Weekend Getaway: Omaha

2016 Vacation Series



Recently, our family enjoyed a three day weekend in Omaha, Nebraska. Just a little over 3 hours away, Omaha is the perfect weekend getaway for Kansas City families. Their Henry Doorly Zoo is phenomenal (and KC Zoo FOTZ members get 50% off admission), the Strategic Air Command & Aerospace Museum is a historic treasure, my kids had a blast at the Omaha Children's Museum, and Lauritzen Gardens is lovely.

For our getaway, we traveled with grandparents and four children (ages in the 4-10 range) and found these attractions were great for the variety of interests and ages on our trip. The Zoo is an all day attraction in itself, with a half day at the other three.

Here are our tips for these attractions and a few dining recommendations too!

But, first up - lodging. We stayed at the Homewood Suites by Hilton and Hampton Inn & Suites Omaha DowntownThese hotels are conveniently located with a short drive to all of the attractions we were interested in seeing. The rooms were clean and nice with fridges and microwaves, and both hotels offered a nice pool, hot tub, and gym. Our kids especially loved burning off energy each night with a swim before bedtime. A hot breakfast is included with your stay and the menu included waffles, eggs, breakfast meats, cereal, oatmeal, fruit, juice, coffee, and more. The staff was hospitable and helpful the entire time and we would recommend these hotels for Omaha travelers.

 

Omaha's Henry Doorly Zoo

The Henry Doorly Zoo (3701 S 10th St, Omaha, NE) is reason enough to visit Omaha. Omaha's Henry Doorly Zoo and Aquarium is open year-round except for Christmas Day. Hours are 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. daily from March 15 through October 31 with buildings staying open until 6 p.m. The Zoo is open from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. daily November 1 through March 14 with buildings staying open until 5 p.m. Admission ranges from $10-20 (varies by age and season of year).

We spent an entire day from open to close at the Zoo and we didn't quite see everything (almost) AND the Zoo is currently redoing their entire African exhibit (they hope it opens this summer), which also cut down on the number of attractions to see. Even with the construction, we had a terrific time and we were excited to see many new animals and many favorites. Bears and butterflies are beloved animals in our family and the Henry Doorly Zoo features both. With Bear Canyon home to four different types of birds, and a butterfly garden, our girls were thrilled. The Aquarium, Dessert Exhibit, and prairie dogs were additional favorites. All of the exhibits at the Henry Doorly Zoo are extremely well done. 

Tips: 

  • KC Zoo FOTZ members get 50% off admission! 
  • You may bring a picnic (no glass bottles or alchol).
  • This zoo is extremely popular and especially busy on weekends. If you can visit during the week, you can expect smaller crowds.
  • They offer many zookeeper chats and shows during the day including bear feeding (my daughter's fave), sea lion shows and more.
  • They offer a train ride and sky safari to break up the walking.
  • The African Exhibit was under construction during our visit. We were still able to see elephants and giraffes, but if you can plan your visit once the exhibit is complete, that would be ideal (they hope to have it completed sometime during Summer 2016).

Some Photos of the Fun we had at Henry Doorly Zoo:

Perhaps the most famous attraction at the Henry Doorly Zoo, the Desert Dome is the world's largest indoor desert, located under the world's largest glazed geodesic dome. Visitors see animals in their natural dessert habitat from the road runner and coyote to a variety of birds, lizards and snakes.

Durham's Bear Canyon features a polar bear, Malayan sun bears, American black bears and Andean bears. For our bear-loving daughter, this was her favorite area of the zoo. The bears were especially playful and we stayed to watch the bear feeding (offered daily).

Take a break from walking with a ride aboard the zoo's train!

We picnicked near the prairie dogs. Do not feed them or pet them, but you can certainly enjoy watching their playfulness!

The Scott Aquarium is my personal favorite. We saw sea turtles, sharks, and fish  in the 70 foot tunnel. From Antarctic penguins to colorful warm water fish, this is a must see!

The jellyfish were beautiful - just one of the many things we saw in the aquarium.

My girls love the Lied Jungle. The exhibit takes you through America’s largest indoor rainforest. We walked under waterfalls, watched monkeys play, birds fly, and the kids had a blast on this real-life adventure.

The Berniece Grewcock Butterfly Conservatory features waterfalls, an Amazon water lily pool, exquisite butterflies, moths and hummingbirds. The insect pavilion is home to ants, spiders, scorpions, walking sticks, mantids, centipedes, roaches, beetles and a host of other amazing creatures. 

We look forward to seeing the new African exhibit when it is complete, but it was still fun to see giraffes.

Strategic Air Command & Aerospace Museum

The Strategic Air Command & Aerospace Museum (28210 W Park Hwy, Ashland, NE). Open 9 a.m. - 5 p.m., 7 Days a Week. Open 9 a.m. - 3 p.m. on Christmas Eve & New Year's Eve. Closed: New Year’s Day, Easter, Thanksgiving & Christmas. Admision: Adults: $12.00, Senior Citizens: $11.00, Active/Retired Military: $11.00 (with valid military ID), Children: $6.00 (Ages 4 – 12) / Free for Children Aged 3 & Under, Prices subject to tax. Parking is free for our guests.

Our family spent six hours exploring this museum. The history was especially fascinating for adults and the older kids, but the aircraft themselves (from mammoth airplanes to smaller single pilot aircraft) were interesting and fun to explore for the kids. 

