March 20, 2019

Ultimate List Of Things To Do In Omaha This Summer

Omaha is, in my opinion, a great place to live and a great place to visit. And no season is packed with more things to do than summer. I’ve gathered a list all the great things to do in Omaha this summer, including top places to go, things to do, and water activities that will help you stay cool in Omaha.

Kim’s note: While a large portion of Omaha was spared from devastation from the 2019 floods, please note to double check your routes and the location’s hours before visiting this year.

Tons of things to do in Omaha this summer! This list includes water activities, things to do at nearby parks, plus concerts, festivals and other summer events in Omaha. #Nebraska #USA

Water activities in Omaha

Bumper boats – The only place you can find bumper boats is Fun Plex.

Float Trips – You’ve heard of tubing, sure, but we also tank in Nebraska. You can rent tubes and tanks from RiverWestPark; just tubes from Tubing & Adventures and Uncle Scott’s Outfitters; and just tanks from Tank Down The Elkhorn.

Inflatable water obstacle course – Just outside of southwest Omaha is Louisville State Recreation Area, which opened an inflatable obstacle course on one of its lakes in 2018.

Paddling – You can kayaks classes through Neighborhood Offshore and Omaha Parks and Rec. For rentals, you can rent kayaks and canoes at Lake Manawa Beach (located inside Lake Manawa State Park in Council Bluffs, Iowa), the University of Nebraska at Omaha Outdoor Venture Center (open to the public, not just students), and Neighborhood Offshore.

Paddle boats – Two state parks have paddle boat rentals by the half-hour: Mahoney State Park and Platte River State Park. Before going to either park, check out these guides: Mahoney State Park For Families and 7 Reasons To Visit Platte River State Park.

Pools – Omaha parks has several outdoor pools – Gallagher Leisure, Miller Water Park, Camelot Traditional, Elkhorn Traditional, Lee Valley Traditional, Roanoke Traditional, Elmwood Leisure, Hanscom Leisure, Hitchcock Traditional, Karen Traditional, Spring Lake Traditional, Cryer Traditional, Deer Ridge Leisure, Oak Heights Leisure, Zorinsky Aquatic Center – as well three indoor pools (Montclair, Mockingbird and Common Ground). Council Bluffs has two outdoor pools, including Pirate Cove Water Park (with water slides) and Katelman Water Park. Goldfish Swim School has feature afternoon Family Swim sessions that are open to the public.

Spraygrounds – Omaha Parks and Recreation Departments has 9 spraygrounds open Memorial Day to Labor Day, 10 a.m. to 8 p.m. The best part? They’re free. Find them at: Benson Park, Fontenelle Park, Kountze Park, Orchard Park, Seymour Smith Park, Upland, Morton, Westwood Heights, and Bob Kerrey Pedestrian Bridge Plaza. You’ll have to pay admission to Omaha’s zoo for this next sprayground, but it is, hands down, the coolest of them all: Alaskan Adventures. On the busiest of summer days, there may be a wait to get into it. Other spraygrounds can be found at: Council Bluffs’ Bayliss Park and Fairmount Park, Shadow Lake Towne Center in Papillion, First National Bank Tower in downtown Omaha (more of a fountain you can play in), and Omaha Children’s Museum. Located a few miles south of Omaha, Platte River State Park opened a two-level spray ground in 2018.

Standup Paddleboard (SUP) – You can rent SUP equipment or take classes through Neighborhood Offshore.

Looking for things to do in the summer in Omaha, Nebraska? Omaha's zoo is a popular destination! Some of the add-on activities include feeding animals. #Nebraska
When the weather allows, you can feed giraffes at the zoo on the weekends. Photo courtesy Omaha’s Henry Doorly Zoo & Aquarium

Omaha Attractions That Are Great In The Summer

You may have to brave summer vacation crowds at the following attractions, but I think it’s worth it. A good rule of thumb is to get there first thing in the morning, or at the end very of business hours. Here’s what some Omaha attractions and landmarks has planned for the summer:

The Bob – The Bob Kerrey Pedestrian Bridge spans the Missouri River and it goes by the name “Bob” or, “The Bob.” Crossing it is “Bobbing.” We usually ride our bikes across it, as there are trails on both sides of the river. Be sure to take a picture straddling the state line for Iowa and Nebraska – it’s right in the middle of the bridge.

Do Space – Head to Do Space for hands-on tech activities for kids. There’s a room for younger kids and one for teens (that has a huge video game screen). Check out kits to play with robots and try new games. Adults may use the computers, all the available software, and 3D printer (there’s a fee for materials). Best of all – it’s FREE!

Durham Museum – Expect the Durham Museum to be busy this summer due to the temporary exhibit, “Tyrannosaurs: Meet the Family,” which runs until Sept. 1. The Durham Museum is a great place to spend the afternoon, crowds withstanding, since it’s so spacious and air conditioned. If your kids love trains, this is the place to be.

Joslyn Art MuseumJoslyn Art Museum is my go-to for a calming experience indoors. When I’m with my kids, we head to Art Works or check out an activity backpack and do all the activities. When we’re done, we head out to the water sculpture in front, where kids (and adults) can splash in. The outdoor sculpture garden is nice to explore, as well.

Lauritzen GardensLauritzen Gardens is a colorful and serene place to visit in the summer. The kids’ favorite garden is open (the model train garden), for one thing. If it’s extremely hot, the conservatory is a refreshing place to explore, especially the more temperate room with the water feature.

