“Star Trek: The Experience” (1998-2008) at the Las Vegas Hilton; “Surely, the best of times…”

The Hilton hotel off the Las Vegas strip, which was the home of Star Trek: The Experience from 1998-2008. My wife and I visited it twice; once in 2001 and a second time when we stayed at the Hilton in 2003.

Star Trek: The Experience opened in January of 1998, during Star Trek’s 1990s heyday. Early 1998 was a time of Trek plenty… there were two Star Trek TV series (“Voyager” and “Deep Space Nine”), a forthcoming movie (“Insurrection”) and tons of merchandise, including the now semi-legendary toy line from licensee Playmates. I really wanted to go to the Experience in those days, but somehow never quite got around to it. For context, I live in southern California, so Las Vegas is only about 4 hours away at maximum warp…

The USS Enterprise 1701 greets visitors at the entrance to the Star Trek Experience. This is one of my old pics taken with my old 35mm camera in 2001. I enhanced the faded color and contrast when I scanned it.

So, it was in 2001 and later in 2003 that my wife and I experienced ‘The Experience.’

2001 was a different era. I didn’t have a digital camera, so my pics from that visit are from an old 35mm Vivitar point-and-shoot. We went to Las Vegas again in 2003, this time staying at the Hilton. It was during this second visit that we got to enjoy the Experience at will, since it was (literally) an elevator ride down from our room.

Walking from the Hilton’s casino into the Star Trek Experience…you literally felt as though you were walking from the present into Star Trek’s future.

The Experience was, for its day, as close to a fully immersive Star Trek environment as I’ve ever seen/felt in my lifetime. It was a much scaled-down, indoors version of what I imagine Disneyland’s forthcoming “Galaxy’s Edge” Star Wars attraction will be like when it opens later this month. Basically, visitors got to live Star Trek for as long as they wanted. It was the 24th century today.

From the upper level, looking down at the “promenade”, with Quark’s bar & grill…

Walking in through a multi-story entrance graced with a giant suspended model of the refit USS Enterprise (“Star Trek: The Motion Picture”), you were immediately met with multiple options; you could walk the Deep Space Nine-styled “Promenade,” eat at Quark’s bar & restaurant, visit the museum (with many screen-used Star Trek props/costumes), or take a simulated shuttlecraft ride at “The Klingon Encounter” (think Disneyland’s “Star Tours” but Trek-ified).

A Klingon, a Borg and a Ferengi walk into a bar…

The food at Quark’s was absolutely delicious, and you were met at your table by random Klingon, Ferengi and Romulan cosplayers who were fully in character the entire time. I also remember some of the drink names on the menu, such as the “Warp Core Breach”; a large foaming glass vat of fruity booze that, while I didn’t try one personally, looked absolutely amazing.

The friendly Ferengi barkeep who came to our table to talk with my wife and I during our dinner at Quark’s.
Sadly, my scanned pic of this Klingon warrior did NOT age well…this is yet another reason why I now leave my iPhone’s flash permanently off.

Of course, being a Star Trek geek down to my bones (“Bones!”), I really geeked out seeing the museum… full of screen-used props, costumes, and other paraphernalia from Star Trek’s long history (nearly 40 years at that time).

From left to right; 3-D chessboard, Nomad (TOS’ “The Changeling”), Kirk’s 2nd season wraparound tunic, the beret of Edith Keeler (Joan Collins) from “City on the Edge of Forever”, Miramanee’s headband from “The Paradise Syndrome”, Uhura’s TOS uniform, and the costume of the Vulcan ambassador from the movie “Star Trek: First Contact” (1996).
Closeup of the faded green of Kirk’s wraparound tunic from the 2nd season. We also see a TOS tricorder prop as well…
3-D chessboard, the mutated “Nomad” probe (TOS’ “The Changeling”) and wall communicators from TOS’ USS Enterprise.
The uniforms of Capt. Jean-Luc Picard (Patrick Stewart) and Captain Kirk (William Shatner) from “Star Trek: Generations” (1994). In the lower left, you can also see a bit of the Picard family album.
The “Deep Space Nine” uniform of Lt. Commander Worf (Michael Dorn), as well as miniatures of the DS9 Runabout, the USS Defiant and Sisko’s desktop model of The USS Horizon.

There was Kirk’s wraparound tunic from the original series’ second season (I was surprised at how faded the once-vibrant green fabric had become), as well as the mutated “Nomad” space probe, and even a desk model of the starship USS Horizon, an older-class of 22nd century starship which we as a decoration in Benjamin Sisko’s office on “Deep Space Nine.”

Closeup of the screen-used model of the USS Horizon, from “Deep Space Nine.”

The simulated shuttlecraft ride (aka “The Klingon Encounter”) was a real kick. Waiting in line to board the simulator, you’d scale a gradually elevating walkway lined with various exhibit pieces which detailed the ‘history of the future.’ All the while, beautifully edited Star Trek footage from the movies & TV series played on large overhead monitors.

Welcome to your shuttlecraft…a bit more roomy than the one seen in “Star Trek: The Next Generation.”

As you made your way to the upper boarding level, you also got a much better view of the large starship Voyager, Enterprise-D and Klingon Bird-of-Prey models which hung suspended from a starry ceiling beneath the main dome of the rotunda. These ‘miniatures’ were huge…in the neighborhood of 20 ft. long (approximately 6 meters).

The starship Voyager, the starship USS Enterprise-D and a Klingon Bird-of-Prey hung suspended from the starry dome of the Star Trek Experience’s ceiling over the main rotunda.

