Omaha Has Ruined Me for All Other Zoos

My band and I started the day in Des Moines, Iowa – taking turns for our “morning duties” in our shared motel room. After our room checkout, we were going to make our first drive to Omaha, Nebraska. Given the estimated arrival time for our GPS, we knew there’d be time to kill there before that night’s concert.

Still waiting for my turn for the bathroom, I whipped out my phone and googled, “stuff to do in Omaha, Nebraska.” The first result in my search was a link to an article listing Omaha as having one of the top 8 zoos in the country. I looked up from my swipe-screen and said, “Good news, guys. We’re going to the zoo!”

20130606_134128-1Three hours later, we were at the gates of Omaha’s Henry Doorly Zoo & Aquarium. Before even entering, I knew I was in for a treat. Its Desert Dome resembles Disney’s Epcot Center and is clearly visible from nearby public roadways. It’s enough to generate interest with any passerby. The only thing that worried me was the price of admission. However I found the basic fee to be surprisingly affordable. My meager touring musician income was able to afford me Package 4, which includes entrance to the various exhibit buildings and the aquarium. Cost, $19.00.

What I soon learned after completing my tour of the breathtaking Lied Jungle, is that following the zoo’s map of attractions is an all-day affair. My bandmates and I had 3 hours to check everything out before the grounds closed. We had to pick and choose what to check out and we had to hustle.

Scott Aquarium was a must. Being from Hawaii and so close to the ocean, one would assume that we’d have one of the best aquariums. A comparison had to be made. If we were stacking chips between their aquarium itself to any of those in Hawaii… Omaha clearly kicks our butt. However some of Hawaii’s aquarium parks edge out the competition by offering interactive activities such as swimming with dolphins, sharks and sea lions. Keeping all that in mind… I’ll call it a draw between aqua attractions.

Next we tried to get into the Grewcock Butterfly & Insect Pavillion. However there was a very long line that just wouldn’t budge. After waiting for about 15 minutes, we called it quits on the bugs and moved on.

After chowing down on an overpriced $4 hotdog, we continued our trek, viewing outdoor exhibits with giraffes, sable antelopes, and bongos. After we crossed an array of koi in Waterfowl Lagoon, we made our way up Pachyderm Hill. There were species of rhinos that I’ve never seen live before so I was very impressed. However we were a little disappointed when reaching the top of the hill. We we hoping to see an elephant exhibit but instead there was a “coming soon” sign.

We made our way back down the hill to three exhibits that blew our minds: expedition Madagascar, Hubbard Gorilla Valley and of course, the Desert Dome’s Kingdoms of the Night. All three exhibits offered up close views of a variety of exotic species. Personally, the Kingdoms of the Night was worth the price of admission alone. At the very bottom of the exhibit laid a floor of bat caves with only a wire fence separating you from bats of all shapes and sizes. I could literally feel the wind from the dozens of wings flapping in the dark. I could also smell all of their guano… it was a genuine experience for me.

In fact, many of the exhibits are strong enough to stand alone as their own park experience. The fact that one can explore so many worlds in one zoo and in one day was jaw-dropping. But then again, the zoo is sponsored Mutual of Ohama’s Wild Kingdom so it’s difficult to expect any less.

As grateful as I am for the opportunity of experiencing Omaha’s Henry Doorly Zoo & Aquarium, I’m also a little bummed knowing I may never find another zoo to come close to this experience. Perhaps I should return to that link and find the other 7 top zoos in the country. I’ve heard good things about San Diego and Chicago. It’s not crazy to book my band’s tours around top zoo attractions, is it? Is it?!?



  1. Yup, we have the best zoo around, I went to the San Diego zoo a few years ago and was very disappointed. My kids have grown up with the HDZ and are spoiled to every other zoo in the country. They just don’t measure up.

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