Excerpt from 2017 Omaha: We Don’t Coast magazine. Photos by Ryan Soderlin/OWH, Daniel J. Johnson, Matt Miller and Brendan Sullivan/OWH.

To put it in the parlance of the animal kingdom, Omaha’s Henry Doorly Zoo & Aquarium is a diurnal creature – active, for the most part, during the day. But on that steamy Friday in late July, my wife, Kelly, and I; our daughter, Lizzie, and her best bud, Avery, (both 10) got to experience the zoo’s nocturnal side.

Throughout the year, our world-renowned attraction hosts a series of after-hours “Sleeping Bag Safaris,” overnight experiences that let guests bunk in some of the zoo’s marquee exhibits: the African Lodge, Desert Dome or Lied Jungle. We signed up for the “Penguins & Pajamas” program, which meant the Suzanne and Walter Scott Aquarium would serve as our quarters for the night.

For 14-hours, we – and about 55 other guests – essentially had the zoo to ourselves (permanent residents aside). The full itinerary included guided night tours of the Desert Dome’s Kingdom of the Night and the Lied Jungle and early morning tours of the Owen Orangutan House and Cat Complex. In between, we were able to enjoy some uninterrupted togetherness and our ultimate style of “camping”: indoors with air conditioning – yet still surrounded by animals.

“It felt like our own one-on-one with the zoo,” Kelly says. “It’s a great way to have an experience with the kids and make memories.”

I knew the night had resonated with Lizzie and Avery when they scurried off by themselves for a visit with the aquarium’s tufted puffins, one of which they named Garfield. For my part, I was struck by the fact that, even after almost 30 years of visiting our zoo, I could still be engaged, enlightened and wonder-filled. As we headed for home at 9 a.m. on Saturday, I realized I hadn’t checked my phone for an astonishing 14-hours.

–– Dan McCann, writer and 28-year resident of Omaha