More than 100 destinations around Memphis offer complete party packages; all you furnish are the cupcakes and cash. True, it’s simpler, and certainly less muss and fuss. But some years, it’s just more fun to get creative with a home party. (That’s why you’ve been pinning all those do-it-yourself ideas on Pinterest, after all.) So ready to get creative, we'll start you here with some fun ways local parents made lasting birthday memories.
Petting Zoo Party
Best Age: Preschool
Budget: $250 for petting zoo and pony rides • 573-1384 • happytimesfarm.com
Teri Walker from Bartlett isn’t buying a zoo, she’s just renting one for a few hours. Her son Kolston, who turns 2 this month, loves to play with his farm toys and make animal noises.
So she’s hired Happy Times Farm, a USDA licensed, family-owned business, with a mobile petting zoo they bring to you. While larger animals stay in trailers to be fed, the babies can come out and play. The birthday child can bottle-feed little lambs and Faye the llama loves being brushed so much she lies down for the pampering. Guests also take turns cranking the corn grinder while Eeyore the donkey licks the food from their palms.
“None of our animals bite,” says Lorri Parker, who runs the farm with her veterinarian husband, “We show kids how to be gentle, talk about names, sounds, and what each animal likes to eat.” Children sit down to feed bunnies, Chinese Silky chickens, ducks, and geese. There’s even a pot-bellied pig named Jimmy Dean.
“We understand short attention spans, so every five minutes we switch activities,” she says. Happy Times also offers pony rides, and for kids afraid of animals, a train ride or non-motorized carousel. When the hour and a half is up, her staff shovels up, sweeps up, and moves on out.
Mad Hatter Tea Party
Best age: Early elementary
Budget: $150 for 14 girls
Abigail Johnson got an “Alice in Wonderland” dress during a vacation at Disney World, and wanted another chance to wear it. So her mom Erica transformed the dining room of their Germantown home into a scene from Wonderland. Erica collected supplies for a month: teapots and cups from relatives, a long table and chairs from church, a plush pink chair from a friend, sale items from party stores (leftover Valentines for queen of hearts and Easter for the white rabbit), paper lanterns from Dollar Tree, and a colorful fabric table runner from a department store discount bin.
“The most expensive things were the invitations I printed through dazzle.com and the fun, crazy cake my neighbor friend made,” says Erica. She even labeled snacks with “Eat Me” and juice boxes with “Drink Me.”
First the girls painted white silk roses red with fabric paint and glitter. While the flowers dried, the party continued with a game of croquet. “They had so much fun trying to hit a squeaky hedgehog dog toy through foam arches I glued to large playing cards. Instead of mallets, we had pink flamingo yard ornaments.”
After an impromptu game of hide and seek, Abigail and her guests settled down for proper tea and cake. They giggled, sipped, and sang “Happy Birthday.” Each girl took home her red rose and a plastic sports bottle with her name painted in whimsical letters.
Best Age: Elementary
Budget: $150 for 20 guests
Midtown mom Courtney Santo struggled to find a party idea that would please her son, who was turning 8.
“CJ had recently picked out a lunchbox with generic robots on it, and since he kept rejecting my other ideas (Superman is stupid, I hate Star Wars, dinosaurs are for babies), I desperately looked at his lunch box and blurted out "Robots? His eyes lit up.”
Santo plans low-key parties held outdoors on Friday afternoons. She and her husband, Charlie, serve up hot dogs and chips, and invite parents to enjoy. Decorations are kept simple: colorful plastic tablecloths on picnic tables, since CJ is more interested in activities than fuss.
“We had a robot relay race where the kids used tongs, purchased for a buck apiece from Lit, as hands, and had to pick up checkers and move them. I also got some accordion-type duct work for dryers from Lowe's and cut it to go on the kids' arms like sleeves.”
Over a few weeks, Santo saved a variety of boxes for a robot building competition. She divided the kids into teams and gave them rolls of aluminum foil to cover the boxes, spray-on glue, and duct tape. “The kids created some awesome sculptures,” says Santo.
The third activity doubled as a take-home goodie. Her husband drew a robot stencil that she traced on freezer paper, cut it out, and pre-ironed to T-shirts. (Hanes, six undershirts for $8.) Kids painted their T-shirts with fabric paint when they first arrived, so that by the end of the party, the shirts were dry. “It was great to see some of CJ's friends still wearing robot shirts when we saw them out later that year.”
Tween Party Ideas
Once your child hits double digits, parties can become more challenging to orchestrate. Why not check out some of these destinations — and let the good times roll.
Bounce on a Trampoline
Sky Zone Trampoline Park • memphis.skyzonesports.com
5355 Distriplex Farms Dr. #102 • 322-3821
Base package includes: 1 hr. jump and 40 min. in the party room, 2 pizzas, 3 pitchers of soda, invitations, and T-shirt for the birthday child. Monday-Thursday/$17 per person; Friday-Sunday/$20.
Skate on ice
Mid-South Ice House • midsouthicehouse.com
10705 Ridgeway Industrial Rd., Olive Branch • 881-8544
Base package includes: 2-4 hrs. skate time (depending on public skate hours), invitations, skate rental, goodie bags, and party room. $150 for 10 skaters, $200 for 20 skaters.
Splash Your Partner
Paintball Park • memphispaintball.com
9640 Davies Plantation Rd., Lakeland • 372-3383
Economy package includes: All-day admission, rentals (paintball marker, mask, hopper, air tank), and 100 paintballs for each player. $22 per person, 10 player minimum.
Bathe in Beauty
Spa Escape – BeautiControl by Kathy Maples • firstname.lastname@example.org
Sleepover Princess package: Home visit from spa expert, sea salt scrub, hand and foot massage, mini-facial, lip mask, cucumber eye pads, warm neck wrap, and a gift for birthday girl. $10 per girl.