I’ve been a member of Omaha’s Henry Doorly Zoo & Aquarium for nearly a decade, and like many residents of Omaha, I feel like I’ve got every inch of the zoo memorized after visiting countless times. And so, I still am surprised by things there. The zoo updates exhibits, adds exhibits, adds animals and adds programs, so it’s forgivable if you don’t notice all of them. Here are things that you may not know you could do at the zoo!
COVID-19 Update: The zoo reopened on June 1, 2020. Several restrictions are in place and you should read about the zoo’s safety measures before visiting – especially when it comes to reserving tickets ahead of time.
Eat not-so-typical zoo food
Sure, you can find popcorn, hot dogs and hamburgers at the zoo, but if you want to try something different, head to one of these concession stands:
Tusker Grill: The food includes African favorites. Some of the dishes are perri perri chicken, a beef brai sandwich and boerewors sausage, which is a farmer’s sausage. You can also get sweet potato fries there, and they’re great. (It’s open seasonally). Find the Tusker Grill in the African Grasslands.
Sea Turtle Café – You can add some candy mix-ins with your soft serve ice cream at this cafe. (It’s open year-round).
Camp at the zoo
There are a couple options for camping at the zoo, and all of them sound awesome (if you like camping, that is). The lower price option is called Family Sleeping Bag Safaris, and they range from $45 to $48 per person. With these, depending on the date you choose, you might sleep in the aquarium, African Lodge, or the Wild Kingdom Pavilion. A few require you bring a tent, and for those, you can sleep in the Desert Dome or the Lied Jungle. The Family Sleeping Bag Safaris include zoo admission, an evening snack, breakfast and a visit from one Animal Ambassador.
For something a little fancier, you can also stay overnight at the Safari Tent Camp near the African Grasslands, right by the lion enclosure. This sounds a bit more like glamping, where you’ll get a tent with cots, a rug, night stand, lantern and an electrical outlet. For Family Safaris, the cost is $100 per person (two-person minimum and a five-person maximum in the tent). Included with that cost is zoo admission, educational programming, snack, breakfast, a morning hike, and a visit from Animal Ambassadors.
There are requirements for each of these camps. For most, if you bring a child, he/she must be at least 4 years old. If you bring many children, you need one adult per 10 youth.
Camp with no kids around
I bet a few of you like the sound of this (I know I do). Similar to the Family Safaris above, it offers all the programming, animals, hike and such, but one-ups it by adding a gourmet dinner, drinks, and an additional hike. It also costs more ($120 per person). And you have to be 21 or older.
There’s also a Photography Safari for those 18 or older. Camps for adults are held a few times a year so check the zoo’s website for details.
Be a keeper for a day
Learn how to take care the zoo’s animal ambassadors in the Animal Programs Keeper experience. You’ll work side-by-side with keepers in the Wild Kingdom Pavilion. These happen only on select days of the month. Kids under the age of 17 will need to be accompanied by an adult.
Workout at the zoo
Yoga sessions take place in the aquarium on select Saturdays and Sundays in the morning. The cost includes an hour of yoga and admission to the zoo. Participants must be 16 years old or older.
Each September, there’s a fun run in the zoo. This one’s open to all ages. Watch out, though, there are more hills than you think.
One of the oddest experiences is feeding a giraffe; though, it’s second only to feeding a stingray. You can do both at the zoo each summer (for an added fee, of course). Giraffe feedings are $3 and happen on the weekends, weather permitting.
Admission to Stingray Bay is $3 for members and $4 for non-members; feeding cups are $1.50 and they limit the quantities daily. Keep in mind that you will have to pay admission into Stingray Beach AND pay for a feeding cup. You don’t have to feed stingrays if you don’t want to.
Other food experiences include feeding a budgie (parakeet) in the Children’s Adventure Trail area. It’s only $1 a stick. The feedings are on the weekends, weather permitting.
Have a beer at the zoo
Little known fact, alcohol is available for purchase at the zoo. Beer is available at the Durham TreeTops Restaurant (and you can’t take it out of the building). Some special events also have alcohol available for purchase.
Watch monkeys while you eat
Durham TreeTops Restaurant is the restaurant to go to if you want to eat with a view of the indoor rainforest. Stalk the tables near the windows for the best views.
Go behind the scenes
The zoo has a program called Backstage Pass. My son was gifted a chance to go on the Octopus Backstage Pass, where he got to meet a keeper and go behind-the-scenes at the aquarium.
Other options include an aquarium general one where you can watch a feeding of sharks, Kingdoms of the Night, and a Lied Jungle experience. These happen only on select days and are limited to a small group. Kids under the age of 17 will need to be accompanied by an adult.
Catch the bats at their most active moments
Love bats? You’ll want to head to the Lied Jungle at the end of the day to see them when they’re most active (aim for 4 p.m. or later). Me? I don’t personally like having bajillion* or so bats flying even remotely close to me, but my kids love it.
*My estimate may not be exact
Walk around lemurs
Back in my newspaper days, many years ago, I attended the grand opening of Lemur Walkway (located in front of the Expedition Madagascar exhibit). At that time, the lemurs were pretty curious creatures, and they got pretty close to us.
The walkway is one to definitely visit, but I’ve yet to see the lemurs get very close to people since that first day. Keep your expectations in check for this one.
Ride the rides all day long
If you wanted to, there’s the option of having unlimited rides all day long at the zoo, seasonally. This is for unlimited rides on train, tram, Sue’s Carousel and Skyfari.
Tons of animal encounters
You probably knew the zoo had animal encounters each day, but did you realize how MANY they had?
Here’s what I’ve come across:
-Touch Tank Open, Scott Aquarium
-African Animal Discovery, Kopje Outcropping – African Grasslands
-Antarctic Penguin Feeding, Scott Aquarium
-Elephant Enrichment (Memorial Day – Labor Day), Lower Elephant Yard – African Grasslands
-Sea Lion Training (Excluding Wednesdays), Sea Lion Pool
-Shark Feeding (Wednesdays and Saturdays), Scott Aquarium
-Animal Discoveries, Mutual of Omaha’s Wild Kingdom Pavilion
-Meet a Reptile Keeper (Saturday – Sunday)
-Orangutan Enrichment (Memorial Day – Labor Day), Hubbard Orangutan Forest
-Lion Training (Memorial Day – Labor Day) Lion Viewing – African Grasslands
All animal encounters are weather and staff-dependent. Check the website for specific times.
Before you plan your next outing to Omaha’s zoo, check out Experts’ Tips For Visiting Omaha’s Zoo.
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