October 1, 2018

Taking Kids To The Motown Museum

Motown music was on heavy rotation during our Great Michigan Road Trip in preparation for our final stop: Detroit. With a great variety of museums to choose from in the city, I felt it was essential to visit the Motown Museum. But, there are a few things to keep in mind before taking your family there.

Disclosure: Our visit was hosted by Visit Detroit. All thoughts, opinions and typos are my own.

Planning a family trip to Detroit, Michigan? Here are a few things to know before going with kids, especially young ones who may not do well on a guided tour. #Michigan #MIGreatRoadTrip #familytravel #museumtips

Before you go to Motown Museum

Really, there are just two things I suggest doing before you go:

1.  Book the tour. You can’t peek inside the museum, AKA Hitsville USA, without a taking the one-hour tour. So, you’ll need to buy your tour tickets for a specific day and time in advance.

There’s always the option of trying to walk up and buy tickets the day of, but when we were there, we saw people turned away. Don’t risk it if this museum is important to you.

2. Listen to the music. This was my favorite way to introduce the kids to the people and music they would be learning about. 

You can see where Motown began at the Motown Museum in Detroit. Photo courtesy Visit Detroit

What to expect at the Motown Museum

You’ll want to be prompt for your timed tour. You’ll meet your tour guide and learn the rules. The big one? No pictures.

Most of the time. I’ll get to that exception in a second.

The tour takes you through Barry Gordy Jr.’s flat, past displays of gold records, costumes, and historic photos. We heard inside stories about artists who passed through the studio, like how Stevie Wonder was just a kid and there was a rule about not switching out the order of the candy in the vending machine so he’d always be able to buy the candy he wanted on his own.

The highlight for me? Standing in the Studio A. It was, like, goosebumps special. Our guide talked about recording artists who were inspired by Motown greats visiting and weeping when they entered the studio.

Studio A at the Motown Museum in Detroit
The Temptations, The Supremes and many other famous Motown artists recorded hit songs in Studio A. Visitors to the Motown Museum visit the studio during the tour. 

It’s fascinating to hear the stories of who recorded there, and to know which songs were recorded in that very space. This was the lone place where we could take pictures. We all sang “My Girl,” and for me, it was a pinch-me moment.

What ages are best for Motown Museum?

The Motown Museum is packed with insight and history into Barry Gordy, and the musicians and songs behind Motown Records. There’s nothing on display that is inappropriate or over a kid’s head necessarily. However, it’s not for all ages due to the tour structure.

One of my kids managed better on the guided tour than the other…but both insisted on getting Motown Museum T-shirts, so I guess it did make an impression on both.

Motown Museum was not a good one for my 6-year-old. The tour goes through a home and rather than having free reign to roam, your tour group follows the guide room-to-room, and there’s no lingering or moving ahead if your little one gets bored. That was tough for my daughter.

My daughter was overly tired and wanted to sit at each tour stop while the tour guide talked. There also aren’t many places to sit, except for when we sat to watch the short documentary before taking the tour. 

Which leads to the other problem for my youngest: She’s not into documentaries. Go figure. That was the longest couple of minutes ever.

My son is slightly older and no problem with anything on the tours, besides not having a good sense of timelines and social significances of certain songs or people.

If you go

Motown Museum

Where: 2648 W. Grand Blvd, Detroit, Mich.

Cost: Tickets in 2018 are $15 for adults, $10 for children, and FREE for children ages 4 and younger. Tickets for tours are first come, first served and often sell out, especially on Saturdays. Tickets can be purchased up to 21 days in advance online. Tours are about an hour long. Here’s the link for tickets, and hours, as well.

News to note: The museum has launched a campaign for a $50 million expansion. There was no construction going on when we visited nor have I read when that may begin, but I’d recommend checking on construction plans if and when you plan to visit, just in case.

What to expect if you bring little ones to Motown Museum in Detroit, Michigan. #tips #familytravel #USA

Read more about things to do in Detroit

Planning a visit to Detroit? Start with the Detroit Bucket List, and then check out these posts for further details about different Detroit museums:

Detroit Museums For Families

“Star Wars and the Power of Costume” At Detroit Institute Of Arts

Things To Know Before Taking Kids To The Henry Ford

Where To Stay Near Detroit

This was the final stop of an epic Michigan road trip. Learn about all of our fun stops here.

