November 23, 2015

Exploring The Central Florida Zoo

Updated: March 18, 2019

Central Florida Zoo and Botanical Gardens offers a relaxed kid-centric outing to families visiting the Orlando area. Located about 20 miles north of Orlando in Sanford, Florida, the zoo is smaller than what we’re used to in Omaha, but offers some hands-on and fun activities we don’t have.

This zoo was on my Central Florida Bucket List and I was so glad to check it off!

Central Florida Zoo - The highlights, animal experiences and hands-on fun at the zoo. This zoo is about 20 minutes from Orlando!

We visited during a recent weekend getaway hosted by Seminole County, Florida. As luck would have it, Allegiant just started a new direct flight to the area, so this adventure makes sense to share with you guys. This zoo is pretty close to the Orlando Sanford International Airport!

Central Florida Zoo Highlights

By far, the runaway hit of this zoo is actually located just outside its main gates: ZOOm Air Adventure Park. UPDATE: The adventure course has a new name – Seminole Aerial Adventures.

My kids and I got a chance to try out the adventure ropes and zip line courses during our visit. It was challenging but fun for all of us.

ZOOm Air Adventure Park has a zip line course for kids
Farley conquering the kids’ zip line course in Sanford, Florida.

One animal encounter at the Central Florida Zoo that we haven’t tried at our home zoo is the daily giraffe feedings. From 10 a.m. to 3 p.m., you can try to feed one of the male giraffes there (for $5 for the food). I write “try to” because when we visited, the big guys weren’t motivated to move much, least of all by the food kids were trying to offer them.

They also offer Rhino Encounters on the weekends, something I think we’ll do the next time we’re visiting!

The Wharton-Smith Tropical Splash Ground was a large play area right near the entrance.

Cool off in the splash garden at Central Florida Zoo. Remember to pack swimsuits!
Cool off in the splash garden at Central Florida Zoo. Remember to pack swimsuits!

It would’ve been wonderful to cool off after ZOOm Air with a run through the splash ground, but I’d forgotten to bring along swimsuit. My friend, Marisa (AKA @tampamama)  had warned me to always, ALWAYS pack swimsuits when visiting attractions in Florida, every place seems to have a splash ground.

Guess I’ll never learn.

Anyway.

There’s also a children’s garden, which was less about animals and more about nature.

Children's garden at the Central Florida Zoo in Sanford, Florida
The kids really wanted to check out the children’s garden at the zoo.

Don’t skip the cute area of the zoo dedicated to domestic animals like goats.

Feeding goats at the Centra Florida Zoo in Sanford, Florida
The greediest goat we’ve ever encountered. This guy wanted all. of. the. food.

At the Barnyard Buddies Children’s Zoo, you can spend a couple dollars for a large amount of food to feed the goats, and my favorite, the llama.

You can feed a llama, goat and alpaca at the Central Florida Zoo.
You can feed a llama, goat and alpaca at the Central Florida Zoo.

Feedings at the barnyard start at 11 a.m.

The goats are waiting for you.
The goats are waiting for you.

Since my kids are still pretty young, they wanted to ride the train. If you’re long-legged, I’m sorry, this ride is not going to be comfortable.

The mini train rides at the Central Florida Zoo in Sanford, Florida
The cozy little train at Central Florida Zoo. The kids loved it.

It doesn’t matter where a little train goes, it’s always a big deal. Throw in a tunnel and kids lose their minds. (FYI, the train does not go through the zoo, and you’ll see no zoo animals – just cutouts).

The train station is at the entrance to the Central Florida Zoo in Sanford, Florida
The train station is at the entrance to the Central Florida Zoo. Just try to walk past it and not have a kid ask if they could have a ride.

The playground at the zoo, KaBOOM! Playground, was a big hit with my kids – it never fails… I have to tear them away from a playground wherever we go just so we can see what we actually came to see – animals!

There’s also a carousel that your kids will try to talk you into, and depending on the season, other add-on activities like WOW Balls and Bungee Jump. They weren’t in operation when we visited in early November.

Another seasonal offer is camel rides.

Regular activities at the zoo

Weekend & Holiday Show Schedule when we were there. Double check before you go to see if the schedule has changed:

Keeper Chats & Demonstrations: Every Saturday, Sunday and Holiday (weather permitting)

10:30 a.m. Rhino*

11 a.m. Cheetah*

11:30 p.m. Flying High!

Noon Venom! outside Herpetarium at the Tiffany and Charles Davis Animal Showcase

1:30 p.m. Wild Tales! at Magpie Jay Stage

2:30 p.m. Giraffe*

3 p.m. Lemur*

3:30 p.m. Snake or Alligator/Crocodile Feeding

*Meet the Keeper

More things kids will like at the zoo

Kid looking at a Central Florida Zoo map
Farley trying to navigate the zoo.

It was a good size zoo for our kids, who were both under 6. It was small enough that we could get away with not having a wagon to cart the kids around.

There were a lot of stealth animal encounters if you look for them. We found one volunteer sitting on a bench with snake. He had a lot of interesting facts for the kids.

Animal encounter at the Central Florida Zoo
Be on the look out for animal encounters when visiting the Central Florida Zoo. The kids learned about this little snake from a friendly volunteer.

We also caught the cheetah feedings on accident. Don’t ask what kind of meat they were feeding them (OK, ask, I’ll tell you).

Cheetah feeding with a keeper at the Central Florida Zoo.
We stumbled upon the cheetah feeding time and got the insider scoop on what’s for lunch there. You don’t really want to know.

With just over 200 species in the zoo, you could breeze through things in a morning. The zoo does not allow outside food, so if you are there around meal time, there are concession stands offering the typical zoo fare.

Or you can do what we did and head to the charming downtown Sanford for lunch. I recommend lunch at Hollerbach’s Willow Tree Cafe (even if you think you don’t like German food, you’ll like this German food).

Outdoor dining area at Hollerbach's in Sanford, Florida
Another perk of visiting Florida in November – dining outside. We grabbed an outdoor table to enjoy our German lunch at Hollerbach’s in Sanford.

I knew I loved German beer but I didn’t think I was a fan of the food until Hollerbach’s. Everyone said I should go to this restaurant, and I’m glad we did.

Sanford, Florida, German restaurant Hollerbach's menu
Prost from a great German restaurant in Florida!

It was a busy place, but we were still promptly seated outside. The menu is large, the food is heavy and not exactly vegetarian friendly. I ordered off the lunch menu and got a manageable portion of wiener schnitzel with a side of Heaven & Earth Potatoes and red cabbage.

Hollerbach's schnitzel, red cabbage and Heaven & Earth Potatoes.
I tried the schnitzel, red cabbage and the best potato dish ever – Heaven & Earth Potatoes.

Do not miss out on those potatoes. So good.

The kids each got a kinder plate of sausage.

The kid's meal at Hollerbach's in Sanford, Florida
The kid’s sausage plate at Hollerbach’s in Sanford, a little bit of healthy mixed in there with the fresh fruit.

The fresh fruit was a nice touch, but it couldn’t compete with gummi bears.

For dessert, we split German chocolate cake. It was a huge slice, and more than enough for four people after eating a big lunch. I recommend getting the cake, but share that big boy.

German chocolate cake at Hollerbach's in Sanford, Florida
A family of four attempts to finish the German chocolate cake at Hollerbach’s (after a full lunch) and fails.

Don’t skip this place. They have live music on the weekends, as well as soccer breakfasts.

Things to do at the Central Florida Zoo, the closest zoo to Orlando! Learn about the animal encounters, zip line course for kids, and more. #familytravel #Florida

If you go

Central Florida Zoo & Botanical Gardens

Where: 3755 Highway 17-92 (Exit 104 off I-4), Sanford, Fla.

Hours: 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. daily (except Thanksgiving and Christmas)

Cost: $19.50, adults; $15.95, seniors 60+; $13.75, children (3-12); FREE, children 2 and younger.

How to get a 50% off discount: If you’re a member of your local zoo, you may qualify for 50% off admission – Omaha Zoo & Aquarium members do! Get the current list of zoos that participate here or learn more about how the reciprocity program works in this post.

