When you think about visiting a zoo, you might not be too excited right off the bat. You likely envision some lions in a cage and a lonely elephant or two. Well, I’m happy to tell you that your visit to Omaha’s Henry Doorly Zoo and Aquarium will be much, much more than you anticipated.
Omaha’s Henry Doorly Zoo and Aquarium is an incredible, award-winning paradise for animals that’s routinely named one of the top five zoos in the world. That isn’t a misprint. It’s very highly regarded and one of the best zoos in the world! The Henry Doorly Zoo is more than 130 acres and is home to more than 900 species of animals. There are more than 30,000 animals within the zoo and aquarium combined.
I’ve been going to the Omaha Zoo my whole life, and I can tell you it’s pretty spectacular. In fact, I really don’t go to zoos in other cities, because I know I’ll be disappointed! This year I purchased an annual zoo membership because there are so many awesome new things to see that I know I’ll want to go back a lot. That’s the thing about the Henry Doorly Zoo. It’s constantly being updated with new attractions. There is literally always something new to see there.
If you’re making a day trip to the Henry Doorly Zoo, plan on spending the whole day there. And really, you still won’t be able to see everything. If you have two days, that would be even better. There really is so much to see, and you won’t want to rush.
The zoo is open every day of the year except Christmas. Summer hours are 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Winter hours are 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Typically, the buildings within the zoo stay open an hour later. Admission for adults costs less than $30 in the summer and less than $18 in the winter.
The zoo is very large and hilly. If you don’t want to walk, you can take a golf cart tour. A zoo representative will take you around to all the best exhibits. The tours are offered daily, are less than $70 per person, and include admission to the zoo.
Here are nine experiences at the Henry Doorly Zoo that you won’t want to miss.
1. Desert Dome
You’ll see the gigantic Desert Dome from the road as you enter the zoo. The Desert Dome is the world’s largest indoor desert and showcases plants and animals from three different continents: Africa, Australia, and the United States. Imagine coming up with the idea of 80,000+ square feet inside a dome — not to mention actually constructing it! The Desert Dome replicates the conditions of three different parts of the world: the Sonoran Desert of the U.S., the Namib Desert of Africa, and the Red Centre of Australia. You’ll see a wide variety of plants and animals from all three continents. And you’ll see a 55-foot-tall mountain, a 35-foot-tall sand dune, and a bunch of rattlesnakes and other reptiles.
2. Lozier Theater
If you love IMAX movies like I do, you’ll definitely want to check out what’s playing on the big screen while you’re at Henry Doorly. The screen at the Lozier Theater is giant — 40 feet by 75 feet — so you’ll feel like you’re part of the action. I’ve seen many movies there and can honestly say I’ve never been disappointed. The movies shown are usually nature themed and are really well done. You’ll typically have a choice between two different movies. To give you an idea of what plays there, right now there’s a movie about sea lions and a movie about sea turtles.
There is a separate charge for the IMAX theater, but it’s worth it in my opinion. When you’re at the ticket counter, tell them you want a combo zoo/IMAX ticket, and you’ll pay one price for both. I’d recommend deciding what movie you want to see and when as soon as you enter the zoo, because the movies do sell out.
3. Glacier Bay Landing
Check out the Alaskan-inspired Glacier Bay area of the zoo. Here you can take a break from walking and grab some food. You’ll like the shade provided by the umbrellas at the tables in the Glacier courtyard. There are plenty of snacks available, including crab cake sliders and sweet treats. If you want to have lunch inside, head over to the Treetops restaurant, a casual spot.
4. Owen Sea Lion Shores
The sea lion exhibit, with its enormous 275,000-gallon pool, is one of the latest additions to the zoo. It even has a sandy beach where the sea lion pups can hang out until their parents teach them to swim. I really like the fact that there’s a viewing area where you can see the sea lions swimming around underwater and sunning themselves on the beach. What’s neat about the exhibit is that it replicates the animals’ natural habitat. The pool even has a current to simulate the ocean the sea lions are used to.
5. Scott Aquarium
This is my favorite area of the zoo. I love to see all the fish and other animals inside the aquarium! The Scott is huge and includes numerous species of fish. The penguin exhibit is set up so that you can get really close to the glass. Visitors can see the penguins both inside and outside of the water. The way they jump in and glide around is adorable. They are so fun to watch! Another cool feature of the aquarium is the shark tunnel, where you’ll see sharks swimming above and around you.
We spend a lot of time in the aquarium when we go to the zoo. It’s great because when it’s hot outside, the air-conditioning feels so good. And when it’s super cold, it’s nice to be able to hang out at the zoo and not freeze.
6. Lied Jungle
The Lied Jungle is another exhibit that I absolutely love. It’s a huge indoor rain forest — the biggest one in America. The Lied Jungle replicates the rain forests of South America, Asia, and Africa. It includes all the elements of a real rain forest, like lush plants and waterfalls. Plus, you’ll see monkeys, macaws, tapirs, and hippos as you meander through the jungle.
7. Kingdoms Of The Night
The Kingdoms of the Night is a super creepy, super dark experience that you won’t want to miss. The exhibit is located underneath the Desert Dome and is filled with all your favorite nocturnal friends! The exhibit is divided into smaller exhibits, each showcasing a different environment. Probably the coolest thing to me is the area where you can walk over various bridges and feel like you’re in a swamp. And there are numerous alligators that you can get a really good look at, including a rare white alligator.
8. Train And Tram Rides
Make sure you take advantage of either the train or the tram to get around the zoo. Especially when it’s hot, I don’t like to walk the entire zoo. The train and the tram are convenient ways to get around. The train is located near the entrance by the carousel, as well as way up in the African Lodge. You can take a round-trip ride or just go one way. I usually like to walk up to the African Lodge and then take the train back. The tram is another option and has a total of four stops.
9. Overnight Experiences
Talk about a unique thing to do! You can actually spend the night at the zoo. The Henry Doorly offers a few different ways to experience the zoo at night. One of the most fun ways to see what goes on after hours is to go on a Sleeping Bag Safari. Most overnights are from 7 p.m. to 9 a.m., and you’ll need to bring your own tent and sleeping bag. The zoo provides guided tours (one at night and one in the morning), an evening snack, and a free day at the zoo.
For an adults-only zoo encounter, try a 21+ Safari Tent Camp experience. Adults 21 and over can stay overnight and experience all the zoo exhibits and more after dark. The Safari Tent Camp includes a gourmet dinner and drinks, an evening hike, a movie, snacks, a gourmet breakfast, a morning hike, and a free day at the zoo. You’ll spend the night in an on-site tent that comes complete with cots, electricity, and more. And you’ll get all that for less than $130 per person!
Looking for something to eat after your day at the zoo? You’re in luck: Omaha has a fantastic food scene.