Yes, I know it sounds boring (and, if you don't have much space, it could be a nightmare) but some of our best parties have been in our backyard.
Provide some bubble-blowers, treasure hunts, and the like, and energetic children love burning off steam running around the yard. When my sons were little (under five), games like What's the Time Mr Wolf and Pin the Tail on the Donkey were party favourites. One of our friends organised a game of Capture the Flag for his son's back-yard party and my boys still remember it as one of the best parties ever.
Downsides? A backyard party is not necessarily any cheaper than going out by the time you buy prizes and food for a hungry bunch of kids and any parents who stay. You also need to be careful how many and how old your party guests are. One of our scariest moments was when we had 20 Grade 2 boys dressed as pirates, no other parents in attendance, and the kids started a full-scale sword fight! We got the treasure hunt going and subdued them fast, but it was touch and go there for a while.
Parks are another great party venue for kids up to about ten years of age. Froggy Playground at Orleigh Park in West End was a favourite when my sons were small, but most suburbs have a park nearby that works. Gregory Park near Milton State School and Hercules Park at Hamilton are other good ones for parties. I recommend avoiding big, popular parks because it's too hard to keep track of the kids there.
For small children, all you really need is a playground and a table, ideally with a shelter shed. For older kids, you may not even need that. One of our most successful parties was for my older son's eighth birthday. He's a soccer nut, so we took an esky, a card table, a soccer ball and 10 other boys to the park for a game of soccer. They played for half an hour, had a drink and some fruit, played another half an hour, had some birthday cake and went home. Everybody was happy and some dads and mums joined in the game too.
Downsides? Park parties can be a disaster if it rains, so you need a fallback plan. On the plus side, there's minimal preparation and cleanup.
South Bank Parklands have lots of different options for birthday parties. If you only want to take two or three kids, it's not too expensive to take everybody to the movies at the Cineplex, and then buy them sushi or an ice-cream afterwards.
For my older son's ninth birthday, we took him and one friend to the movies, then on the Wheel of Brisbane. The wheel was a bit expensive ($35 for two children and an adult), but it was a really special treat. He's also been to a friend's party at South Bank where they visited Max Brenner Chocolate Cafe and then swam in the lagoons.
Downsides? Getting a parking spot can be hard for parents, and it can be a challenge keeping track of younger kids in the busy parklands precinct.
Council swimming pools
Pool parties rock
My younger son is a December baby, so his birthday is generally hot. He had a wonderful sixth birthday party at Yeronga Swimming Pool, which books out areas for birthday parties, complete with barbecues and party packages if you want them.
If you really want to splash out, you can even hire one of the smaller pools for your exclusive use, and it doesn't cost as much as you might think (visit the Yeronga website for current prices). The Chermside Water Park (which has big slides) also does good party deals.
Many other pools also hire areas for parties, or you can just rock up and find yourself a space. I've reviewed my picks of the best pools for kids in a separate article on Weekend Notes.
Downsides? It's a big responsibility to watch children at the pool, so I'd have plenty of other parents along if you're going to do this one.
As my kids grew older, their expectations for birthday parties grew. After going to a friend's party at Laserforce (a centre offering live-action laser tag), my older son asked to have one too. Since then, we've had four Laserforce birthday parties, and my sons have loved every one.
Laserforce isn't cheap - parties start from $23 per head - but it is something different and definitely a party with a wow factor. I've talked about it in more detail in my Laserforce review for Weekend Notes.
Downsides? The costs can add up (especially if your group gets to 10 or more), the party room is always noisy, and Laserforce can be hot in summer. But we've survived it unscathed and gone back for more every time.
I love the public parks. You will need to get there early, because it will surprise you just how many others are competing for the same space you would like to use! When I had my daughter's party, there were SIX other functions in the same park!!! 1. Be organised 2. Arrive early to avoid disappointment and secure a BBQ/Shelter 3. Decorate your space 4. Have fun!
Martial Arts Queensland - Toowong
Fantastic professional full time facility. Martial Arts Queensland have parties which run for 2 hours with 2 instructors. The instructors keep the kids completely entertained, meaning you can relax and enjoy. The kids get changed into martial arts uniforms which really adds to the experience. The birthday child gets to cut the cake with a sword (they think it is very cool) and you don't have to clean up at the end. Oh! and party invitations are included. The kids have an absolute ball and the parents have just as much fun watching. Ideal for primary aged children, but I believe they have had all the way up to 40 year olds. Definitely worth checking out. www.maqld.com)