Duane, first of all you have to understand that "digital zoom" is crap. All that does is digitally crop the image to the center. Optical zoom is much more useful, and that is done by the lenses and structure of the camera.
Some cameras optically zoom from very wide to a little bit long. Others zoom from a little bit wide to very long. Those two types might have the same number for its zoom power, but you will get totally different results at the wide end and at the long end. To some extent, the broader the zoom range, the more useful a single camera/lens is. However, the broader the zoom range is, the more compromises must be made in the lens design. In other words, it isn't perfect.
The more megapixels that you have in the sensor, the more megapixels can be in the image. That just allows you to print to a larger size, like a poster. Very few people are printing large these days, so that much is kind of a non-issue. Having more megapixels allow you to crop to the center to get a long range photo of a small subject. Yes, that is about the same as digital zoom. So, some people get this done with heavier and more expensive optics. Others get it done by cropping to the center.
By getting a fairly modern camera with a fairly modern sensor design, you will probably get a sensor with cleaner "color noise." Older sensors tend to be a little rough around the edges with this. If you are not a pixel-peeper, then you may not see the difference.