KANSAS CITY, MO (KCTV) – The indoor winter wonderland in Union Station’s Grand Plaza stretches 27,000 square feet with 70,000 lights reaching 95 feet high.
At the rear, the Holiday Model Train display covers 11,000 square feet with moving trains in every scale. That includes the Historic Jones Store Train, a fixture at the now defunct department store’s downtown location.
“My favorite part was riding the train and seeing Santa,” said 9-year-old Damek Seitz.
The display opens to the public Friday, but Wednesday night was for kids who don’t typically get out to the traditional, crowded holiday displays.
“Respiratory illnesses tend to be pretty difficult for us,” said Erin Albious, mother to 3-year-old Lily, who has spinal muscular atrophy.
For many of the families attending the private preview, crowds have been a concern long before COVID, either for health reasons or just physical challenges.
“We have a wheelchair. We have a son on the spectrum. We have to think about a lot of things when we go out of our house that probably most typical families don’t,” said mom Kasey Seitz.
Her 9-year-old, Damek, who has high functioning autism, happily peppered us with a wealth of questions. Her daughter, 11-year-old Hudsyn, had a brain injury at birth and is non-verbal. Her husband, Dan, described what made Wednesday night’s event special.
“We’ve got open space and she can roll around and actually see things because normally people would be standing in front of her, “said Dan Seitz.
Quinn Cunningham is also non-verbal. She was diagnosed with Rett Syndrome when she was 15 months old.
“It’s neurological,” her mother, Angie Cunningham explained. “She doesn’t speak, but she is very expressive.
It’s rare that Quinn’s 13-year-old brother, Ayden, gets to go on a holiday outing with his sister Quinn. His parents do what they can to make sure he doesn’t miss out, but that often means splitting into pairs instead of going out as a group.
“We try to do as much as we can as a family, but it doesn’t always work out,” said Ryan Cunningham, Ayden and Quinn’s dad.
“We spend a lot of time in the hospital with respiratory illnesses, seizures,” said Angie Cunningham.
“She’s spent several years close to Christmas in the hospital. We spent one year overnight in the hospital when Christmas was here,” said Ayden Cunningham.
Just being together as a family is something special, but on the Jones Store train, something extra special happened that they weren’t expecting.
Her dad carefully seated her in one of the train cars. He wanted to walk alongside her, concerned she’d have trouble holding her head up. The operator told him that wasn’t an option. Instead, she sat atop the engine and coached Quinn along. Round after round, Quinn watched the lights pass by, fully upright.
“This was kind of a big moment,” said Ayden Cunningham. “Because she’s never sat by herself where we weren’t able to hold her.”
“Never. Never,” echoed Ryan Cunningham. “She’s always with one of us just because she doesn’t have a lot of trunk control.”
“That made me nervous she was going to fall over but she did awesome,” said Angie Cunningham.
“I’m so glad I was able to be here tonight,” a roaming Santa told some of the kids.
The same goes for those given the gift of a giant display they rarely see, all together as a family.
Holiday Reflections was a new addition in 2020. When COVID cancelled or significantly downsized some of the traditional holiday events, Union Station came up with the walk-through display as a way to have a bright celebration while still maintaining social distancing. They had 60,000 visitors in 2020. This year, they added animatronics, including singing reindeer and singing penguins.
Holiday Reflections will be open from 10 a.m. to 8 p.m. daily starting Friday. You’ll need to get tickets for a specific one-hour time slot. Although they aren’t limiting capacity for COVID-related reasons, they are limiting how many tickets they issue each hour in order to make it a pleasant experience without ling lines inside. You can get tickets at the door or in advance online at unionstation.org.