Friday, November 6, 2009

Battle of the Birthday Parties

I have two preschool children and as my kids get older we are invited to more and more birthday parties.  Classmates, our friend's children, and our own children are having larger and larger parties with lots of little friends running around having fun.  As a parent there are a lot of options in the Boroughs area, and we want to host enjoyable parties for our kids, their friends, and their friend's parents.  Having participated in several and paid for some myself, I wanted to share some of what I have found.  I have included some cost estimates based on what I and my friends have spent, if I know.  Obviously these estimates as they are round numbers and I in no way represent the facilities so prices may have changed.  These are just past experiences. 

I know this doesn't cover every facility in the Boroughs.  These seem to be the ones frequented the most in my, and my children's circle of friends.  I included a few options at the end that are not real reviews but interesting all the same.  If anyone has vastly different experiences or would like to back up my analysis, please comment.

The Little Gym
http://www.thelittlegym.com/
Westborough


Party Length - 1 hour 30 minutes
Facility cost for18 kids - $240

Additional costs, not required:
Cake - $10 Two, baked out of a box at home
Gift bags - $40 - Target $1 bin plus a lollipop and stickers about $1.50 per kid plus bags (25 just in case)

Party Organization - I have attended several parties here.  My experiences have all been about the same.  Once you book the party, they provide invitations for parents to send out.  An hour of playtime that consists several structured games with free play in-between on the equipment.  The kids have a great time, and the birthday child get to go first for every game.  After an hour of activities, the kids are brought into the party room for cake.  The Little Gym provides juice boxes, plates and utensils, and does all the set up for parents. 
Review - The Little Gym Westborough puts on a great party.  My experiences have been parties for 3, 4, 5, and 6 year olds, but each one ran smoothly, the kids had a great time and overall I think there is great value in a party at the Little Gym.  I also think the Little Gym caters to older children as well.  As I mentioned in a previous blog, I am a fan of the Little Gym in Westborough and if you manage to have Mr. Tim at the party it is even better.  There is a point at the party where the facilitators pull out a set of play stairs and try to facilitate a photo opportunity for all parents.  It has actually worked each time that I witnessed it.


TEAMWORKS
http://www.twcenters.com/home
Northborough


Party Length - 2 hour 15 minutes
Member Rate: $265 (covers up to 16 children), $7 per additional child
Non-Member Rate: $280 (covers up to 16 children), $10 per additional child

Additional costs, not required:
I only attended this one, but there would be an additional cake cost.

Party Organization - The kids get 30 minutes to play on oversized inflatables.  When I was there, it was a combination bouncy house with a single slide and one of the inflatable obstacle courses.  After that instructors do 1 hour field time, Catch games, soccer, and other running games.  Every 15 min they take a water break.  Finally the kids get 45 minutes in the party room.  In the party room the kids eat the pizza, sing and have cake.
Review - The inflatables used are pretty beat up, but work fine and the instructors did a good job playing with the kids.  The TEAMWORKS party was good, but for preschool (3, 4, 5 year olds) I have preferred other places more.  Other TEAMWORKS experiences have had other then parties were good and definitely enjoyed by my kids, but they don't have a superstar instructor that I have experienced, and the facility is a little more warehouseish.  I will say one of the biggest positives is that for parties, they do include everything.  Invitations, party supplies, thank you cards, goodie bags, food and fun are all covered.  All a parent needs to bring is the cake.


PlayTown Express
http://www.playtownexpress.com/
Hopkinton


Party Length - 2 hours
Facility cost for 16 kids - $250

Additional costs, not required:
Pizza - $85 delivered to Playtown from a local pizza place
Cake - $10 Two, baked out of a box at home
Bottled water - $5 - For the adults, we don't' always want a juice box
Gift bags - $55 - Target $1 sandbox toys plus a kids toothbrush, stickers, and a bag of goldfish crackers about $2.75 per kid plus bags (20 just in case)

Party Organization - PlayTown is simple, the kids play in the giant play room, for a little over an hour, then they eat in the party room in the front of the facility.  They offer these parties at various times, check their website for details.  We chose a Saturday evening party.  PlayTown Express does focus a little younger then TEAMWORKS and some others.  Definitely a preschool age is best.  Not that other slightly older wouldn't have fun, it just isn't focused on them.  The parties I have hosted and attended at PlayTown both happen to have been for a 3rd birthday.
Review - PlayTown ends up being one of the more expensive options that I have experienced, but it is really great for several reasons.  1. The facility has a lot of activities for the kids.  This helps keep kids enjoying the whole time.  2. The setup allows parents to congregate in the middle and enjoy adult conversation without losing sight of the kids.  3.  There are activities for all ages under 6 so it is easy for siblings to be part of the party without being left out.  4.  The facility is very clean, it is obvious that the staff at PlayTown Express spends time each day wiping down equipment and replacing broken items.


