Late Nights at the Zoo review

Omaha’s Henry Doorly Zoo & Aquarium gives an exciting summary of their recurring Late Nights at the Zoo event:

“It’s a different crowd when the sun goes down. Come experience our version of nightlife at the most interesting cocktail hour in town. Adults 21 and over can join Omaha’s Henry Doorly Zoo and Aquarium for a relaxed evening of drinks, local food truck cuisine and wildlife as we host our Late Nights at the Zoo summer event series from 7 to 11 p.m. on select Thursday nights, May through September.”

Clearly, this sounds awesome.

I attended the final event of the 2019 series and unfortunately must report that Late Nights fell short of my expectations. This is not to say that I had a bad time, but I am left with little urge to attend in the future.

Crowds. The first thing we encountered was a set of substantial lines to enter the zoo as every individual had to have their ID checked prior to entry. Upon grinding through that slowdown, we were immediately confronted with more lines everywhere we looked: lines to buy drink tickets, lines to redeem drinks using said tickets, lines at every food truck. To the zoo’s credit, they had plenty of kiosks for ticket sales and drink stations throughout the park – so, you could find some low-trafficked options if you did a bit of scouting. The food trucks on the other hand were universally swarmed and we passed up many interesting options to avoid standing in long lines.

Drink selection. The event’s lion logo with martini glass as its nose and mouth is pretty sweet, but more accurate would be to replace the glass with a can of Miller Lite. I didn’t mind the $6-per-can price tag as I assume the money helps to support the zoo, but the beer selection was very disappointing. If I recall, the options were Coors, Miller Lite, Blue Moon (minus oranges), White Claw, and some kind of cider. Seeing this really let the wind out of my sails as I’d been looking forward to a payoff after working through the crowds; definitely a womp womp moment.

Animals. Some memorable sights: a distant rhino standing like a statue in the twilight, three female lions dozing in the darkness right next to the viewers, barely visible in the ambient light. However, the animals generally seemed to be more of an afterthought than I would have expected. Would have been great to receive some guidance on which animals are active at night, recommended exhibits, and perhaps some zookeepers hanging around to impart knowledge.

Blockades. The zoo is roughly arranged as a big loop. We wound up walking about 270 degrees around the loop to reach the second grouping of food trucks. When we decided to call it an evening, we looked to traverse the remaining 90 degrees to return to the main entrance. Unfortunately, we ran into some barricades manned by security staff; we were told apologetically that we needed to go all the way back around. I’m sure there are many good reasons for this arrangement, but not what you want to discover when you are ready to leave.

Ultimately, I was happy to see the zoo doing a ton of business and lots of folks having a good time. I think you would have a great experience if you rolled in there with a group of friends as an alternative to barhopping (if you could forgive the drink selection). As for myself, give me a bit more breathing room and some craft beers and you will see me lining up for another round.

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