Comparing Birthday Parties for Kids: Gymnastics Centre vs. McDonald’s

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?

Print Friendly, PDF & Email


  1. Nicole on July 21, 2017 at 6:08 am

    As my daughter grew older we did an experience day instead. She got 3 friends and we went out and did something together – swimming at the lake, hiking at a national park, and a fancy (for her) meal where they could order whatever they wanted off the menu.
    This was a big hit for her and the friends didn’t come with clean up mostly and made some memories

    • Echo on July 21, 2017 at 6:53 am

      Hi Nicole, that sounds terrific! We’ve done a couple of experience days, too, but just as a family. We visited the Calgary Zoo one year and the Birds of Prey Centre (when one was obsessed with owls) another year. Those are fun, and now that the kids are a bit older they could certainly have a few friends tag along.

  2. Lisa on July 21, 2017 at 7:31 pm

    We have had parties at McDonalds and they were totally fine. We have also done a gymnastics centre. More recently our son has preferred ball hockey parties at a rec centre – for the last one we paid an extra $25 to have a worker stay with the group for the whole time ( instead of just the first hour) and that was well worth it. I am hoping no more big parties though – son is now 8. Our other child hasn’t had a party for a few years. One year our son insisted on a home party because all his friends’ parties had been at home – even after hiring a superhero entertainer it was too much work for me and I vowed never again!

  3. Chloe on July 22, 2017 at 5:37 am

    We’ve done the hamster maze / ball pits place, the rock climbing centre, the trampoline park, hired a princess. There must have been more… My kids have gone to all these places for other kids plus the gymnastics centre, the YMCA, the indoor mini golf, the movie theatre and this really cool pirate adventure.

    I’m not too concerned about what other parents think,but I’m concerned about the message I send to my kids. So we don’t have a party with friends every year. We’ll always have a celebration as a family but the big parties with friends are not an every year occurrence.

    To keep costs down, we always time the party for the middle of the day so we can feed the kids a small snack (hummus, veggies, pita, fruit) and cake only. We’re vegan so all the places that don’t allow outside food are out for us and bonus, they’re generally less expensive places.

  4. Dan on July 22, 2017 at 10:31 am

    There’s definitely a bit of keeping up with the Joneses with birthday parties. Here in Calgary I find it’s even more extreme. I’ve heard of some families that go all out and spend hundreds (even thousands) on a birthday party. Designer decorations, expensive cupcakes, custom cake, hired entertainment in a pricey venue. I actually don’t mind the McD’s parties as they are simple and the kids always seem to be happy with it

  5. GYM on July 22, 2017 at 11:50 pm

    I’ve only been to my nephew’s and nieces birthday parties, they are WILD. So many children. I agree that the cost can be worth not having to clean up or having to hear 10 screaming kids running around the place and breaking things. My husband and I are a bit worried about the beginning of these “Big Birthday Parties” and definitely want to defer starting them as late as possible (e.g. school age sounds okay) for our own child on the way. Thanks for the breakdown. I used to love going to McDonalds for friends’ birthday parties as a child, my mom/dad were too frugal for me to have one for myself (imagine that!).

  6. Sarah on July 24, 2017 at 6:51 am

    We are dreading when our daughter starts JK this fall and sees what all the other kids have for parties. Up until this point, we have had simple dinner/cupcakes at Grandma’s house for both kids.

    We have friends with 4 boys, aged 11 and under. They have always done a small family party and then allowed the boys one friend to come on a special activity, just the b-day boy, friend and parents (leaving the brothers at home!). The boys seem to love it and understand to never expect the Big Party. We plan on adopting this method of celebration, saving our money for a great present/experience instead!

  7. QuattroDad on September 1, 2017 at 7:00 am

    We have 4 kids, and for us it’s usually an afternoon of field games in our large back yard, or toboganning and igloo building for the winter babies. Less driving, a longer break for the parents of invitees, and much cheaper for us.

    Our last party was a youth-driven campfire cookout and tent sleepover. Several of the kids told us it was their favourite party ever. It was pouring rain, kids didn’t care. Not much work to clean up either.

Leave a Comment

Join More Than 10,000 Subscribers!

Sign up now and get our free e-Book- Financial Management by the Decade - plus new financial tips and money stories delivered to your inbox every week.