Tuesday, July 26, 2016

Birthday Parties at Tommy K Play

This review of parties at Tommy K Play comes from Robin Farr. She's a local writer, mom, and general amazing woman.

When my almost-8-year-old told me he wanted a birthday party at Tommy K Play, I felt a little uncertain about trying to manage a group of kids in there. I'll say this up front for other parents who might have the same concern: it was a great place for a party.

Birthday Parties at Tommy K Play


AGES

My 3-year-old loves Tommy K and is big enough to climb on most of the structure; only once or twice have I had to get in there and give him a boost. My now-8-year-old adores it, obviously, and it's a great place to have kids burn off some energy. The North location is larger than the south location, and has more play options for kids over 8 years.


Birthday Parties at Tommy K Play in Calgary



WHAT YOU GET

Parties are 2.5 hours, which is just about perfect. It gives the kids lots of time to play with enough time to do cake and presents too. You start by playing for an hour, then you have access to a party room and the play area for the next 90 minutes.

Each party room has a TV/DVD, which we didn't use, and they also provide place settings and room decorations. This is a huge plus in my book, as I am not a Pinterest mom. I loved the festive atmosphere, and I didn't have to spend money on kids' birthday decorations.

One of the things I loved the most was that you get an event host. They check everyone in, make sure you have food when you need it (pizza, etc. requires pre-ordering) and, the very best part, they clean up.





COST

You pay a registration fee, which varies by season and number of guests. All costs are outlined on the party page on the Tommy K Play website. Admission for the birthday kid is free.


Birthday Parties at Tommy K Play in Calgary



TELL ME MORE! 

Tommy K Play has one of the best play structures I've seen. It's big, with lots of different parts for kids to climb up, on and through. We were at the northwest location, where there's also roller race track, a trampoline / basketball game called Jumpshot and an attraction called TimeFreak that involves a red team competing against a green team to hit randomly flashing buttons on the wall. If that articulate description doesn't tell you exactly what's involved, there's also a video on their website.

For an additional cost, you can also get access to the K-Zone, which has laser tag and a climbing wall.


Birthday Parties at Tommy K Play in Calgary



SHOULD YOU BOOK IT?

I think you should, and that's coming from someone who is not a huge fan of being in a place with screaming kids for 2 hours. It was easy enough to keep track of all the kids with the closed circuit TVs, and they also enabled me to retreat to the party room and relax when being in the middle of it all overloaded my senses.

The kids loved it, the pizza was good, and any party where I don't have to clean up is a win in my book.


Birthday Parties at Tommy K Play in Calgary


Birthday Parties at Tommy K Play in Calgary


Birthday Parties at Tommy K Play in Calgary




Full disclosure: this party was complimentary and offered in order to facilitate a review.






Friday, July 22, 2016

Birthday Parties at Best Western Plus Port O' Call Hotel (Waves Waterpark)

Today's post about parties at Waves Waterpark comes from travel writer and mom to three girls, Sarah Deveau.


Who wants to be responsible for the safety of a dozen kids at a busy pool for a birthday party? Not this mom! When Jacqueline turned seven, she begged for a pool party for her birthday. Our local pool is a large recreational centre facility, and I had concerns about being able to watch all the kids at the same time. The solution? Booking Waves Water Park at the Best Western Plus Port O’ Call Hotel.


Birthday Parties at Waves Waterpark (Best Western Port O' Call) in Calgary - awesome swimming parties in YYC!


Waves Water Park is an 8,000-square-foot aquatic adventureland with a pair of giant water slides, a wading pool and two hot tubs. It’s big, but not too big. We could easily keep an eye on all of the kids at the same time, and they had the run of the place.


Birthday Parties at Waves Waterpark (Best Western Port O' Call) in Calgary - awesome swimming parties in YYC!


The wading pool is set behind the larger pool, and has a mini slide and looks like a little lagoon. We had brought our own aquatic mermaid tails and the girls loved posing in them down in the toddler pool.


Birthday Parties at Waves Waterpark (Best Western Port O' Call) in Calgary - awesome swimming parties in YYC!


The pool was just the right temperature for the adults who chose to swim and the ambient air temperature was fine for sitting in your swimsuit, but you could also sit on the pool deck in one of the many chairs in street clothes and enjoy watching the kids too.


Birthday Parties at Waves Waterpark (Best Western Port O' Call) in Calgary - awesome swimming parties in YYC!


