The Star Trek Experience

I wish I couldn’t write this article, because it gives away a great secret, and reading about that secret ruins it. Sadly, because the experience has been taken away, dismantled, and the chance to experience its magic has been lost, I can indeed write the article which you are already reading.

In Las Vegas, at what used to be the Hilton (no longer) there was once The Star Trek Experience. There was Quark’s Bar, an assortment of costumed staff wandering around (including a Klingon who became pleased if you said “Qapla’!”) and two separate “experiences” where live actors guided you and a small group of other guests through sets filled with other actors.

My wife and I were lucky enough to visit in 2004 while on holiday. We tackled the older of the two experiences first, the one based around Star Trek: The Next Generation. It started out in an unassuming way, where a staffer showed us to a room, we started to watch a safety video, and then the lights went out.

When the lights came back up, just a few seconds later, we were in a different room. Of course, we hadn’t moved — some trick walls had somehow been switched in — but it was silent, effective, and totally unexpected. The door opened, and we had been “transported” to the Enterprise, background hum and all.

I’ve never experienced a better illusion, and the magic of that moment carried through the rest of our tour. An officer led us to the flight deck and beyond, while he and other actors battled a Borg incursion and tried to return us home. The invisible phaser shots did poke a small hole in the facade, but still, they got us to the “shuttlecraft” safely, whereupon we flew violently back to Earth and crash-landed, conveniently, in the Las Vegas Hilton. A “cleaner” let us back into the hotel.

It was perfect. The unexpected “transportation” at the start is something I’ll never forget, and the mild cheesiness after that was forgiven at once. It’s as close as I’ll ever come to being on the Star Trek set, and utter fun. For a more thorough re-telling of that experience, read Wil Wheaton’s take.

After the Next Gen experience, there was a more modern Voyager experience too, featuring a fairly straightforward “4D” video show. It was OK, but not an interactive event with actors on sets like the first. That’s something I’ll never get to do again, except perhaps in VR in a few years time, or on some future holodeck program whose authors have decided to get all meta.

Computer, end program.