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September 12, 2018

Exploring Grand Rapids Public Museum With Kids

The surprise hit of our Grand Rapids weekend was the Grand Rapids Public Museum. A surprise because we almost didn’t go. If you’re in the city, with or without kids, this is a must-visit.

Streetcar inside Grand Rapids Public Museum
A streetcar, a sperm whale skeleton, and more at the Grand Rapids Public Museum. Not knowing what to expect at the museum added to the adventure of discovering things at each turn.

Disclosure: Our visit was hosted by Experience Grand Rapids. All thoughts, opinions and typos are my own.

Grand Rapids Public Museum favorite exhibits

There are some can’t-miss things on display that you, literally, cannot miss since they’re in the main hall. The large sperm whale skeleton hanging from the ceiling comes to mind. 

Sperm Whale skeleton in the main hall in Grand Rapids Public Museum
You really can’t miss Finny, the sperm whale skeleton hanging over the main hall.

It’s name is Finny, by the way.

My favorite area was a replica of an old street scene, complete with stocked stores, street lights, and a unicycle photo opp. The scene is 1890s Grand Rapids.

Old streetscape inside Grand Rapids Public Museum
Storefronts from the olden days of Grand Rapids. There’s a full street of them at the Grand Rapids Public Museum – and don’t skip taking a seat on a unicycle while in the area.

We allowed such a short amount of time, so regrettably, we rushed through some things. And there’s so much to see! Exhibits on musical instruments, phones, history, animals…a little bit of everything.

Exhibit at Grand Rapids Public Museum
“Collecting From A-Z” is the Grand Rapids Public Museum’s way of showcasing a variety of items, some exquisite and beautiful as well as some bizarre.

My kids are 6 and 8 years old and they were fully engaged here. There’s even a space for them to learn about space.

The Carousel at Grand Rapids Public Museum

You can’t really go to the museum without stopping by the carousel. The 1928 Spillman Carousel is a little extra to ride, unless you have a membership, but it’s iconic and a kid-pleaser.

Old carousel at Grand Rapids Public Museum
You’ll hear the music before you see the carousel at the Grand Rapids Public Museum.

If you go

Grand Rapids Public Museum

Where: 272 Pearl St. NW, Grand Rapids, Mich.

Hours may be found here

Website

Grand Rapids Public Museum was a hit with kids and adults - History, hands-on exhibit pieces, and a carousel #familytravel #Michigan

More about Grand Rapids

Grand Rapids was the first stop of an epic road trip adventure through Michigan. Go ahead and check out where we stopped and what we did, or use this ultimate Michigan Bucket List to plan an awesome road trip.

Weekend in Grand Rapids

For Grand Rapids highlights, read these posts:

48 Hours In Grand Rapids With Kids

Where to Stay in Downtown Grand Rapids

Adventures At John Ball Zoo

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September 10, 2018

Exploring The Science Center of Iowa

My kids are starting to love visiting science centers when we’re traveling. When planning trips, I check if our destination has a museum or science center that’s part of the Association of Science-Technology Centers, or ASTC. Why? The four of us will get in free admission thanks to the reciprocal membership benefits we get with our Omaha Children’s Museum membership. Sweet, right?

This summer, we had a chance to make use of that free admission perk to visit Science Center of Iowa in downtown Des Moines.

A fun day for the family at the Science Center of Iowa located in downtown Des Moines

Highlights of the Science Center of Iowa

The Science Center of Iowa was a fun morning for my family on a day that looked like it might rain at any moment. 

We spent the most time in the room called When Things Get Moving, where the kids could make paper rockets to shoot, test egg cradles, and building LEGO race cars.

Ball exhibit inside Science Center of Iowa in Des Moines
When Things Get Moving is a popular permanent exhibit at the Science Center of Iowa in downtown Des Moines.

The space exhibit, Why The Sky, was also a great one to explore. This was probably the most entertaining exhibit for both adults and kids. After testing out several exhibits there, we found our way to the planetarium. Turns out, it was a great place to lay flat on the floor and rest while watching a show.

Space exhibit inside Science Center in Des Moines, Iowa
Why The Sky was an exhibit that explored space and spacecraft at the Science Center of Iowa.

