The Business of Birthday Parties

Parents have a wide choice of entertainment options for their birthday child.



When I was seven years old, I received an invitation to Margaret Fernandez’s birthday party. Her party was significant because there was going to be a piñata. That doesn’t sound like such a big deal now, but back then, piñatas were relatively new. When I arrived that afternoon, I didn’t even know what a piñata was. But, as soon as the stick started swinging and the candy started falling, I figured it out, and it was awesome.

Twenty-seven years later, I still remember that party. These days, parents who are looking for ways to entertain their kids and create a memorable day have options far beyond candy-filled donkeys. In fact, the birthday party business is booming. Here are just some of things you can choose from.

At Home Parties

There are countless choices when it comes to keeping kids amused at your at home parties. Just take your pick: jumping castles, magicians, balloon artists, face painters, art buses, clowns, music, theme party planners …. even travelling animals.

Sheryl Bernard’s preschool kids and their friends got to be musically creative at their birthday parties, after Sheryl hired a Kindermusik instructor – twice! The instructor brought a range of musical instruments to the party and the kids had a hoot trying them all out, says Sheryl. The kids were also introduced to different musical genres, with much laughter and free movement for about an hour. And each child took home, such as “a CD and an egg shaker,” says Sheryl.

For her daughter’s 10th birthday, Tina Burke threw a reptile party that was, by all accounts, a big hit. “Indian River Reptile Zoo brought a variety of reptiles, including a Burmese python, a three-foot American alligator, snapping turtles, and a variety of lizards,” says Tina. All these critters are former house pets rescued by the non-profit zoo.

Tina says the kids sat in a circle spellbound as the handlers displayed the reptiles, and talked about each of them. “When the handlers asked for volunteers to help hold the python, “the kids literally jumped out of their seats in their rush to line up,” says Tina.
Believe it or not, parents can even hire a mobile petting zoo for their kids’ birthday parties. Sundance Meadows will take a small group of happy, healthy animals on the road for your party. Kids can get acquainted with goats, miniature horses, pot-bellied pigs, bunnies, birds and more. Mom Kari Hall has nothing but good things to say about the petting zoo. Not only did it afford the kids a great time, but the handlers “also arrived early, cleaned up after themselves, and treated the animals well,” says Kari.

Birthday Venues

The stay at home party isn’t for everyone. Luckily, there are tons of businesses that will be glad to do most of the party planning for you by providing the venue, the activity, the fun, and the memories. But don’t forget to bring the cake (see sidebar)!

Perennial Favourites

Restaurants, bowling alleys, hotels with pools and movie theatres are favourite locations for kids’ birthday bashes for good reason.

Restaurant parties are a boon to parents because there is little to do except watch the kids and try to keep the racket to a minimum. Big chains definitely offer party packages, and some local family restaurants do too. Just choose your kids’ favourite places, check out the packages on offer, book the party, and go. They provide the food, the loot bags and balloons, and sometimes, the entertainment.

Mom of two, Kim Kippenhuck, is heading to her local bowling alley for the next birthday because it’s “way less work” for her, says Kim, than an at home party. The lanes supply pizza, drinks, use of the party room, and an hour of bowling. And kids can be as noisy as they want. What could be easier?

Birthday parties and movies are a natural fit. And some movie theatres will combine the two for you at a reasonable price. If your child is a movie addict – and what kid isn’t – find out whether your local theatres offer party packages. As well as admission, some theatres offer a room to party, treats, and meals.

Darryl Stevens’ son Matthew spent his 8th birthday party laughing, splashing and playing with his friends in the swimming pool at the local Super 8 hotel. Darryl even joined the boys in the pool for games like Marco Polo and volleyball. “I also tossed the kids around a bit,” laughs Darryl. “Needless to say, we all had a blast.” After the swim, the partiers gathered in the hospitality room for pizza and drinks supplied by the hotel. “Cooking is not my thing,” says Darryl, “so that worked out well.”

