The Next Generation in Star Trek Theme Park Rides

Star Trek: The Experience at the Las Vegas Hilton

U.S.S. Enterprise Star Trek
Wikimedia Commons

Note: Star Trek: The Experience closed in September 2008. You can read about the defunct attraction in the following review.

One of the world’s most detailed and engaging theme park attractions wasn’t in a theme park. Star Trek: The Experience at the Las Vegas Hilton transported guests into the 24th century for a one-of-a-kind interactive adventure.

Star Trek meets Las Vegas? You bet! As if the famous gaming capital wasn't otherworldly enough, the ambitious Experience blasted guests to a future alterna-universe that was utterly convincing. You would have sworn that you were beamed into a real-life Trek episode.

From start to finish, the level of commitment to the storytelling was truly astonishing. More than a motion simulator ride, The Experience was a 25-minute immersion into the Trek oeuvre, complete with live actors, multiple sets, shuttle bays, and Klingons. It was holodeck nirvana.

  • Thrill Scale (0=Wimpy!, 10=Yikes!): 4
  • Type: Motion-base simulator with highly immersive pre-show.
  • Height restriction (minimum, in inches): 42
  • Location: Las Vegas Hilton, just off the Strip.

The fun began in the Hilton’s North Tower. (By the way, the Las Vegas Hilton is now known as the Westgate Las Vegas Resort & Casino.) At one end of the Space Quest casino (which, with its laser beams, giant video screens, and touch-sensitive slot machines was an attraction in itself), guests entered the History of the Future museum to the fanfare of various Star Trek theme songs.

A large scale model of the starship Enterprise hung from the ceiling. Props, costumes, video snippets, and other Trek drek from the television shows and movies filled the museum, which doubled as the queue for the attraction. With the displays, there was little risk of line boredom.

Star Trek- The Experience Las Vegas model ship
Marcin Wichary- Flickr

Yes, Participants Were Beamed Up

When it was time for crews to report for their missions, a uniformed guide escorted them to a holding area. The guide offered some standard simulator ride warnings and directed guests to watch monitors for more of the usual pre-boarding announcements.

Suddenly the monitors went blank, rays of light enveloped the guests, an unmistakable Trek transporter room sound filled the air, and the room became dark for a moment. When the lights came up, the room was transformed and visitors had been beamed aboard the USS Enterprise, circa the 24th century and Star Trek: The Next Generation.

It was a startling illusion, and the 21st-century guide helped maintain the fantasy by playing along. A breathless Enterprise officer greeted the group and explained that a gang of rogue villains sent Captain Picard back in time in exchange for the Vegas stowaways. The guests’ mission: Get back to the nickel slots where they belonged so that Captain Picard could return and say “Engage!” in his inimitable way. The officer whisked the group off to the bridge.

The actors and sets made the attraction. They had a commanding presence, conveyed a lot of enthusiasm, and never broke character. Looking nifty in their Starfleet uniforms, some of them were busy on the bridge punching buttons and raising shields to avert enemy fire. For the approximately two-dozen guests that shared each Experience, eight performers interacted with them throughout the course of the attraction. That’s a high ratio and helped convey the realism of the attraction.

Where’s the Whoosh?

With its blinking lights, banks of screens, and other familiar touchstones, the bridge was a faithful reproduction. From the bridge, one of the officers led the group to a turbolift—Trek talk for an elevator—for a ride to the shuttle bays level. One quibble: When the doors to the bridge and the turbolift opened and closed, they didn’t make that Trekian “whoosh” sound.

With the ship taking missile hits and frantic communications from the bridge broadcast in the turbolift, the ride to the shuttle bays was fraught with peril. Leaving the turbolift, the officer led the group through one of the Enterprise’s corridors.

The Enterprise officer gave shuttlecraft boarding and safety belt instructions and closed the hatch to send the crew back on its journey to the 21st century. Since motion simulators are ideally suited to mimic space travel, it was a great way to experience warp speed. The Star Trek simulator cabins had windows in front, above, and along their sides and used a domed screen to project an encompassing image. The simulator experience culminated with a precarious ride down the Las Vegas Strip and a big bang above the Hilton.

Las Vegas skyline at night

The ride ended with the obligatory shuffle through the gift shop. Pointy ears anyone? With all that excitement, guests surely worked up quite an appetite, so Quark's Bar and Grill offered items like Glop on a Stick and Klingon Kabob. The restaurant was crawling with Trekkies when it showed the latest Star Trek episode on its large-screen televisions.

The Borg Invaded Las Vegas

Next door to Star Trek: The Experience at the Las Vegas Hilton was a second attraction, The Borg Invasion 4-D. It was based on the Star Trek: Voyager television series. Instead of a motion simulator ride, The Borg Invasion was a 3-D movie with sensory effects (making it a “4-D” attraction). It closed when the Star Trek: The Experience closed at the Hilton.

Like Star Trek: The Experience, The Borg Invasion 4-D was not a standard theme park attraction, however. It also incorporated many live actors and engaged guests with a compelling, highly interactive pre-show.

If you are interested in learning more about the Star Trek attractions at the Las Vegas Hilton, check out the wonderful 27-minute documentary, “The Final Frontier Of Star Trek: The Experience.” Created by Expedition Theme Park and available on YouTube, it includes footage from the actual attraction and also divulges how some of the effects were created (including the transporter room scene).

Other Star Trek Theme Park Attractions

For a short time, Universal Studios Florida offered The Star Trek Adventure. For an additional fee above the cost of admission to the park, it allowed guests to get in costume and act as Trek characters. Using green-screen technology, the guests were inserted into a brief scene based on the original Star Trek television show. Guests were given a VHS copy of their performance to take home. Interestingly, there are strong rumors that Universal Orlando is considering bringing the Star Trek franchise back as part of its planned fourth theme park.

From 2004 to 2007, the roller coaster currently known as Nighthawk at Carowinds in Charlotte, North Carolina was known as BORG Assimilator and incorporated a Star Trek theme. When Cedar Fair bought the Paramount Parks, it dropped all licensed Paramount names and themes, including Star Trek.

Visitors can still ride a themed coaster, Star Trek: Operation Enterprise, at Movie Park Germany in Bottrop. The launched coaster opened in 2017 and is based on Star Trek: The Next Generation.