The IMAX theater was another space to sit and rest for a spell. It was not very crowded the afternoon we went. The great thing is that planetarium shows are included with admission. Here’s a list of their programs at the science center.

There are a few other rooms, including one for natural sciences, a Makers Space, and one dedicated to LEGO building . If you visit with toddlers, there is also a separate room for that age group to explore.

Testing out circuits at the Science Center of Iowa in downtown Des Moines
My daughter liked building circuits while we were at the Science Center of Iowa.

You can easily spend two hours or more at the Science Center of Iowa. If you attend one of the science shows or a planetarium show, expect to spend a minimum of three hours.

If you go

Science Center of Iowa

Where: 401 W. Martin Luther King Jr Parkway, Des Moines, Iowa

Website

Looking for a fun thing to do indoors with kids in Des Moines? The Science Center of Iowa was great for a few hours of playing and learning. #Iowa #sciencecenter

What’s near the Science Center of Iowa

Our afternoon at the Science Center of Iowa timed out well for us to visit the Des Moines Farmers Market in the morning. There are vendors practically at the front door of the science center. Strolling the market, you’ll find an abundance of samples (food and wine), plus tons of dogs, which are always a hit with my kids.

The Des Moines Farmers Market in the downtown area was one of the largest I’ve ever been to.

The science center isn’t too far from the Pappajohn Sculpture Park, with plenty of space for kids to run around and some pretty iconic photo opps.

Fong's Pizza's most well-known pie is the crab rangoon pizza. It's delicious and lives up to the hype.
Fong’s Pizza’s most well-known pie is the crab rangoon pizza. It’s delicious and lives up to the hype.

For food, I can’t tell you enough to go try Fong’s Pizza, which is walkable from Science Center of Iowa.

Plan a Des Moines Family Getaway

We visited the Science Center of Iowa on a weekend getaway in the summer. Read all about the fun things we did in this post. We spent a day at Adventureland and an afternoon at Blank Park Zoo during the trip.

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September 4, 2018

Adventures At John Ball Zoo

We visited one zoo during our great Michigan Road Trip – the John Ball Zoo in Grand Rapids. It was a great zoo for animal interaction and adrenaline adventure (for an added fee). I wouldn’t typically say zoos have adventure (well, there was that one time in Florida), but this place was a blast.

John Ball Zoo in Grand Rapids, Michigan, has add-on experiences including a zipline, ropes course, funicular, & bird show #USA #familytravel #zoos

Disclosure: Our visit was hosted by Experience Grand Rapids, though the add-on experiences were at not complimentary. All thoughts, opinions and typos are my own.

The zoo is in a pretty setting, wooded with plenty of shade. It’s smallish, so families can visit for the afternoon and not be exhausted afterward.

Waterfall at the John Ball Zoo in Grand Rapids, Michigan
A waterfall at the John Ball Zoo in Grand Rapids, Mich.

My caveat: I’m pretty spoiled with the Omaha zoo, so I didn’t seek out a lot of the animal exhibits. Instead, I sought unique zoo experiences I can’t find in Omaha.

Favorite Extra: Bird Show

My kids’ favorite part of the zoo, and, fine, MY favorite part, was the Realm of Flight Bird Show. It was only $2 extra per person and worth it. If you visit on a weekday, it is free.

Bird show at John Ball Zoo in Grand Rapids, Michigan
The audience learned about 10 birds through demonstrations during the Realm of Flight Bird Show at the John Ball Zoo.

As part of the show, keepers introduced different species and we watched them in flight. Some were trained to do tricks, which delighted kids. Adult volunteers were included in the show, too, and I was called up to play the part. No bird landed on me, I just had to place a can on a side table.

At the end, families could get their pictures taken beside the bald eagle and donate money to the zoo by handing a macaw a dollar bill.

Ropes Course at John Ball Zoo

Until recently when the Venture Parks exhibits opened, there were no ropes courses in Nebraska, so I’m all for trying them out on vacation. In Grand Rapids, the zoo has a pretty stellar, four-story ropes course for families.

Ropes course at John Ball Zoo in Grand Rapids, Michigan
My 8-year-old managed the ropes course with ease but my youngest child was nervous.