How much time you’ll be there: 2 to 3 hours at the zoo, longer if you eat lunch there and your kids play in the splash garden. Add at least an hour to your visit if you plan on doing ZoomAir Tree Adventure.

Hollerbach’s Willow Tree Cafe

Where:  205 E. First St., Sanford, Fla.

Explore More of Central Florida:

Central Florida Adventure

ZOOmAir Adventure Park Orlando (Sanford, Florida)

Hilton Altamonte Springs (Altamonte Springs, Florida)

Wekiva Island (Longwood, Florida)

Tips on Flying Allegiant from Omaha to Orlando Sanford International Airport 

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November 17, 2015

Adventure In Central Florida

Family-friendly things to do in Central Florida - Air boat rides, zip line and ropes course, and more just a few miles away from Orlando! #familytravel #Florida

Seminole County, Florida, asks visitors to explore the wild side of Florida, to discover Orlando’s natural oasis. Challenge accepted. I started planning out the adventure with the help of this Central Florida Bucket List.

Our two-and-a-half-day trip to the north Orlando area included seeing an alligator while canoeing, zip line courses for the whole family, a sunset airboat tour and a quick trip to coast to play at Cocoa Beach. I’m writing about it because Allegiant now offers a direct flight to an airport that puts you in the middle of it all.

Disclosure: This post may contain affiliate links. At no additional cost to you, I receive a small payment if you purchase something after clicking the referral link. 

Home base

Exterior of the Hilton in Altamonte Springs, located between Orlando and the Orlando Sanford International Airport
We stayed at the Hilton in Altamonte Springs, located between Orlando and the Orlando Sanford International Airport. My kids are lizard hunting in this photo…

Our trip was hosted by Seminole County, and knowing my family wanted adventures both on water and land, they suggested a centrally-located hotel that was affordable (and near theme parks, should we choose to visit…er, next time, kids).

We stayed at the Hilton-Altamonte Springs, a beautiful hotel near familiar chains and close to the interstate we’d use to get everywhere – I-4. I’ll share more about the hotel in a future post, but for traveling families – yes, there’s an outdoor pool  (the only hotel amenity important to my kids).

Outdoor pool and hot tub at the Hilton in Altamonte Springs, just north of Orlando
Outdoor pool time in November? Yes, please.

It’s approximately 20 miles from Orlando Sanford International Airport, which is a direct flight from Omaha on Allegiant. Check out my post on what to expect when flying this route – I include helpful tips for making it a smooth experience with kids!

Search for the most family-friendly hotels near Orlando on TripAdvisor!

Adventure in the air

On our first day, we headed to the Central Florida Zoo in Sanford. ZOOMAIR Treetop Adventure Park Orlando is located at the zoo (since this post was published, the zip line course has changed its name to Seminole Adventures. Our plan was to try the ropes and zip line course first, then go to the zoo.

Things to do in central Florida - Kids' zip line and ropes course in Sanford, Florida.
Farley conquering the kids’ zip line course in Sanford, Florida.

While the kids tackled their age-appropriate course with the help of the wonderful Maggie from ZOOMAIR and Mr. Wonderful , I tried out the more challenging course. It was not too easy, but also manageable for any first-timer.

Both kids did great on the smaller course, and our nearly 6-year-old went on to try the more difficult kids course after conquering the easy one. He said it was like being on “American Ninja.”

(I agree. I loved the physical challenge of this activity.)

Things to do in central Florida - Kids' zip line and ropes course in Sanford, Florida.
Mooch kept up with her big brother on the zip line course.

Mooch had a harder time, being only 4, but was proud of herself for finishing. Expect at least an hour for the kids to get through their ropes course. If you do a course, you can get through the first one in 45 minutes, and if you add on the rain forest course, you’ll double that, at least.

Central Florida Zoo

After our zip line adventure, we checked out the zoo. This small zoo covers about 116 acres and is great for little ones. Bring a swimsuit so kids can cool off at the splash garden (which will be refreshing after the adventure on the zip lines). I forgot and was reminded repeatedly.

Things to do in central Florida - Cool off in the splash garden at Central Florida Zoo
Cool off in the splash garden at Central Florida Zoo. Remember to pack swimsuits!

There are hands-on experiences there that kids will like – mostly feeding animals and enrichment encounters. There are extras like a carousel and train ride, as well.

Things to do in central Florida - Ride the mini train station at the Central Florida Zoo
The train station is at the entrance to the Central Florida Zoo. Just try to walk past it and not have a kid ask if they could have a ride.

After our zoo and zip line adventure, we headed to charming downtown Sanford to have lunch at Hollerbach’s Willow Tree Café.

Things to do in central Florida - Dine outdoors like at Hollerbach's Willow Tree Cafe in Sanford
Another perk of visiting Florida in November – dining outside. We grabbed an outdoor table to enjoy our German lunch at Hollerbach’s Willow Tree Cafe in Sanford.

The German food was so good, and the beer was even better.

Menu of the German restaurant Hollerbach's Willow Tree Cafe in Sanford, Florida
Prost from a great German restaurant in Florida!

If you manage to save a little room, try the German chocolate cake there – we split it between the four of us and couldn’t finish it.

Adventure by water

Our second day was going to be all about water. But first, breakfast.

Things to do in central Florida - Go to  Winter Park and stroll the farmer's market
One of the fountains in the park at Winter Park.

We made the short drive to Winter Park to grab some pastries at Croissant Gourmet – which we enjoyed in the cute park before strolling through the farmers market.

Things to do in central Florida - Go to  Winter Park and stroll the farmer's market
Exploring Winter Park’s Saturday Farmers Market. So many goodies to find there!

Breakfast Part II was a breakfast quesadilla from a the Tastebuds food truck at the Winter Park Farmers Market, and citrus fruit samples.

Things to do in central Florida - Go to  Winter Park and stroll the farmer's market and get food at one if the food trucks
We got some breakfast quesadillas to go from Tastebuds food truck at the Winter Park Farmers Market.

It’s fun to check out farmers markets when traveling – we don’t have avocados or oranges at the Omaha ones.

We met friends at Cocoa Beach at around noon – the drive was about an hour (beware of the tolls). I don’t regret the drive – the kids could’ve played in the water all day.

Things to do in central Florida - Make the hour-long drive to Cocoa Beach!
Cocoa Beach is about an hour drive from Seminole County, Florida.

Little tip from my Florida friends: Shephard’s Park is a convenient spot to park at Cocoa Beach but also the most expensive ($15). Found that out the hard way. Go toward the Cocoa Beach Pier for meter parking or head farther south for cheaper or free parking at city and county park entrances to the beach.

The good thing about the location is that there is a place to change, bathrooms, a shower to rinse off and a lifeguard.

Things to do in central Florida - Make the hour-long drive to Cocoa Beach!
Collecting seashells at Cocoa Beach, Florida.

And it wasn’t crowded.

We didn’t pack a lunch for our time at Shephard’s Park, so our friends suggested we try the Cuban sandwiches at Seven Eleven across the street. Don’t knock it ‘til you try them. They hit the spot.

After the beach, the kids were surprisingly still awake so we decided to check off an item off my Florida bucket list – an airboat ride.

Things to do in central Florida - Take an airboat ride with Black Hammock
Black Hammock had some beautiful views – and we hadn’t even gotten on the airboat yet.

We arrived at Black Hammock in time for their final 30-minute tour of the day, timing it perfectly to catch a gorgeous sunset.

The kids loved the ride (so did the adults).

Things to do in central Florida - Take an airboat ride with Black Hammock in Seminole County, Florida
Enjoy some wind in our hair during our sunset airboat ride with Black Hammock in Seminole County, Florida.

Unfortunately, our boat got stuck after stopping to look at cows. So what would’ve been a lovely sunset ride ended in darkness. Our funny captain swore it’s only happened to him two other times in all his rides.

The kids forgot about it after they each got to hold a baby alligator afterward.

Things to do in central Florida - Hold an alligator! There were alligators at Black Hammock, an airboat operator
Holding an alligator made up for not seeing one while on the airboat,

Black Hammock also has a few cages to see alligators and parrots, and an awesome tiki bar. There’s a restaurant on site serving up gator.

