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Twin Cities Birthday Party Venues: Good Enough Stuff


by Erin Garner

The invitation said it would be a rainbow themed party, so I was surprised to arrive at my friend's daughter's third birthday party to see pink and black balloons. My friend was so excited about finding a place that would host her daughter's party, but her excitement turned to disappointment when she arrived 20 minutes before the party to find a total lack of rainbow colors.

The activities leader, who was included in the $100 party fee, could not engage the children. This is no surprise considering she tried to lead 1-4 year-olds in a color mixing activity! How many one year-olds get the concept of red and yellow makes orange--not many, if any! This is what the center called an, "age-appropriate art project." (My two-year old is still learning her colors --color mixing isn't even on her radar.)

There was no freezer for ice cream and no forks, which I guess the center's owner doesn't believe in--she said she never has forks, only knives and spoons. There was one small plate of animal crackers, one small plate of pretzels, a container of apple juice and no beverages for adults. Although, they did offer a pot of coffee--for $9.50!

So, you don't want your kid's birthday party to turn out like this? Here are some tips to make sure yours goes off without a hitch (and not without forks):

  • Do your research. Visit the location, get references, and know what you get for the money.
  • Get it in writing. Make sure all the details are written down and agreed upon before the party. Have the center list exactly what they include and how much of each item. You don't want to end up with 10 animal crackers for 20 kids! My friend made all of her daughter's party plans over the phone. I can't imagine how "rainbow" balloons got translated into black and pink!
  • Come prepared. If the place doesn't provide a freezer, bring a cooler full of ice for the ice cream. Make sure you have a knife to cut the cake and anything else the location doesn't provide. Don't be fooled by "all inclusive"--their idea of inclusive might mean only spoons for your birthday cake!
  • Have a back-up plan. On one of my daughter's favorite cartoons, the character showed up at her birthday party location to find the place had flooded overnight. While this is unlikely, you never know what might happen. And if you have 20 toddlers ready for a party and no place for the party, you have a problem. This is especially important if you plan for an outdoor party.
  • Don't sweat the small stuff. My friend was pretty disappointed about her daughter's party. But, it was clear the kids could care less that there were only black and pink balloons and spoons to eat their cake. They were more interested in chasing each other around the room and blowing their party whistles (while the games leader wandered around trying to get them to do stupid activities they clearly didn't want to do).

Assuming my friend's party didn't sound good to you, here are some suggestions for your "Good Enough" birthday bash:

Pump It Up (www.pumpitupparty.com) is filled with inflatable play structures and has several metro locations. Their parties start at $150 for 14 kids for weekdays and $180 for weeknights. Their parties include 1 hour in a supervised party arena, ½ hour in a decorated party room. For an additional fee they will provide a cake, helium balloons, party favors and pizza.

Roller Garden in St. Louis Park has three different birthday packages ranging in price from $99 to $139 for 10 people. Each package includes roller skate rentals, reserved table and utensils, food (including ice cream) and a few extras depending on the package. Roller Garden has been doing this for years (I know because I had several parties here when I was a child and that was a long time ago), so they know what they are doing. Cheap Skate in Coon Rapids and Skateville in Burnsville also host parties.

The Little Gym in Edina will lead your kids in movement challenges. They have vaults, high- and low-beams, air track tumbling and other gymnastics equipment. Your kids are guaranteed to be ready for a nap after this! They provide invitations (addressed, stamped and mailed!), set-up and clean-up, paper goods, beverages, balloons and will even give you a gift registry (listing what each child gave as a gift) if your child opens up their gifts during the party. You will need to bring the food and cake. Their parties start at $200 (members) or $225 (non-members) for 14 children (birthday child and siblings are free and not included in this count) for 1.5 hours. They charge $12 for each extra child.

The 3rd Lair Skatepark is the spot for a cool skateboarding party, but this one will cost you and includes a few minor inconveniences. I would recommend this for a small group. You can rent out their party room for $55 per hour, which includes free pad equipment rental (so your kids won't get too scraped up), a party favor bag, and utensils. You can even arrange for a skateboarding instructor for $45/hour. If the kids don't have skateboards, they rent them for $6 (this is where the cost starts to add up). Additionally, all kids need to have a waiver on file and there is a charge associated with this (this is where the inconvenience factor rises). It costs $5 for a permanent waiver, which needs to be signed by a parent or guardian at the skate park (or it needs to be notarized). For $2, anyone over 18 years can sign a one-day waiver saying they are liable for anything resulting from the named individual's use of the park. Frankly, I don't think I'd want that level of responsibility at a birthday party. Despite all these factors, this would make for a very original party.

The Minnesota Children's Museum provides a full-service party. For $160 (members) or $185 (non-members) they provide invitations and admission to the museum for up to 20 kids (1 adult supervisor for every 5 kids required), a personalized cake, ice cream, juice, tableware, and a reserved table in the party space. For $265 (members) or $315 (non-members) you get 1.5 hours in a private party room with a birthday party host who will lead the kids in museum-themed activities, which are designed for specific age groups. For additional fees you can make your party even easier - they'll provide party favors ($5 per kid) and pizza ($10 per pizza).

The Science Museum of Minnesota also provides a full-service party. Their parties include invitations and admission to the museum, use of a private room for 1.5 hours, decorations and paper goods, party host who leads the kids in one hour of theme-related activities, personalized cake and punch and a theme-related take-home project (such as fizzy dragon eyeballs or a weather instrument). Their parties start at $155 and go up depending on the number of kids and membership status.

The Como Zoo has themed parties that include visits with animals or tours of exhibits. Their basic package includes 1.5 hours in one of their birthday party classrooms at the visitor center. For 45 minutes, your kids will be lead in an educational program and interactive activities. The remaining 45 minutes is all about the celebration. They will decorate the room according to the theme. Their basic party costs $150 for up to 15 guests ($3 for each additional guest). For $200 for up to 15 guests ($5 for each additional guest) they will provide pizza, beverages, cake and paper products.

Erin Erickson Garner is a writer and a specialist in maternal and child health. She currently is home with her two young children except for Saturdays, when she and her mom co-host the Good Enough MomsTM radio show on WFMP-Radio, FM107.1 in Minneapolis/St. Paul.

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