Lewis & Clark National Park Head Quarters – At the base of the Bob Kerrey Pedestrian Bridge is the small building for the Lewis & Clark National Park Head Quarters. Inside, you’ll find a gallery of hands-on activities created for families (and adults who are kids-at-heart). A ranger may be available to talk about the artifacts and animal pelts on display. When we visited the national park headquarters, the kids played dress up, learned about the animals Lewis & Clark encountered, and tried writing with a quill.

Old Market – The charming few blocks of brick road in the Old Market is worth a stroll when the weather’s right. Check out this post about free things to do in the Old Market or learn about this urban walking labyrinth that takes you on a self-guided tour of the district.

Omaha Children’s Museum – Each summer, the museum has two temporary exhibits that make a visit exciting even for regular. This year, the exhibits are “Enchanted Kingdom,” featuring animatronic dragons and a unicorn, as well as “Attic Adventures.” Both end Sept. 1. This place is best for kids under 10. Don’t miss building something in the Tinker Lab. Before you go, check out these insider tips for OCM.

Omaha’s Henry Doorly Zoo & Aquarium – Some of the zoo’s best attractions for kids are open in the summer, including Alaskan Adventure (a huge spray ground) and Children’s Adventure Trails. The zoo’s other seasonal activities, from Stingray Beach to the zipine, are in full swing in the summer, too. The second phase of Asian Highlands opened in May, so expect big crowds in that area. Oh, and there are a lot of animals. Plus, check out all the things you did’t know you could do at Omaha’s zoo!

Strategic Air Command & Aerospace Museum – Technically, it’s not in Omaha, but don’t overlook an afternoon at Strategic Air Command & Aerospace Museum in Ashland, Neb. If your kid loves planes (or you do), it’s worth exploring. There’s also an educational kid’s area to check out.

Union Pacific Railroad Museum – Another one that’s not technically in Omaha, but close enough. The Union Pacific Railroad Museum in downtown Council Bluffs, Iowa, is a FREE museum, so if you have a train-loving kid, it’s a no-brainer place to visit.

Water parks & aquatic centers If you’re looking for water slides, there are just a handful of water parks/aquatic centers to add to your list. Fun Plex is Omaha’s largest water park, and the closest we get to having a theme park with rides. It has a wave pool, slides, and a large water feature, as well as a small rollercoaster, go carts, and rides. Zorinski Park is a city park pool that has water slides. At Mahoney State Park in Ashland, Neb., is a great aquatic center with a regular pool, wave pool, slides and a sprayground. Kroc Center in South Omaha has an indoor aquatic park with slides, a little lazy river, and zero-depth entry pool.

Looking for things to do in the summer in Omaha? This list includes places to go indoors and outdoors, attractions to see and things to do, including hiking to this waterfall at Platte River State Park. #Nebraska
This waterfall at Platte River State Park is my favorite destination of any Omaha metro trail.

Things to do at parks near Omaha

FootGolf – It’s soccer. It’s golf. It’s FootGolf. Find FootGolf courses in nearby towns including La Vista Falls Golf Course in La Vista and Elkhorn Ridge Golf Course in Elkhorn.

HikeHummel Park has a few trails, some for moderate skill levels. The park has a hiking club that heads out on the first Saturday of the month. The nature center is great, too.

Playgrounds – Hummel Park has the most unique slides you’ll find in the area, but they’re for slightly older kids. Looking for a sand-free playground? Head to Stinson Park at Aksarben Village. For a large, wooden playground, check Dreamland Park in Council Bluffs, Iowa. For more park ideas, read about the 8 Great Parks In Omaha.

Trail Rides – Guided horseback rides are available at Mahoney State Park and Platte River State Park. There are age and weight limitations and they differ per park. Mahoney also has pony rides for younger kids. Rides are seasonally offered.

Waterfall – There is only one natural waterfall near Omaha, and it’s located just off a trail at Platte River State Park. It’s not large, by any means, but it’s a favorite of mine and it’s an easy hike for kids. The water is shallow, so you can walk in the water around it to cool off.

Zip line – There’s only one place to zip line in Nebraska and it’s near Omaha. Go Ape has a zip line course at Mahoney State Park in Ashland, Neb. This summer, Fontenelle Forest will open TreeRush Adventure Park with two courses (one being great for kids ages 4-6). In Iowa, there’s a zip line at Mt. Crescent in Crescent, Iowa. It’s close enough to the Omaha metro (just about 20 miles) to count, I say.

Looking for things to in Omaha in the summer? Head indoors! Urban Air Trampoline and Adventure Park is West Omaha has a ropes course. #Nebraska #familyfun
The Urban Air Trampoline and Adventure Park has a ropes course is suitable for kids and adults.

Things To Do Indoors In Omaha

When the temperature hits 90 or hotter, I start looking for things to do indoors. Here are some fun indoor places to visit on hot summer days:

Axe throwing – This is a fun thing to do with a group, older children or as a couple. Some places, like Axe Games, allow younger kids to throw if they’re supervised, but let them know ahead of time that you’re bringing a kid. Other places to look into include Flying Timber Axe Throwing and Craft Axe Throwing.

Archery Games – I tried out Archery Games with friends, and it’s a workout…but a fun one! Figuring out a bow and arrow in the archery arena may frustrate younger kids, but older kids may get the hang of it pretty easily.