Things to do in central Florida - Ride an airboat and sit at a tiki bar. This bar was at the Black Hammock, an airboat operator in Seminole County.
Get to Black Hammock early and enjoy a little rum drink from the tiki bar.

The kids tried the gator bites with Cajun flavor and loved them.

We ended our late night with some ice cream and gelatti at Jeremiah’s – a frozen treat chain offering ice cream and Italian ice, and the combo of laying ice cream and Italian ice called gelatti.

Wekiva Island

Things to do in central Florida - Canoeing in Wekiwa Springs State Park
Canoeing toward Wekiwa Springs State Park.

Adventures on our water carried over to our last day. We went to Wekiva Island to rent a canoe so we could paddle roughly one mile to Wekiwa Springs State Park. The route was gorgeous and not challenging if you’re familiar with paddling.

You’ll spot lots of birds along the way, and with luck, other wildlife like an alligator.

Things to do in central Florida - Canoe at Wekiwa Springs State Park and maybe spy an alligator
We caught this alligator sunning himself as we paddled by.

You can paddle about 30 minutes to Wekiva Springs or take a four-hour round trip to Rock Springs. We were short on time and went to Wekiva where sadly, we only got to pause and watch others swim. We’ll definitely return to take a dip.

Things to do in central Florida - Swimming in the spring water at Wekiwa Springs State Park
There were quite a few people swimming in the spring water at Wekiva Springs State Park. Entrance is $2 per canoe.

We finished canoeing in time to grab lunch on the run, fill up our rental car and head for the airport to fly home. Yes, we were a stinky mess on the plane.

Food options during your Central Florida adventure

The kid's sausage plate at Hollerbach's in Sanford, a little bit of healthy mixed in there with the fresh fruit.
The kid’s sausage plate at Hollerbach’s in Sanford, a little bit of healthy mixed in there with the fresh fruit.

Breakfast: During our trip, we had breakfast at the Hilton Altamonte Springs (a buffet that’s complimentary for Hilton Honors members), pastries at Croissant Gourmet in Winter Park (try the pain au chocolat), hearty breakfast quesadillas at the Tastebuds food truck at the Winter Park Farmers Market, and a filling breakfast at Keke’s Breakfast Café (there are several locations; we went to the Altamonte location on the way to Wekiva Island).

Lunch: We enjoyed lunch outdoors at Hollerbach’s Willow Tree Café in Sanford. The other lunches were on the go, courtesy McDonalds (hey, we were running late to the airport after canoeing), and Seven Eleven (you do what you gotta do at the beach).

Dinner: We enjoyed take out pizza from Anthony’s Coal Fired Pizza in Altamonte Springs and it was delicious. We also tried several variations of alligator during dinner at Black Hammock Restaurant in Oviedo.

Snacks: Our visit to the Central Florida Zoo involved some snacking at one of the concession stands (usual fare, Dip ‘n Dots, chips, etc), kettle caramel corn from the Winter Park Farmers Market, and ice cream and gelatti at Jeremiah’s.

Things to do with kids in Central Florida - Adventures for family vacation include canoeing, airboat rides, kid's zip line and ropes course, and more! All activities are within driving distance of Orlando. #familytravel #outdoors #Florida

Additional posts about Seminole County

ZoomAir Adventure Park Orlando (Sanford, Florida) 

Central Florida Zoo (Sanford, Florida)

Hilton Altamonte Springs (Altamonte Springs, Florida)

Wekiva Island (Longwood, Florida)

Tips on Flying Allegiant from Omaha to Orlando Sanford International Airport 

Fun adventures for families in Central Florida - Things to do with kids in Seminole County, like canoeing, zip line & ropes course, a zoo, and airboat rides. Seminole County is just north of Orlando! #familytravel #Florida

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November 11, 2015

Holiday Weekend Getaways From Omaha

Weekend getaways are nice, and sometimes, much needed. All you need is an hour in the car and you’ve escaped. Even overnights can provide a much-needed breather from reality and routine.

Want to get away for a little bit this holiday season? Check out what’s going on in some nearby cities (Grinches may want to look elsewhere)!

 

Holiday (1)

Lincoln (53 miles from Omaha)

Santa Celebration 

Santa at South Pointe Pavilions in Lincoln

Santa at South Pointe Pavilions in Lincoln

When: Nov. 28, 6 to 8 p.m.

Where: SouthPointe Pavilions, 2910 Pine Lake Road, Lincoln, Neb.

What: Join Santa as he makes his grand entrance with a cast of holiday characters including live reindeer.  There will be music, activities, performers, refreshments and giveaways, too.  

Cost: FREE

 

“A Christmas Carol”

When: Dec. 3-6 and Dec. 10-13, Thursday-Saturday at 7:30 p.m. and Sunday at 2 p.m.

Where: NWU McDonald Theatre, Huntington Avenue, Lincoln, Neb.

What: NWU Theatre’s Christmas tradition continues in 2015 with miserly Scrooge, a trio of frightening and enlightening ghosts and a whole lot of good cheer.  This event is at NWU McDonald Theatre.

Cost: $10, adults; $7 seniors and students (K-12, college)

 

Holiday Spectacular 

Lincoln Children's Museum Holiday Spectacular is Dec. 4. Photo courtesy Lincoln Children's Museum

Lincoln Children’s Museum Holiday Spectacular is Dec. 4. Photo courtesy Lincoln Children’s Museum

When: Dec. 4, 5 to 8 p.m.

Where: Lincoln Children’s Museum, 1420 P St., Lincoln, Neb.

What: It’s a night of song, dance, storytelling, indoor snowball fights, decoration making and special guest appearances, including Santa, who opens the world’s most famous toy shop right in the Discovery Gallery. For more information call (402) 477-4000 or visit here. www.lincolnchildrensmuseum.org.

Cost: FREE for members, $4.75 non-members

 

Candy House Funshop

image002

When: Saturdays, Dec. 5, 12 and 19, 10 a.m., 11 a.m., 1 p.m., 2 p.m., and 3 p.m.; Sundays, Dec. 6, 13 and 20, 1 p.m., 2 p.m. and 3 p.m.; and Thursdays, Dec. 10 and 17, 10 a.m., 5 p.m. and 6 p.m.

Where: The Lincoln Children’s Museum, 1420 P St., Lincoln, Neb.

What:  The Lincoln Children’s Museum will supply the 15-inch house frame, frosting and a variety of candies and decorations, and all you have to do is bring the fun. For more information, call (402) 477-4000 or visit www.lincolnchildrensmuseum.org.

Cost: $25 for Museum Members, $30 for Non-members (includes 2 free admissions); $25 take-home kits

 

North Pole Express

Santa at the Lincoln Children's Zoo's North Pole Express.

Santa at the Lincoln Children’s Zoo’s North Pole Express.

When: Dec. 5, 6, 12 and 13, 11 a.m. to 3 p.m.

Where: Lincoln Children’s Zoo, 1222 S. 27th St., Lincoln, Neb.

What: The North Pole Express is Lincoln’s only train offering services to Santa’s Village!  After departing the train, your travels will take you through Candy Cane Lane where you’ll stop at The Hive to write your official letter to Santa and see some of his favorite animal friends.  Continue down Candy Cane Lane to meet the Big Man himself!  After visiting Santa, enjoy treats made by the Elves, hot chocolate and candy canes.  Be careful not to fill up on candy canes because your next stop is the Mrs. Claus Bakery to decorate your very own cookie! All activities are indoors.

Cost: $6.95+tax for members, $9.95+tax for non-members; Santa Photo Package extra

 

Holiday Decorations at the Thomas Kennard House

When: Dec. 6, 1 to 5 p.m.

Where: Thomas Kennard House, 1627 H St., Lincoln, Neb.

What: Dedicated as the Nebraska Statehood Memorial in 1968, the Kennard House is the oldest standing structure in Lincoln’s original plat.  This 1869 italianate structure is home to Nebraska’s first Secretary of State, Thomas P. Kennard.  The house will be decorated for a Victorian Christmas complete with a tree, candles, toys, presents, and decorative greens.

