also greeting visitors were the Enterprise D from Star Trek: The Next Generation, the Voyager from Star Trek: Voyager and a Klingon Bird-of-Prey ship seen from the movies. Guests could just dine in the attraction’s center, or do some shopping off to the left and take in the sights. As they gawked at the intricate detailing of the place, actors dressed and made up as aliens from the shows such as Klingons and Ferengi interacted with visitors and stayed in character.
But most came for the main attractions. Originally, that was just the Klingon Encounter and History of the Future Museum, but BORG Invasion 4D was added in 2004 (at one point in 2005 there were plans to add another area devoted to the original 1960s series that featured Kirk and Spock but alas that never came to fruition.). Fans paid admission for both shows and experienced them as many times as they wanted. After paying, they turned a sharp right from the cashier off to the entrance’s right and walked up a long, twisting walkway that took them through the museum.
It featured an exhaustive timeline of our history and that of the shows and movies. But what was most interesting were the huge collection of genuine Star Trek props going back forty years. In fact, the people behind the attraction claimed the museum had the largest, permanent collection of props. After browsing through the winding museum, visitors stood in line and chose whichever attraction they wanted to try first.
In the Klingon Encounter, guests were somehow transported (through backstage effects) on board a flawless recreation of the Enterprise D’s interior complete with actors playing futuristic spacemen. What happened was that a visitor would line up to board a simulator ride then suddenly the lights would go out. There was a blast of air and quick strobe lights in the pitch darkness. Then the lights would go on and voila the visitor was standing on the transporter pads of the ship’s transporter room. Guests were then given a quick tour of the Enterprise’s corridors and bridge before being whisked away into a shuttle that confronted the Klingons. Of course, the shuttle was really a simulator ride that concluded the show. Basically the storyline was that the Klingons traveled back in time to modern-day Earth and tried to abduct the visitors but the Enterprise intervened and transported the people on board. The twist was that someone in the group turned out to be the ancestor of Captain Picard. Both Jonathan Frakes and Levar Burton reprised on viewscreens their roles as Riker and LaForge.
The future was also visited in BORG Invasion 4D as fans entered a futuristic space station that came under attack by the villainous cyber beings, the Borg. As in the first show, actors stayed in character and the sets were flawless recreations of Federation architecture. Like in Klingon Encounter, guests were evacuated to a shuttle but contrary to the first attraction, this one concluded with the visitors sitting in a theater and being part of a 4D interactive film. It was similar to what you would find in the Disney or Universal parks with tactile experiences enhancing the show. In this film, the Borg were trying to assimilate the audience before being stopped by the starship Voyager. Robert Picardo, Kate Mulgrew and Alice Krige reprised on viewscreens their roles as the ship’s Emergency Medical Hologram, Admiral Janeway and the Borg Queen.
In 2005, a backstage tour was added for those wanting to know more about the Experience. Lasting about an hour, small groups were given an exhaustive behind-the-scenes look at how both shows were prepared. In some respects it spoiled the illusion once aspects of the shows were revealed. Photography was strictly forbidden and you had to sign an agreement prohibiting you from divulging what you learned at the tour.
After the attractions, visitors could dine at Quark’s Bar & Restaurant which was in the attraction’s center. The restaurant was named after the fictional eatery and pub in DS9. Menu items included the hamborger, flaming ribs of targ, and final frontier desserts; alcoholic beverages also had exotic names. A popular drink was the Romulan ale, which was actually beer with blue food coloring and turned your you-know-what green when you went to the bathroom later.
One of the stores sold authentic props from the shows which of course were quite expensive but worth a look. Otherwise, the kind of souvenirs available at the Experience ranged from T-shirts, mugs, tribbles, and other knick knacks. A must for fans. And at that time in true Vegas fashion trekkers in love were able to make or renew their wedding vows at the Experience onboard the Enterprise D bridge or hold other parties and events. The Las Vegas Hilton offered overnight packages for fans that included admission tickets and meals at Quark’s. With the Experience closed, fans can still have their dream Trek wedding at assorted Vegas chapels.
Ultimately, due to declining attendance and other business reasons, the Experience closed in 2008. There were plans to open a variant of the Experience in downtown Vegas at the Neonopolis Center but that sadly never went anywhere. The props and fixtures from the attraction were sold off in auction signalling that the attraction was gone for good. Now the only way that fans can get their Trek fix in terms of visiting an attraction is through Star Trek: The Exhibition, which displays props and costumes from the shows. Currently, it’s running through this September at the Kennedy Space Center in Florida. The Center is also featuring a Trek-themed shuttle simulator ride and a stage show called Star Trek Live. One can always hope, with the raves and lines that the Harry Potter and updated Star Wars rides are getting that maybe someone in charge will take another look at a new, permanent attraction. But seriously, they should consider Orlando or Hollywood for a location. Since the attraction will be more at home in those places than in Vegas.
Article and Images by José Soto