The Busy Parent’s Birthday Guide
We did the research on go-to party venues so you don’t have to.
Last December, I was in a pinch. Twenty-four hours before my son’s backyard, outdoor birthday party, the weather took a drastic turn. The forecast changed from a mild December day to sleet and freezing rain. Scrambling to find an alternative, I turned to the internet. It was full of lists with ideas, but the important details were missing: Was the place in our budget? Would it accommodate our friends and be age appropriate? Is it convenient for guests?
With these questions in mind, we present a list of birthday party ideas, including essential stats for each, to jump start your party planning so you can save your time for reading bedtime stories instead of researching birthday party venues. Remember, most places fill up fast, so plan to book in advance.
Cool factor: Nitrogen-made ice cream while you watch — an intersection of science and yumminess.
Details: Prices start at $215 for members and $235 for nonmembers with party size ranging from 20 guests — of which five adults are required — to $570 for members and $610 for nonmembers that includes up to 50 guests, ages 3 and older. Depending on party package selected, parties are held in the party room under the guidance of a partyologist for 60-90 minutes.
Who’s cooking? Cakes can be purchased through Discovery Place or bring your own.
Notes: Enjoy the museum after the party as general admission is included for all.
Cool factor: You can rent the museum, if you’re into that kind of thing. A $750 option gives you and your group exclusive access.
Details: Prices start at $195 for members and $215 for nonmembers for 90 minutes in the party room. Party sizes can range from 20 guests, 10 spots for children age 3-9 and 10 spots for adults, to 35 guests with a maximum of 15 children.
Who’s cooking? They provide lemonade and party ware. You bring snacks and cake, or pay them to supply a Ben & Jerry’s ice-cream cake.
Notes: You must book two weeks in advance. General museum admission is included for all in your party.
Cool factor: Like Discovery Place Nature, a $750 option gives you and your group exclusive access to the museum. It’s like a big indoor playground just for your group.
Details: Prices start at $195 for members and $215 for nonmembers, up to $750 to rent the museum. For children age 1-7, party size can range from 30 (12 children and 18 adults) up to 75 (35 children and 40 adults) for 90 minutes in the party room.
Who’s cooking? Cupcakes are available to order, or bring your own cake. Juice boxes are provided.
Notes: Theme party rooms are already decorated, so no work for mom and dad. And Museum admission is included for all guests.
Cool factor: Besides being in an actual hangar with airplanes kids can sit in, it is nearby one of Charlotte Douglas International Airport’s very active runways.
Details: Designed for ages 5-12, pricing ranges from $250-$275 for up to 25 people.
Who’s cooking? You are, but you can bring your own food or have food delivered from your favorite place.
Notes: Parties are available Saturdays at 11 a.m. and 2 p.m., or Sunday at 2 p.m.
Most of these options offer reduced rates for weekday birthday parties. The rates listed below are for weekend birthday parties.
Charlotte and Matthews
Cool factor: Jumping, bouncing and sliding, but this is more than your average bounce house.
Details: $199-$329 for a one-hour, 40-minute party with eight to 24 children age 2 and older with the option to pay for extra kids. Participants must be 34 inches tall.
Who’s cooking? Add $51 to $144 and BounceU provides your choice of pizza, wings, chicken fingers, snacks, cake and/or drinks. You can bring your own cake, but no other outside food or drinks permitted.
Note: There is no extension on time so make sure everyone is punctual for maximum enjoyment.
Gastonia, Matthews, Pineville and University City
Cool Factor: Indoor play center with slides, jumps and obstacle courses.
Details: $229-$359 for two hours with eight to 24 children, ages 3-12, with the option to pay for extra kids. There is a separate play area for children younger than 3.
Who’s cooking? They are! Each party guest gets two slices of pizza. Most packages include ice cream, but you bring cake. No outside food, including ice cream cakes are permitted.
Ballantyne, Huntersville and Southpark
Cool factor: Ball pit, “sausage” swing and a zip line.
Details: $275-$325 for members; $325-$375 for nonmembers for up to 16 children for 90 minutes to two hours of play. All ages are welcome, but children age 2 and under must be joined by a parent in the play area.