Bowling – Bowling alleys in Omaha include Maplewood Lanes, West Lanes Bowling Center, The MARK, Papio Bowl, Chops Bowling Alley, and Western Bowl. Some are straight forward bowling allies; others offer additional activities like laser tag. If your family regularly bowls, be sure to sign them up for the Kids Bowl Free program.

Create – Head to Board and Brush to make your own personalized board, do a drop-in mini workshop, or make something alongside your kid. Details on the experience may be found here. Save $10 on your project with the promo code OHMYOMAHA!

Climbing Walls – Mahoney State Park has a climbing wall and a bouldering wall at the park’s Activity Center (must pay state park admission fee, as well as fee for climbing). Approach Climbing Gym is another option for the public. UNO also has a climbing wall and its free for UNO students, and pretty inexpensive for non-students (kids must be at least 5 years old). Omaha Children’s Museum’s special exhibit, “Attic Adventures,” has a small wall for young kids. The exhibit runs through Sept. 1, 2019.

Entertainment centers – These entertainment centers cater to different ages. For arcade games, laser tag, and other activities that may appeal to older children and adults, go to the Amazing Pizza Machine,  The MARK and Dave & Buster’s. For families with younger kids, there is a Chuck E. Cheese in Midtown Omaha.

Escape rooms – Escape rooms in Omaha include Get Out Omaha, House of Conundrum, The Escape Omaha, Entrap Games, and Locked Room Omaha. Escape rooms, generally, are better for older kids or going there with a group of your friends. Younger kids will like the occasional escape rooms held at the Millard branch of the Omaha Public Library branches (check the calendar for when these one-day programs are held).

Gyms – More for younger kids, gyms are popping up everywhere to give kids a chance to run, tumble, and climb safely. Gyms with public play hours include GO! Kids Gym, KIDS body shop, Kids Warrior Gym, and PE 101 Kids Gym. Premier Gymnastics’ open gym will appeal to older kids, especially those training in gymnastics, tumbling or parkour. You don’t have to be a member to go to the open gym.

Mini Golf – Like the idea of playing putt putt around a pirate ship or dinosaurs? Omaha has several indoor putting options. See where you can putt indoors (and outdoors) in Omaha in this post.

Trampoline parks & other places to jump – For trampoline parks, Omaha has three places to go to in Omaha: Sky Zone Trampoline Park, Urban Air Trampoline and Adventure Park and Altitude Trampoline Park. Urban Air is the more expensive option for trampoline parks, but it also has an indoor ropes course and a ninja course (as well as a large play area). The Hub in Council Bluffs is another indoor trampoline park option. Pump It Up and BounceU are large, indoor bounce house centers. You’ll have to sign wavers before playing at any of these places.

This list of things to do in Omaha in the summer includes indoor and outdoor ideas, like attending an Omaha Storm Chasers baseball game.
The berm section at an Omaha Storm Chasers baseball game.

More ideas for summer fun in Omaha

Cheap movie series – Two cinemas I keep an eye are Film Streams and Marcus Theaters. Film Streams‘ Forever Young Family & Children’s Series is high quality new films or films from our childhood, and kid tickets are only $2.50 for the series! These are screened at the Ruth Sokolof Theater in downtown Omaha. There are three locations of Marcus Theaters in the metro area that usually run the low-price kids’ movie series Check the website for upcoming series. The locations that run these films usually are at Village Pointe, Majestic and Twin Creek.

College World Series – This kind of goes without saying, right? For a few weeks every June, Omaha attracts thousands for the NCAA Men’s College World Series. Beyond the games, there’s the Opening Day Celebration, Fan Fest, a fun run, live music and so much more.

Free outdoor concerts – Every weekend (and many weekdays), you’ll find a free outdoor concert. Some of my favorites series include Jazz on the Green at Midtown Crossing, Bridge Beats and the Saturday concerts at Stinson Park. There are also free concert series at Village Pointe, Rockbrook Village, and more. Check out this post for additional free concert ideas. Don’t forget the big, free concert held usually the Saturday before the Fourth of July at Memorial Park. I have a huge list of free summer concerts in this post.

Nebraska Passport – Start collecting stamps for the 2019 Nebraska Passport right here in Omaha. There are three stops in Omaha this year: Crystal Forge at Hotshops Art Center, General Crook House Museum and
the Lithuanian Bakery (if you go there and don’t order a slice of the apricot napoleon torte, can you even say you’ve been there??).

Omaha Storm Chasers Baseball – Attending an Omaha Storm Chasers game is more than just watching a game of baseball. For kids, Werner Park has a play zone and a mini golf area. You can read more family-friendly things to do at Storm Chasers games here. Plus, there’s all the good food. I compiled a list of locals’ favorite ballpark foods.

Summer festivals – Every weekend seems to have competing festivals to attend. Some of the big ones that are free include Omaha Summer Arts Festival and Taste of Omaha. For major music acts, snag tickets to Maha Music Festival.

Looking for things to do in Omaha and nearby during the summer? This list includes fun things to do indoors and outdoors, plus a few day trip ideas, like a visit to Indian Cave State Park. #Nebraska
Indian Cave State Park is a popular park to hike. It’s south of Omaha.

Explore beyond Omaha

If you’re an outdoorsy person, check out this post about 10 outdoor activities near Omaha, including sand beaches, the Great Tree Adventure and Indian Cave State Park.

If you’re looking for more ideas, here’s a post listing the top family-friendly outdoor activities near Council Bluffs, Iowa. Most on the list are just a day trip away!