Ages

The kids at our party ranged in age from 5 to 12, and they all had a great time. Keep in mind that there is no lifeguard on duty, so they recommend at least one adult per every five kids. There were plenty of towels and kid-sized life jackets available. The kids were permitted to go down the slide in the life jackets, which was great (some pools we've visited don't allow this). If there are a lot of weak or non-swimmers in the group, you might want to increase the number of adults in the pool with the kids.


Birthday Parties at Waves Waterpark (Best Western Port O' Call) in Calgary - awesome swimming parties in YYC!


Cost

The cost is $24.95 + 17% gratuity + 5% GST per child, with a minimum of ten kids. The fee includes an hour and a half in the pool, a fully equpipped fitness facility for changing into dry clothing, and then an hour in a private party room for food, cake and presents.


Birthday Parties at Waves Waterpark (Best Western Port O' Call) in Calgary - awesome swimming parties in YYC!


What You Get

Party packages include: one and a half hours in the water park, one full hour in our private party room overlooking the water park, a meal and beverage, and a gift for the birthday boy or girl.

There are four options for the kids meals – chicken fingers, personal pizzas, cheeseburgers or hot dogs. We chose chicken fingers and curly fries for the kids' meals, and could have added adult meals to our order at an additional charge. I was glad we hadn't though – the kids meals were generously sized, and we just snuck food off of their plates. The party also included two pitchers of pop and jugs of water.


Birthday Parties at Waves Waterpark (Best Western Port O' Call) in Calgary - awesome swimming parties in YYC!


The room also had plates, napkins and cutlery, and cake cutting and serving supplies. We brought our own mermaid cake from Avenue Cakery and Bakeshoppe in Airdrie, our go-to spot for decadently delicious, but affordable, birthday cakes.


Birthday Parties at Waves Waterpark (Best Western Port O' Call) in Calgary - awesome swimming parties in YYC!


Tell Me More About This Place

Waves Water Park is available for use by hotel guests, who also have access to a second, heated indoor pool not accessible to party guests. We held our party on a Saturday afternoon from 2pm – 4:30pm, and it wasn't busy at all.


Birthday Parties at Waves Waterpark (Best Western Port O' Call) in Calgary - awesome swimming parties in YYC!


When we booked our package we were encouraged to come early, and our party host Ann gave us access to the party room 15 minutes prior to our party so the kids could drop off presents and say their hellos and be ready in their swimwear for the party's official start time. You will have access to the party room a full hour before the party so that you can drop off presents and decorate (no holes in the walls, please).


Birthday Parties at Waves Waterpark (Best Western Port O' Call) in Calgary - awesome swimming parties in YYC!


I do suggest that the party family should bring music for the party room. It would have been fun to have had Disney music or other popular music playing while the kids ate

Also, I should mention that the Waves Water Park offers a sports team wind-up party that features similar time in the pool and party room, with a pizza buffet feature. I can see how that would be a huge hit with families at the end of a season!



Full Disclosure: Best Western Plus Port O' Call Hotel offered the party complimentary for review, but Sarah would have said it was awesome even if she had paid for it. Because, it was seriously awesome.




Monday, June 20, 2016

Gifts for Teachers: What They REALLY Want

School's (almost) out for summer, and I need gifts for my kids' amazing teachers.

I searched for ideas on Pinterest, but I felt bad about myself almost immediately and gave up. The printables, the hand-made crafts, the candy, the highlighters - what do teachers REALLY want?

Luckily, I have several friends who ARE teachers. They gave me the low-down, and will remain ANONYMOUS because I asked them to be brutally honest. Their answers will surprise you!

Gifts for Teachers: What They REALLY Want (their answers will surprise you!)
First, ALL of the teachers said they don't expect a gift at the end of the year. Remember - they were speaking anonymously, so I actually do believe them. 

If you're going to be awesome and get something anyway, here are some tips.


What Teachers DO NOT WANT

  • Candy: "Every year, one of our teachers collects all the unwanted chocolate and takes it down to the drop-in centre to donate to the homeless."
  • Mugs: "Our staffroom kitchen is overflowing with coffee mugs."
  • Candles and other trinkets: no one needs more of that.
  • Perfume, bath stuff, and anything smelly: I have done this. I have given smelly stuff to teachers. I should have asked sooner!


What Teachers REALLY Want


A Note


One teacher said, "It's the notes from parents and kids I treasure. I keep some every year to pull out and read when I'm having a bad day." Be specific and sincere: 
  • Talk about a time when the teacher did something exceptional or special for your child. 
  • Try: "I'll always remember the time you..." 
  • Or: "It meant so much to us when you..."