Who’s cooking? You are. My Gym supplies plates, napkins, forks and a tablecloth
Notes: Call to learn more about bringing the party to your house. Prices start at $150 for 11 kiddos and one teacher.
Myers Park, Ballantyne and Huntersville/Lake Norman|
Cool factor: Lego-based activities with theme options like Dora the Explorer and Go Diego Go, plus music and games.
Details: $250-$280 for members, $275-$305 for nonmembers for up to 13 children (ages 1-12) for 90 minutes. Additional guests can be added for $10 per child.
Who’s cooking? They cover cake or cupcakes, and a juice box.
Notes: The Little Gym can also handle a gift registry if you choose to open gifts at the party and can provide personalized e-invitations.
Greater Charlotte YMCA Locations
Cool factor: Personalize the theme to your child’s interests: swimming, gymnastics, sports, princesses, ballerinas, tea parties and cooking. The Lake Norman YMCA has a water trampoline add-on for ages 5 and older.
Details: Prices range based on party theme and YMCA location. Most parties are priced based on 12 guests and two hours in length.
Who’s cooking? Depends. Most locations provide all you need to serve cake that you bring. Some locations may provide pizza and juice boxes for an additional fee.
Notes: You do not have to be a YMCA member to use YMCA facilities.
Charlotte, University City area and Lake Wylie
Cool factor: A nature presentation with nature center staff that may include live animals and hands-on learning, plus a project kids can take home.
Details: A one-hour program with two additional hours of facility use costs $185 for 16 children, ages 4-12.
Who’s cooking? You are. Bring your own snacks, cake, drinks and party supplies.
Notes: Outdoor shelters at parks also can be reserved for outdoor party use. Fees vary.
For the Love of Sports
Bank of America Stadium, uptown Charlotte
Cool factor: Tour Panthers Stadium, meet Sir Purr, dress and play in Sir Purr’s Play Den — and outdoor area where kids can suit up like a player and practice kicking and passing skills.
Details: Geared to children age 5-12, $445 gets you two hours for up to 20 children and up to 40 adults. For an extra $50 the TopCats will make an appearance.
Who’s cooking? You are. You must supply your own food, beverages and paper products.
Notes: For a more affordable option, if attending a Panthers game, you can request Sir Purr to come to your seat during the game to wish your little one a special happy birthday.
BB&T Ballpark, uptown Charlotte
Cool factor: All the perks of the uptown stadium plus a personal shout out on the video board, a free Knights T-shirt and special lanyard for the birthday child.
Details: Parties are scheduled during Knights games. $300 gets field box seats for up to 12 guests of any age. For an additional $40, the birthday boy or girl can get a personal visit from Homer the Dragon and other memorabilia signed by Homer.
Who’s cooking? They are! Personal pizzas from Dominoes and soft-serve yogurt from Fuzzy Peach for each guest.
Notes: You can bring your own birthday cake.
Party Your Way
A classic at-home party is great for party people who like to customize their own themes and food. It also means there’s no push to meet a guest quota. If you want to take the birthday soiree up a notch, consider these rental companies and entertainment providers.
Bounce it Out
• ABT Events/A Bounceable Time. Most rentals run between $195-$255 for the type of inflatable that provides a large bounce area plus a slide. You can even rent a fire truck.
• Jumping Jacks Party. Rentals starts at $155 for an inflatable bounce house. Choose from character themes like Paw Patrol, Justice League or Mickey Mouse.
A Magical Touch
• Magic Barry. $175 for 45 minutes of entertainment and magic for children. Prices and the show’s length of time can vary to fit the parents’ needs.
• Fun-Filled Entertainment. $150-$200 for birthday parties. Can include 30 minutes of magic with a rabbit at the end and 30 minutes of face painting.
• Imagination Clubhouse of Charlotte. Invite favorite characters and mascots to the party for $80-$240 depending on the number of characters in attendance.
• Enchanted Elegance/Heroic Ventures. Voted best birthday party entertainer in Charlotte Parent’s 2018 Readers’ Favorites, let a favorite Disney princess, superhero or Star Wars character make a special appearance. Prices start at $175.
Libby Vish Carl is a mom, attorney, runner and writer at libbycarl.com.