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Remembering Star Trek: The Experience

Before we walked The Galaxy's Edge, we drank Romulan Ale at a bar called Quarks

By Silek Sun 23 Feb, 2020 8:04 PM
Before the Galaxy's Edge let you wonder around Mos Eisley like a sweaty nerf herder looking to build your own light saber, Paramount Pictures and The Landmark Entertainment Group pioneered the interactive Sci-Fi experience with Star Trek: The Experience, at the Las Vegas Hilton in 1998.

Ride Exit 50
It's original inception began as the brain child of Gary Goddard, the co-founder of The Landmark Entertainment Group, in 1992. Gary intended to build a full sized replica of the Constitution Class Refit-USS Enterprise in the heart of downtown Las Vegas in an attraction to be named The Starship Enterprise.

A project of this type and on this scale had never been attempted before, especially with a licensed property such as this, and almost came to fruition after 5 years of meticulous work and planning, until a last minute rejection by Stanley Jaffe, the Vice President of Paramount Communications. Jaffe was the only Paramount executive to fail to see the brand building value in Goddard's vision.

Goddard said of the rejection, "All of our work, the effort to get Paramount, the Mayor, and redevelopment committee aligned, everything had come to this moment. We were ready to go. Money in place, land provided by the city, license for the property negotiated with Paramount licensing –all set. If Mr. Jaffe says "yes" and we are a "go" (for the) project. And the city wanted to have a press conference within a week announcing the project. So with everyone in the room, I take Mr. Jaffe through the project. With the art, the plans, the overall concept. After my spirited "pitch" everyone was beaming – everyone except Mr. Jaffe. Mr. Jaffe thanked us for the effort, and he congratulated us on creating a bold concept and presentation, and then went into a speech that went something like this:

Promenade 50
"You know, this is a major project. You're going to put a full-scale ENTERPRISE up in the heart of Las Vegas. And on one hand that sounds exciting. But on another hand, it might not be a great idea for us – for Paramount." Everyone in the room was stunned, most of all, me, because I could see where this was going. "In the movie business, when we produce a big movie and it's a flop – we take some bad press for a few weeks or a few months, but then it goes away. The next movie comes out and everyone forgets. But THIS – this is different. If this doesn't work – if this is not a success – it's there, forever..." I remember thinking to myself "oh my god, this guy does NOT get it..." And he said "I don't want to be the guy that approved this and then it's a flop and sitting out there in Vegas forever."

Promenade 50
Goddard continued, "And with that, Mr. Jaffe in a single moment, destroyed about five months of work by a host of people, and killed one of the greatest ideas of all time. Stanley waltzed out of the room and I think everyone was stunned. No one could believe it. But our dream pretty much ended there. (Paramount Pictures Studio Head) Sherry Lansing was stunned and apologized to the room and followed her boss out. The Paramount licensing team was embarrassed to say the least, and of course, they were also realizing they had just lost out on millions of dollars in future licensing revenues too. The Mayor and the redevelopment committee were just depressed I think. But they thanked me for all the efforts I put into it, and for making the meetings with Paramount possible, and then they headed back to Las Vegas."

With that, the project continued with a smaller, scaled down version, opening in 1998 inside the Las Vegas Hilton and branded, Star Trek: The Experience. Although it wasn't the grand design Goddard had envisioned, it was still the largest, most elaborate project of it's kind anywhere in the world.

Borg Cube
Once through the grand entrance, visitors found themselves in a full scale reproduction of the Deep Space 9 promenade, complete with Quark's bar and Restaurant, Garak's Clothiers, Latinum Jewelers, and a host of other DS9 themed shops and locations. Employees were all costumed appropriately with Starfleet personnel throughout the station, as well as Cardassian 'guests', Ferengi staff and shop keepers, and even Klingons mingling with the crowds. Expectations of the cast members was high with Klingons being required to speak the language fluently enough to not be stumped by more knowledgeable fans, and the Ferengi required to be able to recite the Rules of Acquisition. All of this was designed to create an environment of immersion not only to fans of the franchise, but also your typical Vegas gambler strolling from one slot machine to the next.
Borg Cube

All of this was in addition to the History of The Future museum. This permanent display hosted galleries upon galleries of props, costumes and reproductions from every title under the Star Trek franchise. As time went on, galleries were created to highlight the newer productions of Voyager, as well as the movies Star Trek: Insurrection, and Star Trek: Nemesis.

While these locales were designed to keep tourists in the Hilton, and separate them from their gambling dollars, pounds and francs, this was all centered around the Motion Simulator rides, The Klingon Encounter, and the later added, Borg Invasion 4D.
The Klingon Encounter

These attractions let guests visit several faithfully reproduced locales from Star Trek and experience an 'episode' with many of their favorite characters, as nothing else had allowed them to do before.

While honeymooning in Vegas in 2002, I was lucky enough to experience all of this, and make our way through the main attraction at the time, The Klingon Encounter. In, The Klingon Encounter, guests started out on a standard, 'boring' tour on the history of Star Trek at the Las Vegas Hilton with nothing but the expectation of a shuttle ride from one display to the next. During this seemingly ho-hum museum tour, the lights would suddenly go out leaving us in complete darkness. Within seconds, several flashes of light pierced the veil, a swoosh of cold air came up from below, and the familiar sound of a transporter in action could be heard. When the lights came up, we found ourselves on a pad in a complete recreation of the transporter room on the Enterprise-D, facing a uniformed transporter technician at their station. The Starfleet Officer explained that a situation had arisen, and asked our group to follow them to the bridge for further explanation.

