How To Get the Most out of Your Omaha Zoo Day
(And other Henry Doorly Zoo tidbits that only the locals know to do…until now!)
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You really can’t ever talk about “Things to do in Omaha” and NOT mention the Omaha zoo! It’s pretty much a crime to any native Omahan. But, for good reason.
For generations, the Omaha Henry Doorly Zoo and Aquarium is a favorite past time of all childhoods in Omaha. Ask anyone who grew up here about it, and they will have multiple distinct and fond memories playing on the bronze lion statues, chasing peacocks, feeding the petting zoo animals and of course, hot, sticky summer days spent exploring the many corners of the zoo.
And while anyone coming to the Omaha Zoo is going to have a great time, there are somethings that only the locals know that can make a 90+ degree Nebraskan day lugging around your kids bearable at the zoo.
Bring Your Swimsuit and Towels
The recently new “Atlantic Splashpad” is a waterpark for kids young and young at heart! The giant blue whale crashing out of the ocean, the pods of killer whales on the hunt and the little puffers running around will have you think you are truly splashing around the ocean. It’s BEAUTIFUL and so well made!
But, If you don’t want to be walking around the zoo sopping wet, don’t forget your swim supplies as well as extra pairs of socks to avoid wet blisters.
Tip: If going on a warm day, plan on extra time at the zoo. You don’t want to forego your animal experiences like watching the Elephants romp around, so plan on a little extra time in your daily schedule for a quick cool down in the waters
It’s Open (and ALL yours!) In The Winter
Feeling a bit of cabin fever coming on? Is it a rainy or snowy day but you were planning on going to the zoo? Have no fears.
The Omaha Henry Doorly Zoo is home to endless in AND outdoor exhibits. While all of the exquisitely done outdoor exhibits are fun to do, if the weather isn’t being as friendly as the locals, just go to the
- World famous Rainforest where monkeys literally swing above your head and fish swim at your feet.
- Enter the aquarium and have sharks, sea turtles and sting rays swimming inches from your face.
- The Kingdom of the Night is perfect for anyone wanting to see a different side (or time of day) to wildlife. The albino crocodile will fascinate you while all the creepy crawly bugs and snakes will have your creeping for the door!
The plus side to coming in the winter is that you are often some of the only people roaming around.
Tip: Most of the indoor exhibits are all featured towards the front of the zoo, making even the coldest and blustery of days still bearable and worth a visit to the zoo.
Bring a Picnic
Yes, there are concessions throughout the park, but they aren’t cheap. Plus, you’ll totally stand out as a “tourist.” A true local brings a picnic and finds the place they’ve been eating lunches at since they were a kid themselves.. Some of the local favorite spots are at the new Butterfly outdoor area, next to the petting zoo under the shady Pavillion or on the steps of the swimming polar bears. Some new favorites are on the auditorium style steps watching the Elephants or sitting surrounded by the giant stingray (sculpture). Just be careful, as the colorful peacocks throughout the zoo have been fed one too many PB&Js in their lives and can smell out a cracker a mile away!
Where is YOUR favorite picnic spot at the zoo?
Don’t Go in the Morning
I know that for many families, early in the morning before nap time is the most conducive time of day for activities, but it is also going to be the most packed at the zoo. Instead, if you wait until late afternoon, all the school age kids, daycares and most families will be well on their way home. One of my favorite times to come to the zoo is actually just a few hours before closing time. Sometimes it’s like you have the whole place to yourself, even in the high season!
Buildings Actually Close One Hour Later Than “Closing Times”
If you are planning your day in Omaha, you might have looked at the opening and closing times of the zoo. However, if the zoo’s hours say 9am-5pm, know that you can actually stay until 6!
How? Well, the indoor buildings (things like the Cat Complex, the Gorilla House, the Butterfly Exhibit and more) stay open until one hour past “closing time.” This is particularly great in the winter, since a lot of what you are seeing is indoors anyway.
But, it can also be really helpful in the summer because you can spend your whole day exploring outside and then get one more quick exhibit like the aquarium or jungle in as you leave and squeeze in just a bit more bang for you buck! And bonus, you’ll practically have the place to yourself since everyone will have left an hour earlier!
Don’t Pay for the Extras
The Henry Doorly Zoo is Omaha’s pride and joy. But sadly, many new paid features are taking over. That doesn’t mean that there isn’t plenty of free and phenomenal things to do elsewhere in the zoo though! All of the “classics” and main attractions are still completely free of charge (outside the general admission).
Even for first time zoo-goers, I would argue that things like the train ride and carousal truly aren’t worth your extra cash. You could spend ALL day at the included exhibits and still have the best day at a zoo you’ve ever had…while saving some dough.
