Before last month, we’ve only had birthday parties at home. Our kids’ first birthday parties were huge affairs, involving more time, organization and stress than my own wedding. (Not to mention just as many people.) After these big bashes, we agreed that we would only have small celebrations with the kids’ closest friends and family.
Then we moved to Courtice, and into a neighbourhood with enough kids to open a school. Our ‘hood, composed of two streets and about 90 homes, is more than just child-friendly. We are singlehandedly overpopulating the earth out here. There are but a handful of homes that don’t have children in them, and there’s a mini baby boom happening with some families busting at the seams, filling suburban homes with four children.
And it’s amazing.
But it doesn’t exactly lend itself to intimate birthday parties. We were probably one of the last holdouts, determined to do it ourselves and entertain 30 to 40 children (and their parents) in our backyard. For The K Man’s third birthday, for example, we enjoyed a feast of barbecue-grilled prime rib, Mediterranean veg, salads galore and no end of cocktails, wine and beer. I think we hosted about 65 guests. It was glorious mayhem and it took three days to fully prepare, all of our attention that day to keep drinks in hands and food on plates, a heap of energy to keep the kids’ games going, a full day to clean up afterwards and I don’t even want to tell you what we spent between food, decorations, booze and loot bags. (Admittedly, I don’t do cheap loot bags.)
This is why event planners make the big bucks.
All the while, we’ve been to other birthday parties at places like Enchanted Castle and Joey’s World. And I’ve always wondered…does the cost end up working out the same? What level of involvement is required? What does one do at her child’s party when she’s not running around like a headless chicken?
Thanks to Kidville Canada, we recently had the opportunity to compare our birthday-party planning experiences. The team generously offered to host Miss Q’s third birthday party. (How could we refuse?) There’s a slideshow of pics all the way at the end that’s not to be missed!
Kidville gets themes. It’s actually hard to choose from the 18 different birthday party themes because they all sound so fun. Ultimately, we went with the Pretty in Pink Ballerina Party because Miss Q is totally into ballet and all-things-pink. The theme was obvious from the minute the kids walk through the door; we were met with tutus, tiaras and wands (all of which the girls could take home). It was a sea of pink balloons, and the ballet component hit the spot mid-way through the party when the kids did ballet-inspired moves in a series of activities in the gym.
Planning this party was stress-free. Truly, without a doubt, the easiest event I’ve ever had the pleasure of organizing. Because I barely had to do anything. Kidville takes care of everything: an e-vite with RSVP tracking should you choose it (I didn’t because I like to print hard-copy invitations that can later go into my kids’ memory boxes — you can see our invitation to the right; I found this graphic designer on Etsy and even though she was in the States, I hired her because she was detail-oriented and attentive and I fell in love with this design); all of the food and cupcakes, candles and matches; setting up the play stations and crafts; running the games and activities; cleaning up the joint afterwards. Here’s how much involvement I had:
- Sign a contract
- Choose cupcake and icing flavours
- Choose snacks for adults
- Choose two loot bag items (from, might I add, a very high-quality list of Melissa & Doug products)
- Provide an RSVP list one week before the party
- Show up, play, eat, pay what we owed and leave
Miss Q was welcomed with a happy birthday message in Play-Doh letters. It was a simple touch, but really personal and sweet. She saw her name immediately and was beaming.
The first thing you really notice when you arrive is how CLEAN the place is. Astonishingly so. Bright and airy and clean. Even my germophobe brother wouldn’t have an issue here. And no one forced the kids to de-sanitize with that awful antibacterial hand sanitizer, either.
The kids were busy from the time they arrived until the time they left. An hour and a half could have felt like eternity with a group of three to five year olds, but Kidville has it nailed. There is no shortage of things to do, and the party co-ordinators understand that doing something new every five to 10 minutes is what prevents meltdowns and boredom. In the slideshow below, I will walk you through the party’s activities from beginning to end. No child appeared disoriented or less-than-thrilled the whole time.
The flow of activity and change of scenery is great, because the kids move between one of three rooms if you book the top floor and one of two rooms if you book the main floor. It means that you never see the set-up or cleanup. It’s The Party Fairies who come in and take care of it all when you’re not looking. Bliss.
If you really want to splurge, you can arrange valet parking for your guests. I believe it’s $150 for the duration of your party. Our party happened to fall on one of the snowiest days we’ve had this winter and as we drove into the city, all I could think was “I wish I’d paid for the valet.” Of course, you need to organize this in advance, so think through the time of year you’re there.
