It's what we get for planning a vacation to Florida during the heart of hurricane season. I tend not to be a complainer so when Hurricane Irma came bearing down on the state of Florida in early September I calmly accepted the fate of my girls weekend; after all, there were much bigger and devastating things happening to people and complaining about my vacation was the least of what was going on.
We were scheduled to fly on Allegiant for the weekend and though I tend to not be the biggest Allegiant fan (I can't get on board with any airline that falsely adverties 'cheap flights' then turns around and charges you for every minuscule thing), I have to say they were wonderful to deal with and earned some serious customer service credit in my book.
Our flight wasn't scheduled to leave for 4 days after the hurricane was projected to hit Florida so in the days before, as everyone was sitting glued to the Weather Channel, our flights weren't technically cancelled. Yet when we called to learn about our options they were still kind and gracious enough to let us cancel or reschedule to another destination without incurring any penalties or fees.
As the fates would have it we were in Iowa and of the 7 destinations that Allegiant flies to from Iowa, 5 of them were Florida locations, so we decided to cancel, take the vouchers, and regroup to discuss our next move.
Yep. We had a couple things going for us that drove us in the direction of Omaha.
1. This was only supposed to be a long weekend, so when driving entered into the equation we knew we wanted to go somewhere that was 5 hours or under (it was about a 4 hour drive from where we were in Iowa).
2. We didn't technically get our money back. We were actually issued vouchers by Allegiant so while yes, we have all of the money to spend on another vacation, it wasn't refunded to our credit cards so we were still technically out of what we paid.
3. One of the four of us had been to Omaha and kept telling us about this great area called Old Market - brick streets, music, drinks, food, shopping - all things I (we) like.
4. One of our favorite bands was playing on a riverboat that Saturday night. Always a good time, we knew that the Kris Lager Band wouldn't disappoint and it was a unique experience to see them jam out as we floated down the Missouri River.
When Friday morning rolled I stopped to grab some coffee for the road, picked up the girls, and off to Omaha we went.
I can officially confirm that the Old Market of Omaha is in fact just as cool and fun as I had hoped it would be.
After checking in to the Hilton Garden Inn which was about 2 blocks from the Old Market area (and clean, affordable, AND self parking was only $10 - score!) we headed out for a some late afternoon appetizers and drinks. Our first stop was at a restaurant called Stokes, which was a fun Mexican-fusion type place that had the BEST skinny margaritas!
After keeping the hanger at bay and relaxing with a few cocktails we wandered around the area for a bit, weaving in and out of shops before settling on Brickway Brewery & Distillery. I was too full for beer so I settled for a prosecco cocktail (I'm a sucker for Prosecco), which was good, but with no happy hour on a Friday at 5pm we drank up and headed out.
Our next stop was at Upstream Brewing Company and I was excited to check them out because one of my great Instagram followers had recommended them when I asked about things to do in Omaha. We just had some cocktails that evening, however my girlfriend got the peach crisp and I must say it was amazing.
From there was stopped at Mr. Toad's Pub, a small, dark bar with a great outdoor patio (minus the smoking). Mr. Toad's gives you a slice of pizza if you're drinking but I must admit it's pretty terrible. It'll bring back memories of grade school pizza and you'll want to like it, if only for nostalgia's sake, but it's pretty terrible.
We had one drink then headed back to the hotel to freshen up; we'd decided that steak and seafood was on tap for dinner and we were ready to eat!
Our hotel had a steak restaurant attached, Spencer's, and when I stopped at the front desk to inquire where they would recommend we go for a steak and seafood feast they recommended a few places, and let me know that Spencer's was all full except for room service.
Wishing that we could just eat at the restaurant attached to our hotel I went into the bar to wait for my girlfriends to finish getting ready and casually inquired if they were full. They were, but the manager offered to squeeze us in, which was so kind. I went to wait at a table in the bar, which was only about 20% full, and come to find out we could eat right there. We spared a server from extra running to take care of us in the main dining room and stayed in the bar for our feast.
Spencer's was great; a melt in your mouth filet, amazing sides, and dirty martini's stuffed with blue cheese - it was everything we needed to be after an afternoon of drinking. Afterwards we headed up to bed to get a good night's sleep - we were headed to the Omaha Zoo and to watch our band play the next night.
The Omaha Zoo
On Saturday we awoke to the very last thing you want when you're going to visit the zoo - rain. Determined to go, we checked the weather and were delighted to see that it would end after an hour or two, so our game plan was to get there and head inside to the aquarium and other areas until the rain stopped, then we'd check out all the animals outdoors.
Here's the lowdown for the Omaha Zoo. For $19 you can get admission to the zoo, and only the zoo. For $23 you can get admission to the zoo and aquarium (even though the aquarium is technically in the zoo). And guess how many people asked us to see our tickets when we were in the aquarium. If you guessed zero, you'd be correct. BUT, despite that, I would recommend you spend the extra $4 and get the aquarium. After all, your money will be going back to the zoo so it's totally worth it.
It was drizzling off and on when we were dropped off by our hotel shuttle and we were headed to somewhere indoors but there was this break in the rain we were suddenly distracted by a big oragnaten and monkey who were hanging out.
After watching them for a bit we ended up making our entire way around the zoo - the indoor desert biosphere, the aquarium, giraffes, lions, cheetah's, indoor rainforest, bats, gorillas, monkey's, birds, snakes - other than the elephants all being inside and the rhino's completely MIA, it was a great trip, and a great zoo.
After 5 hours and 3 laps around the zoo we decided to call the shuttle and head back towards our hotel. One of my girlfriends was coming down with a cold so she stayed behind to take a nap while the rest of us headed down the block to DJ's Dugout, a sports bar, to watch our Iowa Hawkeyes play for a bit.
River City Star - Riverboat Cruise
I hate the saying 'riverboat cruise'. It sounds like something tame that my parents would go on, which is a-okay, except that my parents are in their mid-60s and I'm in my mid-30s, so I'm not ready to be quite that tame yet. But a riverboat cruise was one of the main reasons we went to Omaha because a great band that plays here in Cedar Rapids a lot, the Kris Lager Band, was doing a set on a riverboat that was to float up and down the Missouri River for the evening.
The temperature had dropped drastically as we were leaving the zoo that afternoon and though the chance of rain had dropped as well, the weather was overcast and chilly, which perhaps should have been a sign.
We set sail and the band started to play and we were having a great time. Suddenly, the lightening started, then came the rain. At first it was no big deal; there was cover over the top of the boat and band, though they started to pull the clear windows down on the side of the boat to protect the band's equipment, naturally.
Then, in the middle of a killer saxophone jam session all of the lights went out. We had lost power (up on top, not on the boat). And the rain? It was coming down so hard that we had to anchor under a massive bridge for protection while the bulk of the storm passed.
Unfortunately the band couldn't play any longer without any power and the massive downpour, so about 60-80 of us huddled downstairs, inside, while we headed back to the dock.
The Verdict on Omaha
I gotta give it up for this city. On the boarder of Iowa and Nebraska, Omaha was fun and had lots to eat, drink and see, which is a somewhat of a rare gem considering it's surrounded my lots and lots of farmland on all sides. If you're close and looking for a long weekend I would have to highly recommend you throw Omaha into the mix. It may not have been a beach in Florida, but it was a great alternative.
Do you have any 'hidden gem' places that make for a great long weekend?