Discovering Winter Activities and Indoor Fun in Omaha for the Whole Family
Omaha, Nebraska

Winter Blues? Not in Omaha!

Discovering winter activities and indoor family fun in Omaha, NE

By Uma Nolan

The diagnosis wasn’t good: day three of winter break, and my parents said I already had a serious case of cabin fever. They said it seemed to be hitting all the 8-year-olds in our town particularly hard this winter. But there was hope. Dr. Mom immediately prescribed a family trip to Omaha, Nebraska.

“Winter in Omaha? I’m sure that’s the cure,” Dr. Dad agreed.

So, on a day when the temperature was as low as my cabin fever felt high, we headed to the Big-O for a big dose of fun.

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Goblins, galaxies and Gameboys

We drove to Omaha, but we saw more planes than cars. That’s because we stopped at the Strategic Air Command & Aerospace Museum on the way. It was my first time seeing the inside of an airplane hangar. There were old warplanes everywhere—some even had their doors open so we could peek inside!

“Your dad is drooling,” Mom said. “We’ll have to drag him out of here.”

I told her she might need to drag me out, too. The planes were so different from anything I’d ever seen at an airport. And their names were awesome. We saw a Goblin, Tornado, Phantom II, Dragon Lady and even the Flying Classroom where future pilots studied.

I didn’t know what I wanted to be when I grew up. But, after visiting this museum, I think I really could become an astronaut. The museum had a neat exhibit about a local kid, Clayton Anderson, who became the Heartland Astronaut. We even got to see his flight suit and a shuttle-trainer cockpit with more than 600 switches and buttons! I’ll also never forget the buttons we saw in the museum’s History of Gaming Exhibit. Mom pointed out the Gameboys and other handheld electronics she grew up playing. They had tiny gray screens and a few big, funny-looking buttons. It made me realize how lucky I am to have an iPad where all I need is my finger!

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Making art and model trains

“In the 1800s, people had portraits,” Dad explained. “Today, we have selfies.”

My technology skills came in handy later at the Joslyn Museum, our first stop in downtown Omaha. But, before I got busy making movies in the Animation Station, I admired the art and ancient artifacts. The Greek pottery exhibit was my first time seeing things that were thousands of years old. Later, in the kids’ area, ART WORKS, I decorated my own clay pot with markers. I also played around in the digital painting studio, trying to recreate the museum’s famous painting of a girl and her pet rabbit.

“In the 1800s, people had portraits,” Dad explained. “Today, we have selfies.”

Later that day, I took a selfie with Santa. The Durham Museum, our second stop in Omaha, was decorated for the holidays. It made me think less about the cold and more about Christmas. The museum, which used to be the Union Pacific Railroad’s Union Station, had as many trains as the Strategic Air Command & Aerospace Museum had planes. But, unlike yesterday’s enormous aircraft, today’s trains were tiny.

“I bet this took months to make,” Mom said as we looked at a model train exhibit that was miniature but as big as my bedroom at home. The details looked like they were painted on with toothpicks! But they were pretty accurate. I know because we also got to walk through restored train cars that used to really travel through Omaha.

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From S.T.E.A.M. Cave to Kingdoms of the Night

The next day, we actually got to ride on a train. “All aboard!” cried the conductor in the Omaha Children’s Museum. Next, I climbed aboard a giraffe on the carousel. That’s something I normally only get to do at the fair in the summer, not in the middle of winter!

My favorite part of the children’s museum was learning in the S.T.E.A.M. Cave. S.T.E.A.M. stands for science, technology, engineering, art and math. It was basically what we study in school, but instead of sitting at desks and reading books, I got to stand and use my hands. I loved experimenting with gravity in the Super Graviton.

“I think I might be an astronaut when I grow up,” I told Mom and Dad again.

After taking my photo, the museum’s Fantastic Future Me machine let me use a touch screen to see what I would look like doing different careers.

“Are you sure you don’t want to be a wildlife biologist?” Dad asked. “Because ‘future you’ is about to leave for the zoo.”

I could watch a whole month’s worth of Amazing Planet and still not see as many animals as I did at Omaha's Henry Doorly Zoo and Aquarium. Everything about it is big! For starters, it’s home to the country’s largest indoor rainforest. I could spend an entire week inside this jungle before even realizing I was inside! Curious gibbons swung in the trees above while monkeys, macaws and pygmy hippos played near the giant waterfalls. Luckily, over in the Desert Dome—the largest indoor desert in the world—the residents of the world’s largest indoor rattlesnake exhibit ignored us.

Below the Desert Dome, we found Kingdoms of the Night.

“This is the world’s largest indoor nocturnal exhibit,” Mom read.

“And it has the world’s largest indoor swamp,” Dad added. That got my attention.

“And I’m about to wear the world’s largest smile,” I said, leading the way into the dark. My favorite animals are bats, alligators and pretty much any creature that doesn’t have a bedtime.

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Putting fun on ice

On our last day in Omaha, we bundled up and headed out for an official snow day. I got to practice my detective skills when I spied animal tracks in the snow as we followed a trail in the big, beautiful forest, leaving footprints of our own.

“It looks like Bigfoot and his family have gone out for a hike,” Dad laughed, making fun of the giant prints our snowshoes were leaving.

It had been Mom’s idea to rent snowshoes at the Fontenelle Forest Nature Center. The weather in Omaha was perfect on this final, wintry day.

“Fresh air is great for cabin fever,” she said in her funny, fake doctor’s voice.

Truthfully, I hadn’t had cabin fever since we’d arrived in Omaha. But I didn’t say a word. It was much more fun being “sick.”