Cost: FREE

 

Holiday Tree Lighting Celebration

When: Dec. 6, TBA

Where: State Capitol Rotunda, 1445 K St., Lincoln, Neb.

What: The 67th annual Nebraska State Tree Lighting happens in the Rotunda of the State Capitol. In 1942 the Women’s Division of the Chamber of Commerce and the Ministerial Association held the first carol sing on the steps of the Capitol for the servicemen stationed at the Lincoln Air Base.  

Cost: FREE

 

Holidays In The Haymarket Friday

When: Dec. 11 and 18, 6 to 9 p.m.

Where: The Haymarket (downtown Lincoln)

What: Featuring free horse and carriage rides, entertainment at Seventh and P Street, and Santa strolling the area.

Cost: FREE

 

Haymarket Unwrapped

When: Dec. 12, 8 a.m. to 6 p.m.

Where: The Haymarket (downtown Lincoln)

What: The day starts with Breakfast With Santa from 8 to 11 a.m. in the lower level of the candy factory Eighth and P Street. Starting at 10 a.m., many Haymarket business will offer special sales. There will be entertainment throughout the area, strolling Santa, and other events to be announced at a later date.

Cost: FREE

 

Nebraska Brass: Brass Across Nebraska – A Nebraska Brass Christmas

When: Dec. 13, 7 p.m.

Where: First Methodist Church, 2723 N. 50th St., Lincoln, Neb.

What: Seasonal favorites will be played during this concert.

Cost: $15, adults; $12, seniors; FREE for students and children

 

Make Believe Midnight

image004

When: Dec. 31, 6 p.m.

Where: Lincoln Children’s Museum, 1420 P St., Lincoln, Neb.

What: For nearly 20 years, families have celebrated New Year’s Eve at Make Believe Midnight. Guests wave goodbye to Father Time before welcoming Baby New Year and watching the ball drop at 8 p.m. This Lincoln tradition is known for its bubble wrap stomp, dance party, fun party favors and, the most exciting, balloon drop. This year’s event will be even more exciting with the popular balloon drop happening over Cuckoo Construction, the museum’s new, largest exhibit that opens this month.

Cost: $10, member; $13, non-member

 

No visit is complete without some good eats!

For a nice cup of coffee/or cocoa for the little ones visit The Mill in Lincoln’s Historic Haymarket (800 P St.).

 

Syracuse (47 miles from Omaha)

Tannenbaum

The Tannenbaum Trot in Syracuse takes place on Dec.

The Tannenbaum Trot in Syracuse takes place on Dec. 6. Photo courtesy  Otoe County Visitors Committee

When: Dec. 6, starting at 4 p.m.

Where: Syracuse (downtown)

What: The activities will start off with a visit from Santa at the library. The Friends of the Library will host their annual soup dinner in the meeting room at the library starting at 4 p.m. The Living Nativity will be held in front of the Christmas Tree on Main Street starting at 5 p.m. Upon the conclusion of the Living Nativity, the Christmas Tree will be lit. Luther Memorial Luther League will selling hot cocoa and cookies starting at 3 p.m until after the tree lighting. Several downtown businesses will be open for extra Christmas shopping from 3 to 7 p.m. The Beer Stein will hold a wine tasting after the tree lighting.

Cost: FREE

 

Nebraska City (45 miles from Omaha)

Grand Thanksgiving Buffet

When: Nov. 26, 11 a.m. to 2:30 p.m.

Where: Lied Lodge & Conference Center, Timber Dining Room, 2700 Sylvan Road, Nebraska City, Neb.

What: A delectable buffet dinner in beautifully inspiring surroundings.

Cost: Adults, $35; children (5-12), $14.95; 4 and younger, FREE

 

Holiday Trolley Tour of Lights

The Holiday Trolley Tour of Lights is on the weekends in Nebraska City. Photo courtesy Otoe County Visitors Committee

The Holiday Trolley Tour of Lights in Nebraska City runs every Friday and Saturday in December. Photo courtesy Otoe County Visitors Committee

When: Fridays and Saturdays in December (Dec. 4, 5, 11, 12, 18, 19, 25 and 26), 7 p.m.

Where: Starting from Lied Lodge & Conference Center, 2700 Sylvan Road, Nebraska City, Neb.

What: Climb aboard the Arbor Day Farm trolley for a one-hour tour of Historic Nebraska City and the best show of Christmas lights. During the ride, you’ll enjoy a reading of the classic Christmas book, “The Polar Express.”

Cost: Adults, $12.50 + tax; children (3-12), $10 + tax; children 3 and younger, FREE

 

Holiday Tea

Holiday Tea at Whispering Pines B&B is Dec. 5 and 6 in Nebraska City. Photo courtesy Whispering Pines

Holiday Tea at Whispering Pines B&B is Dec. 5 and 6 in Nebraska City. Photo courtesy Whispering Pines

When: Dec. 5, 11:30 a.m. or 1:30 p.m., and Dec. 6, 12:30 or 2:30 p.m. (RSVP by Dec. 1)

Where: Whispering Pines B&B, 2018 Sixth Ave., Nebraska City, Neb.

What: Invoke your holiday spirit with tea at Whispering Pines B&B in the glow of festive decor. Bring your appetite and indulge in tasty cakes, dainty sandwiches, and assorted sweets served with a variety of exquisite teas in old fashioned tea cups.

Cost: $20, adults; $10, children younger than 12 (includes unlimited tea and delectable treats). Receive a $5 off discount if you book an overnight stay.

 

Reindeer Chase & Make-and-Take Ornaments

When: Saturdays, Dec. 5, 12 and 19

Where: Arbor Day Farm Tree Adventure, 2611 Arbor Ave., Nebraska City, Neb.

What: Get into the holiday spirit with fun traditions and activities including: Free hot apple cider while you shop and hike the trails; make-and-take ornaments from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m.; and scavenger hunt for Santa’s wooden reindeer along the trails (all day, on-your-own activity).

Cost: Included with admission, Adults, $13; children (3-12), $8; children 2 and younger, FREE

 

Brunch with Santa

When: First three Sundays in December (Dec. 6, 13 and 20)

Where: Lied Lodge & Conference Center, 2700 Sylvan Road, Nebraska City, Neb.

What: Special children’s buffet during Sunday Brunch. Visit Santa in front in the fireplace of the lobby of Lied Lodge.  

Cost: TBD

 

Heirloom Christmas

When: TBD

Where: Wildwood Historic Center, 420 Steinhart Park Road, Nebraska City, Neb.

What: Enjoy holiday music played by Angie Madison on the 1883 Steinway Parlor Grand piano as you stroll through Wildwood House all decked out for a Victorian Christmas—just as families would have done in the past. Refreshments will be served in the Barn among displays of vintage china set up just as elaborately as in the 1800s.

Cost: Adults, $3; children (12 & younger), $1; 68410 residents, FREE

 

Christmas at the Mansion

When: Saturdays, Nov. 21 through Dec. 19, 6:30 to 8 p.m.

Where: Arbor Lodge at Arbor Lodge State Historical Park, 2600 Arbor Avenue, Nebraska City, Neb.

What:  Tour the home of J. Sterling Morton, founder of Arbor Day, decorated for Christmas.  Light refreshments and music in the mansion.

Cost: Adult, $10; child, $7 (package with overnight stay at Lied Lodge available)

 

No visit is complete without some good eats!

Here are some restaurants recommended to me for visiting people over the holidays: Timber Dining Room at Lied Lodge, El Portal Mexican and Valentino’s.

 

Know of more holiday events in Lincoln, Syracuse, Nebraska City or another nearby town? Please send me your recommendations and I’ll add them to the list. Email ohmyomaha (at) gmail (dot) com! Thank you!

July 27, 2015

Visiting Mammoth Site With Kids

Disclosure: The Hot Springs tourism office provided complimentary admission to Mammoth Site of Hot Springs for me and my family. All opinions and thoughts expressed here are my own.