Huge list of things to do in Omaha in the summer - Water activities, parks to visit, museums & exhibits, and free activities for families and visitors. #Nebraska #outdoors #vacation

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March 18, 2019

How Kids Learn Through Play At Premier Academy

For the last few years, I’ve been immersed in the world of play at Omaha Children’s Museum. I’ve learned that play is the best way for young children learn. Daycare centers like Premier Academy Child Enrichment Center have the same philosophy in teaching children.

Disclosure: This is sponsored post by Premier Academy. All thoughts, opinions and typos are my own.

Find out how childcare centers incorporate play and state early education guidelines into each day | This Omaha childcare center has it figured out! #premieracademy #partner #Omaha

“Play is the child’s work.”

I chatted with Jewel McKercher, a director at Premier Academy Child Enrichment Center in Omaha and Elkhorn, to get a better understanding at what sets the center apart from others.

While it’s a fact that Premier incorporates Nebraska Early Learning Guidelines into the curriculum, the center also believes that play is the child’s work, she said.

Play is great way to develop gross motor skills and develop social skill like taking turns and cooperative play. Photo courtesy Premier Academy Child Enrichment Center

“Teacher need to encourage the child’s natural curiosity and eagerness to learn,” said McKercher. “The Nebraska Early Learning Guidelines does a fantastic job of training teachers to allow for exploration and discovery.”

Related post: 7 Things To Look For In Omaha Childcare

How they include play at Premier Academy

According to McKercher, there are different techniques to building happy and strong foundation in early childhood education. She said this can be done by “balancing active time with quiet time, teacher directed activities with child selected ones, and structured learning with fun-time.”

This is where it’s pretty interesting to me, as this is how I see my co-workers at Omaha Children’s Museum trying to strike a similar balance when planning programming. It’s why the museum encourages open play in each exhibit, but also has daily programs offered for a guided learning and play experience. Both forms of play are important.

Classroom science experiment at Premier Academy Child Enrichment
Center in Omaha, Nebraska
A volcano science experiment at Premier Academy Child Enrichment Center. Photo courtesy Premier Academy Child Enrichment Center

In an early childcare classroom like at Premier Academy, the teachers understand this too. They embrace that play is the child’s work, but they also incorporate facets of early childhood learning.

In the preschool classrooms, for instance, there are different centers that incorporate play-based learning into play. The centers include the Dramatic Play Center, Blocks Center, Large Motor Center and the Creative Arts Center. As kids play, they’re learning important social and emotional skills.

All the children at Premier also get to spend time outdoors, weather permitting. Both the West Omaha daycare and Elkhorn daycare have a 5,000 square foot outdoor playground!

About the post sponsor

Exterior of Premier Academy Child Enrichment Center, which has locations in Omaha and Elkhorn, Nebraska
Photo courtesy Premier Academy Child Enrichment Center

I learned a lot just interviewing McKercher from Premier Academy in Omaha. If you thought she was helpful, too, and you happen to be in the market for childcare, I encourage you to check out her employer and see if Premier is the right fit for you!

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March 11, 2019

Things You Didn’t Know You Could Do At Omaha’s Zoo

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:

Get the scoop on all the tours, animal encounters and camping opportunities available at the Omaha zoo! #Nebraska #familytravel #USA

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:

Inside the Tusker Grill dining hall at Omaha's zoo
Tusker Grill is located in the African Grasslands at Omaha’s zoo. Some of the food available to purchase are African favorites. Photo courtesy Omaha’s Henry Doorly Zoo & Aquarium

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.

One of the Family Sleeping Bag Safaris allows families to stay overnight inside the zoo’s Desert Dome. Photo courtesy Omaha’s Henry Doorly Zoo & Aquarium

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.

The Safari Tent Camp at Omaha's zoo
The Safari Tent Camp is located near the lion enclosure at the zoo. Photo courtesy Omaha’s Henry Doorly Zoo & Aquarium

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. And some camps

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.

One of the tents at Omaha zoo's Safari Tent Camp with a view inside
The zoo has adults-only camping options where you can stay at the Safari Tent Camp overnight. Photo courtesy Omaha’s Henry Doorly Zoo & Aquarium

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.

A yogi holding a pose in the aquarium at Omaha's Henry Doorly Zoo & Aquarium
Yoga in the Aquarium is held on select weekend mornings at Omaha’s zoo. Photo courtesy Omaha’s Henry Doorly Zoo & Aquarium

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.

Runners at Omaha's Henry Doorly Zoo & Aquarium
The Zoo Run is held each September at the zoo. Photo courtesy Omaha’s Henry Doorly Zoo & Aquarium

Feed animals

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.

Crowd at the Stingray Beach pool at Omaha's Henry Doorly Zoo & Aquarium
At the Omaha zoo’s Stingray Beach, you can touch stingrays as well feed them.

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.

Feeding a giraffe at Omaha's zoo
You can feed giraffes at the zoo on the weekend, weather permitting, for a small additional fee. Photo courtesy Omaha’s Henry Doorly Zoo & Aquarium

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.

Diners at TreeTops Restaurant sitting at tables by the windows overlooking the indoor rainforest at Omaha's zoo
The TreeTops Restaurant at Omaha’s zoo is one of the best places to eat for one big reason: The tables located by the windows overlooking the indoor rainforest.

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.

