Birthday parties are a big deal in the Watts home. Ever since my older son, James, had his first birthday, we’ve made their parties grand events.
We have always had the parties at our house since we are blessed to have plenty of parking and a large backyard perfect for hosting all our friends and family. But over the years my son’s November birth date has made outdoor parties challenging. Rain and cold temperatures are always an issue. And when we have to move it indoors, though it’s still a fun time, it can get a little wild in the enclosed space. So this year, for James’ 5th birthday, I decided to try something different and host his party elsewhere.
There were a few key things I considered when picking a venue. The major one was finding a place that would accommodate our large guest list. I have a chatty redhead who makes a lot of friends and was very particular that they ALL came to his party. Since the party theme was to be Legos, I contacted The Brick House in Annapolis but it wasn’t big enough, and I wasn’t sure all the kids would be into Legos.
I wanted to find a venue appropriate for a huge group of energetic, wild, 5-year-olds and their siblings who were ranged in age from 1 to 7. My kids adore those indoor gymnastic places, so I priced out a few in our area. All of them had great things to offer, but I wasn’t sure how involved the parents would want to be. I love taking my kids to these venues, but I’ve learned that it can be a handful. Younger children want to climb up the metal jungle gyms, get stuck in the middle of the foam pits or race full-speed down the long trampolines, inevitably crashing head-first into some other poor child. I decided this wasn’t the best option considering the number of kids of varying ages.
So finally I sat down with James and asked him what his favorite part of birthday parties was. He said, “the moon bounces!” And it’s true, he adores those things. Honestly, if there was a moon bounce at the doctors or dentist office, my life would be a lot easier. And with that, I called up our favorite local moon bounce place, Ultimate Play Zone in Millersville and booked a date. It was perfect! Bounce houses were plentiful and appropriate for various ages, and we were only charged for children older than 3.
There are a lot of pros and cons to this kind of party, so I’ve compiled a list of suggestions for anyone planning to host a party outside of their home.
Pick Your Time Wisely
We chose to have the party on a Friday afternoon at 4 p.m., mainly because we had conflicting events over that weekend. This timeframe worked out great for a few reasons. it was cheaper and there weren’t any other parties planned before ours. When we arrived, we were able to setup at our leisure, hang decorations and arrange table centerpieces in the party room.
At the end of our party, another group was feverishly trying to setup for their party, and I was grateful we had chosen the earlier time. The only issue was the horrible rush hour traffic our guests got stuck in trying to get there. Since the venue only allowed about 50 minutes to play in the bounce house area, a few of the late arrivals had less time to play.
Know The Staff & The Facility
We’ve had the advantage of frequenting Ultimate Play Zone for almost five years, so I knew the layout and have been satisfied with the employees. For our party, the staff was incredibly helpful and friendly, greeting the guests as they arrived. This enabled me to snap pictures and mingle with the parents in the party.
The staff also helped bring everything in when we first arrived and setup all the food in the party room. A few staff members were also inside the bounce house area supervising the play, but not being intrusive. I thought it was a nice touch that as each child entered the party room after jumping, they were given a squirt of liquid hand sanitizer.
My only complaint came when it was time to serve the cake. Since only two staff members were serving, kids got impatient waiting. Luckily, a few parents jumped in to help speed up the process. I was pleasantly surprised at the end of the party, however, that the staff had carefully packed up all our home-made decorations and extra food while I was saying goodbye to guests and handing out goodie bags. I never felt rushed or pressured to leave, but it was nice to have everything cleaned up for us and ready at the door when we were finally headed out.
Prep, Prep, Prep!
Since I’ve always had parties at my house, everything I would need is always right nearby. But having the party away from home required some extra thought when packing everything up. A few days before the party, I set out a tote bag in my kitchen and as I thought of them, I would toss in things I knew I was going to need. So then when I was at the venue the day of the party and needed some scotch tape, or scissors, or a lighter for the candles, everything was there in my tote bag.
The one thing I wish I had thought to bring was a bin for the gifts to come home in. Ultimate Play Zone provides a large bin for the gifts as guests arrive, and at the end staff members put everything in a large black trash bag. But when we opened up the bag at home, many of the gift bags had fallen over and their contents fallen out, including cards. And as a parent who likes to write down what the gifts are and who they’re from, this made for a challenging present-opening experience. So take my advice, and bring something for the gift bags to be neatly placed into for bringing home.
Overall, having the party outside of the home was a great experience. I was a little sad not hosting an extravagant event at home with tons of activities and homemade decorations, but I did squeeze in a few that we took with us to the venue. But then that night as I looked around my house, still quite clean and not completely trashed from a big party, I decided it wasn’t that bad after all.
Click here for more information about Ultimate Play Zone.
Find more party resources here.
Mandy Watts is a stay-at-home mom who lives in Crownsville with her husband, Justin, who runs their family business, and their two sons, 4-year-old James and 3-year-old Luke.