I’ve never had more than a passing interest in dinosaurs and prehistoric creatures. But ever since I read about Hudson-Meng Bison Kill site in Nebraska, my interest was piqued on major archeological digs in the Midwest. What would it be like to see a massive dig site in person?

The question leads to why I wanted to include a stop at Mammoth Site in Hot Springs during our South Dakota road trip. The answer: You’ll be impressed by the experience.

The number of bones uncovered at Mammoth Site is impressive.
The number of bones uncovered at Mammoth Site is impressive.

More than 60 Columbian and woolly mammoths have been identified there, as well as a number surprising (to me) fossils of camels, llamas and giant short-faced bears, to name just a couple here.

What to expect

Let’s all breathe a sigh of relief: It’s in a climate-controlled building (AKA air-conditioned).

A partial view of the excavation area at Mammoth Site in Hot Springs, South Dakota.
A partial view of the excavation area at Mammoth Site in Hot Springs, South Dakota.

You’ll want to take a tour, which includes a short film in the beginning and a guided walk around the “in-situ” exhibit (fancy talk for bones being on display as they were discovered).

You get headphones to wear so you can hear your guide. My 3-year-old hated them with a passion.

Photography is allowed, but you’re encouraged to wait until after the tour so that you don’t miss whatever the guide is showing next. It’s so tempting, though, to want to snap photos in the moment.

Tools used at Mammoth Site to uncover bones.
Tools used at Mammoth Site to uncover bones.

After the tour, you’re free to roam, then proceed to the next door. It’s full of interesting replicas, including a mammoth model and a walk-in mammoth bone hut. There’s a gift shop full of books, stuffed animals and apparel.

A replica of a hut made out of mammoth bones in Muller Exhibit Hall.
A replica of a hut made out of mammoth bones in Muller Exhibit Hall.

Tips

We lucked out and saw Mammoth Site Excavation Committee members at work during our visit. However, the people who timed their visit about 30 minutes after us missed them during their lunch break. Time your visit around the noon hour.

It's pretty fascinating to watch the work being done at Mammoth Site.
It’s pretty fascinating to watch the work being done at Mammoth Site.

There picnic tables for lunch time, if you packed accordingly. The tables aren’t far from an outdoor work site.

Near the picnic tables is a work space for the volunteers to sift through dirt to find tiny fossils.
Near the picnic tables is a work space for the volunteers to sift through dirt to find tiny fossils. You might luck out and catch someone at work.

Near Mammoth Site is the restaurant Woolly’s Western Grill. It’s a kid-friendly place to get a bite to eat.

Bringing little ones here

How did these two do at an active dig site?
How did these two do at an active dig site?

My kids are 3 and 5, so not exactly at the grade levels that have been studying any of this in school. That said, they’ve at least read “Magic Treehouse” books and know a thing or two about woolly Mammoths and other prehistoric creatures, so they’ve got that going.

There are items on display at Mammoth Site that encourage visitors to touch, which appeals to kids.
There are items on display at Mammoth Site that encourage visitors to touch, which appeals to kids.

My 3-year-old daughter, Mooch, lost interest early on in the tour; our 5-year-old fared better. The tour guide provides a lot of facts, but there’s very little hands-on things to keep the truly young interested.

I think one of the best options for families with little kids is to register them in one of the kids activities offered there – in the summer, there are two types of  junior paleontologist classes, which sound like the perfect hands-on learning my kids would like; unfortunately, it didn’t fit with our travel schedule. There’s also an Atlatl Throwing Experience that sounded intriguing.

Mammoth Site is one of those must-see road trip stops in South Dakota. Get details on taking kids to this active dig site in Hot Springs, South Dakota, USA.

If you go

Mammoth Site of Hot Springs

Where: 1800 US 18 Bypass, Hot Springs, South Dakota

Hours: Open year-round, hours vary depending on the time of year. Details

Cost: Adults (13+), $10.14; seniors (60+), $8.29; kids (4-12), $7.37; kids 3 and younger, FREE. Summer classes are $10-$20.

Website

* * * * *

Planning a trip to South Dakota and Western Nebraska? I wrote a series of posts and reviews of kid-friendly attractions, lodging and a photo-heavy trip recap. Check them out:

Nebraska and South Dakota Adventure With Kids

Canoeing the Niobrara River with Kids

Comfort Suites and Convention Center (Rapid City, South Dakota)

Firehouse Brewing Company (Rapid City, South Dakota)

Reptile Gardens (Rapid City, South Dakota)

Dakotah Steakhouse (Rapid City, South Dakota)

The Hills Inn (Hot Spring, South Dakota)

Evans Plunge (Hot Springs, South Dakota)

Chadron State Park (Chadron, Nebraska)

Fort Robinson State Park (Harrison, Nebraska)

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July 8, 2015

Nebraska and South Dakota Adventure With Kids

My family’s destination: The Black Hills.

But we’re not ones to take a direct route; we have to stop and enjoy the scenery. There were adventures in Nebraska and South Dakota to be had in the form of canoeing, jeep riding, cave exploring, mountain hiking, lunar landscape wandering, and brushes with gigantic tortoises and begging burros.

Adventure Road Trip 2015

It was a lot of fun for our two young kids, ages 3 and 5 (and a good deal tiring).

Here’s how we did it:

Day 1 – Sioux City, Iowa, Valentine, Nebraska

Our first destination was Valentine. We drove a route through Sioux City, Iowa, allowing us to stop for lunch at Milwaukee Weiner House and Palmer’s Candy Shoppe for treats. The candy shop was definitely worth the stop.

The route via Sioux City isn’t the fastest Omaha-to-Valentine route, but it’s more scenic. I love the Sandhills.

The view from my window while we drove just outside Valentine, Neb. That's the Niobrara River.
The view from my window while we drove just outside Valentine, Neb.

Your lodging options there are mostly motels, budget hotels, a few lodges and cabins closer to the Niobrara River, and camping at outfitters along the river.

Day 2 – Valentine and Niobrara River, Nebraska

We canoed the Niobrara River with friends and family the next day. This involved an early morning wake up, breakfast at The Bunk House, and a caravan out to Rocky Ford Outfitters. Note that with Rocky Ford, you’ll likely be on a bus full of strangers when they drive you to the launch site. It’s like riding a bus to camp.

Our bus dropped us off by the river, so we can canoe back to our cars.
Our bus dropped us off by the river, so we can canoe back to our cars.

We opted for the shorter route starting at Brewer Bridge; it includes a pit stop at Smith Falls, the state’s tallest waterfall.

A view of Smith Falls on a sunny day.
A view of Smith Falls on a sunny day.

In all, it was about five hours.

Canoeing the Niobrara is pretty fun for kids (and adults…), and you’ll get a glimpse of Nebraska wildlife – we saw a bald eagle. It was a long day for our 3-year-old, though. She doesn’t like to be told to sit down so frequently.

Mooch out in the river with her cousin.
Mooch out in the river with her cousin.

That night, we had dinner with our large group at The Pepper Mill, and my little family got some ice cream at Frosty Drive-In afterwards.

Day 3 – Wall and Rapid City, South Dakota

While the rest of our canoe caravan drove home, we drove north toward the Bad Lands.

A glimpse of the countryside on the drive up from Nebraska to Wall, South Dakota.
A glimpse of the countryside on the drive up from Nebraska to Wall, South Dakota.

Our destination was Rapid City, but first we had to stop at Wall Drug.

You can’t miss it. There will be about 2,567 signs pointing it out to you.

Who hasn't taken a picture on this thing? I should dig up my picture from eighth grade.
Who hasn’t taken a picture on this thing? I should dig up my picture from eighth grade.

It’s fun for kids, and a nostalgic visit for me.

Road Trip - Wall Drug3
Kinda wished I’d gotten Mr. Wonderful the Mt. Rushmore with a wolf shirt.

I heard about their famous cake donuts, so we did a taste test of three. Go with the maple donut if you have to pick just one.

And the winner of the tastiest donut in Wall, South Dakota, goes to...the maple donut.
And the winner of the tastiest donut in Wall, South Dakota, goes to…the maple donut.

