[This post may contain affiliate links where we earn a small commission. Please see our disclosure for more information and thank you for supporting our site so we can continue to bring you awesome content for your travel inspiration!]
If you’ve been around here for awhile, you’ve probably picked up on a few themes about my life. One of them being we are
cheap-as-hell frugal people.
Luckily, Omaha has plenty of free attractions that makes living in the Big-O really great for pinching pennies.
Another theme that you might have noticed is that we LOVE to travel.
Near and Far.
One of those travels took us to Venice many moons ago and we had an amazing experience!!!
But there was just one problem…
You know those gondola rides that EVERYONE does while in Venice?? Well, they are OUTRAGEOUSLY expensive. Most people argue, “When in Rome” (er, Venice) that they are simply a must. But our budget travel ways and wallet just weren’t having it. I couldn’t fathom spending close to $100 just for a short boat ride…no matter WHERE we were in the world!
So, when I found out that there were gondola rides right here in my hometown of Omaha for a FRACTION of the cost, my immediate thought was “DATE NIGHT!!!!”
For more information on what to do and see not at the Heartland Park, what there is to do nearby, best parking options and more, make sure you’ve read How To Spend a Day at the Heartland of America Park
We decided to go ALL out to make it an “authentic” Italian experience date night to take us back to our nights strolling the canals of Venice. So, whether you’ve always dreamed of heading to Italy or also want to reminisce and take you back to a previous trip you took to the City of Love, Here is how you can ……
Omaha Date Night Idea: Take a Romantic Gondola Ride and Pretend To Be In Italy For an Evening
Start With an Italian Dinner
I personally miss a lot of the classic Italian restaurants once in Omaha. Think Mr. C’s, Caniglias…..
BUT there are still a few great favorites still left.
Italian Restaurants Near Downtown (where the Gondola ride is at)
Lo So Lo Mio: (This is actually my favorite “authentic” Italian restaurant in Omaha.) A bit on the pricier side but absolutely fantastic dishes that rival what we got in Italy itself. A bit on the “fancier” side (jeans still acceptable though), it is a little more expensive but absolutely perfect for a date night!
Marlara’s: In the heart of what was once considered “Little Italy” just a few minutes drive from the Heartland of America Park
Other Italian Favorites In Omaha
Depending on where you start the night, maybe you pick any of the following of my personal favorite Omaha Italian Restaurants.
- Sgt Peffers (North Omaha and Millard)
- Romas (Bellevue)
- Spezia (Near Midtown/Aksarben)
Enjoy a Picnic
Instead of eating out, grab your best picnic blanket and create an authentic Italian picnic to lay out on the expansive green space by the Heartland of America lake.
Some of my favorite Italian “Picnic Food” are things like
- Bowl of (quality) Olives
- Caprese Salad
- Chicken Pesto Pasta
- Focaccia Bread with Dipping Olive Oil
- Aged Cheeses and Cured Meats
Want More Easy, Authentic Italian Picnic Ideas? Grab this ebook to get some Italian Inspiration!
Walk Around the Heartland of America Park
After eating all that delicious food, you’ll be ready to walk off your dinner by taking a romantic stroll around the lake. With the resident swans (Romeo And Juliet! How fitting!!!), concrete “waterfalls” and lakeside ambiance, it is THE perfect date night atmosphere!
Share a Bottle of Vino
Plenty of people picnic at the lake, as it is the perfect place to sit back on the rolling lawn and just relax. So, if you brought some wine and didn’t make a big show of it (maybe keep it in a non-conspicuous cup vs a wine glass?) then you can drink wine like the Italians do while enjoying great views and great company.
(I do feel morally obligated to state that Omaha does not have an open container law, so just take that into consideration)
Take a Gondola Ride
You don’t need to go all the way to Venice to pay for an overpriced Gondola ride. Granted, Omaha doesn’t have beautiful little canals, but hey, we’ll take what we can get right!?
Enjoy a 15-20 minute gondola ride around the lake, the 320 foot fountain (Tip: Go in the evening when the fountain is lit up with different colors!) and just sit back with your hunny as if you were really on the back canals of Venice.
Dates: Memorial- Labor Day (June-August Daily) (May and September Friday-Sunday and By Appointment)
Hours: 7pm-10pm when open
Cost: $20 per couple for 20 minutes and $25 for Half Hour rides (there is actually a larger boat that also occasionally goes out onto the lake that is only $3 per person, but you’ll also be sharing it with about 20-30 other people!)
Feed the Geese
Ok, so sometimes you need to stretch your imagination. When in Venice, we went to St. Mark’s Square and fed the pigeons…yes, PIGEONS (can you see the disgust on my face!!!)
Instead of sky rats, the Heartland Park in Omaha has tons of geese, ducks and other fowl. While it’s tempting to feed them a bit of your leftover garlic bread from dinner, refrain from that as it is actually quite harmful to birds. Instead, stop at the store for a cheap can of corn, bring along some halved grapes or even grab a baggie of uncooked oats before leaving home.
Get some Gelato (or at least really good Ice Cream!)
No Italian night is complete without Gelato (Italian Ice Cream). While you’ll be hard pressed to find actual Gelato in Omaha, every native to town knows and loves Ted and Walley’s Homemade Ice Creams. Just a short 15 minute stroll through the Old Market will having you licking up delicious homemade ice cream that rivals the Italian street stands.
Ted and Wally’s Address: 1120 Jackson Street
Stroll The CobbleStone Streets
One of my favorite memories of Venice was at the end of the day after all the cruise boats and day tourists had left, my hubby and I wandered the cobblestone streets, holding hands and soaking in the romantic atmosphere.
Instead of the canal ways, take to the Old Market and just wander aimlessly in the same manner. Again, while nobody is trying to convince you that the Old Market is the same experience as Venice, itself, it’s the thought and effort that often counts in a truly remarkable date night!
Heartland Gondola Rides:
Hours: Walk-ups available 7-10pm May-Sep Thursdays-Sundays
Phone: 402-590-5802 (although good luck actually getting ahold of them, as it seems near impossible!)
*Note that this company isn’t exactly known for amazing customer service, but if you can grab a boat ride, it is a perfect addition to your Omaha date night ideas list!!
Heartland of America Park Address: 800 Douglas street
Fountain Hours: May 1 to Oct 31. Mon-Fri 11am-1pm & 5-11pm, Sat&Sun 10:30am-11pm.
For more information on best places to park, bathrooms nearby and more, don’t forget to read our Heartland of America Article