Last summer, our big family took a dream vacation – a once in a lifetime adventure that lasted all summer long and included 30 states and more than 20 National Parks. There was no way for us to top that…but there was a way for us to build upon it!
My name is Terri and I am married for more than 20 years to my husband Scott. We have been blessed with 5 children who range from 6-15 years old and we all love to travel. This summer we set out on a mini version of last year – visiting 9 states in just over 2 weeks. We visited Nebraska, Colorado, Kansas, Oklahoma, Texas, Arkansas, Missouri, Illinois, and finally back to Iowa…this included 3 states that we hadn’t visited before bringing our total to 42 states visited by all. (Terri is at 45, Scott at 44).
Our first stop was Omaha, Nebraska. Our plan was to visit the Henry Doorly Zoo which we had heard rivaled San Diego Zoo as one of the best zoos in the United States (Trip Advisor 2015 has it at #2, Huffington Post at #2, and USA Today has it at #6). I was actually very surprised to hear this as San Diego is so well known…..and to have such a highly rated zoo here in the Midwest was exciting!
We were not disappointed! We spent the entire day enjoying the exhibits and shows and we still didn’t see the entire zoo. The kids ranked this as one of the best vacation destinations to which they have ever been. The zoo had many different attractions to visit where we learned so many fascinating animal facts and viewed so many interesting animals.
We were able to visit the butterfly/insect pavilion where we walked through a butterfly enclosure and the butterflies fluttered freely around us.
We visited the primate house where we could see the gorillas and the orangutans…one with a newborn who we fell in love with. We watched the new little one nurse, play, and learn to climb all under the watchful guard of momma.
We walked through the cat complex which held tigers, lions, leopards, and pumas. And we really enjoyed the Kingdoms of the Night – a dark exhibit featuring nocturnal animals. This was interesting in that they made the entire exhibit opposite of a normal day. They keep the exhibit dark during the day – so that the animals are active while the zoo is open. They then light the exhibit at night…such a cool experience!
The zoo also showcases the largest zoo aquarium – the Suzanne and Walter Scott Aquarium. This was my favorite part, we got to see penguins, rays and sea turtles; walk through a shark tunnel; and were, as always, mesmerized by the beautiful jellyfish. This exhibit also included an interactive “petting” tank where the kids got to touch the aquatic animals. Aside from the giant crab attack on the littlest (lol)…it was fantastic.
We had planned on purchasing a membership as it was the better deal even if we only visited this one day (that happens a lot with big families). It was $109 for membership for one year which included admission and IMAX tickets for 2 adults and up to 6 children (ages 0-20). (Regular daily admission would have been $104 and that did not include IMAX tickets). As luck would have it, we happened to visit on membership appreciation day!! So, as we were now members – we enjoyed extra perks of bounce houses, shop discounts, restaurant discounts, an IMAX movie, and our choice of a free ride choosing from the train, carousel, tram, and skyfari. We chose the skyfari and enjoyed a bird’s eye view of the entire zoo.
Click for more Henry Doorly Zoo tips.
We stayed in Council Bluffs, Iowa which was just a few minutes from the zoo. The Springhill Suites was a reasonably priced convenient all-suite hotel. We loved the amenities including the pool and hot tub. We played cards in the hotel lobby/lounge and enjoyed a hot breakfast in the mornings to start our days.
We were there 2 nights and then we headed off …. to Colorado!