My weekend in O-Town (Omaha, not Orlando)

This past weekend your regional director traveled from Columbia, MO to Omaha, NE (about 4.5 hours via I-70, I-435, I-29, I-480) to do some advance work for the upcoming Region 7 Spring Conference.  Journalists and journalism students (and anyone else who pays registration) will gather at the Downtown Omaha Doubletree Hotel on April 9-10, 2010.

The Doubletree turns out to be ideal for our conference:  It’s centrally located (easy access to the interstate, Dodge Street and other arteries), easy to find, and near a number of Omaha’s top destinations and sites (like the Old Market neighborhood, Durham Museum, Joslyn Museum, Orpheum Theater, the Qwest Center, Creighton University, and more). A few miles down Dodge Street you’ll find the Dundee neighborhood — where I sampled the great cuisine at Goldbergs II Dundee — the University of Nebraska-Omaha Medical Center, the University of Nebraska-Omaha campus, a Borders, Target, and — wait for it — Nebraska Furniture Mart.

The Doubletree also has a free airport shuttle, pool, restaurant, gift shop (where you can find fresh Starbucks coffee), workout facilities, onsite parking ($7 a day).  My room was great:  updated and clean.  There is free wireless in the public areas and plug-in Web access in the rooms for $9.  We’ll be in the Lewis and Clark Rooms (side by side) for our panels and sessions and in the Winnebago Room for the Mark of Excellence luncheon.

Based on my experiences this weekend and some research, here are ten things you might want to check out while in Omaha — AFTER the conference of course.  They are in no particular order.

1 — Old Market.  A cool neighborhood spreading across numerous blocks downtown.  It’s home to restaurants (I saw Indian, Persian, and French for starters), bars, shops (I picked up a few eclectic items at a place called Souq), and carriage rides. Although it was pretty brisk weather-wise this weekend, I can imagine sitting at on outdoor table come springtime.

2 — Marcus Midtown Cinema.  I did not experience this for myself, but I have it on good authority that this is the ultimate in “dinner and a movie.” You can literally watch and movie and order dinner on one floor of the cinema.  It’s called “CineDine.” There also are a couple of bars, plus the usual concession goodies.

3 — Durham Museum. This is a history museum housed in the former Omaha Union Station.  It’s very cool! Especially if you are a train buff.  I enjoyed the view of Omaha and Council Bluffs, IA from atop the parking area.  You can actually board old trains and get a sense of the railway’s glory days.

4 — Joslyn Museum.  Omaha’s art museum. From the web site: “In formation since 1931, Joslyn Art Museum’s collection now contains more than 11,000 works of art from all over the world, antiquity to the present, with a concentration on 19th and 20th century European and American art.” This is definitely a must for me in April.

5 — Gambling.  Council Bluffs, IA is home to at least three casinos that I counted as I drove along I-29.  Ameristar, Harrah’s, and Horseshoe.  Council Bluffs is just a across the river from Omaha.

6 — Omaha’s Henry Doorly Zoo. This zoo is widely known for its efforts in animal conservation and research. Even better, it’s a big hit with the locals, always a good sign.

7 — El Museo Latino. There is a permanent collection as well as rotating exhibits. Right now the museum is featuring “History of Latinos in Omaha: 1890 through Present,” and “Ex-Votos and Retablos: Miracles on the Border.”  This is another site that I will try to squeeze in come April.

8 — Omaha Royals Basebell.  The team will be at home the weekend of the conference!  There’s a four-game series against Memphis April 8-11.

9 — Boys Town. This is the original: Father Flanagan’s Boys Home is now a National Historic Landmark. It’s still very much in operation and open to the public.

10 — Omaha Children’s Museum.  Interactive exhibits focused on art and science.  The Museum features a kid-sized grocery, a fire rescue area, science and technology lab and much more.

If you know of other Omaha activities I should add to this list, please drop me a line at

Stay tuned for more details, developments, etc.  For students, please remember to enter your work in the Mark of Excellence Awards!

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