It is a big extra cost to do it, but if you’re an adventure-loving family, how can you not? It’s a course in a pretty space in the zoo, treetops and greenery.

Kids need to be at minimum age and weight to do it. My daughter was all talk about it, but then when we got out on the course, she froze up. Be extra sure your kiddos are ready for it before spending the money to take them on it.

Ziplining at the zoo

Following the nervousness my youngest had on the ropes course, I figured I should just do the zipline alone.

Ready for the zipline at John Ball Zoo in Grand Rapids, Michigan
All set to zipline through the zoo.

It’s pretty tame for a zipline course—just two lines and not too fast—but the cool thing is that they go right through the zoo. 

You can buy combo tickets to save money on both the ropes course and ziplines.

More things to see at the zoo

We tried a few other add-ons, including the Budgie Aviary, where for $1 you feed birds with a stick dipped in peanut butter and covered in seed.

Feeding a budgie at John Ball Zoo in Grand Rapids, Michigan
Feeding a budgie, or parakeet, at the Grand Rapids zoo.

There’s also a funicular ride in the zoo. For $3, it takes you the highest point in the zoo – saving you the walk up the hill. 

Funicular at John Ball Zoo in Grand Rapids, Michigan
The funicular at John Ball Zoo takes passengers to the highest point in the zoo, making it an all-downhill walk from there.

So, you’re probably wondering about animals exhibits. We stuck to a lot of hands-on things on this trip. However, one of the more unique exhibits to check out is the Wild Way Trail. It’s a trail with animal exhibits dependent on weather, but the neat thing is that it incorporates ways for kids to try to move like the animals (climbing and crawling, for example). There a wallabies, lemurs, parrots and howler monkeys along this wooded path. 

TreeTops Outpost at John Ball Zoo in Grand Rapids, Michigan
Playing in the TreeTops Outpost at the John Ball Zoo.

There are also fun play areas. One’s a natural play area where kids can get their hands dirty playing with sticks and stuff. The other, the TreeTops Outpost, is more about climbing and feeling adventurous. My kids loved it.

More about Grand Rapids

Weekend in Grand Rapids
48 Hours In Grand Rapids With Kids

Grand Rapids was the first stop of an epic road trip adventure through Michigan (more on that to come). To plan your own epic road trip through Michigan, I’ll be sharing a road trip recap soon featuring restaurant highlights, sights to see, and where to stay. You can start planning now with this ultimate Michigan Bucket List.

For Grand Rapids highlights, read these posts:

48 Hours In Grand Rapids With Kids

Where to Stay in Downtown Grand Rapids

Exploring Grand Rapids Public Museum

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August 31, 2018

Where To Stay Near Petoskey

Our summer road trip through Michigan was mostly in cities, except for the night in Alanson, a small town near Petoskey. Our stay at the Stafford’s Crooked River Lodge was unique to the trip. It was our one night in nature without really being too far into nature. Let me explain.

Disclosure: Our stay was hosted by Visit Petoskey Area. All thoughts, opinions and typos are my own.

Where is Stafford’s Crooked River Lodge

If you’re familiar with the Petoskey Area/Little Traverse Bay Region, you may have heard of Stafford’s Perry Hotel, the historic hotel in Petoskey. Owned by the same folks, Crooked River Lodge is outside of town on the Crooked River, about 10 miles away from Petoskey. And it looks like a lodge. The name suits it.

Exterior of Stafford's Crooked River Lodge in Michigan
Dusk at Stafford’s Crooked River Lodge in northern Michigan. Shortly after I took this picture, staff made a fire in the hotel’s fire pit.

And the Petoskey Area, if you’re unfamiliar with the state of Michigan, is up in the northern part of the lower peninsula. Here’s a post about things to do in the Petoskey Area with kids to give you a better idea of the area.

Highlights of Stafford’s Crooked River Lodge

Stafford’s Crooked River Lodge is essentially a place to get away from it all without really needing to go too far away from “it all.” It feels secluded without being too far from conveniences like restaurants and craft brewery.

Lobby of Stafford's Crooked River Lodge
The entrance to Stafford’s Crooked River Lodge has a popcorn machine, which may have been the highlight of the entire stay for my daughter. Off to the right in this picture, below the stairs (you can’t see it) is a little playhouse for kids. That would be the second favorite thing at the hotel for my daughter.