Tips:

  • The tour is a MUST! They offer free tours of the museum with knowledgeable tour guides sharing the history of the various aircraft throughout the museum. This tour was extremely interesting and educational and it truly completed the visit to the museum. Public tours begin at 11 a.m. daily and are conducted by a volunteer staff member of the museum. Allow two hours for a full tour. 
  • The Eugene Mahoney State Park (28500 W Park Hwy, Ashland, NE) with many terrific amenities, is nearby as a possible location for a picnic. However, $5 admission is charged for each vehicle to visit a Nebraska State Park. 
  • The museum does offer a cafeteria where you may purchase lunch.
  • They offer a kids' section with puzzles, a play area, coin operated ride on toys, and inflatables (additional fee for moon bounces) to give children a break as adults explore the museum.
  • During our visit the flight simulator was out of order, you may want to check for its availability.
  • They offer planetarium shows and short films as well - we didn't have time for either of these. Allow all day to see everything.

Some Photos of the Fun we had at Strategic Air Command & Aerospace Museum:

Omaha Children's Museum

The Omaha Children's Museum (500 S 20th St, Omaha, NE). Open daily except Monday (hours vary seasonally). Admission: Members - FREE, Under 24 months - FREE, Adults & Kids - $12, Seniors - $11. The museum is clean and well maintained and the staff is friendly and helpful. 

My girls love Omaha Children's Museum. We spent half a day playing and exloring the exhibits. The target age is preschool and early elementary, so my older girls are starting to outgrow the exhibits, but they still had fun with their sisters. The Super Gravitron, a massive ball machine with pneumatic, hydraulic and mechanical sections, is the hands-down favorite. This unbelievable exhibit is a blast for all ages! We also enjoyed many of the free workshops and programs. We attended a science workshop on weather and the kids participated in experiments to make lightning, a tornado in a bottle, clouds, and even watch fake snow. They offered concerts, short plays, and workshops throughout the day (included with admission) and these really enhanced the visit.

Tips:

  • They offer a special play area for infants and toddlers, which is great to keep them safe from little ones.
  • The museum is extremely popular - devise a system to stick together and decide how long to spend at each activity. Also, visiting during the week helps with smaller crowds.
  • The museum is especially geared for younger children.
  • On the top floor, they offer train rides, a carousel, and concessions for an additional fee.
  • Dress to play! This museum is fully interactive with lots of climbing, crawling, science, art, and creative play. Wear comfy playclothes and shoes and don't come afraid of a mess (science or art). Materials were all washable, but still keep the projects in mind!

Some Photos of the Fun we had at Omaha Children's Museum:

Omaha Children's Museum

The Super Graviton at Omaha Children's Museum is amazing! This is just part of the entire room of contraptions as kids explore machines and the science behind them with fun play.

Omaha Children's Museum

Technology is included in many exhibits at Omaha Children's Museum.

The Omaha Children's Museum is entirely interactive and that includes creative spaces for children to create art.

One of the experiments we enjoyed during the science workshop at Omaha Children's Museum.

The interactive play village at Omaha Children's Museum features a play house, bank, grocery store, hospital, water play, and jungle gym.

The grocery store at Omaha Children's Museum is a favorite exhibit.

Lauritzen Gardens 

Omaha's Lauritzen Gardens (100 Bancroft St, Omaha, NE) is their 100-acre botanical garden. Open daily except Christmas and New Year's Day (hours vary seasonally). Admission: Adults: $10, Children ages six to 12: $5, Children younger than six years of age: no admission fee, Lauritzen Gardens members: no admission fee.

The highlight for us was the railroad garden with trains traveling through the gardens creating a whimsical experience. 

Tips:

  • Don't miss Kenefick Park. Two of the greatest locomotives ever to power Union Pacific Railroad sit at the southwest point of the Lauritzen Gardens property, highly visible to passersby on Interstate 80 and welcoming motorists to Nebraska. On grand display are Centennial No. 6900 - the largest and most powerful diesel-electric locomotive ever built - and Big Boy No. 4023 - the world's largest steam locomotive.
  • Remember garden etiquette: View and smell flowers, fruits, leaves and seeds, but please leave them for others to enjoy. Also, no climbing on trees, sculptures, or fountains. Stay on paths.
  • Enjoy food offered in the café, however, food is not allowed in the garden areas. Outside food is not allowed on garden grounds including the café. Picnicking on garden grounds and coolers are not permitted.
  • Strollers are permitted in the gardens.
  • Lauritzen Gardens is not a park. No jogging or running. Recreational games, such as frisbee and kite flying, as well as bicycles, sleds, skateboards, scooters and roller blades are not allowed in the visitor and education center or anywhere in the gardens.
  • Smoking is not permitted in any building.

Our Favorite Restaurants in the Omaha Area

  • Old Spaghetti Works is always a must! This local landmark serves hearty portions of pasta. Two old Model-T Trucks serve as salad bars and the Old Market location is fabulous.
  • Hollywood Candy is a retro candy shop with all the sweet treats you remember from your childhood. With nostalgic decor, a free movie theater in back, and a myriad of tasty treats - this is a fave for kids of all ages.
  • Quaker Steak & Lube in Council Bluffs, IA (Omaha's neighboring city), is known for their buffalo wings. With motorcycles and classic cars decorating every nook of the restaurant, and a wide selection of wing flavors, this was a hit with our family.
  • Ted & Wally's dishes up homemade ice cream in the Old Market area and is another local landmark you don't want to miss.

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