You've got to assume that most of the kids who visited Omaha's Henry Doorly Zoo & Aquarium on Sunday didn't really care whether admission was free. Their parents, on the other hand, were pretty excited.
“We saved probably 16 bucks apiece. That's pretty good,” said John Weber, who came with his year-old daughter, Haley, and Haley's mother, Kelsey Tharp.
(Actually, regular zoo admission is $13.50 for adults.)
The zoo offered free admission Sunday to thank patrons for helping it surpass its annual attendance record, set in 1995. As of Oct. 31, more than 1.6 million people had visited the zoo this year.
“This is huge for us,” said zoo spokeswoman Dawn Ream. “We knew the weather would be nice and wanted to give back to the community to say thank you.”
As of noon, more than 6,000 people had passed through the gates, Ream said.
Construction didn't stop people from going to the zoo this year, and it resulted in positive changes, including the renovated Scott Aquarium, new Prehistoric Play Park and Fossil Dig Site, new guest services building and additional parking.
Baby animals also were popular this season. Births included Bailey the giraffe calf, Biscuit the zebra foal, Tank the sea lion pup, Oscar the Asian small-clawed otter pup, and a king penguin chick.
An unexpected bonus came with TripAdvisor ranking it the No. 1 zoo in the country, which helped draw out-of-town visitors.
Darin and Vicky Bahm of Kansas City, Mo., piled their kids in the car and headed to Omaha on Saturday night, planning to hit the zoo the next day.
The family, which had visited the zoo before, didn't know Sunday was free.
“We always heard from people how awesome it is, so we try to make the trip,” said Vicky Bahm.
The Bahm children — Cameron, 7, and Jenna, 6 — weren't listening. They were too busy talking about their favorite part of the zoo: the cheetahs.
Contact the writer: firstname.lastname@example.org, 402-444-3100