Weekend trip to Omaha

We drove up to Omaha for a couple of days as a mini-summer vacation/early celebration of Gretchen’s 3rd birthday.

Where we stayed: Homewood Suites downtown.  We got a 2 room suite which I thought meant we’d have a living room and then a bedroom.  Instead we got 2 bedrooms and a living room/kitchen in between!  Gretchen had 2 queen beds in her room but slept in her pack n play :)  The living room and kitchen were great.  Having a full fridge/freezer was perfect since we brought our own food for lunches.  We got a good rate thanks to our AAA membership.  This was a really nicely appointed hotel with complimentary breakfast AND complimentary dinner (Monday-Thursday) that includes beer/wine.  It was pretty standard continental breakfast fare: fruit, cereal, muffins/bagels, eggs, sausage, waffles, juice, coffee, etc.  We did not try out the complimentary dinner.  This hotel has an indoor pool and hot tub which was a big hit with Gretchen.

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Where we ate: Since it was only a 3 hour drive from home we packed sandwiches, fruit, and other lunch fare to take to the zoo with us on Monday and Tuesday.  This was a time and money saver and we avoided the typical zoo fare of chicken fingers and fries.  We dined out for dinner both nights and had lunch at a restaurant before leaving town on Wednesday.

Monday night: Upstream in the Old Market followed by dessert at Ted and Wallys which was just around the corner.  Ted and Wallys was worth the wait, truly amazing ice cream!

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Tuesday night: La Casa Pizzeria followed by dessert at eCreamery (Shark Tank fans will probably recognize this brand of ice cream that you can personalize and have shipped to your friends).

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Wednesday: lunch at Wheatfields in the Old Market.  Next time we go to Omaha we will eat here again, this was our favorite of the 3 restaurants we went to.

Henry Doorly Zoo: We spent two half-days at the zoo since we knew Gretchen could only do a few hours before she’d be a mess.  Happy with that decision especially since we got discounted admission with our KC Zoo membership.

Day 1: On Memorial Day we got there at about noon and it was packed, not surprising for a beautiful day that also happens to be a holiday.  We bought basic admissions tickets (Gretchen was free and Tyler and I got in for half price with our KC Zoo membership).  We stopped and ate our lunch first and then visited the aquarium, giraffes, and the jungle exhibit.  The aquarium was nice but so incredibly crowded.  Gretchen loves fish so she loved it.  I definitely think the penguin exhibit at the KC Zoo is superior, however as a whole, the aquarium was is much better than KC’s Sea Life aquarium.  The giraffes will be moved into the new Africa exhibit when it opens but when we visited they were all indoors.  Gretchen said at the end of the day that the giraffes were her favorite.  Tyler and I really enjoyed the jungle exhibit.  It was way bigger than we initially realized and had so many great animals including otters (Tyler’s fave), pygmy hippos (my fave), and a sloth, which I don’t think I’d ever seen before.  Gretchen was kind of freaked out by the waterfalls and I was definitely freaked out by the bats, ick.  By 3pm she was getting fussy so we checked in to the hotel and she took a nap.

Day 2: Rain was in the forecast but we decided to go anyway because we figured it would keep the crowds away.  Gretchen got in free again and Tyler and I got half off admission.  We did pay full price for the transportation/sting ray package as our zoo pass didn’t get us a discount on those.  For the first hour we practically had the zoo to ourselves, it was awesome.  We visited the big cats, the bears, the orangutans (so loud!) and gorillas on our way down to the train depot.  After checking out the kid’s area and riding the carousel we took a ride on the train.  Tyler fed a sting ray and Gretchen chased some peacocks around.  At this point it started raining.  We walked through the bird aviary but the decking was extremely slippery from the rain.  I managed to avoid any major wipe outs.  We also visited the Madagascar exhibit before stopping for lunch and then heading up to the Desert Dome.  The Desert Dome was unlike any zoo exhibit we’d visited before but it was a bit crowded by that point and Gretchen was getting cranky. Unfortunately we didn’t get to see the underground exhibit, Kingdoms of the Night.  We hauled our whiny kid out and took her back to the hotel for a much needed nap.