Every child gets pizza, juice and a loot bag with two gifts (we chose a set of colourful Plasticine and a make-your-own girly girl mirror) . This is all rolled in to two different price brackets: $595 for 11 children (including your kid) or $1,095 for 21 children (including yours). Parents outside of the city might squawk a bit, but I’d ask you to consider all of the costs and time incurred with doing it yourself. I thought a lot about this because it’s the only fair way to write about the cost component objectively. If you have a party at home and other parents stay for the duration, you’re certainly expected to feed them. If you have it at a party place, that expectation goes away. There’s a whole lot fewer mouths to feed (and water). You have to buy a cake or cupcakes, or at least the stuff to make them yourself and then find the time to do so. If you buy reasonable loot bag items, you still have to go buy them and wrap them. You have to clean your house before people come, and after they leave. Chances are high if you have an indoor party that you will be removing ground-in Devil’s Food Cake and green Play-Doh from your carpet for years to come. During one of our kids’ parties, some child even managed to locate a red pen and write all over my face on the cover of my very expensive, custom-made, imported-from-Italy wedding album. Unless you travel with your wedding album at all times, this won’t happen at Kidville. Even if I paid myself minimum wage, it’s doubtful I’ve ever put on a birthday party that cost less than either of these two options. Then again, we have never had just five kids over for pizza and a movie, so I get that it’s obviously possible.
One of the big benefits of having a scheduled party time is that guests come at the same time, and leave at the same time. You know you’ve experienced it: the stragglers who Just. Won’t. Leave. after the party is clearly over. And all you want to do is fall down and sleep for three days.
I also really appreciated Kidville’s flexibility and willingness to let me customize a bit. Aside from our own invitations, we wanted to carry through the Hello Kitty ballerina theme so I picked up some Hello Kitty kid-sized notepads and pens. When we arrived on party day, I passed the bag of goodies to one of the co-ordinators and asked her to pass them out with the loot bags at the end. They one-upped me and instead took the time to tape each one to the front of the already gift-wrapped loot bags. It didn’t look out of place and perfectly Hello Kitty-fied everything the girls took home aprés-party.
Plus, it’s BRILLIANT for winter birthdays. We’ve always held The K Man’s birthday outside; that’s tough to do with a December baby unless you want to fly everyone to Florida. There was a long hallway where wet boots and coats could be parked during the party. I don’t have such a hallway at my house, so those boots would be salting the heck out of my hardwood and the coats would have to be trekked up to a bedroom and later sorted through to find rightful owners.
Speaking of party co-ordinators, they come with your party! Depending on the number of guests you have, Kidville Canada staffs your party appropriately to ensure you’re hands-off on the logistics side and can just enjoy your child and fellow adult guests. This is the first party that I haven’t had to act as co-chef, server, bartender, busser and photographer simultaneously. This time, I was just a Mommy taking a lot of pictures and actually playing with my kid at her party. It was a welcome change of pace and having these extra helping hands was a huge blessing. Not just for me and Big B, but for the parents who want to drop off their child and simply collect her 1.5 hours later.
If you want to have a highly catered affair for the adults, it’s possible to have a pretty lovely meal available. But…
You will pay. And you will pay big. We only ordered pretzels and chips for the adults and it cost $24. Kidville Canada birthday parties (even without the extras) are not for families on a strict budget. While for us being relieved of all that time and stress that goes into putting on a birthday bash is worth a $600 or $1,000 price tag, I’ll be honest and say this would be for an extra-special birthday rather than one every year. Keep in mind that Kidville is located in Lawrence Park, which is one of the more affluent neighbourhoods in Toronto, so they’re catering to that demographic.
I do think for the cost of the party package that it should be two hours long, rather than 1.5 hours. That seems to be the norm elsewhere.
I also think that there should be fruit and veggie platters set out for the kids at lunchtime, inclusive of your package. I don’t know why I assumed these would be there because surely it’s not outlined in the contract, but I was a bit horrified that all the kids had available to them the entire time was pizza and juice. Not the healthiest or most well-rounded lunch.
Miss Q’s name was spelled three different ways at the party: correctly on the welcome message prepared in Play-Doh, and incorrectly on her name tag and wings (but different both times). She knows how to spell her name; she knew where it was wrong and she was the one who pointed it out to me.