A few weeks ago we had a weekend open so we decided to go on a spontaneous road trip, not really knowing where we would end up. We packed up the truck, dropped the dog off at the Bed and Biscuit and were on the road heading south by about 5:30 PM after my husband got off work. We stopped at a rest stop, played a few games of green light/red light and kept on driving, we made it to Des Moines and the kids were still being good, (thanks to the dual screen DVD player, lots of movies, kid size headphones and plenty of snacks.) So we went westward and onward to Omaha, Nebraska. We made our reservation to our hotel 10 miles out of town, we stayed in the Holiday Inn Omaha Downtown Airport where they had a small water park, nice clean rooms, with a mini fridge, microwave and a coffee maker and friendly staff. This was the kids first time in a hotel we usually rent houses on vacation, and the kids loved it! As soon as we go them calmed down and settled in for the night we crashed too, we had to get ready for our fun day in the morning.

The next morning we woke up early, packed a lunch of peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, some granola bars, and snacks and lots of water in our soft cooler. We then shot out the door in search of breakfast, we found a little place called The Diner in the Old Market area surrounded by cobblestone streets and enjoyed some good greasy spoon food. We got out of there on full stomachs ready for the Henry Doorly Zoo.

As we headed down 10th street we came over the hill to see the Desert Dome and the whole family gave a collective “Wow” at that sight. We pulled into the big but already filling up parking lot, we went right to the right and found a spot at the back of the lot under a shade tree. The weather forecast called for 92 degrees and 70% humidity so shade was a really good idea and a nice thing, the parking was free! We loaded the kids, the cooler, the cameras and diaper bag into the double stroller we brought along and headed for the north entrance. The line was about 30 people deep, at each of the 4 registers but it went fast and we waited in the shade.

We are members at the Minnesota Zoo so we paid the zoo membership reciprocal fees and our son was free because he was under age 3, so our family entrance cost was $15.25. To put it into perspective, that is less than the admission price for one adult to the Minnesota Zoo.

We walked in and went to the first thing our kids noticed, the big red barn at Dairy World. They loved petting the goats, and the chickens. We made our way around the Budgie Encounter where tons of little parakeets fly around in a screened in garden and ate from popsicle sticks covered with bird seed from peoples hands. We checked out the Monkeys, Prairie Dogs, Raccoons, and the Peacocks with their babies. We looked at the Otters, and the turtles, took a picture of the kids in the Hippo’s mouth. We made it down the hill to take a quick ride on Sues Carousel, $2 per child seemed very reasonable to me. It was a nice way to spin around and cool off in the shade for a couple of minutes. We watched the Omaha Train but it was so loud the kids did not want to go on it. The steam engine was really neat to watch, with your ears covered!

We filled up on water and started up the hill, we went into the pretty screened aviary overlooking the birds, the creek and the lake. This was a pretty shaded area. We left there and went up and checked out the open air lemur area, the kids loved the Zaboomafoo lemur. Next we went to Expedition Madagascar building and took our time looking at the amazing number of Lemurs and other cute animals in that wonderfully air conditioned building! We refilled our water bottles at the fountains in this building.

Then we walked across the path up towards the Sea Lions area, and ate lunch under the Sea Lion Pavilion. After lunch is where the workout came in, we pushed the stroller almost straight up hill to see the elephants but they were worth it. They were healthy and happy looking elephants dusting themselves with dirt on the hot day. Magnificent animals! We walked around the corner and checked out the giant Rhinos and had to convince my daughter that she was too young to ride the Skyfari ride. She is too much of a dare devil to be that high off the ground!

We walked around the Lagoon and looked at the Koi pond and the monkeys then we entered one of my favorite places of the zoo, The Garden of the Senses. There were parrots and Macaws just sitting among the flowers on their perches, perfect to see from every side and a beautiful back drop for a photo opportunity. The pond, flowers and sculptures were really cool, I could have spent lots of time in this garden. My daughter loves parrots so she walked around and talked to each bird. We took the kids over to hit the giant gong.

We continued up the hill to see the Sable Antelope, the Bongo, the Red River Hogs, the Addax and then the Zebras. We stopped to watch the train again and took a break to sit down at a table with an umbrella, to sip a cold pop and watch the giraffes at their beautiful giraffe complex. They were really healthy looking giraffes in a nice shaded home, with lots of water.

We saved the areas with the buildings for the end of the day when the temperature would be the hottest knowing that we would really appreciate the air conditioning at that point. This zoo has lots of large hills so wear good shoes or else take advantage of the train or the tram to get you from one side of the zoo to the other. We walked the whole thing so it is certainly doable.

