By Kevin Collison
Faced with the prospect of the Covid Grinch stealing its most popular season, Union Station has improvised a holiday experience it hopes will provide families with festive memories after a tumultuous year.
“We didn’t want to cancel the holidays,” said George Guastello, president and CEO of Union Station. “We don’t want kids to have a blank page in their scrap book for 2020.”
Planning for this year’s Holiday Reflections began in August, when Union Station learned its big holiday draw, the Kansas City Southern Holiday Express Train wasn’t going to be pulling into the station, a weekend holiday tradition that draws 30,000 people.
Guastello said the period between Thanksgiving and New Year’s usually brings about 250,000 people to Union Station. Those visitors, coupled with holiday parties and other events, are a big revenue source for the landmark attraction.
In the spirit of the same creativity that pulled the Dinosaur Road Trip together, Guastello and his staff decided to create a new holiday experience using many of the decorative items already in storage with a few new additions.
“We had a room (Grand Plaza concourse) as big as two football fields, how could we make it into an experience where people can walk through, be socially distant and enjoy,” he said.
What Union Station has come up with is something similar to what department stores used to do for the holidays, converting a floor into a holiday extravaganza that children and their parents could enjoy, except on a grander scale.
Union Station’s Holiday Reflection even includes a model train that used to roll through the former Jones Store holiday display.
Admission is $5 per person with children under the age of three admitted free. Members pay half price on Wednesdays. Tickets are timed to prevent crowding and Union Station urges people to reserve tickets online in advance
You can get information about tickets here.
In an update to the old department store holiday tradition, there are eight selfie photo stations throughout the displays. There’s also the model train gallery done up holiday style.
An expanded ‘Rudy’s Wonderland’ features the Mini Holiday Express Train that young children can ride through what’s described as a “magical journey through giant nutcrackers, toy-making elves and a massive Rudy train.”
The Mini Holiday Express train ride is free to Union Station members and $5 for non-members.
Guastello said it cost Union Station about $50,000 to put together its holiday experience, and in the holiday spirit, it also employed some folks in a theater industry hit hard by the pandemic and its public health restrictions.
“We hired set designers here in Kansas City who were out of work so at lest they have jobs for the holidays,” he said.
Holiday Reflections runs through Jan. 3. Hours are 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. and 4 p.m. to 8 p.m. all week long. The attraction is closed from 3- to 4 p.m. for cleaning.
All guests are required to wear masks covering their mouths and noses while at Union Station. Guests with disabilities needing accommodation can wear a full face shield or other full mouth and nose covering.
In addition to the Holiday Reflections, the Regnier Extreme Theater at Union Station is showing several holiday classic films: The Santa Clause, currently underway; Frozen, the week of Nov. 27; Elf, the week of Dec. 4, and Polar Express, Dec. 11-24.
Tickets are $3 and seating is limited to 100 people, 25 percent of the theater capacity.
Union Station also is partnering with Strawberry Spring for weekend European-style outdoor markets at the Haverty Family Yards featuring local Kansas City makers from Nov. 28 to Dec. 20.
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