Gift Cards

  • Safe bets are gifts cards from Starbucks, Tim Hortons, or Indigo.

Wine

  • Parents are apparently hesitant to give wine, but let's face it - your kids' teachers probably need a drink.
  • Don't worry - they won't crack it open until the kids are gone.

Hand-made Cards

  • Home-made cards from the kids are treasured for years.
  • One teacher said, "I have a pick-me-up file filled with cards and notes."


One of the teachers I spoke to had this to say: "Ending the year is actually hard for most teachers emotionally. We've come to know and love our students really well and we will never share their lives in the same way again. Seeing them move on is somewhat bittersweet: you're happy for them to grow up and move on to bigger & better things, but you'll miss them, too."

SNIFF. Now I want to buy teachers ALL the presents. They are awesome. Any other great ideas?



Monday, June 6, 2016

Serious Fun with Kitchen Kids

My friend Sarah (of Doing All the Things) recently paid full price for a party with Kitchen Kids, and she loved it so much, she decided to review it for Best Birthdays! Thank you, Sarah!



Me: “So what do you do?”

New friend at a party: “I host culinary birthday parties for kids based on competitive cooking shows.”

Me: “Take all my money and come do my daughter's birthday please!”





My eldest daughter, a selective eater, is nevertheless entranced by competitive Iron Chef-style cooking shows. When I told her I had booked a Kitchen Kids party for her 11th birthday that would involve timed challenges and a winner, she was thrilled.

Company founder Rachel Fugate throws kid-friendly food competition parties in your home, in the backyard or in a community centre. Parents choose the menu ahead of time and buy the ingredients,
and Rachel does the rest.





And the rest is a lot! Rachel showed up a little before the party with everything the girls would need, including measuring cups, bowls, knives, cutting boards, etc., which she set up around the island in individual work stations.

We had decided ahead of time to make smoothies and crepes. Smoothies were up first - the girls had one minute to choose their ingredients before Rachel instructed them on safe knife skills and let them prep their smoothies.





After a round of tasting they voted anonymously for their favourite before moving on to crepe making.

The girls took their time here, making their crepes from a standard recipe, cooking them then trying out their plating abilities. I think a few of them ended up learning that there is such a thing as too much whipped cream and icing sugar.





They voted again, and the winning girl was thrilled to receive a cookbook as her prize (provided by Kitchen Kids).

The girls dispersed to run off the sugar, and Rachel whisked the dirty dishes away in no time.






The details

Parties cost $250 for eight participants. Cooking-themed loot bags, with items like measuring spoons, cutting boards and recipe cards, start at $10 per bag.

We chose smoothies and crepes for our theme, but you can also choose from paninis, pizzas, tacos, salads, wraps and more.





Full Disclosure: Sarah paid full price for this party and it was worth every penny.





Saturday, May 28, 2016

Birthday Parties at Calaway Park

One of the best things about summertime in Calgary is Calaway Park. And they have a NEW birthday party program this year!!

Birthday Parties at Calaway Park

Cost is often a deciding factor in party bookings, so let's look at that first.

Price 

Parties at Calaway start at $269 +gst. That may sound like a lot, but let's break it down. For that price, you get:
  • 8 admissions (inc. birthday child) - kids 7 and up are $36 each - that's $288 ALREADY. 
  • Pizza and drinks - this would cost at least $20 outside the park.
  • Birthday hats and prizes for all guests - let's say this is another $20.
  • A "comeback" pass for the birthday child - $36.
  • A party host who will take care of set-up AND clean-up for you - priceless. 
That adds up to... hold on, let me get my calculator. OKAY, it's $364. Plus you don't have to clean your house!! That alone is worth, like, $200 to me. 

You can also get a smaller party package for $179 - that gets you 8 admissions and cake/gift storage, but you don't get food or the Birthday Club House. Calaway IS fine with you bringing a picnic to help keep costs down, though!

With both packages, you also get a big yellow button for the birthday child that has their name on it. Ride operators are trained to greet the birthday child by name AND wish them happy birthday. Sometimes, they'll even get everyone in line to sing Happy Birthday! This would make any kid feel special.

Birthday Parties at Calaway Park


What You Get

In addition to everything above, if you book the larger party package, you also get to use the NEW Birthday Club House at Calaway for an hour. It's a really nice area, set apart from the rest of the park by a little lake on one side, and lots of trees and a mini golf course on the other. It's far enough from everything that it's less noisy and hectic, but still close enough to be convenient.