The hospitality of the hotel was great. You’re greeted by staff as you walk in, and as you check in, my kids will point out that there is a conveniently located popcorn machine to help yourself to.

Pool at Stafford's Crooked River Lodge
The waterfall in the Crooked River Lodge pool area impressed the kids. You can’t see it, but there’s a little tunnel to walk behind the waterfall.

This place is definitely a great one for families in that sense. From a pool (with a little waterfall) and hot tub, to the darling little clubhouse in the lobby, you can tell they welcome kids. There’s also a pool table.

A big draw to me was the location. Had we more time, we would’ve paddled along the Crooked River with the kids. The hotel provides complimentary kayaks and paddle boats. There’s a nearby trail, as well, among other things to do.

We didn’t get a chance to check it out, but there is also a fish pond where you can feed the fish.

Fire pit at Stafford's Crooked River Lodge in Michigan
The view of the lawn at Stafford’s Crooked River Lodge. Just beyond the lawn is the river.

If you wanted to just sit outside and enjoy nature, this is good place to so. Try it by the fire pit.

Or try doing it from your private balcony.

Speaking of that…

The rooms at Stafford’s Crooked River Lodge

The rooms at Stafford’s Crooked River Lodge range from standard hotel rooms to suites. And if you’ve been traveling in a car for miles and miles with your family, it’s rather nice to have one of those suites to spread out in.

Hotel room at Stafford's Crooked River Lodge
The faux wood lamp in our hotel suite’s living room.

Our room was two rooms with two king beds. There’s a kitchenette, which is great for longer stays, plus as I mentioned above, a private balcony. The balconies all look toward the great lawn and river.

Guest private balcony at Stafford's Crooked River Lodge
The balcony at Stafford’s Crooked River Lodge is a nice place to sip coffee in the morning (or a glass of wine in the evening).

They’re meant to feel like your own private cabin, I suspect. Ours did, at least, with rustic décor and all.

If you go

Stafford’s Crooked River Lodge

Where: 6845 US-31, Alanson, Mich.

Website

The Stafford's Crooked River Lodge, a hotel near Petoskey, offers complimentary kayaking, and most rooms have a balcony! #hosted #Michigan #pureMichigan #upnorth #PetoskeyArea

Plan a Petoskey Getaway

Want to plan a getaway to the Petoskey Area? Search for Petoskey stones, shop the charming downtown Petoskey? Read on:

Things To Do In Petoskey With Kids

My Petoskey Area/Little Traverse Bay Bucket List

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August 20, 2018

Things You Should Know Before Taking Kids To The Henry Ford

The Henry Ford is a large museum outside of Detroit full of artifacts and exhibits about America’s history and innovation. It’s a huge, three-building complex. I was a tad overwhelmed when I planned a visit during my family’s great Michigan road trip, to be honest. To save you a little worry, here are some things to know before your visit.

Disclosure: I received complimentary admission to The Henry Ford as part of a hosted visit through Visit Detroit. All thoughts, opinions and typos are my own.

What to epxpect

What is The Henry Ford

The Henry Ford is a complex of three spaces: The Henry Ford Museum of American Innovation (which I’ll refer to as The Henry Ford from now on), Greenfield Village, and Ford Rouge Factory Tour. We made it to two of the three places on our one-day visit. And that one-day visit? That could’ve been (should’ve been) two days.

Mill at Greenfield Village
A mill at Greenfield Village, an outdoor living history space with seven areas to explore. It’s part of The Henry Ford complex. 

History is the focus at The Henry Ford, but not in such a narrowly defined experience as “history museum.” This places feels alive. I’ve never been to anything quite like The Henry Ford. It’s not just cars and transportation. Innovation, mathematics, and a fun display on pop culture through generations are all a part of the museum.

Neon Signs and Lamy's Diner at The Henry Ford
The Henry Ford had artifacts from various eras in American history. The blue railcar behind the signs is a restaurant.

Greenfield Village is an epic living history experience with actors, landmark buildings, and cool experiences like riding in a Model T. 

Model T at Greenfield Village
I loved the picturesque Main Street at Greenfield Village. Guests can pay a little extra to ride around in in a Model T.

The factory is the lone place we missed on this visit. There just wasn’t enough time. 

