The Duke Energy holiday trains are returning for their 74th season but there will be COVID-safe changes to the Cincinnati Museum Center's annual Holiday Junction.
Perhaps the biggest question on children's minds is how they'll get to talk with Santa this year. Santa is scheduled to make his return to the Museum Center the day after Thanksgiving, but he's setting up shop in the Public Landing exhibit. Santa will greet children for a "fireside chat" by his fireplace, behind a partition.
"(Santa's) going to be separated by plexiglass that's going to have speakers built into it so you can still speak with Santa," says Cody Hefner, senior director of marketing and communications. "You can tell him your wish list for the holidays and he can speak back to you, there just won't be that high-touch, interactive aspect of it where you're sitting on his lap or you're standing next to him."
Santa will still be able to pose for photographs, though you'll need to use your own camera as professional photographers and picture products won't be available this year.
Access to Holiday Junction is included in regular museum admission but is only open Fridays through Sundays (more details below). The center is employing timed entry tickets because of the pandemic, so you'll need to plan ahead.
Visitors will still be able to take in the annual model trains display, including from above via the ramp entry that debuted in 2018, circling around the display and leading down to it. The Duke Energy Holiday Trains feature more than 300 rail cars and 60 locomotives. The display began in 1946 as a public relations effort by the Baltimore & Ohio (B&O) Railroad. Other model train sets surround and round out the exhibit.
The riding train popular with young children is sitting this season out. Hefner says a scavenger hunt utilizing the snowy railway landscape will take its place.
"We're working with some of our partners like the Cincinnati Reds and Bengals and others to hide objects in (the landscape) for kids and families to walk around and really explore that layout to try to find those objects," he says.
Another no-touch feature added this year is an interactive storybook that tells the story of the Duke Energy Holiday Trains through words and pictures.
"This is entirely gesture based," Hefner explains. "You just wave your hand over the book as if you're turning the page and the page will turn with you and help tell that story."
More information about Holiday Junction is available on the Cincinnati Museum Center's website. The exhibit will be open Fridays through Sundays from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. from Nov. 13, 2020 through Jan. 2, 2021. There will be extended hours closer to the holiday. More details will be released at a later date on the museum website.