There’s nothing like our own child’s birthday party to bring out the inner Kardashian in all of us.
While back in the day a trip to the local leisure centre followed by a burger at Wimpy was considered the height of entertainment, today it can seem that if your themed décor isn’t worthy of its own Pinterest board you may as well commit social suicide.
But while there will always be the types who can afford to rent out the Burj Al Arab’s private beach and give away Cartier party bags, we’re here to try and reign things in to help you plan a fun (yet sensible) children’s birthday party that won’t lose you sleep at night.
We spoke to the experts at Fabyland, a leading family entertainment centre in the UAE, about helping parents prepare and make planning the perfect birthday party as stress-free as possible.
Plan a budget – and stick to it
It is easy to go overboard when planning your little one's birthday party. Magicians, face painting, three-tier cakes… The world seems to be conspiring to make you spend all your money on two hours of pre-school entertainment.
The budget depends on your finances of course, but a decent children’s party really doesn’t have to (and probably shouldn’t) cost the earth.
Organisations like Dubai Fun Time, Kiducation and Special Occasions offer a range of children’s entertainment options. You can either book full themed party packages (vary in cost between around Dh3,000 to Dh5,000 for the whole party depending on details and number of children), or you can just book an individual entertainer. Face painters cost anywhere from Dh350 per hour to Dh550 an hour, while a child’s entertainer like a magician or a clown can cost between Dh500 to Dh700 per hour. Events Emirates offers a clown that will also do face painting for Dh550 for two hours.
When it comes to renting a venue, the average rate starts from Dh100 per child, which usually includes entertainment, decorations and snacks.
Party favours are one place where you can save money: resist the temptation to be flashy (how many kids retain interest in their party-bag gifts for more than a few minutes anyway?) and choose low-cost novelties like stickers or crayons that kids will love.
Remember, it’s important to keep things in perspective: children have short memories and are actually quite inexpensive to please. If you ever find yourself trying to justify extending the budget, just ask yourself who you are actually doing it for. Will the higher quality bunting really make your little one happier, or are you just trying to impress the other parents? If it’s the latter, check yourself and go back to your original budget.
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Pick your venue
The totally stress-free way of hosting a children’s birthday party is definitely to let a party venue do it all for you. There are a plethora of play areas and child-friendly entertainment venues offering party packages that will cover everything for you, from invitations, themed décor and cakes to activities, games, food and drinks and party bags. Although the perception is that doing it this way is more expensive, party venues and entertainment centres benefit from economies of scale, so the actual cost per child can be lower than hosting a party at home. It does depend on the venue of course; Fabyland, which has locations in Dubai Festival City Mall and Deerfields mall in Abu Dhabi, can offer packages from Dh100 per child, while Mattel Play! Town in Citywalk offers packages from Dh115 per child and OliOli in Al Quoz offers packages from Dh160 per child on the weekends.
Alternatively, many families opt for a gathering in the park, on the beach or at home, which are all of course free of charge. Popular parks for gatherings include the intimate Safa Park 2, the much larger Zabeel Park, or Al Khazzan Park opposite Citywalk (here you can arrange catering from the café Inn the Park at Dh40 per child for a food box, plus an optional Dh10 per child for a picnic blanket set-up or Dh30 per child for a table set-up). If you are planning your celebration in a public area like a park then do double-check with security beforehand in case you need to get prior permission.
Doing it this way would usually mean you have to be in charge of all of the set-up, but it is possible to outsource this too via a party planner. There are lots of companies out there, but Tickles and Giggles offers party packages including all the chairs, tables, plates and decor, balloons, as well as an entertainer offering face painting and balloon bending for 24 children from Dh1,000 per hour, with additional hours charged at Dh500. Meanwhile Cheeky Little Events’ party organisers offer programs of themed games and activities from Dh1,350 for a basic package, and you can add full table set-up from Dh1,125 for 12 children.
Consider a theme
Although theming a party is by no means obligatory, it can help to streamline your decorations and party bags if that’s the way you want to go.