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Omaha Children’s Museum

This place did not disappoint at ALL and I wish we’d had more time to explore. The 3 of us got in free as our Union Station/Science City membership gets us 100% reciprocity. Saved us over $30 on admission! Oh how I wish Kansas City had a children’s museum of this caliber. Wonderscope and Science City just aren’t nearly as magical.  Gretchen LOVED the HyVee grocery area.  She shopped, had her daddy check out and bag her groceries, made me pizza in their pizzeria, and then had to be bribed to leave the area and see the rest of the museum.  She flipped burgers and dogs at the Omaha Steaks grill area like a pro, played at the water tables, and pretended to drive a fire truck. The ball room was huge and made me wish I were a kid again.  Before leaving we went upstairs so she could ride the carousel.  This is where we discovered MY CHILDHOOD MEMORIES RESURRECTED!  It was the Richman Gordman zoo animals, fully restored and ready for my kid to play on just like I did as a kid when we shopped at the store in Topeka.

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JoCo Park Tour: Blackhoof Park

This park is…wow.  It is ginormous and has so much to offer.  I think we may have found the best park in Johnson County, but our tour isn’t over yet so I will reserve judgement until the end of the summer!  Because this park is so huge I’m going to write this up a little differently than usual so I can cover it all!

Blackhoof Park at Lake Lenexa

9053 Monticello Road, Lenexa, KS

What we love about Blackhoof Park:

The Little Playground: This playground is perfect for the preschool set.   Lots of fun activities like slides, a narrow stationary bridge, and my daughter’s favorite: a steering wheel.  There are also monkey bars and their own set of rings to hang from that aren’t too high off the ground.  This structure also has these hybrid-slides/climbers that are great for kids that want a slide climbing like activity when mom doesn’t actually want them climbing the slides ;)  (recently learned slide climbing is a super hot topic among park moms, lol).  The bathrooms are right next to this little playground, perfect for the frequent potty breaks that 3 year olds need!

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The Medium Playground: This playground is not far from the little playground and features 4 baby swings, a sand pit, and another fun play structure.  Here you’ll find your average height slides and climbing structures as well as a cool climbing wall.  The sand area is devoid of any diggers or toys so make sure to bring a sand bucket and a shovel for your kids to play here.

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The Big Playground: This playground is at the top of the hill and nearest to the parking lot. There are 4 big kid swings here. The slides on this structure reach heights not often seen at parks these days!  Gretchen went down one and was wide eyed at how fast she went.  I asked if she wanted to go again and she politely said “no thank you!”  I really like when big structures have normal stairs for the little kids to climb since many enjoy the thrill of the tall slides but can’t manage rock walls or tall ladders.  This one had a great variety of ways kids could explore and climb to the top.  For bigger kids that may feel they’ve outgrown the typical playground, this one has a ton to offer that should still excite them.

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The Nature Playground: Like Franklin Park and Gezer Park there is a man-made “creek” here for the kids to play in.  Unfortunately we went right before Memorial Day so it was not yet turned on.  We’ll go back in July to check out that feature when it’s nice and hot out!  Even without that feature there is plenty to do over here.  Logs and stumps for the kids to walk on and large rock formations perfect for climbing.  This is a shady and cool area of the park to retreat to in the middle of the day.  Water fountains and the trail connecting to the rest of the walking paths at Lake Lenexa can be found down here.

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Other things to know about Blackhoof Park:

– Lake Lenexa is 35 acres and open to non-motorized boats as well as fishing.  They is a really cool damn that you can explore.

– There is another small playground right by the boat ramp that is on the lake.  The large playground that I featured above is just up the road at the north end of the park.

– There are lots of paved trails here perfect for walking, running, and bike riding.  Lots of wildlife to see as well!

JoCo Park Tour: Sar-Ko-Par Trails Park

We visited this park with a large group of friends last week and about melted from the humidity, but fortunately the rain held off until after we left (Gretchen and I got drenched in the HyVee parking lot, uggh).  This is a really large park with plenty to explore but my review is of the large playground right next to the lake that faces Lackman (go here to see a map of the entire park.