Behind-the-scenes tour of the aquarium at Omaha's Henry Doorly Zoo & Aquarium
The Backstage Pass takes visitors behind-the-scenes at Omaha’s zoo. Photo courtesy Omaha’s Henry Doorly Zoo & 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.

Family is near lemurs at the Lemur Walkway at Omaha's zoo
Lemur Walkway is located at Expedition Madagascar at Omaha’s Zoo. Photo courtesy Nebraska Tourism

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?

Kids touch a tortoise at Omaha's zoo
The zoo has animal encounters with Animal Ambassadors as well as regularly scheduled feedings and enrichment programs to watch. Photo courtesy Omaha’s Henry Doorly Zoo & Aquarium

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.

There are a ton of experiences, tours & food you didn't know you could have at Omaha's zoo! #Nebraska #USA

Before you plan your next outing to Omaha’s zoo, check out Experts’ Tips For Visiting Omaha’s Zoo.

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March 4, 2019

Guide To ONE Festival For Families & Opera Beginners

Opera Omaha is bringing back the ONE Festival to Omaha for its second year running March 30 through April 14, 2019. It’s unlike any festival I’ve ever been to, and I think if you appraise good storytelling, you’re going to want to check it out. There is a full lineup of events, and it can be hard to figure out which one is good for someone new to opera and which one is good for families, so I’ve written a guide to the ONE Festival to help.

Disclosure: This post is a partnership between Opera Omaha and Oh My! Omaha. I was not paid to write the post. Opera Omaha provided passes for the giveaway. All thoughts, opinions and typos are my own.

What you need to know about the ONE Festival in Omaha if you're new to opera - What's kid-friendly, what's accessible to opera newbies and how to get tickets #Omaha #Nebraska #opera

Related: Looking for more festivals and events in Omaha? Check out this post with an updated list of kid-friendly events, exhibits and festivals in the Omaha Area.

What is the ONE Festival?

The ONE Festival explores opera in all its forms. Sure there are two operas in the festival, but the rest of the festival deconstructs it into concerts, installations, social gatherings, dance and exhibitions. There’s an exhibition in 2019 that I think most families are going to love (more on that in a little bit).

The focus of the ONE Festival is experimentation and new work. The festival is held at different venues around Omaha. Some of it is free, some of it requires tickets. Here’s a list of all the performances and events in the 2019 ONE Festival.

Is the ONE Festival for families?

The full operas in the ONE Festival are not going to appeal to young kids or elementary aged kids. They can last up to three hours long and are quite often performed in an other language. However, there are a couple things at this year’s ONE Festival that I think will appeal to a younger audience.

A performance during the 2018 ONE Festival presented by Opera Omaha
The unique thing about the ONE Festival in Omaha is that it deconstructs opera with performances that range from dance and instrumentals to vocal performances. Of course, the festival also includes full operas. Photo courtesy Opera Omaha

One truly exciting exhibition, that I think will appeal to adults and kids alike is called “Playground.” You’re going to want to check out this operatic sound sculpture at Joslyn Art Museum March 30 through April 14. It’s pretty much a playground set inside the museum curated by Ellen Reid. What that means is you can swing on this playset and create music while someone else is accompanying you on the slide.

The performance part comes in on select days and times when “Run” is performed. This 15-minute original composition for voice features ONE Festival soloist Naomi Louisa O’Connell and International Contemporary Ensemble artists. “Run” is performed at select times on March 30 and 31, as well as April 4, 6 and 13.

Families may want to look into attending one of shows in the CINEsound operatic film series at Film Streams (at both the Dundee and Ruth Sokolof theaters). The one in particular that I’m told is family-oriented is called “Sights on Sounds.” It’s a documentary-style compilation that explores the connection of music and film.

Is the ONE Festival accessible to opera beginners?

I think the entire idea of the ONE Festival is to introduce opera to people who’ve never been to a traditional opera. With that said, there are some performances that are more accessible to newbies than others.

The first performance to check out happens before the festival event begins. “An Evening With Paul Barnes” on March 15 will be a good one to check out since it will give you a glimpse at what’s planned for the 2019 festival, as performed by pianist Paul Barnes. He’s famous for his collaboration with Philip Glass and has been called “ferociously virtuosic” by the San Francisco Chronicle.

An opera performance at the 2018 ONE Festiva in Omaha, Nebraska
The ONE Festival in Omaha explores operas in all its forms — from full operas to instrumental performances, dance and cinema. Photo courtesy Opera Omaha

Reid + Concert on April 4 is another one I’m told is good for those new to opera. It’s a chamber concert featuring Ellen Reid (the artist behind “Playground”), as well as performances by Holland Community Opera Fellows, Creighton University Chamber Choir and members of the International Contemporary Ensemble. The performance is on the shorter side, so it gives you a taste of things without having to sit for a three-hour performance.

“For Research Only” is a dance exhibition that puts you in the middle of the performance (which may appeal to some and not to others, right?). This performance at KANEKO takes place April 6, 10, and 11. Due to the intimate nature of it, seeing is limited. The performance tries to put the audience into the thoughts of the performers, offering a glimpse into how a performance is made. It involves contemporary dance, live music and projection mapping.

I also think the “CINEsound” series sounds pretty interesting, especially the midnight screening that kicks off the festival. The score will be performed live with the movie.

About the operas in ONE Festival

There are two full opera experiences at the 2019 ONE Festival. “Les Enfantes Terribles” is the shorter of the two, if you base your opera viewing on time. It’s a twisted twisted opera by Philip Glass based on the 1929 novel. “Les Enfantes Terribles” is April 3, 5, 7, 13 and 14 at The Mastercraft. It’s definitely not suitable for kids.