MyPartyCentre.com has an extremely comprehensive and competitively priced range of branded and generic décor and accessories, with a great search function that you can use to categorise by birthday age, by boy or girl, or by the specific theme. There’s a massive selection of themes for all ages; whether you’re after Winnie the Pooh, Minnie Mouse, Trolls, My Little Pony, Batman, Fireman Sam, The Lion King… the list goes on, and it’s a one-stop-shop, as you’ll likely be able to kit out your entire celebration - from paper plates to napkins, party favour, party bags and bunting – all in your chosen theme.
Party Camel has a huge selection of uber-trendy and Instagram-worthy party accessories that you will be loath to throw away, from beautiful marble-print, banana-leaf and glossy-floral plates, napkins and cups, to adorable chevron bunting, tassel garlands and pinwheels, as well as fun retro party favours. There’s a small selection of branded accessories from the likes of Paw Patrol and Minions, but this is the place to come if you don’t mind the price-point being a shade higher and you really want to compete in the Pinterest stakes.
Meanwhile Mumzworld has a decent selection of paper plates, napkins and decorations with a range of themes, from generic jungle animals, pirates and football designs, to a large selection of Dora The Explorer and a more limited selection of Paw Patrol, Thomas the Tank Engine and Hello Kitty designs.
If you prefer shopping in real life, then Party Zone has a store in Jumeirah Town Centre, Party Zone has stores in Garhoud, Saraya and Media City or you could even brave Dragon Mart for some bargains.
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Guest List and Invitations
If your child is in an established class at school or nursery then up until the age of about 5 a good rule of thumb is either to invite just a few from the class and keep it low key, or to invite everybody, so as to avoid hurting little feelings if the children talk about the party in class.
By the time they reach the first grade, they should be old enough to have learnt about consideration and etiquette. This is a good opportunity to teach children how to handle situations such as this, without upsetting anyone.
Don’t worry about printed invitations unless you want to - WhatsApp and Facebook invites have become the well-accepted norm today. If you want to stand out a bit more then you can use an app like Canva, which has a whole host of pretty templates, to design your digital invite for free, or to print at home, or check out Dinodrops.com for some lovely printed designs, with next-day delivery.
Food & Beverage
The focal point of any party, of course, is always the birthday cake. You can get a simple vanilla or chocolate cake from Magnolia Bakery for Dh169 (must be ordered at least the day before) or Hummingbird Bakery’s impressive Rainbow cake is Dh157.50 (ordered 24 hours in advance), while House of Cakes has a range of pre-designed custom birthday cakes with themes on everything from Monsters Inc to Barney, Sesame Street and Superheroes that vary in price depending on size (Dh200 to Dh1,500).
There also always has to be a bit of easy finger food to keep little tums happy. While an entertainment venue will usually take care of this for you, if you’re doing it yourself then limit it to something simple and light as kids run around lots, and don’t break the bank as half of it will inevitably be left uneaten. Consider making your own snack pack boxes with things like boxes of raisins, popcorn, and sandwiches cut into fun shapes, or check out Lulu or Carrefour for their sandwich platters.
If you want to go a bit more upmarket then Lime Tree Café has a delicious menu of children’s party food available for delivery – enquire for prices – or you can simply make an order on the day from somewhere like NKD Pizza, which has a range of healthy pizza and snack options.
Length and timing of the party
For children under the age of 5, a shorter party of under two hours is advisable as any longer and they’re likely to get distracted or tired. For this age range, bear nap times in mind – popular party times tend to be between 9am and 12pm, or 3pm and 6pm.
While there’s no need to give party bags at the end of your child’s celebration, they are ubiquitous enough that some kids have come to expect them! The average bag tends to consist of some inexpensive toys like plastic cars, bubbles or animals, as well as sweets or packaged biscuits or cakes. Check out Carrefour, Daiso, MypartyCentre.com or Party Camel for an array of options.
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