How much time do you need at The Henry Ford

It’s going to depend on your family. We split our visit between Greenfield Village and The Henry Ford. Our visit was in the summer, so we chose to go to Greenfield Village the first thing in the morning.

Greenfield Village re-enactor at a jewelry store
We peeked in a jewelry store at Greenfield Village.

We last until lunch time before the heat was too much. We had spent about three hours at Greenfield Village, which was not adequate to see everything. It did allow a decent amount of time for playing at the playground, so factor that into your planning if you have young kids.

Flight exhibit at The Henry Ford
There’s a large exhibit about flight at The Henry Ford. There’s an area to make your own paper airplane and then test them out.

The Henry Ford was where we spent the bulk of our day, and I feel like we got a good look at everything that interested us in the hours we wandered around there.

What will kids like at The Henry Ford?

This is totally going to be just my opinion. What’s interests your kids could be quite different from mine. 

Wright Bros. bicycle shop at Greenfield Village

Greenfield Village is divided into seven districts. My favorite was Main Street, with its shops and lawn games.

Don’t skip the Wright Cycle Shop (the actual place where the Wright Brothers dreamt up their flying machines), the playground, and watching artisans in action (including glass-blowing, weaving, and pottery). 

Playground at Greenfield Village
The Greenfield Village Playground isn’t your typical playground. The kids loved it.

There’s also working farms, a steam locomotive, and a ton more historic buildings (obviously). We missed Thomas Edison’s lab and I imagine that was a mistake. I was hot and wanted out of the summer sun, please forgive me.

The Henry Ford has so many stellar artifacts that bring American history to life. We got to sit on the same bus that Rosa Parks protested on, and pose in a Model T.  If you love cars, trains, agriculture, history, or design, this is your kind of place.

Interactive exhibit on assembly lines at The Henry Ford
In “Made In America: Manufacturing,” the kids and I joined an assembly line to make cars. It was a fun way to learn about manufacturing for the kids.

Being at the museum with kids, though, I’d have to say the more hands-on an exhibit was, the more they liked it. The “Heroes In The Sky” exhibit had a space for kids to make model airplanes and test them, for instance. “Made In America: Manufacturing” was another good one – we participated in an assembly line to build toy model Ts. And if you have a train fanatic, there is a miniature railroad to watch.

Tips from a parent

Women's suffrage exhibit at The Henry Ford
Resting in the women’s suffrage exhibit jail.
  • – Bring a stroller or wagon if you have young kids. The complex is huge.
  • – You park at one place and can get to the museum and Greenfield Village by foot. 
  • – You can bring a small amount of food and drinks with you. You’ll definitely want water bottles. There are restaurant options in the complex. Some restaurants have themes to them, which is fun, but I was a little underwhelmed with our experience at the 1940s diner called Lamy’s Diner.
  • – The frozen custard at Greenfield Village is to die for.
  • – There’s a playground at Greenfield Village by the carousel. It’s a lot of fun for them, though a little word of warning, they can get a little wet there. 
  • – There aren’t a whole lot of buildings with air conditioning at Greenfield Village (you’ve got to love authentic history, right?). Cool off in the gift shop.
  • – Plan on spending a little extra. My kids loved riding the train, for instance, but it’s extra, as is the Model T rides. 
  • – It helps to know when demonstrations begin in Greenfield Village. And then, if you’re like me, disregard those times and just try to keep up with your kids.
  • Greenfield Village is a seasonal attraction, so know that it’s closed from Jan. 1 through April 14.
Things to know before taking your kids to The Henry Ford & Greenfield Village #Detroit #Michigan #museum #familyvacation #familytravel #tips

If you go

The Henry Ford Complex

Where: 20900 Oakwood Blvd., Dearborn, Mich.

Find out about special events here.

Read more about things to do in Detroit

Planning a visit to Detroit? Start with the Detroit Bucket List, and then check out these posts for further details about Detroit museums:

Detroit Museums For Families

“Star Wars and the Power of Costume” At Detroit Institute Of Arts

Where To Stay Near Detroit

What To Expect At The Motown Museum – Oct. 5

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Subscribe to the FREE twice a month(ish) e-newsletter sharing what’s new in Omaha, giveaways, family travel ideas, and more! Subscribe here.