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Benjamin Spillman

Hilton Star Trek attraction may seek out new life elsewhere

14 May 2008

LAS VEGAS, Nevada -- Operators of Star Trek: The Experience at the Las Vegas Hilton might soon be telling Sin City, "Qapla'."

That's Klingon for goodbye.

The lease on the biggest nerd magnet since the International Consumer Electronics Show expires at the end of the year, and a spokesperson for owners Cedar Fair Entertainment Co. told the Web site "there are currently no plans to renew" it.

If Cedar Fair were to beam Experience out of the Hilton, it could mark the demise of a 10-year run that has made Las Vegas the center of the universe for fans of the seminal science fiction franchise.

"It is very sad to see them go, because there is nothing else like it on the planet," said Paul Walker, "captain" of USS Las Vegas, a local Star Trek enthusiast club that meets monthly at Quark's Bar and Restaurant, which was named after a character in the television series "Star Trek: Deep Space Nine."

The Hilton is also home to The Official Star Trek Convention, an annual event that attracts thousands of fans.

It isn't officially attached to Experience but benefits from its presence.

Walker said he lived in Medford, Ore., in 1998 when Experience opened and, along with other members of a Star Trek club there, rode a bus to Las Vegas to see it in person.

Walker later moved to Nevada and worked as a cashier at Experience from 2000 to 2001.

The job not only indulged his Star Trek enthusiasm, it also introduced him to his future partner, who had worked at Experience since before it opened.

"I was living a dream at the time," said Walker, 44.

Lately, Walker said, crowds have been sparser and that some fans, called 'Trekkies,' are convinced the attraction has run its course at the Hilton.

"This comes as no surprise to me," said one poster on a Star Trek Web site. "The Experience is long in the tooth as far as modern Vegas attractions go."

Tickets to Experience cost $37.99 and buy access to two interactive rides that use film clips and sound to combine Star Trek fantasies with Las Vegas as a backdrop.

In addition, there is a Star Trek museum called History of the Future that includes more than 200 items and is billed as the largest collection of Star Trek props and costumes in the world.

Retail stores sell Star Trek T-shirts, action figures, costumes and artwork. Wedding packages from $350 to $3,000 are also available.

The Experience also hires actors who wear elaborate costumes and depict different types of Star Trek "races" such as Klingons.

Klingon warriors speak their own fictional language which has been picked up by some hard core fans and used in real-world interactions.

The last major upgrade to the attraction was in 2004, when the Experience was under different owners and the Hilton was undergoing its own ownership change from Park Place to Colony Resorts LVH Acquisitions LLC., the current owners.

Theme park company Cedar Fair got Experience in 2006 when it bought Paramount Parks, a spinoff of CBS, which still owns rights to the Star Trek television series.

Cedar Fair's other properties include Knott's Berry Farm in California and theme parks in Minnesota, Missouri, Ohio, North Carolina, Virginia, Pennsylvania and Ontario.

"Cedar Fair got a thing they really didn't know what to do with," Walker said.

If officials at the Hilton and Cedar Fair are close to striking a deal to renew the attraction's run in Las Vegas, they aren't sharing it with fans.

"At this point, again, absolutely no information is available to the public or to staff," said Chad Boutte, operations manager and marketing director for Experience.

Although no Star Trek television series are in production, another movie is scheduled for release in 2009 which could spur interest in the attraction.

"Our fans are still definitely coming to see us," Boutte said. "It has been a very exciting place."

An official at Cedar Fair's Sandusky, Ohio, headquarters said only, "The contract with the Hilton expires at the end of December."

Hilton spokesman Ira Sternberg said, "We will be more in a position to comment around June."

Sternberg added, "That is closer to the time when either it is renewed or not renewed." editor-in-chief Anthony Pascale stopped short of saying Experience would bolt, but he said it didn't look good for Trekkies who make a pilgrimage to the Hilton as part of their Las Vegas vacations.

"It is the premiere, and right now only, live Star Trek attraction in the world," Pascale said. "A lot of nerd weddings go on at that place."