Sar-Ko-Par Trails Park

87th and Lackman in Lenexa, KS

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What we love about Sar-Ko-Par Trails Park: This park is huge!  There is a large playground right next to the lake with bathrooms right next to it, a little island with a dragon (?) statue that you can get to by walking across the rock bridge, and a trail that circles the lake and then goes on up the hill to the other parts of the park that we have yet to explore.  The Lenexa website says there are 5 playgrounds total, but from what I can tell this playground is the largest.  There is a large playground structure with multiple slides and climbing structures as well as 4 swings (2 baby, 2 regular), and a little ride on frog.  The retaining wall that forms a half circle around the playground is also fun for the kids to walk on: back and forth and back and forth!  There is a picnic table right next to this playground and a couple of shelters nearby that can be reserved as well as other picnic tables and benches scattered along the trail.  The paved trail around the lake is great for kids to explore with their bikes and scooters.

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Other things to know about Sar-Ko-Par Trails Park:

– If you park in the lot at Cedar Ridge Christian Church there is a paved path that will take over to the playground.  When you cross the footbridge stop and look around, we saw several frogs/toads and tadpoles!  Gretchen loved scoping them out.

– If barns and historical Kansas artifacts are your thing, check out the Legler Barn Museum at the corner of 87th and Lackman.  There is a train caboose right next to it the kids can check out as well.

– This park also features a pool, disc golf course, and a skate park.

– Lenexa is hosting a concert series at this park in May and June of 2015.

– If you want to check out ALL the parks in Lenexa this summer, go check out their playground passport program.

JoCo Park Tour: Leawood City Park

This was one of our official Friday morning stops but another rainy Friday meant it didn’t happen as planned. We ended up going over the weekend to check it out when we were over in the area and I took pictures so I could share.  Spoiler alert: underwhelmed by this park.  It is in need of some TLC!  Also, no swings :(   Still, Gretchen had a good time and it had some nice elements.

Leawood City Park

10601 Lee Blvd. Leawood, KS 66206

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What we love about Leawood City Park: The dinosaurs!  Gretchen loved the 2 dinosaurs and the alligator so much we had to bribe her to explore the rest of the playground.  They dinos rock back and forth and the gator is stationary.  The playground is really large with a separate structure for younger kids next to the dinosaurs.  I really liked that there are ramps for getting on the equipment as we’ve noticed many newer playgrounds make actually getting on the equipment a challenge for kids under the age of 4 or kids that struggle with climbing.  There is a huge shelter with picnic tables and bathrooms right next to the playground.

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Other things to know about Leawood City Park:

– It’s right next to 435 so the noise from traffic can get pretty loud depending on what time of day you are there.

– We haven’t visited it ourselves, but the Leawood Aquatic Center right next to the playground looks fun.  I spotted a whale slide and a spray ground.  We may have to check it out this summer!

– You can probably tell from the pictures that the park has seen better days.  The turf has lots of holes in it and the playground structure is really faded from the sun.  Not sure what year this playground was constructed but it needs a good sprucing!

JoCo Park Tour: Brougham Park

My interest in this park was piqued when a friend mentioned “the hippo park” in Olathe.  Gretchen loves hippos so I knew it was gonna be a hit.  This park is tucked away in a neighborhood in south Olathe.  It is well maintained and has a lot of unique playground features.  We stopped by here on a Sunday evening to check it out. It is not on the official summer park tour.

Brougham Park

15501 S. Brougham Dr. Olathe, KS 66062

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What we love about Brougham Park: Gretchen’s favorite feature at this park was probably the hippo tunnel.  This park is different than many other Olathe parks in that it has a lot more to offer for big kids.  The lower tier of the play structure is great for the preschool set, but then the upper tier is well suited for elementary aged kids or little ones that are adept at climbing.  Gretchen still needs a spotter for some of the taller climbing features but she loved going down the steep slides once she made it to the top.  There is a separate climbing structure (the trees) that she is definitely too small for at this point but she still enjoyed trying and she loved watching the bigger kids climb it.  There are 2 baby swings and 2 big kid swings and a huge open field next to the playground perfect for flying a kit or running around.  This park is connected to the nearby neighborhoods by a trail that is nice for walking or riding bikes/scooters.  There is a nice shelter next to the park that is first come first serve.

