I'm a freelance writer/photographer living in the East Village neighborhood of New York City.
Published September 14th 2010
Gone are the days of typical children's parties that revolved around pin-the-tail-on-the-donkey and a sheet cake. Today's children's parties are often based around a theme, which is captured by much more than printed paper goods featuring a beloved character.
Modern theme parties are all-encompassing. They are meant to offer children and young adults a memorable group experience, often revolving around a participatory event, such as a concert, a trip to a museum, or a similar away-from-home adventure. Below is a selection of some of New York City's most popular options for children's theme parties that offer parents a chance to bask in the glory while taking a back seat to the action.
The Children's Museum of Manhattan offers a wide selection of theme parties starting at $700 and up for 12 children. This venue is a terrific option for toddlers, especially those aged 4 and up. Each 90-minute party is based around a theme, such as the Wizard of Oz (ages 4 and up; the current hands-on exhibit runs until January 2011), the Inside the Story of Toys Party (4-8), the Step Into Ancient Greece Party (5-10), the Birthday Pageant (5-7), a Magic Show Party (5-10), and more. All parties include a staff of educators and musicians, invitations, a personalized cake from Cupcake Café, art instruction, pizza, juice, party favors, decorations, and free admission to the museum and all its hands-on goodness. Overnight parties are also available at an additional cost. Call Katie for more information, (212) 721-1223, X219.
Each weekend, the Cathedral of Saint John the Divine hosts medieval parties for children between the ages of 5 and 11. This is a perfect opportunity for little knights and maidens to dress up in costume! In a unique and special setting of the century-old cathedral, majestic in and of itself, children learn the art of creating a variety of "medieval" crafts, such as carving gargoyles, assembling stained glass collages, making brass rubbings, weaving on a loom, and learning to draw illuminated letters. The cathedral tour and related activities are followed by a medieval-styled banquet. Call (212) 932-7347 for specific information and pricing.
Among the city's most revered places to host a unique children's party is the American Museum of Natural History. At "A Night at the Museum Sleep-Over," children and young adults of all ages will be thrilled to access the museum after hours and on their own terms. Each party includes an evening snack and breakfast, a fossil fact-finding mission by flashlight, an IMAX film/space show, a live animal presentation or exhibit, and take-home activities for $129 per child. Cots are provided, though interested parents should consult the "necessary items to bring list" on the museum's website. (Note: Upcoming parties are hosted only on the following nights: 9/24, 10/8, 10/23, 11/6, 11/19, and 12/17; a small deposit is required to hold the date, call (212) 769-5570 for more information.)
Budding athletes ages 2 and up can blow out their candles at the 92nd Street Y, where children and teens host gymnastics parties, pool parties, and more. The 2-hour event is $595 for up to 12 children and includes access to a 2,500-square-foot gym, a gym-maze crawling structure, balance beams, uneven bars, and trained instructors (lifeguards cost an additional $100). Parties include gym access and instruction, invitations, and favors, but parents must provide food and decorations. Call (212) 415-5710 for details.
Chelsea Piers Sports and Entertainment Complex is NYC's number one place for the best sports-themed children's parties, with prices starting at $585 for up to 10 participants. Party packages that offer a number of extras are available, depending on your needs and whether or not you want to provide your own food and decorations. Party-goers can access a variety of activities including a 23,000-square foot gymnastics center, a rock-climbing wall, indoor playing fields, basketball courts, batting cages, an ice rink, and bowling center. For team sports parties, call (212) 336-6518; ice-skating (212) 336-6100; and bowling (212) 835-BOWL.
Club kids and little divas can dance the night away at Deb's Family Disco in midtown. These pricey parties start at $950 for 12 children, but have gotten rave reviews all over town. Themes include disco and princess parties, hip hop and High School Musical parties, as well as those with specific costumed-heroes. Base parties include access to the amazing nightclub and DJ (you can request all your favorites), a full meal, on-site sparkle artists who "glam-up" party-goers, several party leaders to keep the action moving, and personalized favors such as disco party necklaces. For those parents willing to go all out, plenty of extras are available, including inflatable jumping arenas, caricature artists, cotton candy machines, balloon sculptors, an ice cream sundae or crepe bar, costumed characters, custom cakes, and professional photography. Call (212) 586-7425 for more information.
Those seeking the spotlight can shine at their very own Make-a-Movie Party with acclaimed videographer Katherine Perry, formerly with CBS and Reading Rainbow. Perfect for at-home slumber parties, Perry comes to your home with costumes and props and directs your little ones in a 10-minute movie. Pricing starts at $450 for 10 children and themes include action/adventure, a detective story, a sci-fi adventure, or a rock video. Personalized Oscars and DVD copies are a nice touch, but they cost a little extra. Recommended for actors aged 8 and up; Call (212) 645-9487 for more information.
Creative types might like to host their very own Arty Party at one of NYC's Little Shop of Crafts shops, where each event begins with a group mural painting. Great for children aged 4 to 11, each party includes art instruction, supplies, personalized invitations, paper goods, balloons, pizza, juice, and cake. Party packages start at $580 for 10 children. Children can paint pottery or plaster items, learn to bead, or create mosaics or cuddly plush toys. Parents must attend if children are under age 4. Call (212) 531-2723 (westside) or (212) 717-6636 (eastside) for more information.
No matter where you host your event, planning is crucial. Keep parties at age-appropriate lengths (2-3 hours, max), offer refreshments that are appropriate for your guests (check on possible food allergies and restrictions), have a schedule of set activities to keep up the momentum, offer some take-home trinkets to remember the event, and make sure everyone goes home with a smile.