Stuck in the Midwest? It’s not surprising. As snowstorm after snowstorm beats down on places that rarely see more than a few inches each winter, flights around the country are grounded. They’re not just delayed, but canceled, with no promise of when you’ll make it home. But don’t sit at the airport searching for an outlet to charge your phone and staring at a departures board that isn’t going to change. Go explore a city that you might not otherwise visit.
Like Omaha. Nebraska’s largest city probably isn’t on your bucket list. Or anyone’s bucket list. But there are worse places—much worse—to be stuck. The “Gateway to the West” was founded in 1854 after pioneers—settlers bound for Oregon and Mormons looking for religious freedom—traveled through the area on their journeys west. The New Frontier city became a hotbed for crime and illegal gambling. Eventually, Omaha became a transportation hub full of meatpacking plants. It now has the highest number of millionaires—like Warren Buffett—per capita in the United States and a revitalized downtown.
Call Hotel Deco XV. Their Mercedes-Benz sedan will pick you up at the airport. When you arrive at the downtown hotel, you’d love to check out the Art Deco architecture or order a cocktail at Encore, the lobby lounge. But first, a shower. You need to scrub off all that time in the airport, and the multi-head rain shower in your room is the perfect place to do so. After standing in the steam for much too long, enjoy your quiet room and check the weather on a borrowed iPad. And decide to stay in for the evening. Drop off your shoes to be shined—they look beat up after trudging through the snow—on your way downstairs to the Zin Room, the hotel’s cozy American bistro. Eat a pistachio encrusted soft-boiled egg and braised beef short ribs by the stone fireplace. And finally sip a cocktail, like the AmaZin Martini, made with Zinfandel.
Finally relaxed after a good night’s sleep on a real bed, you’re ready to explore in the morning. Grab a cup of coffee and your freshly polished shoes in the lobby. With free admission, the Joslyn Art Museum is an easy choice to start the day. See the glass sculpture in the lobby, and then wander between the American West art and the El Grecos, the Renoirs, and the Monets. See artists at work at the Bemis Center for Contemporary Arts, which houses an art colony and three galleries. Step back in time and check out the 1968 Exhibit at the Durham Museum. Stop by the Upstream Brewing Company for a Delinquent Stout in a 20th-century firehouse. Explore the indoor rainforest, swamp, and desert at the Henry Doorly Zoo. It’s Nebraska’s most popular tourist attraction. And then cross the Missouri River to Council Bluffs, Iowa on the Bob Kerrey Pedestrian Bridge.
You’re starving after all that walking. Good thing, you’ll need an appetite for dinner. The hotel’s car will deliver to you Gorat’s, a family owned steakhouse that might serve the best steak you’ll ever eat. The appetizers sound tempting, though you don’t need them. Order a rare Omaha T-bone, a side of sautéed button mushrooms, and a glass of Cabernet Sauvignon. Later, walk it off in the Heartland of America Park. There’s an evening light show around a huge fountain at the riverside park. And, finally, stroll through Old Market on your way back to the hotel. Old warehouses along the brick streets have been turned into shops, restaurants, and art galleries. When you hear live jazz music, you stop for just one more beer.
When the storms finally stop and the airports reopen, it’s time to begin your journey home. While most people look rumpled after spending a few days in the terminal, you feel rested and refreshed. For the first time ever, being stranded wasn’t so bad after all.