May 23, 2016

Expert Tips For Visiting Omaha’s Zoo

Updated: May 19, 2017

You need more than a day to fully explore the Omaha Zoo, whether it’s your first visit or your 100th. To make the most of your time, follow the advice of some zoo experts: Locals.

I recruited Omaha and regional bloggers to join me in sharing the best tips with you.



When to visit Omaha’s zoo

“We love going a few hours before closing because a lot of families have left for the day, especially if we are going on a Saturday where it will likely be busy!” Kitty Boone, Kitty and Kevin

“We usually go first thing or last thing in the day.” Bolton Carley, Bolton Carley’s BS-O-Rama

“Winter is also a great time to visit – less crowds, many indoor exhibits, and sometimes having the aquarium all to yourself!” Julie S., Family Fun in Omaha

“If you are local or nearby, get a season pass and don’t try to do the whole zoo in a day, especially if you have young children. Consider it a walk, take pictures, and go back frequently!” Jen Schneider, Liv Laugh Love

My tip: Members, never skip the member days in the summer. Members receive passes for free train rides that are good for more than a month. Hold on to those passes (the train will be crowded that day) and use them on your next visit.


What to bring to the zoo

“If you plan to spend the entire day there, bring a wagon or stroller (or rent one when you get there if you don’t have one). You can easily bring a cooler filled with ice and beverages, sack lunch, snacks, plus anything else you might want need (especially if you need to bring towels or a change of clothes for the splash park) and carry it along effortlessly in the wagon. Elevators and extra space outdoors makes it easy to move levels and store when you are going through buildings.” Mary Juett, Living a Sunshine Life 

“Be sure to pack some wet wipes to wipe everyone off with if they pet the animals or just put their hands where everyone else has been.” Bolton Carley, Bolton Carley’s BS-O-Rama

“Take your own bread to feed the fish and ducks…and take your own water bottle.” Bolton Carley, Bolton Carley’s BS-O-Rama Editor’s note: It’s been pointed out that bread can harm fish and ducks, so it’s better to brings some coins for the fish food machine and feed them the approved food. 

“Wear a backpack with water, sunscreen, band aids, wipes and any other essentials.” Kim Schenkelberg, It’s Really 10 Months

My tip: Bring comfy shoes and hats for everyone in the summer.


What to do there

“We take a look at the IMAX schedule before we head to the zoo…that way we can plan according to see shows we haven’t seen before.” Kitty Boone, Kitty and Kevin

“Be sure to get a map. There are things like the area where you can feed the birds that you don’t even know exist if you don’t consult the map.” Bolton Carley, Bolton Carley’s BS-O-Rama

“Review the map in advance and agree on what are the ‘must-see’ exhibits.” Kim Schenkelberg, It’s Really 10 Months

“Great places to cool off on the hot summer days are the aquarium, gorilla exhibit, Expedition Madagascar, Wild Kingdom Pavilion, Kingdoms of the Night, the IMAX Theater, and the new splash park!” Julie S., Family Fun in Omaha

“Get to the zoo early and head to the back exhibits. Everyone goes to the desert, jungle, and aquarium right away, and they get crowded quickly.” Jen Schneider, Liv Laugh Love

“If you have littles – consider riding the train, tram and skyfari- it is pricey but it helps give their little legs a rest if you are trying to do the entire zoo in one day.” Kim Schenkelberg, It’s Really 10 Months

“I buy train tickets early in the day, even if we aren’t going to ride it for awhile, as the lines at the ticket booth get long and slooow by afternoon. My kids have had the splash pad to themselves at 9 AM.” Jill H. shared on the Oh My! Omaha Facebook page

“We go to the right (towards the giraffes) as we start and then are able to use the elevator to get back to the top. Saves some whining from the kiddos when it comes to hiking up the hill.” Christine W. shared on the Oh My! Omaha Facebook page

My tip: The zoo has daily animal enrichment programs where you can see them being fed or receiving interacting with a trainer. Some are cooler than others. Surprisingly, the penguin feeding was kinda dull?


Eat at the Omaha zoo

“The new African Grasslands has a fantastic indoor dining area that is great for the really little kids. There are new highchairs, plenty of room (not many people know about it yet), a great family restroom and eventually views of the animals. Plus, the food is great!” Christi Leupold, Leupold Confidential

“Pack picnic lunches/dinners (you’d think we had kids…but no….we just like picnics!) and always bring water bottles.” Kitty Boone, Kitty and Kevin

My tip: My all-time favorite place to eat at the zoo is the Durham TreeTops Restaurant, where lucky families might snag a table along the wall of windows overlooking the indoor rainforest. My top outdoor pick is the Tusker Grill at the African Lodge, which also has the best food (it’s the same place as Christi mentioned, but I’ve only sat outside, can’t vouch for inside). As the construction winds down in the African Grasslands, it’s going to offer dining with a view too, but of elephants and zebras.


Saving money at the zoo

“Get a season pass, when you break it down a household pass averages out to only $10/month (that’s easy to budget for next season). Considering you can catch a movie (Imax), view hundreds of animals, feed fish, play on their playground and now visit the new splash park, that’s a bargain for a whole lot of family fun!” Nicole McDonald, Mom Saves Money

“Bring snacks or a lunch to save money.” Jen Schneider, Liv Laugh Love

“If you live in Omaha, check with your company – every place I’ve worked in Omaha over the last 14 years has offered a zoo membership discount.” Liz Perry, LPO Beauty

My tip: Members, don’t forget to show your membership card when making purchases at concessions, the gift shop, rides and admission to Stingray Beach – you can save 5%.


Special event tip

My tip: The zoo has several special events throughout the year, some are included with admission and some are extra. My family’s favorite is Holiday Happening on Saturdays at Christmas time when scuba divers wear holiday costumes as the clean in the shark tunnel tank. That event is included with admission and you can expect a crowd. The zoo’s Spooktacular is after-hours and a different price than admission (members do have to pay to go). It’s another fun one my family really enjoyed and for some reason, it wasn’t nearly as crowded as I’d expect.

Your turn: What tips can you give visitors to Omaha’s Henry Doorly Zoo?

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  1. All great suggestions!

  2. Shawn Latimer says:

    how are the crowds in September?

    • Since the weather’s usually great in September, it will still draw a lot of people but it won’t be nearly as packed as a summer day. It’ll be less crowded during the week too.

  3. You shouldn’t feed bread to the ducks/waterfowl or the fish. Bread doesn’t have the nutritional value that waterfowl need and can actually make them very sick. It’s also very filling for the fish and can mess with their digestive systems. The zoo provides animal food for purchase, either use what they provide or don’t feed the animals.

    • Hi Kate, thank you for bringing that to my attention. I never would intentionally encourage people to harm an animal, so it’s good to learn about the harm bread could do to them.

  4. Thanks for these great tips, especially for where to eat. Very helpful!


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