Like many parents of school-aged children, our kids regularly attend or get invited to birthday parties for their friends and classmates. We’ve noticed more and more of these birthday parties for kids are being held at an all-in-one facility such as a gymnastics centre, trampoline park, or other play centre. The children play run around like crazy for an hour and then retreat to a private party room to open presents and eat cake.

Although we had attended several of these parties over the years, we had never considered renting a facility and hosting A Big Birthday Party for one of our own children. This spring, when our oldest daughter turned eight, we decided to give it a try.

We looked into the cost of renting such a facility and found prices ranged anywhere between $150 and $450(!), each with various rules around the number of children that could attend and whether or not we could bring in our own food.

Renting a Gymnastics Centre

Not thrilled with the price tag, but faced with the alternative of hosting 10 kids at our house, supervising an afternoon full of activities, not to mention the clean up afterwards, we caved and decided to book one of the gymnastics facilities nearby.

The cost was $185 for one-hour of activities – led and supervised by a gymnastics coach – plus one-hour in the party room for up to 10 children. We ended up with 12 children at the party and got charged $7 each for the two extra kids.

We spent an additional $70 on snacks, cake, decorations, and party favours. There was a fridge and microwave on-site, and the staff cleaned up after us. Total cost = $269.

Gymnastics Birthday Party

This birthday party experience was pretty good! We were able to come in early and get the party room set-up, and then, while the kids did their gymnastics thing, my wife and I just visited with a few other parents that stuck around. Two hours went by quickly, parents picked-up their kids, and we got out of there just as another party was about to start. Did I mention NO CLEAN UP?

The only downside was the cost. $269 is a lot of money to spend on a birthday party. Plus, we still had to get her a present!

McDonald’s Birthday Party

One month later our youngest daughter turned five and, with her sister’s gymnastics party fresh in her mind, this girl had designs on A Big Birthday Party of her own. Mom and Dad had other ideas.

A friend suggested we hold the party at McDonald’s. Kids love the Golden Arches and, best of all, there’s no cost to rent the space. Simply call ahead to let the restaurant know how many people are in your group and they’ll reserve tables and make sure you have priority at the play centre. We decided to go for it.

McDonald's Birthday PartyOn the day of the party we arrived early to claim the tables around the play centre before the lunch rush, but were disappointed to see that our tables were not reserved. Nevertheless, the manager on duty quickly rectified the situation.

12 invitations were sent, 15 kids showed up (older siblings). The kids played for 30 minutes or so while I used the automated kiosk to order their Happy Meals. It was a bit chaotic trying to get all the orders straight, but the food (mostly) came out correctly and the toys were a big hit.

Happy Meals each cost $3.99, plus tax, so we spent $62.84 to feed the children. We bought a birthday cake from Safeway for $25 and brought it in for dessert. Add another $10 for balloons and decorations and altogether we spent less than $98 on A Big Birthday Party at McDonald’s.

The Verdict on Big Birthday Parties for Kids

I’ll admit I was a little worried what other parents would think of our decision to host a birthday party at McDonald’s. When compared to these other high-end play centres I thought it might be perceived that we were ‘cheaping out’ by choosing the Golden Arches.

To my surprise, everyone loved the idea! Most parents even stuck around to visit and have lunch themselves. Those concerned about healthier options on the menu simply substituted hamburgers with chicken wraps, French fries with apple slices, and pop with milk.

Parents constantly feel pressure to keep up with the Joneses, and it’s become a growing trend to throw Big Birthday Parties for your children and their friends. But as my experience has shown, you don’t need to break the bank to show these kids (and their parents) a good time.

Still, maybe next year we can just pin the tail on the donkey and call it a day.

Parents: What has been your experience with these big birthday parties for kids? Is this also a growing trend in your area?

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