We arrived in Rapid City at lunchtime and made way to the Firehouse Brewing Company. The relaxed atmosphere was a welcome relief from a car ride with antsy kids.

The entrance to Firehouse Brewing Company in Rapid City. If it's not scorching hot, sit outside.
The entrance to Firehouse Brewing Company in Rapid City. If it’s not scorching hot, sit outside.

I’ll post a full review soon of the restaurant, but briefly, you’ll want to try one of their house-brewed beers – I was particularly fond of the Honey Badger. They’re known for their burgers, but I bucked that trend and tried the gumbo that’s got a Food Network star’s approval.

The restaurant is in the pretty downtown of Rapid City, which you’ll want to stroll.

While you stroll downtown Rapid City, be on the lookout for all the presidents in the form of statues. This was one of Farley's favorite scavenger hunts - finding the best statue to pose with while we walked back to our car.
While you stroll downtown Rapid City, be on the lookout for all the presidents in the form of statues. This was one of Farley’s favorite scavenger hunts – finding the best statue to pose with while we walked back to our car.

Not far from Firehouse Brewing Co. is Art Alley, eclectic shops and the plaza with a sprayground. The plan was to explore all this after lunch but naptime was clearly more pressing.

Once rested, we did a whirlwind visit of some very fun kid-friendly and FREE attractions. First stop was Storybook Island, a large playground of sorts featuring every possible storybook character your kid has ever loved.

Mr. Wonderful and the kids head off to uncharted waters on Captain Hook's boat.
Mr. Wonderful and the kids head off to uncharted waters on Captain Hook’s boat. With the number of times I post a picture with someone in my family doing a Zizzou point, readers could really start a drinking game.

In a word, it was a kid’s heaven.

Since admission was free you’ll feel less peeved about paying a few dollars for your kid to ride the little train or carousel.

For $2, a kid can ride the mini train around part of the park, including through a tunnel. Exciting stuff.
For $2, a kid can ride the mini train around part of the park, including through a tunnel. Exciting stuff.

Nearby this park is the well-known Dinosaur Park.

There’s a visitor’s center, but mainly, you’ll want to climb the stairs up to see the giant dinos.

You can spot this guy in Dinosaur Park from afar.
We spotted this DinoPark star from the road below.

There’s not much to it beyond the iconic large statues, but kids like it. Expect to spend at least two hours at Storybook Island and 30 minutes tops at Dinosaur Park.

After seeing the sprayground downtown, there was no way my kids would rest until we went back. So, we made a super quick stop there.

Good luck with that "super quick" idea, Mom. This kid's not leaving so easily.
Good luck with that “super quick” idea, Mom. This kid’s not leaving so easily.

It was timed during a free fun night event (Sunday night), so there were bounce houses, hot dogs, balloon animals and that evening, a movie. Wish we could’ve stuck around.

We had a nice dinner at Dakotah Steakhouse, which happened to be next door to our hotel, the Comfort Suites & Convention Center.

Comfort Suites in Rapid City and Dakotah Steakhouse are neighbors. It's a great thing for those staying at the hotel.
Comfort Suites in Rapid City and Dakotah Steakhouse are neighbors. It’s a great thing for those staying at the hotel.

In case you were curious on what you shouldn’t miss at Dakotah, our family loved the bison satay appetizer – loved it – and one side you should get with your dinner, no matter what, is the deliciously fried mac n cheese.

Dakotah Steakhouse
A late dinner at a steakhouse is a risky affair with young kids.

Day 4 – Rapid City, Custer, and Hot Springs, South Dakota

We woke up early and enjoyed the free hot breakfast at Comfort Suites– followed by a quick swim in their pool.

Car loaded for our next destination – Hot Springs – we, first, headed to Reptile Gardens for some morning fun.

After watching the Alligator Show, my son kept asking me if I knew how to wrestle an alligator. Fat chance, sonny boy.
After watching the Alligator Show, my son kept asking me if I knew how to wrestle an alligator. Fat chance, sonny boy.

Three hours there, we were able to see all three animal shows, walk through the pretty cool Sky Dome, and have a quick play at the playground.

Both kids’ favorite part, hands down, was meeting the three gigantic tortoises.

The tortoises roamed free in a fenced-in yard at Reptile Gardens. You could pet them and ask handlers questions.
The tortoises roamed free in a fenced-in yard at Reptile Gardens. You could pet them and ask handlers questions.

We grabbed lunch in Custer in a popular burger joint called Buffalo Burger and Bun Co. It’s well worth the wait. Just don’t arrive between lunch and dinner – they’re closed from 2 to 5 p.m., which some stragglers learned the hard way.

Best burger of the whole trip was had at Buffalo Burger and Bun Co. in Custer.
Best burger of the whole trip was had at Buffalo Burger and Bun Co. in Custer.

After lunch, we bellied up to Purple Pie Place, also in Custer, to try the recommended pie.

Mr. Wonderful ordered the tart strawberry rhubarb pie a la mode, and the kids behind him got ice cream at Purple Pie Place.
Mr. Wonderful ordered the tart strawberry rhubarb pie a la mode, and the kids behind him got ice cream at Purple Pie Place.

Sufficiently stuffed and seeing the approaching storm, we drove on to our destination for the night, Hot Springs.

To get there, we passed through the beautiful Wind Cave National Park. No animals were spotted on that evening drive – we had a lot more luck the next morning. I can’t imagine why.

Perhaps this storm had something to do with no animals being spotted that night. I dunno.
Perhaps this storm had something to do with no animals being spotted in Wind Cave National Park. I dunno.

Once the storm passed and the kids woke from their late naps, we had time to make it to the final tour of Wind Cave that day. We rushed out there to catch the 6 p.m. Natural Entrance Tour, which was recommended to me by the park ranger because it suited small kids best (least amount of standing and listening).

Our group listening to the park ranger during the tour.
Our group listening to the park ranger during the tour.

The whole family enjoyed it, even the 3-year-old who doesn’t “do” staying in line. There was a younger kid on our tour and he did not last long in the cave.

This was more of an awe-struck experience than I had expected.

If you plan to visit Wind Cave, you’ll want to bring a jacket – otherwise, you’ll be like me, forking over $25 for a long-sleeved shirt. It’s a cool shirt, at least.

We got tasty takeout from T/D Smokin BBQ in Hot Springs, and retired to our room for the night. We stayed at The Hills Inn in Hot Springs.

I’ll write a review of the motel soon, but so you know, it’s a very short distance from the city’s two main attractions: Evans Plunge and Mammoth Site, and 10 minutes from Wind Cave, making it an ideal base if you want to visit those three sites.

Day 5 – Hot Springs, Custer State Park, Keystone, Mt. Rushmore, South Dakota

The Hills Inn had a free continental breakfast, so we opted to eat that poolside. Not a bad start to the day!

Dining poolside at a motel? Why not? The kids liked the food options at The Hills Inn in Hot Springs.
Dining poolside at a motel? Why not? The kids liked the food options at The Hills Inn in Hot Springs.

Our morning was spent spotting tons of animals while we drove through Wind Cave National Park on our way to Custer State Park, where we saw even more. In Wind Cave National Park, we spotted buffalo, prairie dogs, and on our drive back to Hot Springs, a coyote.

How's that for an entrance to Custer State Park? Buffalo in the distance.
How’s that for an entrance to Custer State Park? Buffalo in the distance.

Custer State Park was our major destination that day. We drove two of the three scenic routes, both had their good points.

The Wildlife Loop is what it sounds like it would be, and it didn’t disappoint.

We saw several herds of buffalo, some pronghorn and prairie dogs.

And our kids’ favorite, the begging burros.

While still wild animals, the famous begging burros of Custer State Park sure managed to befriend every kid in the park.
While still wild animals, the famous begging burros of Custer State Park sure managed to befriend every kid in the park.

I know you’re not supposed to approach wildlife or feed them, but this seemed like a rule everyone on the road gleefully broke. These burros were bold and insisted you break those rules.

We had a quick picnic lunch by a dammed up lake in the middle of the park.

We grabbed a nearby picnic table for lunch here at Custer State Park.
We grabbed a nearby picnic table for lunch here at Custer State Park.