Down a familiar, short starship corridor, we found ourselves on the complete, and fully accurate bridge of the Enterprise-D with several uniformed Bridge Officers frantically going from station to station in apparent crisis mode. Soon, Commander Riker appeared on the viewscreen from Engineering and explained to our group that we had been pulled through time and space by a rouge Klingon faction. The Enterprise was able to intercept us and bring us on board the ship, but at the same time Captain Picard had disappeared. It would seem that someone in our group of visitors was an ancestor of the Captain, and the Klingons meant to assassinate us all in an attempt to prevent Jean-Luc from ever being born.

History of the Future Museum
Commander Riker went on to explain that our group was to escape in a shuttle pod and enter a temporal rift that would transport us back to our own time and restore the timeline, bringing Picard back to his rightful place, in the Captain's Chair of the Enterprise-D.

Our group was the ushered into a turbolift just as the Klingons started to attack the ship. After a short harrowing time full of flashing lights and shaking from the Klingon attack, the turbolift opened up to the shuttle bay where we where led to a shuttle pod. Once inside, the motion simulator part of the attraction took over.

History of the Future Museum
Led by Geordi La Forge, our group took part in several dogfights with the Klingons, buzzed through the rings of a planet, and eventually crossed through the temporal rift, finding ourselves flying through modern day Las Vegas, and at one point, almost crashing into the Sands Hotel. Just as it was thought that all was safe, the Klingon Bird of Prey appeared through the rift as well, locking our shuttle in its tractor beam, preparing to destroy it and follow through with their plans. At the very moment all seemed lost, in a glorious fashion with theme music pumping and the carcinogenic smell of burnt fuel wafting through the air, the Enterprise-D also made it's way through the rift, destroying the Klingons and saving the timeline along with our group of visitors. In a dramatic fashion, the shuttle landed at the Las Vegas Hilton allowing the group to disembark at the same spot they started before Geordi returned back through the rift, and to the future.

I did in fact go through this and ride this attraction in 2002, and even for the time period, this was one of the most immersive attractions I've ever experienced. As I write this I can remember the detail and commitment from the live action 'Starfleet Personnel' and am still impressed at just how much work went into making this as memorable as it was.

The second attraction, Borg Invasion 4D, was added in 2004 and was a Voyager themed attraction. I didn't personally experience this, so I can't give a play by play as to the excitement of going through it, but can tell you that it revolved around guests finding themselves being attended to by the Doctor on a Scientific research station, as some members of the group might have a natural resistance to the Borg Nanovirus. As the Doctor was preparing his examinations, the station was attacked by a Borg Cube with none other than the Borg Queen herself onboard. The group was instructed to escape the station aboard a shuttle pod where they were captured by the Borg Cube, only to be saved by Admiral Janeway onboard the Starship Voyager.

History of the Future Museum
Again, not having personally experienced this attraction, I have have fewer details as to the sights and sounds, but knowing the amount of detail put into the production of Star Trek: The Experience, missing it is something I regret to this day.

Although extremely popular, and an icon of pop culture, there had come a time when the crowds died down, and the powers that be decided after 10 years on the strip, Star Trek: Experience had run it's course. On July 2nd, 2008, Cedar Fair and CBS Consumer Products announced Star Trek: The Experience would be closing on September 1st, 2008.

Plans were announced on more than one occasion to reopen the Experience, or even parts of it at a different location, but these plans never materialised with the bulk of the sets and non-production props being auctioned off on April 10th, 2010.

What did you think of this article?Did you ever visit? Let us know!

EDITED BY Infinity
Sun 23 Feb, 2020 8:54 PM
Nicely done. I saw the Voyager ride on my Vegas 2006 trip. It had you aboard an evac ship and there was feedback built into the seats. There was a bit on the ride were the shuttle was caught by a borg cube and they used the feedback to simulate a loss of atmosphere (a big, sharp gust of pressure) as that part had the hull ripped open by a tractor beam. The effect switch that made it look like you were now looking through a hole rather than a viewscreen was pretty good.

I never got to eat at Quark's, though the tour guide on the backstage tour also worked there and run through it a bit. It happened to be the 40th anniversary of the Franchise at the same point and they'd not long ago added the Enterprise stuff into the exhibit. I've still got my Spock Beanie Baby and stuffed Tribble from the gift shop!
Wed 26 Feb, 2020 2:59 PM
Great article Silek! I unfortunately did not get to experience The Experience as this all took place before I was done with grade school and I didn't hear about its existence growing up in isolated Maine Tongue Out. lol. If this were created today, I'd drive/fly to wherever now, but oh well. Glad you got to take part in it Smile.
Wed 26 Feb, 2020 3:05 PM
It really was a well done event. I wish I had been to the Borg part like Petrarch. i really do regret not going once it had opened.
Wed 26 Feb, 2020 3:07 PM
Well you probably imagined it'd be around for a lot longer than it was. I would have loved the Borg part Borg.
Thu 27 Feb, 2020 12:14 AM
I went to Vegas not long after the experience opened and I loved it. Unfortunately I never got a chance to go back before it closed so I never was able to experience the Borg update.
Thu 27 Feb, 2020 2:36 AM
I had the pleasure to ride both rides multiple times before the closing. It was one of the most remarkable experiences I've ever had. Never have I ever felt more close to the Star Trek universe. The Borg in 4D I'll never forget, especially when the Borg chase you down a corridor as you watch the other guest scream in fear.

Was extremely sad to see the Experience close. I had hoped (and still do) that it may return in some form in the future.
Thu 27 Feb, 2020 3:22 PM
I wish I was old enough back then to have gone, but I was only 7 Sad

Hope they do something similar in the future!