The other opera is “Faust,” and due to its 3 1/2-hour-long run time, it’s going to be one for the seasoned opera fans. It sounds visually cool, with a Vegas-y feel to it, though. This performance will feature music that hasn’t been heard in more than 150 years, which is cool. “Faust” is on April 12 and 14 at the Orpheum Theater. Like the other opera, it’s not for the kiddos.

Going to the ONE Festival

The ONE Festival is March 30 through April 14, 2019 at various locations around Omaha. You’ll want to check if the performance you’re going to attend requires tickets, and if so, you’ll probably want to get them early (especially for performances with limited seating like “For Research Only). “Playground” is one that is FREE to attend, but you’ll want to time it right to see the performance of “Run” while you’re there. See all the performance and event dates and times here.

Tickets range in prices. Be sure to follow Oh My! Omaha on Facebook because I’ll be giving away a pair of Festival ONEpasses! The Festival ONEpass gets you into “An Evening with Paul Barnes” (VIP option available), “Les Enfants Terribles,” and “For Research Only” plus gives you discount codes for “CINEsound” and “Faust.”

Opera Omaha's ONE Festival is held each spring in Omaha. Here's what you need to know about taking kids to a performance or attending your first opera #Omaha #Nebraska #opera

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March 1, 2019

What To Expect At Air Play

“Air Play” will be performed in Omaha soon, and I’m pretty excited about it. I’m not sure if I can quite describe it to you, but I’m confident both the kids and I will love it. Why you ask? If there’s one thing I learned about Omaha Performing Arts’ Family Series, it’s to trust them and just go see the show. (I still remember the season when I saw two amazing shows I’d never heard of in the Family Series: Cirque Mechanics Pedal Punk and Mummenschanz: The Musicians of Silence).

I’m partnering with OPA to tell you about the show and to give away a four pack of tickets so one of you can with your family too! “Air Play” is on Saturday, March 16, at 2 p.m. at the Orpheum Theater in Omaha. Tickets are on sale now at TicketOmaha.com.

What to expect if you go to "Air Play" - The family-friendly touring production is part circus and part street performance theater. #AirPlay #Omaha

Disclosure: This post is sponsored by Omaha Performing Arts. I’m being compensated by tickets for myself to attend the show and to giveaway. All thoughts, opinions and typos are my own.

What is “Air Play”?

“‘Fun for all ages’ is a common puff in the arts, but with Air Play it’s strictly true. From the minute the curtain goes up on this buoyant fusion of wordless clowning and aerial spectacle, you feel as if you’ve stepped into an enchanted world somewhere between childhood and what comes afterwards, where normal rules (gravity included) have been temporarily held at bay. A joy from start to finish, Air Play will entrance children, and will act as a great reset button for stressed adults.” – Sydney Morning Herald

“Air Play” is a family-friendly show that’s part-circus, part-street theater performance. It’s the brainchild of husband and wife team Seth Bloom and Christina Gelsone, who collaborated with renowned air sculptor Daniel Wurtzel to create the visually stunning, and often funny, show.

A scene from "Air Play," a family-friendly theatrical performance
Christina Gelsone and Seth Bloom are the creators, performers and producers behind “Air Play.” Photo courtesy Air Play by Florence Montmare

The show’s description gives you a little insight on what you can expect: “Air Play is a circus-style adventure of two siblings journeying through a surreal land of air, transforming the ordinary into objects of uncommon beauty. Fabrics dance in the wind, balloons have a mind of their own, confetti turns into the night sky, and an enormous canopy of hovering silk forever alters their future.”

Who is this show designed for?

All of the shows in the Omaha Performing Arts Family Series are curated to appeal to the widest audience and the broadest of age ranges. The show is about an hour long and in the middle of the day, which is ideal for families, if you ask me.

A scene from "Air Play," a touring show
“Air Play” is an hour-long show that appeals to children as young as 5 years old as well as adults. Photo courtesy Air Play by Florence Montmare

Given the whimsical description and the physical and visual nature of the show, this is going to appeal to kids who are at least 5 years old or older. It is not recommended for infants and toddlers.

Want to win tickets?

I’ll kick off a ticket giveaway on the Oh My! Omaha Facebook page on March 4. One winner will receive four tickets to the show on March 16!

A scene from the touring production of "Air Play" starring Seth Bloom and Christina Gelsone
“Air Play” will be performed in Omaha on March 16, 2019. Photo courtesy Air Play by Florence Montmare

It’s going to be the first in several days of giveaways for family-friendly activities so if you don’t follow Oh My! Omaha already, now’s a good time to start.

If you go

“Air Play”

When: March 16 at 2 p.m.

Where: Orpheum Theater, 409 S. 16th St.

Cost: $15-$30. Purchase tickets online at TicketOmaha.com or save on ticketing fees and buy them in person at the Ticket Omaha box office located inside the Holland Performing Arts Center.

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February 21, 2019

Omaha Children’s Museum Insider’s Tips

It’s been several years since I’ve written a post dedicated to Omaha Children’s Museum. My last non-exhibit post about the museum was written before I started working there. (Now’s a good time to fully disclose, that, yes, I’m employed at Omaha Children’s Museum. And I’m totally biased.) But with more than eight years as a member and three as an employee, people often ask me for tips, so now I’m going to put them into a post. Read on for my tips on the best times to visit, how to navigate special events, and dining at the museum:

Tips for visiting Omaha Children's Museum - Know when to go, know how to save money, and understand the perks of membership #Omaha #Nebraska #museum

Who is the museum’s target audience?