We continued our drive along the Iron Mountain road.

That was an intense, but beautiful drive. Narrow roads and even narrower tunnels!

The kids loved these tunnels. I was just glad I wasn't driving. This is a two-way road, by the way.
The kids loved these tunnels. I was just glad I wasn’t driving. This is a two-way road, by the way.

We found lots of scenic stops along the way to our next destination, Sylvan Lake.

You can't capture the beauty of Sylvan Lake in a photo - we tried.
You can’t capture the beauty of Sylvan Lake in a photo – we tried.

This was a place I’d been looking forward to and it didn’t disappoint.

Hiking around Sylvan Lake with the family was one of the trip's highlights for me.
Hiking around Sylvan Lake with the family was one of the trip’s highlights for me.

There’s a trail around the lake that’s fairly kid-friendly – not easy by any means, as there is some climbing, but little legs can handle it.

Up some steps around Sylvan Lake at Custer State Park.
Up some steps around Sylvan Lake at Custer State Park.

There were so many gorgeous views.

If you can fit it into your schedule, pack swimsuits to enjoy the little beach and possibly some of the water sports like kayaking or aquabike.

Next time we'll wear our swimsuits to Sylvan Lake.
Next time we’ll wear our swimsuits to Sylvan Lake.

The only frustrating thing about the stop was the lack of water fountains – you either had to pay for a water bottle or fill up in the bathroom sink.

Naptime meant we had some time to kill before we went to Mt. Rushmore. Mr. Wonderful and I took turns staying with the kids in the car while the other wandered around shops in Keystone.

Impatience won out after a while and we woke the kids up to see us drive up to Mt. Rushmore. The sight impressed them.

The Avenue of Flags that lead up to a great spot to view Mount Rushmore.
The Avenue of Flags that lead up to a great spot to view Mount Rushmore.

In a tone of deference: “Moun-TAIN Rushmore, Mooch. Mountain Rushmore.”

This stop was way more exciting for the kids than I anticipated (truth told, when I saw it as a teenager, I was more of a “Yup, that’s it. Let’s go.” Kind of kid). They sat through one of the documentaries, browsed the exhibit, and marveled at all the flags.

This kid was super excited about Mount Rushmore, or as he likes to call it more formally, Mountain Rushmore.
This kid was super excited about Mount Rushmore, or as he likes to call it more formally, Mountain Rushmore.

The highlight was ice cream, naturally. They’re kids, still. (By the way, it will be the most expensive ice cream you’ll buy on your trip)

On the drive back to Hot Springs, we caught a glimpse of Crazy Horse.

Dinner was back in Hot Springs at Woolly’s Western Grill (which is really close to Mammoth Site, by the way). It’s the typical American fare – I tried the walleye dinner, which hit the spot. They have their own microbrew and offer some South Dakota beers.

Nothing fancy, Wooly's Western Grill hit the spot after a long day outdoors. Try a South Dakota brew, like Crow Peak, or the house-brewed beer.
Nothing fancy, Woolly’s Western Grill hit the spot after a long day outdoors. Try a South Dakota brew, like Crow Peak, or the house-brewed beer.

Day 6 – Hot Springs, South Dakota, and Toadstool Park, Chadron State Park, Nebraska

We started the day with a small breakfast at The Hills Inn before a morning swim at Evans Plunge. It’s a hot springs pool in four sections (baby, kids, all ages and outdoor), plus a couple water slides, Tarzan rings, and some pool sports.

OK, I did not capture this photo. I didn't dare bring my camera in with me to a pool. I know myself! Photo provided by South Dakota Tourism
OK, I did not capture this photo inside Evans Springs. I didn’t dare bring my camera in with me to a pool. I know myself! Photo provided by South Dakota Tourism

The kids loved it.

A helpful lady pointed out that we could leave for lunch and naps and return later – so keep that in mind. Morning was a good time to visit – not crowded, but you did have to contend with swim lessons and the outdoor pool wasn’t open until 11 a.m.

After Evans Plunge, we walked across the street for a bigger breakfast (my birthday breakfast) at Dale’s Family Restaurant. It seemed like the place locals dined – I saw a lot of ladies from one of the swim workout classes there. The pancakes are huge.

Well fed, we went to Mammoth Site for a tour of the huge dig. We arrived at 11 a.m. just in time for a tour, which started with a short documentary. We lucked out and were able to watch some volunteers at work.

Members of the Mammoth Site Excavation Committee at work.
Members of the Mammoth Site Excavation Committee at work.

As impressive as it all was, it did not impress my 3-year-old – it’s a tough one for the younger ones to stay focused on. The rest of us liked the experience.

We drove south to Nebraska, with a stop for a short hike at Toadstool Geological Park and Campground within the Oglala Grasslands.

It’s a beautiful drive, but a long one on a dirt road.

I’ve been wanting to see this out-of-this-world terrain for quite a while, so the whole drive was worth it.

Nebraska's own Badlands, AKA Toadstool Geological Park.
Nebraska’s own Badlands, AKA Toadstool Geological Park.

You’ll have two options for a hike – with the young kids, we opted for a quarter-mile mostly flat route. It’s to the right of the entrance.

The easy path at Toadstool Geological Park in Western Nebraska.
The easy path at Toadstool Geological Park in Western Nebraska.

The more tempting one is directly in front of you as you enter, with the trail heading up the rock formations. I only hiked about 10 minutes on it and determined it way too hard for the Mooch and Farley to navigate.

Let's play "Spot the trail" in this picture at Toadstool.
Let’s play “Spot the trail” in this picture at Toadstool.

It’s way more beautiful and has the famed “toadstools,” but the crevices and uneven terrain is hard for unsteady climbers. We’ll be back someday, maybe on a cooler fall day, to hike with my kids.

Our destination for the night was Chadron State Park. Easily, the most beautiful state park I’ve been to in Nebraska, it’s also the oldest.

Mr. Wonderful took this picture on a hike at Chadron State Park.
Mr. Wonderful took this picture on a hike at Chadron State Park.

We had booked a cabin for two nights – it was small, for sure, but it had everything we wanted for the night: Air conditioning, two beds, and a place for a campfire.

It was the end of the day when we finally arrived, and we attempted to make it to the swimming pool before it closed at 8 p.m. Unfortunately, we were out of luck as the teens working wanted to close 40 minutes early. So back to our cabin for dinner and eventually bed time.

I drove the scenic road at the park, and while it’s a beauty of a drive, I’m glad I did it without the kids, they were not longer impressed by pretty landscape at this point in the trip.

Day 7 – Chadron, Fort Robinson, Nebraska

We had breakfast on our cabin picnic table before starting our day.

Picnic breakfast at Chadron State Park.
Picnic breakfast at Chadron State Park.

We forgot to buy coffee with our camping supplies, so we made a quick pit stop in Chadron at Bean Broker Coffee for some good coffee.

Onward to Fort Robinson, which is close to 40 miles from Chadron State Park. There is so much to do there, that it deserved more than a day, but that’s life.

We had small kids with us so trail rides were out, so the kids did a pony ride instead.

This guide at Fort Robinson was a hoot. He also drove the stagecoach.
This guide at Fort Robinson was a hoot. He also drove the stagecoach.

Mooch was dead set on doing a stagecoach ride, as well. It only cost $2 per kid and $3 for each adult, so we obliged.

The highlight of the day for all four of us was the jeep ride. It was a steal that the kids were FREE – they loved it so much!

Once we hit the bumpy dirt road, the kids were all smiles on the jeep ride at Fort Robinson.
Once we hit the bumpy dirt road, the kids were all smiles on the jeep ride at Fort Robinson.

We had a small picnic there and bought some ice cream at the end. Visit the blog soon for a more in-depth post about all there is to do at Fort Robinson.

Day 8 – Chadron State Park, Chadron

Our final day of the road trip. Before leaving Chadron State Park, we had a spin on the paddleboats at the small pond. I’m a paddleboat hater to begin with, so it wasn’t my idea.

The Chadron State Park lake where you can paddleboat.. if you're into that sort of thing.
The Chadron State Park lake where you can paddleboat.. if you’re into that sort of thing.