Noodle Noggin' 'N Bean
http://www.noodlenogginnbean.com/
Northborough


Party Length - 2 hours
Facility cost for 18 kids - $250

Additional costs, not required:
I only attended this one, but there would be an additional cake cost. The parents ordered pizza from a local delivery place.  And there was an art project.  I believe that was extra cost and brought in by the parents.

Party Organization - The kids had pizza, did the art project, and then had free time to play at the facility.  At the one I attended the parents also paid for a "princess" to read a story to the kids.
Review - I don't know that the princess was worth it.  Sure the kids were excited for a minute but I don't think any of them would have noticed had the teenager not been there dressed up as Cinderella.  The party was good, but nothing special.  Since NNNB is a series of rooms, that are not overly huge it is not as easy to have conversations with adults and keep an eye on the kids as they move from room to room.  Lots of walls.  Also there is a room that has a fishing game, with water in a trough.  Both of my kids during separate visits have managed to lean over and partially fall in getting their shirt and some of their pants wet.  Something to keep in mind.  Kids always seem to find water.  This could pose a problem is you are planning on going somewhere after.  Much like Playtown Express this is geared for preschool children.


Pump It Up
http://www.pumpitupparty.com/ma/Shrewsbury/home-p1q167.htm

Shrewsbury


Length - 2 hours
Facility cost for up to 25 kids - $270 for weekend party

Additional costs, not required:To date I have only attended parties at Pump It Up, but I am considering it for my one son's 5th birthday in the spring.  Sometimes parents have added pizza with Pump It Up can provide, and cake and goodie bags are up to the parents.

Party Organization -    First the safety video, then 40 minutes in one arena, then 40 minutes in a second arena, and finally 40 minutes in the party room with help from the party coordinator.



Review - Pump It Up seems to provide the lowest rate per child that I have found.  It also offers cheaper rates if you book for a weekday, and even cheaper for a weekday morning.  The facility is nice, and the kids do have fun.  The first room has a bouncy house, an obstacle course, and a giant double slide.  All inflatable.  The second room has a giant single slide, a larger bouncy house with two levels, and a third bouncy house with a climbing wall and slide in it.  Again all inflatable. Pump it up also provides invitations and supplies (cups, plates, forks & napkins).  The equipment at Pump It Up is well kept and handles adults when they need to bounce or slide as well.  One thing I dislike, and I know this is minor is that there are the 2 air hockey tables (50 cents to play).  I realize kids like them but then you get a crowd around the air hockey table for younger parties and they should be enjoying the inflatables.  Silly I realize but, it does bug me a little.  The party room is fine, and they do a good job of handing out cake and food so parents aren't worrying about those logistics.


As I said above there are a couple of other parties I have attended.  Uno Chicago Grill, puts on a fun, make your own pizza party, that my older son loved.  The Boroughs YMCA also does parties but I have yet to attend them.  I am sure the rock wall there would be fun for a smaller group of kids...but they need to be at least 6 years old.  And of course you could refer to my earlier Blog on Mr. Kim Webster and just hire him to play at you home.  That is a great party in every regard, but you end up having to do the clean up.

All of the options above are good, and my kids have enjoyed each party.  It is hard to pick a favorite, but for the younger side of preschool (2 1/2 - 4) I would say Playtown Express is the best.  For the older side of preschool (4- 5 1/2) I am torn between Pump It Up and The Little Gym.  I have yet to host at Pump It Up so I will reserve that decision for a later time.  It is a long blog this time, but I hope someone finds some value.

3 comments:

  1. thank you - just needed this info!

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  2. Thank you for this it is soooooo helpful!

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  3. I appreciate the organization of kids. Was at a niece's birthday weekend and delighted in viewing the youthful ones jump everywhere in this inflatable bouncing castle.

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