I said this before, but children’s museums are geared toward about a 10 and younger audience, while science centers cater to a wider range (but aren’t always zeroes in on the younger kids). In Omaha, I’d say the exhibits are best for 8 and younger, though the Tinker Lab is the exception. My son is 9 and still loves visiting and never misses the chance to build something in the Tinker Lab.

If your kids are preschoolers, you’ll spend most of your time in the museum’s most popular exhibit, Imagination Playground, where you’ll find the mini grocery store, barn, hospital, and climb space. Actually, even early grade schoolers love the space.

Mini grocery store at Omaha Children's Museum
My kids baking a cake at the grocery store’s bakery inside Omaha Children’s Museum.

There’s a three-tiered water table that pretty popular. There are covers to keep kids dry, but you may want to bring a change of clothes, just in case.

The Imagination Playground is a great spot for parents on their own with two or more kids. There is just one way in and one way out.

For kids under 3, there’s a space called the Wiggle Room. You’ll need to remove your shoes or wear shoe covers if you go in there.

If you have a baby, the museum has a breastfeeding room. It’s located in the Family Discover Room, which you’ll have to pass through the Imagination Playground to get to. It’s cozy and has peaceful music playing over speakers.

When to go to Omaha Children’s Museum

Omaha Children’s Museum has two sets of hours – winter and summer hours. In the winter, the museum is closed on Mondays, and then is open Tuesdays through Fridays from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m., Saturdays from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m., and Sundays, 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. The later weekend hours are new for 2019.

In the summer, the museum is open Mondays through Fridays, 10 a.m. to 5 p.m., Saturdays from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m., and Sundays from 11 a.m. to 6 p.m.

Dancing in the Moving With Light exhibit at Omaha Children's Museum
The end-of-the-day parade held at the museum each summer included a brief dance at the Moving With Light exhibit.

Member hours: These are great… if you aren’t working a full-time, weekday job. Member hours are weekdays from 9 to 10 a.m. when the museum is open. So, in the winter, that’s every Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday and Friday. In the summer, Monday is also included.

If you’re a member, this is the ideal time to go. I’ve heard people say it’s like having the museum to yourself. Monday mornings in the summer are the best of the best.

If you’re not a member, though, weekdays are still going to be the best time to visit. In the winter, this is especially the case. When to time the visit depends on your kids, really. When they were younger, they got up early and took ridiculously long naps, so afternoons were straight out for going to the museum.

But let me tell you – those last few hours of the day? Those are great times to visit. The morning crowd typically leaves around lunch time (AKA, nap time), leaving the great parking spots open to boot. There’s also a discount on admission if you arrive during the last hour.

Tips for summer at Omaha Children’s Museum

Since the museum caters to a crowd that is in school, summers tend to be busier than any other time of year. The two parking lots can fill up before noon (scroll down and read my tips on parking!). People come to see the summer exhibit, which is only open from Memorial Day Weekend to Labor Day Weekend (note that the museum is closed on those major holidays).

Omaha Children's Museum tips - The exterior grounds of the museum include pinwheels and mobiles, a playground and a splash garden.
Photo courtesy Nebraska Tourism.

The best day of the week to visit and likely find the least amount of people: Monday. Member Hours still apply during the summer, and so, if you’re a member, it will be even less busy if you visit then.

I think the best time to visit is at the end of the day in the summer. Omaha Children’s Museum extends its hours on weekdays, closing on 5 p.m., and when I walk through the museum during that last hour, it’s just a handful of families. So, if you’re little one isn’t on a strict napping schedule that conflicts with arriving later in the day, I’d recommend going that route.

And pro parent tip: Bring a swimsuit for the kids or a change of clothes. The museum has a small splash pad in front and it’s hard for kids to resist in the heat of summer.

Special events at Omaha Children’s Museum

Omaha Children’s Museum has special events almost monthly, and all but a handful are included with museum admission. That means, the events are free for member families.

The museum’s Friday Family Date Nights are popular events happening on select Fridays during the winter months. The hours for these events have expanded in 2019, so they now run from 4 to 8 p.m. I highly recommend arriving before 4 p.m. if you can manage it. Chances are good that your child will want to play first before doing any of the themed activities, so might as well let them.

Tip: You can visit even come earlier in the day, leave and then return. So, let’s say you visit in the afternoon, leave for dinner, and then return for themed activities. Totally acceptable. Just keep your admission stickers on.

For Friday Family Date Nights, and other events like Star Wars Night, you do not need to purchase tickets in advance. Just show up and buy them at the front desk.

Making flower crowns at Omaha Children's Museum
At one of the Worldfests at Omaha Children’s Museum, the Lithuanian area included making flower crowns.

Besides evening events, there are a few annual ones to look forward to. I love going to Worldfest with the kiddos each summer, as well as Tinkerfest. There is also an annual Little Scientist Day that ties in with NESci Fest. I know I’m missing a few others.

The museum has a few ticketed events that require pre-purchasing tickets. The most popular is the Fairytale Ball, held each summer. Kids (and many of their grown ups) dress up for it. It includes a dinner, tons of characters, crafts and horse-drawn carriage rides. You save about $15 off each ticket if you’re a member.