Birthday Parties at Calaway Park


The Club House has several picnic tables where the kids can open presents and gorge themselves on pizza. The view is really nice - this is a great place to take some photos of the kids.

Birthday Parties at Calaway Park


When you are finished at the Club house, Calaway will store all your presents and gear while the kids have a blast on the rides. You just pick everything up on your way out of the park!


Things I Love About Calaway Park

OMG you guys, I love it there. I have been going to Calaway Park for almost my entire life. And I have photo evidence. Below, you will see me with my sister on the boat ride, circa 1987. On the right, my own kids on the same ride, last week.

Birthday Parties at Calaway Park

Here's why I love it so much:

1) There's something for everyone.

There is a giant sign when you go into the park where you can measure all the kids in your party. If they are very different heights, you can break them up into two groups so that the smaller kids don't have to wait while big kids go on big rides.

BUT there is lots to do for kids of any age. My son is 19 months old, and he can go on loads of rides (often with a parent - BONUS, you get to ride too).

Birthday Parties at Calaway Park



2) There is an abundance of seating, AND tons of shade.

You don't have to elbow other people out of the way if you want to rest or cool off. The park is actually beautifully landscaped, with great big trees everywhere. There are benches near every ride, and many of them are shaded. There are also lots of places to sit and eat - we bought lunch right at noon, and we had no trouble finding a table.

Birthday Parties at Calaway Park


3) Mountains!

How many amusement parks have a mountain view? I did a very scientific study that says ONLY THIS ONE.*

* Scientific study consisted of asking my three-year-old.

You have a gorgeous mountain view ON THE RIDES. It's pretty awesome. You can kind of see the mountains in the picture below. You can also see that Calaway Park has excellent puddles (BRING EXTRA CLOTHES).

Birthday Parties at Calaway Park


4) The people are nice.

I estimate that Calaway Park's staff is 98% teenagers. At certain food establishments ALSO staffed largely by teenagers, I've become pretty used to surly service. But the people at Calaway are unfailingly cheerful and friendly. My husband actually worked here as a teenager, and he said it was a really fun place to work.

Birthday Parties at Calaway Park


5) The FOOD.

I love mini donuts. I also love giant pretzels, cotton candy, and churros. The hot dogs and burgers are good, too!  Um, I eat a lot at Calaway Park.

Birthday Parties at Calaway Park

If you have a toddler-sized person, be sure to buy a churro and give it to him. It will be as tall as him, and hilarious.

Birthday Parties at Calaway Park
See? My mouth is full of pretzel in this picture.

6) The shows (included with admission).

If your kids need a break from all the awesome rides, Calaway Park has a 3D theatre and live stage shows. We saw the Storybook High show, where the finale is a mash-up of "Let It Go" and "Defying Gravity." When the music started, EVERY kid in the audience gasped audibly. It was awesome.

Birthday Parties at Calaway Park

The stage shows have a lot of singing and dancing, and are very entertaining. They always get the kids in the audience up and dancing too, which is adorable.

TIP: The stage is right next to a food vendor, so if you are hungry, you can buy some food and nab a seat. Then the kids can eat while they wait. We arrived about ten minutes before the show, which was plenty of time. Even if you end up at the back, all the kids run to the front anyhow.


7) The Games.

I was raised with a healthy suspicion of midway games, but they're a bit different at Calaway Park. First, at a couple of them, your child is GUARANTEED to get a prize (the signs make it clear if this is the case). Second, the midway staffers are nice (see Reason 4 that I love Calaway Park). They don't hassle me like carnies do. And they WANT your kid to win.

Case in point: we paid for my daughter to have three tries at breaking balloons in this midway game. She started on the ground and instantly threw all of her bean bags. All of them came up short. The staff member handed all of the bean bags back to her, and put her up on the little counter. She tried again, and bang bang! She got a prize.

Birthday Parties at Calaway Park

She did it again and won another prize for her little brother. She is three and a half. If she can do it, most kids should be able to win something here.


8) It's so much fun.

This is kind of a given, but really - every time I go, my cheeks hurt from smiling so much.

Birthday Parties at Calaway Park

We were here on a Saturday. THE NEXT DAY, my daughter asked to go back again. Looks like we're buying season passes next year!




Full Disclosure: This post is sponsored by Calaway Park. BUT I mean every word I say. This place is totally awesome, and I'd have a party here even if they weren't working with me.


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