Whether you’ve grown up in Cincinnati, or you just moved here not long ago, everyone knows that Cincinnati is a big fan of the holiday season. With events all over the area, holiday activities usually start in early November. The Cincinnati Museum Center is responsible for many of these special events. 

However this year its holiday events are going to be a little different. The 83-year-old Union Terminal is under construction, which will change up the typical holiday experience. “With the restoration of Union Terminal necessitating some changes this year, we’ve taken steps to present a holiday experience that is still going to stand out in people’s memories,” says Cody Hefner, manager of media relations for the Cincinnati Museum Center. 

Holidays at the museum have certainly grown over the years. The museum center hosts its own array of events known as Holiday Junction, featuring several train layouts, historic games and toys from museum’s collections. Holiday Junction featuring the Duke Energy Holiday Trains combined two great Cincinnati traditions into one in 2011 and fans of one experience soon became fans of the other. In past years, the museum has seen families bring their out-of-town relatives to have the experience, too. 

“That’s a big responsibility for us. We try every year to make sure there is something unique about the holiday experience, but also that we maintain the tradition that people have come to look forward to,” Hefner says. 

However, with the construction this holiday season, the museum has no choice but to make some necessary changes to its traditions. 

The restoration of Union Terminal was long overdue. Anything as old as this building will suffer the effects of aging. “Those problems are only made worse by outdated construction techniques and materials that have resulted in significant water damage,” explains Hefner. “Having never undergone a full structural restoration, these issues started to put the building in real danger.” 

After a vote Nov. 4, 2014, voters of Hamilton County passed a levy by 61.4 percent to raise their sales tax to help fund the restoration. The complete cost for the renovation is $212 million. 

The restoration is fully structural, fixing a number of things. They are repairing and cleaning the exterior stone, brick, windows and the roof as well as replacing the outdated heating, cooling, and electrical and plumbing systems. The important historic spaces such as the Newsreel Theatre and the Losantiville Dining room will also be restored and preserved and the Rotunda and historic mosaics will be cleaned. Water damage in the building has caused a significant amount of rust in the steel throughout the building, which will also be taken care of. 

The main goal for the restoration is to preserve the building and maintain its structural integrity while increasing the operational efficiency and enhancing guest experiences. “All of this will, most importantly, secure the building for the long-term future, and will also make the building more efficient to operate and prime unused space for future exhibit and guest experience activation,” says Hefner. 

The restoration has necessitated the temporary closure of the Cincinnati History Museum, where Holiday Junction is typically hosted. For the first time in more than 70 years, the Duke Energy Holiday Trains will not be on display because that gallery is also closed off. 

However, the holiday experience will not come up short this year. The museum will be adding train layouts to the Duke Energy Children’s Museum and Santa will have a new space for family photos. “We’ll even be adding some holiday flavor to the temporary lobby in the Rotunda,” says Hefner. The trains in the Children’s Museum will include new layouts from the Garden Railway Club and a castle-themed layout that will feature Thomas the Tank Engine. 

These layouts will also have more interactive features for the kids, allowing them to move the gates and flash the train lights. Upstairs in the Rotunda, a pre-war Lionel O-gauge, a brand new train layout, will be on display. “This train has a more historic feel and is sure to be a hit with model train enthusiasts and kids alike,” Hefner says. 

Although some events cater to different age groups, Holiday Junction is really a family opportunity. Regardless of age or generation, everyone can find something to get excited about, especially Santa’s arrival. Some of the train layouts, like Thomas the Tank Engine, are catered to younger kids but the craftsmanship and visual appeal of the layouts really cater to all ages. “It becomes as much of an event for parents to share with their children as it is for the children themselves,” Hefner says. “The holidays are so fun because it’s like there’s no age limit on them. Parents and grandparents become kids again.”

The museum center tries to keep up the quality of Holiday Junction each year, but it also works to make every year better and incorporates more events to attract more of the community. 

According to Hefner, the museum center does its best to include the community’s feedback into its holiday experience. “We evaluate and reflect on the experience every year so that we can find ways to streamline the bottlenecks, enhance crowd favorites and add complementary pieces that will elevate the entire experience,” Hefner says. n

Due to the construction at Union Terminal, Cincinnati’s favorite holiday experience will face some challenges this year but maintain the same holiday cheer