The kids loved it though.

Before leaving Chadron for good, we grabbed some coffee to-go from the Bean Broker again, and let the kids play on the playground at the city’s main park. The park is very pretty, and the playground beat the ones at Chadron State Park.

 * * * * *

Planning a trip to South Dakota and Western Nebraska? I wrote a series of posts and reviews of kid-friendly attractions, lodging and a photo-heavy trip recap. Check them out:

Canoeing the Niobrara River with Kids

Comfort Suites and Convention Center (Rapid City, South Dakota)

Firehouse Brewing Company (Rapid City, South Dakota)

Reptile Gardens (Rapid City, South Dakota)

Dakotah Steakhouse (Rapid City, South Dakota)

Evans Plunge (Hot Springs, South Dakota)

The Hills Inn (Hot Spring, South Dakota)

Mammoth Site (Hot Springs, South Dakota)

Chadron State Park (Chadron, Nebraska)

Fort Robinson State Park (Harrison, Nebraska)

Disclaimer: Some of the featured destinations provided complimentary admission or services in order for me to review them. Individual posts will make note of it.

May 15, 2015

Exploring The Morean Arts Center With Kids

I cram a lot of activities into my trips. See Vacation Exhibit A. I’m working on slowing it down. A visit to an art gallery actually does the trick nicely when on vacation.

 

Morean Arts Cener title

Our visit to Morean Arts Center was a breath of fresh air when we were in the Tampa Bay area recently. It’s located in downtown St. Petersburg, Fla.

If I could pick one word to describe it, I’d say it was calming. If we went with two words, it’d be calming and fun.

Kids can explore different art tables for free every Saturday at Morean Arts Center in downtown St. Petersburg. This clay sushi was made by a little girl who was at the arts center at the same time was us.

Kids can explore different art tables for free every Saturday at Morean Arts Center in downtown St. Petersburg. This clay sushi was made by a little girl who was at the arts center at the same time was us.

We timed our visit to take advantage of the FREE kid-friendly art experience held every Saturday. While Visit St. Petersburg/Clearwater gave my family and friends free passes to explore all of their amazing venues – Morean Galleries, Glass Studio and Hot Shop, Morean Arts Center for Clay, and the Chihuly Collection – the kids would’ve been as pleased as punch if we stayed in the education studio the entire day.

Taking a break from go-go-go vacationing to paint some pictures with new friends. The Morean Arts Center is located in St. Petersburg.

Taking a break from go-go-go vacationing to paint some pictures with new friends. The Morean Arts Center is located in St. Petersburg.

For the Omaha crowd, it’s kind of a cross between our own Hot Shops and the arts center at the Omaha Children’s Museum. The free art experience is on Saturdays from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. (with a lunch break for the instructor tucked in there).

Everything in the kids studio at the Morean Arts Center was at their height and in their size.

Everything in the kids studio at the Morean Arts Center was at their height and in their size.

It’s best for ages 5-10, but the two 3-year-olds in our crowd had as much fun as their big brothers. There is an instructor on hand to help explain any o the art stations.

The kids check out a table with sculpting clay.

The kids check out a table with sculpting clay.

A visit to the Morean Arts Center Galleries is FREE, as is the Saturday art experience for kids. So, kids can pretty much make their own souvenirs from their trip to Florida. Unless you’re the kind of mommy who “accidentally” leaves their works of art at the hotel…

Anyway, the kids enjoyed the quiet time at various stations, and even the three of us adults in our group joined in.

Parents might as well join in the art making, right?

Parents might as well join in the art making, right?

We had to leave the studio for the instructor’s lunch time, so we made our way into the various galleries at Morean.

Mooch had the kids’ camera, making our meander a snail pace. The girl takes after her Grampy, taking pictures of pictures.

One of the galleries at Morean Arts Center features artwork by students, which appealed to our younger art critics.

One of the galleries at Morean Arts Center features artwork by students, which appealed to our younger art critics.

There are temporary exhibits at Morean, and during our visit, the kids found one they loved.

What’s not to love about artwork that sneaks in ninja turtles or Darth Vader?

The boys were particularly fascinated with one exhibit at Morean Arts Center. I think it might have had something to do with the recognizable figurines included.

The boys were particularly fascinated with one exhibit at Morean Arts Center. I think it might have had something to do with the recognizable figurines included.

There’s no guarantee you’ll find a similar exhibit like this one if you go, but the beauty of art is that there’s always a way to strike up a conversation about it with kids, even if it’s simply asking them to pick out their favorite and asking why.

My friend's son really liked the Morean Arts Center. I forsee hot-glued  action figures and found art in his future.

My friend’s son really liked the Morean Arts Center. I forsee hot-glued action figure found art in his future.

Our next stop was next door: The Morean Glass Studio and Hot Shop. This was a memorable stop!

We watched resident artist Paul create a serving bowl during a live demonstration.

We watched resident artist Pauli Nelson Maiville create a serving bowl during a live demonstration.

We arrived in time to watch a live glass blowing demonstration. If you’ve never seen one, these are pretty cool to watch.

I’m not sure who was more impressed with the process – me or the kids.

The kids eventually scooted up closer to the front of the bleachers to get a better view of the glass blowing.

The kids eventually scooted up closer to the front of the bleachers to get a better view of the glass blowing. Yeah, bubble wrap does trump glass blowing with preschoolers.

One person explained what was happening as we watched. The resident glass artist, Pauli Nelson Maiville, made it look so easy – but the end result was incredibly beautiful.

The glass blowing process was explained to the audience.

The glass blowing process was explained to the audience.

I wish we had gotten one of the finished pieces!

However, Mr. Wonderful and Mooch had secretly left our group long enough to pick out a glass necklace for me, and patiently waited to give it to me until Mother’s Day.

If you purchase tickets to the St. Petersburg Art Experience, you’re able to visit Morean Arts Center Galleries and the Glass Studio & Hot Shop, as well as the Chihuly Collection and the Morean Arts Center for Clay. If you had older children, you could easily make the four spread out stops in a day. We were with four kids who were 5 and under, and two stops were our max.

 

If you go


Morean Arts Center, 719 Central Ave. (closer to Central Avenue)

Glass Studio & Hot Shop, 719 Central Ave. (closer to First Avenue)

Chihuly Collection, 400 Beach Drive NE

Morean Arts Center for Clay, 420 22nd St. South

 

When:

Morean Gallery, Monday through Saturday, 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. (children’s art experience is Saturday, 10 a.m. to 4 p.m.); Sundays, noon to 5 p.m.

Chihuly Collection, Monday through Saturday, 10 a.m. to 5 p.m.; Sunday, noon to 5 p.m.

Glass Studio & Hot Shop, daily noon to 5 p.m.; daily demonstrations are at 1, 2, 3 and 4 p.m.

Morean Center for Clay, Tuesday through Saturday, 10 a.m. to 5 p.m.; closed Sunday and Monday

 

Cost:

St. Petersburg Art Experience (includes the Chihuly Collection, Glass Studio & Hot Shop, Morean Arts Center Galleries, and the Morean Arts Center for Clay)

Adult: $19.95 (the Chihuly Collection ticket is $14.95 on its own, making this a good value!)

Senior 65+: $17.95

Child & Student: $12.95

Children 5 & under free

 

Disclaimer: My family and friends were provided complimentary St. Petersburg Art Experience tickets courtesy of Visit St. Petersburg/Clearwater so that I could review our experience. All opinions and thoughts were my own.

 

* * * * *

Thinking of flying your family to Tampa? Check out my sample two-day itinerary for Tampa Bay! We crammed a lot in, which I actually wouldn’t suggest. Mix and match my recommended places to see:

The Florida Aquarium

Clearwater Marine Aquarium

Museum of Science and Industry (MOSI)

Columbia Restaurant

I also wrote about the Allegiant Air direct flight from Omaha to the Tampa Bay area, so check that out, plus if you need a hotel suggestion and you L-O-V-E food and pampering, read my post about Epicurean Hotel in the beautiful Hyde Park area of Tampa.