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Beyond Balloons & Cake

Extraordinary Ideas for Unforgettable Kids' Birthday Parties

So your child's birthday is just around the corner, and you don't have time to plan and prepare the perfect party? Don't despair. There are plenty of fun places to hold kids' parties that'll save you time in planning, preparation, and cleanup. Most importantly, your birthday child and guests will have a blast.

Try some of these party places for kids of all different ages. When you call, ask what amenities are available and included. Many sites provide invitations, food and cake, balloons and decorations, a private party area, a gift for the birthday child, and other special birthday services.

Skates & Blades - Roller skating rinks are again gaining popularity, and most offer a choice of inline or roller skate rentals for today's kids. Also, consider ice-skating and ice or a roller hockey party as a fun alternative.

Strike it Big – Bowling parties are a fun form of recreation for kids of all ages. Preschoolers can score every time with bumper bowling, while teens can go cosmic for glow-in-the-dark fun. Add to the amusement by offering small prizes for low and high scores and the most and fewest gutters.

Pizza and Play – Preschool and early elementary children thrill at invitations to these parties. They can play kiddie arcade-style games, win tickets for prizes, hop on coin-operated rides, and romp in soft play areas.

Water, Water Everywhere – Head to a wave pool or water park where big kids can ride the waves, swish down water slides, take a plunge, and go on tubing adventures. What better way to cool off and party on a hot summer day? Indoor water parks are a fun alternative for the colder months.

Old MacDonald Had a Farm – Check with your nearby farm, ranch, or apple orchard to find out what activities are offered. Many include hayrides, petting zoos, corn mazes, apple picking, and more. These are perfect for fall birthdays.

Recreational Romp – Recreation and fitness centers offer a wide variety of activities for birthdays, including gymnastics, swimming, basketball, and arts and crafts.

You Should be Dancin’ – Check with your local dance studio for birthday party packages. Some offer professional dance instruction and allow food and party treats to be brought in, so the whole shebang is done right there.

Music Marvel – Big kids will be in awe to see one of their favorite performers in concert. For young children, look for a kiddie musical adventure offered by an area musician or music center.

Craft Magic – Young kids love to create. So schedule a craft party at a fabric shop, craft store, or scrap-recycling center where kids' activities are offered.

Cops and Robbers – Kids will thrill at testing their skills and cunningness in a game of laser tag. These centers often offer on-site party areas and birthday packages.

Fast Food Fun – For a simple and inexpensive toddler or preschool party, McDonald's, Burger King, and other fast-food joints are excellent choices. Children can crawl through a playscape and dive into a pool of balls while enjoying their favorites: hamburgers and French fries. Call ahead to make your reservation.

Putt-Putt & More - Family fun centers offer a variety of entertainment, including batting cages, miniature golf, video games, bumper boats, and go-carts.

Hands-on Science – Kids of all ages will be thoroughly engrossed and entertained at one of the many hands-on science museums. The party-goers can try out gadgets, watch or participate in experiments, play instruments, construct, and much more.

Rock Climbing Adventures – Daredevils won't want to miss one of these exciting quests. Look for a rock climbing gym in your area where party guests can do rock climbing with a professional instructor.

Beach Party – Give your teen some fun in the sun with a beach bash. Contact the park for information on volleyball equipment and to make a reservation for a covered picnic area. Look for a spot with horseshoes and plenty of sand, and don't forget the beach balls, pizza, and cooler of pop.

Amusement Mini-Party– Theme parks make for big-time fun for older kids who are content to take only one or two guests. When planning the guest list, don’t forget to budget meals, snacks, and drinks, which add up quickly in theme parks.

Monkeyin’ Around – Parties away from home don't have to be costly. Reserve a shelter at a nearby park with a large, fenced-in, frontier-style playscape. Little ones can run, climb, and play to their heart's content. Bring along your party supplies and set up under a pavilion. To keep things simple, call ahead for pizza delivery.

Row, Row, Row Your Boat – An afternoon canoe excursion for teens is the ultimate outdoor fun. Contact canoe rental facilities for details. Bring along pop and a picnic lunch, and make sure the food stays in the chaperone's canoe where it'll be safe from tips. Don't forget balloons for water balloon fights during rest stops.

Z is for Zoo –Zoos are an excellent source for birthday entertainment. Many offer party packages that include meals, cake, invitations, live animal presentations, and more.

PARTY TIPS:

When planning your child's party, keep in mind what's important is not how perfectly the party goes. Instead, it's that your birthday child and guests have fun. To ensure success, follow these tips:

·  Keep the guest list manageable to avoid chaos, confusion, and conflict. The number of guests should correspond with the child’s age or slightly over.

·  Request an RSVP with a specific deadline, so there is time to invite others should the guest list fall short. Be sure to include your phone number and email address.

·  Offer your child choices for the party, ask for input, and allow them to assist in planning.

·  Send out written invitations. Verbal invitations are easily forgotten and make the invitee feel that he or she was an afterthought. Also, it can leave the parents of the invited child wondering whether the invitation was approved by the birthday child's parents.

·  Include all details on the invitation, including a start and end time, address and directions, phone number, and what guests need to bring, such as a bathing suit and towel.

·  Play it safe, and set a rain date for outdoor parties.

·  Keep the length of the party within reason. Unless it's a sleepover or special event, preschool parties should be limited to one hour, and two to three hours for older children.