We continued up the hill and stopped at the Butterfly and Insect Garden. This was an air conditioned building with beautiful plants and trees and happy butterflies fluttering about. From that room we entered the insect garden area with giant spiders building webs in the open right over your head, and every freaky insect you have ever see on movies or TV and plenty you have never seen before! I had no idea there were so many varieties of scorpions or cockroaches. My favorite part of this building was the live honey bee hive that had access to the outdoor flower gardens and you could see the bees climb in and out the clear tube to make more honey. Very cool!

We walked up the hill to the Lied Jungle and were wonderfully surprised by this building! The diversity and quantity of different species of the animals that were housed in its beautiful rain forest gardens. There was a giant waterfall and cool overlook areas that made this building that appeared plain on the outside but surprisingly awesome sight once you entered! This is where the Tapir with the Tapir baby was housed, the gibbons, more macaws, pretty much all of my kids favorite animals.

From there we walked down the hill to the Scott Aquarium. We have a membership to Underwater Adventures at the Mall of America, but this building put that place to shame! The underwater tunnel was wide enough that you could park two cars side by side inside of it with tons of neat fish species! The coral reef displays were beautiful, the jellyfish tanks were cool but the coolest thing in my opinion was the tube of swirling fish! So cool! The penguin area was huge! My kids loved the dome that they could stand in and see the penguins from underneath the water.

We walked from there into the Wild Kingdom Pavilion, It was a pretty building and the giant frogs were neat but I couldn’t really figure out the purpose of this building unless you need a place to sit down.

We then entered the incredible Desert Dome, of course we had to stop at the huge boulder sized floating granite world fountain so the kids could try to spin that. The first thing you see in the desert dome was a giant mountain of red sand, so beautiful in itself. It reminded me of the red rocks in Sedona, AZ that we loved. Keeping the kids out of the sand was tough, they both wanted to touch the cool colored sand. We walked through the desert area, looking at the desert plants trying to keep the kids safe from the spines on the desert plants that were right next to the path, checking out the birds, and desert animals.

We then walked downstairs into the bonus area in the dome of the Kingdoms of the Night. The Kingdoms of the Night seemed to go on forever with dark rooms and countless night animals, snakes, lizards, birds, and the incredibly stinky guano room filled with tons of species of bats, that one we pretty much ran through because the smell made your eyes burn. Made me glad I did not pick bat zoo keeper as a career. Whew! We then came to an amazingly dark but really cool room with giant alligators right next to the bridge path, Huge Alligators! There were also beavers and caymans. We walked into another giant river fish tank room and finally made our way upstairs and back out into the light. It seemed like we were in the dark forever this exhibit space was so large, it took my eyes a few minutes to re-adjust to the light.

We walked down to the Hubbard Orangutan Forest and looked at the beautiful orangutans and other primates. We walked into Hubbard Gorilla Valley we were in awe at the Gorillas, such magnificent huge animals! The baby Gorilla was so cute and the giant silver back was so intelligent looking it was almost frightening to look into his huge eyes as he stared at us through the glass. Wow!

It was starting to get late and the zoo was starting to clear out, so we took a fast glance at the cat Complex as we walked by, stopped at the Durhams Bear Canyon. We looked at the nice bear homes with lots of sleeping bears and made our way back up the hill to the North Entrance. We slowly made our way out of the zoo with sore feet to our truck, loaded the stroller back in the truck and truly enjoyed the air conditioning. Even with the humid heat and sore feet we had a great time at the zoo. I am awed at how many animals they had there and species we have never seen at any other zoo we have visited.

We gave the kid snacks and fought to keep the kids awake on the 10 minute ride back to the hotel, quick dressed them in swim suits to hit the water park for a while. We quick cleaned up and went to the Texas Roadhouse for dinner. The kids were both beat but loved watching the servers dance and loved eating the peanuts. We came back to the hotel and both kids crashed fast and so did both parents!

We slept in a little bit later the next morning, drank a good cup of coffee, packed up our stuff, loaded up the car, ate breakfast in the car and were on our way back to Minnesota. We stopped for lunch at a small little restaurant called the Dairy Dandy in an even smaller farm town in Iowa. That quiet town was no match for our full of energy kids! We jumped back into the truck then drove to Mankato, MN for the Minnesota Vikings training camp on the way home. We let the kids stretch their legs and buy some Vikings gear, then we piled in the truck for a quick jaunt home for the end of our road trip.

It was a nice weekend to someplace we had never visited before. The kids loved the Henry Doorly Zoo and are still bringing up some of their favorite animals they saw there. If you have a weekend and want to check out an affordable, friendly zoo, drive to the big town of Omaha, Nebraska and check out the Henry Doorly Zoo!