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Other things to know about Brougham Park:

-There is no parking lot for this park, but you can park along the road next to it or in the evenings/weekends in the school parking lot across the street.

-There are also no bathrooms at this park, not even a port a potty, kind of a bummer.

-This is one of Olathe’s 22 neighborhood parks.  I’m  jealous of the families that live close and can pop over here in the evenings!  This is a lesser known park (I learned about it from a friend) so I imagine it’s not as busy as some of the other parks in Olathe.

JoCo Park Tour: Franklin Park

Last Friday we explored Franklin Park for the first time with a few friends.  This is easily one of my favorite parks that we’ve gone to our on park tour and I am excited to go back as soon as the weather clears up!

Frontier Park in Prairie Village, KS

8706 Roe Ave. Prairie Village, KS 66208

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What we love about Franklin Park:  THE SHADE!  I don’t think I’ve ever been to a park this shaded.  So many big trees offer a canopy of shade for the whole playground.  I hate playgrounds where you bake in the sun and the equipment is burning up before noon.  This park has a ton for the kids to do.  Gretchen is obsessed with swings right now so we spent quite a bit of time over there.  There are 2 baby swings, 2 big kid swings, and a tire swing
(which she loved!)  Gretchen’s other obsession at this park were the ride on toys, a turtle and a duck (at least that’s what she called it, not sure it’s actually a duck!)  There are two large play structures, one geared more towards younger kids, one for older kids.  The real stars at this park are the sandbox and the nature stream.  The huge sandbox is loaded with buckets, shovels, and other fun toys.  The nature stream has a little man-made stream and lots of logs and rocks for the kids to climb on and explore.  Sadly we went too early in the season to enjoy the stream.  Not sure when it gets turned on, maybe after Memorial Day?  We will go back later this summer to check that feature out and I’ll try to update my post at that time.

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Other things to know about Franklin Park:

-There is a large shelter next to the playground with bathrooms and water fountains next to it.

-This park is popular and can get really busy. I spoke with a mom that said it was a rare day there wasn’t a line for the swings!  I imagine it will be busier once school is out for the summer and the nature stream opens.

-In addition to the shelter there are several picnic tables right next to the sandbox and plenty of green space and shaded spots for a picnic.  With so much to do at this park you could easily spend a few hours here.

-The parking lot filled up fast but there appears to be street parking available adjacent to the park.

JoCo Park Tour: Blackbob Park

Our official playdate at this park got rained out but we’ve been going a couple of times a week with friends so I thought I’d go ahead and blog about it.  We are fortunate to have several friends that live right near the park, so it’s a great meeting spot for us to get together once or twice a week!  I love that it’s just down the street from Starbucks so I can get myself a beverage on the way!

Blackbob Park in Olathe, KS

14500 W 151st St. Olathe, KS 66062

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What we love about this park:  Gretchen loves the “castle park” as she calls it.  The unique castle structure is fun for kids that like to play pretend.  There are 4 slides, 2 bridges, and lots of climbing features for little and big kids to enjoy.  Instead of mulch or sand there are plastic tiles with some bounce to them (not sure what exactly they are called) beneath the play structure.  I like this as a parent as it means I don’t have to stop and empty my shoes (or my kid’s shoes!) in the middle of play time.  Gretchen’s is currently obsessed with swings and this park has 2 baby swings and 2 regular swings.  There is also a shelter that can be reserved for parties, a water fountain right next to it, and bathrooms are just a short walk away.  There are 3 benches and a picnic table near the playground where you can sit and enjoy a picnic.

Other things to know about Blackbob Park:

-It is home to Blackbob Bay, an awesome pool to enjoy during the summer.  I love the mini me swimming sessions in the mornings that allow you to enjoy the kid areas without the big kids.  You just pay for one adult to get in and 2 kids under 5 get in with you for free.  I also love to go on the evenings that they do water walking in the lazy river, it’s a low impact but effective work out.

-In the summer there are also batting cages and a mini golf course you can use.