Eating at Omaha Children’s Museum

The museum has the Rainbow Cafe, located upstairs by the carousel. The prices are surprisingly low for museums or attractions, in my opinion. And there is a good amount of healthy options like sliced apples & dip, cheese sticks, and carrots & dip. And then, of course, there are the not-so-healthy options like pizza slices, large pretzels, and hot dogs.

I’ve eaten there a few times when I forget to bring my lunch to work. It’s easy to make healthy choices, but I often end up getting a pretzel and cheese sauce (because I’m weak).

New food in 2019: The museum’s cafe just added Mini Melts Ice Cream to its offering. This brand is similar to Dippin’ Dots, only creamier.

On the first floor, your offerings are limited to what’s available at the gift shop. This includes $1 popcorn. There’s also coffee available, and a little tip for winter visits, the coffee machine also makes delicious hot cocoa.

The good news is that it’s totally fine to bring outside food here and eat it in one of the designated dining areas. Please do not eat in any of the exhibits spaces. In the summer, I often eat at the picnic tables outside. The tables are next to the antique fire truck kids like play on.

There aren’t a whole lot of restaurants within walking distance of the museum, not at least any that I’d send you guys too. One of the closest is Block 16, and while it’s crazy delicious, you’ll likely encounter a line (and there’s no kid’s menu). You’re better off driving the short distance to the Old Market and trying one of these family-friendly restaurants.

Parking at Omaha Children’s Museum

The museum has two parking lots on the south side of the building. Parking in them is free. On the weekends and in the summer (and on school holidays), the parking lot of the elementary school across the street is available for free, overflow parking, as well.

On busy days, during the summer, and on the weekends, though, the free parking fills up. There are plenty of metered parking spots along the street, but of course, those cost money (except on Sundays). Timing your visit on one of those busy days may help you snag a parking spot in the main parking lots. I recommend visiting right after the lunch hour, say around 1 p.m. Why? Because families often leave around lunch in order to get home in time for naps.

What makes Omaha Children’s Museum unique?

Very few children’s museums have as many special exhibits each year. In Omaha, there are two big special exhibits in the larger, upstairs space each year. On the lower level, there’s a smaller exhibits space that changes more frequently, and usually includes something seasonal. So, for Halloween, there’s Cobweb Castle and at Christmas time, there’s Santa’s Magic.

Omaha Children's Museum's light piano.
Don’t skip playing a song or two on the museum’s light piano.

The museum is also one of the few to design and build their own exhibits (well, for bigger pieces, they design and then hire places like Heartland Scenic Studio to build them). These exhibits tend to be more hands-on and less branded. They occasionally rent an exhibit, and that’s when you’ll typically see the brand name characters involved.

Upcoming special exhibits include:

Attic Adventures (March 2 through Sept. 1, 2019)

Enchanted Kingdom (summer 2019)

Digging’ Dinos (October 2019 through mid-April 2020)

OCM Family Memberships

If there’s a chance your family is going to visit more than two or three times in one year, I highly recommend getting a membership. Even if you think you’ll only visit twice – get one.

Why? Your membership gets you into other museums and science centers around the country for FREE (they have to belong to the Association of Science and Technology Centers and be more than 90 miles from your home museum). This is why I also recommend getting a family membership even if you have a kid on the verge of aging out (or if your oldest has already aged out). The regular Family Membership gets you reciprocal membership benefits to more than 250 science centers and technology centers. Some of the places I’ve used the reciprocal membership include the Science Center of Iowa and The Field Museum. I explain it better in this post.

If you buy a Patron Family Membership, which costs more, you also get discounted admission into children’s museums that are in the Association of Children’s Museums. ACM doesn’t give you free admission for up to four people, though. It’s usually 50% off. It’s still a nice perk.

I wrote an entire post about the perks of an Omaha Children’s Museum membership; read it to learn about the discounts on camps, birthdays, gift shop purchases, etc.

Discounts to Omaha Children’s Museum

People often ask about free days at Omaha Children’s Museum. Well, hate to break it to you, but there aren’t many free days. The only one is the first Sunday in December during the Omaha Lights Festival’s Family Festival. As you can imagine, it gets very busy and parking is hard to come by.

Your best bet, if you’re local, is to have an Omaha Public Library card. On certain times of the year, each OPL branch has a limited amount of family passes to check out. The passes admit up to four people, and you must show your library card when you bring it to the museum. There are some limits to it – you have to be 18 and older, for instance; and you can only check one out per “wave” of passes.

Other libraries that have similar pass programs include Council Bluffs Public Library and Carter Lake Public Library.

If you’re not local, I recommend downloading the Visit Omaha app called the Omaha Savings App. You can save money on each ticket for up to six people.

Better yet, if you have a membership to a science center that might belong to the ASCT, use it to get in free! Remember, there are rules that apply, so if your ASCT membership is to a museum closer than 90 miles of OCM, it won’t get you in for free.

Things to know before you visit Omaha Children's Museum - Get tips on when to go, dining options, and parking suggestions #Omaha #Nebraska #familytime

Want more Omaha Children’s Museum tips?

I could write another 1,000-word post about the museum, but I’d rather not. Leave me a comment if you have a specific question for me to answer. I’m happy to help!

If you go

Omaha Children’s Museum

Where: 500 S. 20th St.

Cost: $13 (ages 2 to 59), $12 (seniors), and FREE for kids under 24 months and members.

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