Experience Lost

My post last week about travelling to Las Vegas got me thinking about past trips to the city and one particular attraction that, lamentably, is no longer there.  For a little over 10 years (January 1998-September 2008), the Las Vegas Hilton was home to Star Trek: The Experience, an attraction that housed exhibits, dining, shopping, and two…I hesitate to call them rides.  Let’s use their terminology, and just call them experiences.

For a Star Trek fan like myself, going to The Experience was the closest I will ever get to making a pilgrimage.  From the moment I first heard about it, I wanted to get there.  Seeing the real show sets in Hollywood wasn’t exactly realistic, and the only other Star Trek-themed attraction I’d ever been to was the very brief and incredibly embarrassing Star Trek: The Next Generation section of the Paramount on Ice show at the Kings Dominion amusement park in Virginia.

I spent the first eight years of the Experience’s existence only hearing about it from others.  Even my parents, who are decidedly not Trekkies, got to it before I did.  I appreciated that they checked it out for me, but I WANTED TO SEE IT MYSELF!

Finally in 2006 I got my opportunity.  My then wife and I were invited out to Vegas to attend a wedding.  Obviously I had to make time for the Experience, but there was one minor detail to attend to: my wife.  While she would have gone, she was not a Trek fan and would not have wanted to linger there like I did.  Fortunately, the Las Vegas Hilton had at that time another attraction that was more of interest to her: Barry Manilow.  I had about as much interest in sitting through a Barry Manilow concert as she did in hanging around a Star Trek attraction, so I bought her a ticket to see Mr. Manilow. 

After we arrived in Vegas and made it to our hotel, Paris, which I highly recommend to anyone visiting the city, we took the monorail up to the Hilton.  First on the agenda was dinner.  I did convince my wife to eat at Quark’s Bar and Restaurant.  I didn’t want to eat on the restaurant side, which was decorated in a semi-generic sci-fi style, so we ate at the bar.  The bar side was a decent, if small, recreation of Quark’s on Star Trek: Deep Space Nine, and at one point during the meal a Ferengi approached me and attempted to buy my wife.  So it was a guy in makeup.  I was at Quark’s and bantering with a Ferengi!

With the meal over, my wife headed off to the hotel theater for her concert while I headed to the main event.  Star Trek: The Experience had two main attractions: Klingon Encounter and Borg Invasion 4-D (The Borg attraction was added in 2004).  Both of these were accessed through what they called the History of the Future Museum.  This was a walkway lined with display cases showing the timeline of the history of Star Trek universe along with several props and costumes from the various shows and movies.  Then at the end of the walkway, you chose which attraction you wanted to see.

I’m not going to spend much time on Borg Invasion 4-D.  I enjoyed it for what it was,  a mix of live actors and sets leading to a 3-D movie, which was made “4-D” by smoke effects and your seat, which had some interactive elements.  I was not, however, a huge fan of the Borg or Star Trek: Voyager.  This video provides a full walkthrough of the attraction, including the movie: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=N5Or83fcDbo

No, I was there for the Klingon Encounter attraction, which was set during Star Trek: The Next Generation.  The attendant for the attraction started out by leading us into a room and lining us up in front of doors for a simulator ride.  If you’ve ever been on Star Tours at Disney’s Hollywood Studios park, you know the layout.  The safety video began, but pretty soon it and the lights started to flicker.  Suddenly, the room went pitch black, there was a whoosh and a sound very familiar to fans of the TV series, and when the lights came back on, we were standing in the transporter room of the Enterprise-D.

To this day, I don’t know exactly how they pulled this off.  Obviously they moved the walls, but the floor changed as well, and WE WERE ON THE ENTERPRISE!  The transporter officer confirmed that fact, and we were led to the bridge, where other officers were waiting.  Riker and LaForge spoke to us via the viewscreen, since they were down in the ship’s shuttlebay, and briefed us on the situation.  A Klingon had pulled us through time, and, since one of us was evidently Captain Picard’s ancestor, Picard vanished from the Enterprise.  The Enterprise had managed to intercept our transporter beam, and now they had to get us home safely to restore time and Picard to the way they should be.  Info dump complete, we were then taken into a turbolift and down to a shuttle for the trip home.

This was where the actual simulator ride was.  We got into our seats, the craft started to move, and then the best thing ever happened.

The ride broke down.

This is not normally what you want to happen on a ride, particularly a roller coaster while you are upside down.  We, however, were inside a Trekkie’s dreamland, and the breakdown was considered minor.  So, while they fixed it, we were taken back to the bridge and given free run of the place.  I was able to look at all the details, sit at every station, and completely bask in the glory of where I was.  The show had been off the air for 12 years, the real sets were long gone, but I was sitting in the next best thing.

When the simulator was fixed, the actual ride was a bit anticlimactic compared to just hanging out on the bridge 20 minutes.  And I’ll be honest.  While very cool, the attraction wasn’t perfect.  Some spots needed a new coat of paint, the legally-mandated Exit signs were distracting, and the die-hard Trekkie in me bristled at the idea that we could walk from the transporter room to the bridge, entering from what should have been the doors to the observation lounge.  Still, I loved it.  And when I went back to Vegas later that same year for a conference, I made sure to head to the Hilton for another meal at Quark’s and a few more times through Klingon Encounter.   This video, while not nearly as high quality as the Borg one, gives a decent look at the attraction.  It begins with the flickering simulator safety video.  Just stick with it: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qi5DFCa8SRw

Two years later, the Experience closed.  I’m sure attendance was a factor, but mostly it seemed to be due to the inability of the hotel and Cedar Fair, the company that owned Paramount’s theme park license, to come to an agreement. 

For a while after the closing, there was talk that the Experience would reopen at a location in downtown Las Vegas, but that never came to fruition.  The Experience was dismantled and the parts sold off or thrown away.

I have been to Las Vegas a few times since, but this past year was the first time I went back to see the site.  The Las Vegas Hilton is now the Las Vegas Hotel, and they haven’t put anything new in place of the Experience.  Instead that end of the hotel is empty.  Outside of what used to be the Experience, they have a vaguely sci-fi themed bar, but when I visited, not a soul was in sight.

Depressing really doesn’t begin to cover it. 

I continue to hope that a new Star Trek attraction will open one day.  Supposedly the King of Jordan, who is a huge Trekkie and had a cameo on Voyager, is building a theme park in his country that will include Star Trek, but I have not seen confirmation.  Also, getting there might be a bit difficult for me.  There is also a group in California that is hoping open up a sci-fi museum complete with a reconstruction of the Enterprise-D bridge.  That I will definitely visit, but it won’t be The Experience.

(As a side note, here’s what Vegas could have gotten instead of the Experience if things had gone slightly differently:  http://collider.com/star-trek-enterprise-vegas/)

- Alan Decker

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