Once you boarded the shuttle (with far more seats than its TV counterpart) you strapped yourself in for a simulated ride from the Las Vegas strip right up into outer space. Once in ‘space,’ your shuttle got rocked and buffeted by enemy Klingon fire in the starry skies above Las Vegas, with Commander Will Riker (Jonathan Frakes) and the USS Enterprise coming to the rescue!

A very close approximation of the USS Enterprise-D bridge, save for a few anachronistic emergency exit signs…

Before ‘returning to Earth’, you got to visit the USS Enterprise-D bridge (many Trek-themed weddings took place there), which was a near photo-perfect recreation of the set from “Star Trek: The Next Generation” (1987-1994), save for a few anachronistic 21st century “Exit” signs.

My wife encounters a few tribbles at a Deep Space Nine-style replimat…

The gift shop was off the Promenade, across from Quark’s restaurant, near a simulated “replimat’ station that looked exactly like the replimats found on the Deep Space Nine space station. They were also covered with random, scattered “tribbles” (from the classic Trek episode, “The Trouble With Tribbles” and its “Deep Space Nine” sequel “Trials and Tribble-ations”). While my wife loved the tribbles, my nerdy self was struck by the attention to detail. There was alien signage (in native Bajoran, for example), as well as many little Star Trek in-jokes scattered here and there. Almost everywhere you looked within the confines of The Experience you only saw 24th century Star Trek… it was nerdvana.

While we never got to see the “Borg 4-D” attraction which came in 2004, we did see a few animatronic Borg at the Experience, as well as Klingon costumes (including Jadzia Dax’s Klingon wedding dress).
My own pic of the Borg, whose heads would slowly move as the lighting slowly changed colors…

We never got to enjoy the Borg 4-D ride, which was installed in 2004, about a year after our last visit. “Star Trek: Voyager” star Robert Picardo (the ship’s Emergency Medical Hologram doctor) recorded a video for the attraction, and I would’ve loved to have seen it, but sadly the Experience ultimately folded in 2008, a mere decade after it opened.

A shot of the USS Enterprise taken during my 2003 visit, with my then-2 megapixel digital camera, which was nowhere near the quality of my chintzy iPhone camera today.

The Star Trek Experience at the Hilton was somewhat expensive… Las Vegas always is, to be fair. However, for a longtime Trekkie like myself, it was Trek mecca. While my wife and I did see the other sights along the Vegas strip during our visits (the Bellagio, the Venetian, Madame Tussaud’s wax museum, etc), I did manage to spend a lot of quality time immersing myself in all-things Trek for a couple of days, and I loved every minute of it.

These days, the closest one can come to recapturing the Star Trek Experience is the annual Star Trek convention at the Rio hotel, which is the largest annual Star Trek convention in the United States. While I enjoy that particular convention very much, it lacks the fully immersive quality that the Experience had. To its credit, the Rio certainly decorates for its annual Star Trek convention, but it’s only superficial; you never once forget that you are in a hotel in Las Vegas. From 1998-2008, the Vegas Hilton had a whole section of itself transformed into a 24th century Star Trek reality. The Star Trek Experience was truly a labor of love.

In 2007, there were rumors that the Experience was closing shop, as the cancellation of the TV series “Enterprise” (2001-2005) and the low box office of 2002’s “Star Trek: Nemesis” seemed to signify a dip in Star Trek’s overall popularity. There was talk of a possible reprieve for the Experience at Las Vegas’ Neonopolis Mall, where it was hoped it’d reopen in time for the 2009 release of J.J. Abrams’ “Star Trek” movie. Sadly, interest in finding a new home for the Experience foundered, and the license for the exhibit was allowed to expire. JJ Abrams’ “Star Trek” movie premiered to great critical and commercial success, but the Star Trek Experience was no longer there to commemorate it.

Aboard the Enterprise bridge, visitors got a call from Commander Riker (Jonathan Frakes).

11 years after the Experience closed and a good 16 years since I last saw it, I still miss it very much whenever I’m in Vegas. The only tangible reminders of that I still have of it are my photos (which I digitally scanned for this piece) as well as a DVD I bought of “I, Mudd” & “The Trouble With Tribbles” in the gift shop (this was back when Star Trek episodes were being released only two episodes per single DVD). Of course, there are also my memories of the Experience, which I’m hoping to preserve with this ‘log entry’.

To quote Spock (the late Leonard Nimoy) from 1982’s Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan”, the Star Trek Experience at Las Vegas’ Hilton was “Surely, the best of times.”

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6 Comments Add yours

  1. The Hinoeuma says:

    I was lucky enough to go thru the experience in November 2000. It was breathtaking and they had it designed to feel like civilians had wandered aboard the real ship. The ST:NG uniforms were clearly Hollywood quality & the actors were spot on.

    I remember eating in Quarks Bar and shopping in a souvenir store. I did NOT have a camera. 😡

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Paul Bowler says:

    Wow, this looks brilliant. I remember reading out the Experience when it started. Looks like you had a brilliant time, must have been so awesome to see all the space ship models and costumes!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. It was so much fun. I still miss seeing it whenever I’m in Las Vegas…

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Paul Bowler says:

        I bet, must’ve have been so brilliant! 🙂

        Liked by 1 person

  3. Nancy says:

    I would have loved this. I wonder what they did with all the props and memorabilia?

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I think some of the props wound up at auctions. Many of them I’ve seen show up at the Vegas Star Trek convention at the Rio.

      As for those items made specifically for the Experience, I wish I knew. Good question!

      Liked by 1 person

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