Tip: Just tell your kiddos begging to go on the skyrail that your ticket didn’t cover that exhibit, but it DID include the (insert favorite animal here) and quickly pull out a map and route out the best path to get there. Crisis averted!
Park at the North Entrance
The newly opened North entrance is quickly becoming the location all the locals park at. Since almost all tourists come in through the main entrance, this leaves hardly any queues at all at the North Entrance. You can still purchase tickets here, but with hardly any wait. It is also a great starting point location with the brand new Adventure Area within feet of the North entrance and the splash pad is just down the hill and more right when you walk in.
Tip: North Entrance is often closed in winter
Come and Go as You Please
While just about everyone in Omaha has a zoo pass, one of my favorite things about the zoo is that you can leave and come back on the same ticket that day. What that means for tourists is that they can come in the morning, head back to their hotels near the zoo for nap and then return in the afternoon. Considering that you could spend the whole day at the Omaha Henry Doorly Zoo and still not cover it all, this is the best way to get a big bang for your buck!
So, if you are planning your Omaha trip, be sure to include ONE FULL day for the zoo!
If you have a military ID, don’t pay full price. Just show your ID at time of ticket purchase and get a discounted rate!
Spend the Night at the Omaha Zoo
Now THIS is truly an insiders experience, but one that anyone traveling to Omaha can partake in! If you are like me and geek out about totally weird, fun and extraordinary lodging experiences while traveling, this one just might take the cake!
Spend the Night in the African Bush: No, you don’t need to travel halfway across the world, instead, sleep in the glamping tents outside the elephant enclosure and listen to the lions roar. Complete with a sun downer, you might actually think you are on an African Safari!
Sleep Under the Stingrays: Occasionally, they will open up the aquarium to overnighters!
Drift Off to Sleep to the Sound of Waterfalls: Pitch a tent in the Lied Jungle, go on a hike and more.
For upcoming overnight events as well as continuous information about the overnight safaris, get the info here.
Have you been to the Omaha Zoo? What has been your favorite part?
Are you an Omahan native? What tips and secrets would you give to travelers visiting our beloved zoo? We’d love to hear them in the comments below!
Other Omaha Henry Doorly Zoo Information
Omaha Zoo Tickets:
There are three “seasons” at the zoo
- Spring/ Fall
And unfortunately, if you don’t have a membership, each of these have differing prices. Check the official page for the most up-to-date and seasonally correct prices.
Omaha Zoo Hours:
March 15-Oct 31: 9 a.m. – 5 p.m (Buildings=6pm)
Nov 1-March 14: 10am-4pm (Buildings=5pm)
Omaha Zoo Animals
One of the things that I love about the Henry Doorly Zoo is the variety of animals at all the exhibits! In fact, there are over 1,000 documented species at the Omaha Zoo!! Besides some of the all time loved animals like the
- Polar Bear
- Gorilla, Ape and Monkey Complexes
- Sea turtles, sharks and luminescent jelly fish in the Aquarium
- Free roaming Elephants
There are also some pretty cool, rare and unique animals like
- Endangered species of frogs
- Red Panda
- And obviously much, much more!
Hotels Near Omaha Zoo
There are really so many great hotels in Omaha NE that depending on what else you have planned for your stay may determine what location you choose. However, my top recommendation for location of where to stay while visiting Omaha is Downtown.
Downtown Omaha Hotels
If you are looking for hotels downtown, Omaha has an option for every taste, budget and type of traveler.
Depending on what else you have planned for your stay, finding hotels in downtown Omaha is a great location. Plus, there is so much to see and do downtown that it’s a great launching place for your trip.
Need a hotel in Omaha?
Alternatively, Midtown is perfect for younger millennials. Not far from downtown, this location is great because it’s quite a “hip” area of town. Between all the great food options in “Midtown” with the nightlight in the Blackstone district basically across the street, you would think that there would be a high demand for hotels in the area, but currently, the options are a bit limited. Here are some that you can compare to get an idea of what is available.
Aksarben (Spelled Nebraska backwards!) has been a revolving area of the city for decades, but only until recently has it absolutely exploded and boomed. A few good chain hotels can be found as well as the much loved family CoCo Keys Water Resort (Hotel RL) just down the road.
And of course you can find great stays at apartments or B&Bs with AirBnB (Get up to $20 off your first stay with this coupon)
No matter your reason for visiting the Big- O, your trip wouldn’t be complete without a day at the zoo. Locals and tourists alike can’t find enough praise for the award winning pride and joy of our hometown.
What other Omaha Henry Doorly Zoo info do you think visitors would find helpful? Let’s help them plan their trip by leaving for favorite tip below!