Sports & Activities

Gymnastic clubs, dance academies, YMCAs, local rec centres and play centres also offer inexpensive birthday party packages for kids that include various sports and activities. Plus, there are businesses that wrap up a sports adventure – hockey, laser tag, rock/wall climbing, mini-putt, and more – with other goodies for an exhilarating afternoon of birthday fun.

Amber Bassinger wanted the kids attending her daughter Bria’s 12th birthday party to have lots of different sports/activities to do. What better place to find variety than at her local YMCA? The party was a whopping 2 1⁄2 hours of non-stop action for the kids, with an hour spent in the pool, and another hour on the climbing wall and using gym equipment. Exhausted, but happy, the kids then polished off juice, chips, and pizza in a private room. Amber and the kids gave the party the thumbs up. “They really liked it,” says Amber.

When Ethan Black turned nine, his mom Kathleen went all out for the hockey fan and his friends by arranging for a birthday party with the Oshawa Generals. The party included tickets to an Oshawa Generals game, which brought the excited kids, “pretty close to the ice,” says Kathleen. But that’s not all. The kids also had a visit from the mascot and time with the players for photos and autographs. Adding to the enjoyment, a mid-game cupcake, a party bag with hockey cards and a flag to wave during the game, and a birthday announcement on the big screen.

Ethan told his mom afterwards, “All the kids thought it was the coolest party ever.”

Arts & Crafts

It may be a surprise to learn that some museums, art galleries and craft studios, will take your birthday child in hand for a party of a different kind.

Catherine Horner’s daughter Anna was thrilled to spend her 7th birthday at the Canadian Canoe Museum. “It was her first out-of-the-house party,” says Catherine. The day started off with a hugely fun and interactive puppet show where the kids engaged in questions and answers with various wildlife creations, got to listen to their sounds, like hoots, howls, growls, and cries, and sang up a storm. Leading the discussion, an animator dressed up as a canoe!

Other activities included soapstone carving – Anna made a heart pendant – and a hands-on, and kid-friendly tour of the museum which houses the world’s largest collection of canoes, kayaks and paddled watercraft.
“Anna just loved it,” says Catherine.


Many local farms, ranches, and zoos host birthday parties that let kids commune with nature in its various forms.

For her twin boys’ 10th birthday, Dawn Balson splurged on a birthday adventure at Jungle Cat World for the kids and 10 of their friends. “It was an intoxicating event for the kids,” says Dawn.

During a 45-minute presentation, the kids were able to get up close and personal with some amazing, exotic creatures, including spiders, lemurs, snake, and lizards. “When they brought out a young wolf and tiger cub … that was just phenomenal,” says Dawn. The twins were delighted to have their photo taken with the young wolf.

The kids also took a tour of the zoo’s big cats and watched as the handlers fed the animals. All the kids walked away with a pin and a ticket for free admission. While the birthday cost “a little more than I would ordinarily spend,” says Dawn, “it was definitely worth every penny. It was an experience they will never forget.”

Whether at home or at a location, there is no end to the ways you can pull together a memorable birthday party for your children. Outside help means you can relax and enjoy the birthday magic!


Birthday Cakes On Order

No time to make a cake? Don’t worry – there are plenty of places where you can purchase a cake tailored to your child.

There are any number of bakeries that specialize in providing delectable cakes and cupcakes, and even cake pops. As well as a huge variety of theme cakes, bakeries are usually happy to accommodate unusual requests and provide special decorations. You can also have a photograph of the child printed onto the cake with edible paper.

Melissa Decker hired local bakery, Sweet and Sassy, to make the cake for her daughter Kailyn’s birthday. With only Kailyn’s favourite colours (pink and green) to go by, the bakery produced a two-tiered masterpiece with wired embellishments.

“It was the best cake I’ve ever seen!”says Kailyn.

Or you can take the ice cream off the side of the plate and make it the feature; ice cream cakes are a delicious choice for kids. They can be customized with themes, names and messages.

“My son is a soccer nut,” says James Curtis. “So we got him a soccer themed cake at Dairy Queen with chocolate ice cream on the bottom, cookie crunch in the middle, and vanilla ice cream on top, and just let him and the other kids devour it.”

Author: Jennifer Routledge

Jennifer Routledge is a freelance writer and mom;

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