Above photo: Girls just want to have fun — and make art — at Hatch Art Studio birthday parties.
Any birthday party worth its weight in cake requires a few basics: decorations, gifts, guests, a good theme. Today, many parents are adding another item to the checklist: an unforgettable experience. There are plenty of Pittsburgh-area offerings for those looking to inject an extra “wow” into their celebrations.
Here are 10 unique ways to celebrate birthdays – plus an organization that can help make birthday plans happen for kids in needy circumstances.
1. Go mad
Is your birthday girl or boy a scientist in the making? Do they like learning something new while having fun? Mad Science, in Etna, offers parties packed with interactive experiences.
Whether the party is held on-site at their laboratory or if staff bring the fun to your home, every guest can participate in a variety of experiments and leave with a cool something they made themselves. Kids will learn about the origins of plastic by making slippery slime, changing ordinary glue into silly putty, or transforming crystals into a real super bouncy ball.
Parties are ideal for ages 5 to 12.
2. Find that special someone
What do a magician, a face painter and a pony have in common? They all can make an appearance at your kid’s birthday party thanks to GigSalad, the largest, most diverse online talent marketplace, where party planners can find and book performers. The site has millions of users across the U.S. and Canada, and about 350 performing artists in Pittsburgh alone.
Simply go to the site, enter in some basic information about what you’re seeking, and get free quotes from local performers. You can book and pay directly through the site. All that’s left to do is enjoy the celebration.
3. Crack the code
Pittsburgh’s first escape room for kids has quickly become a favorite party destination.
“Most of our bookings are for birthday party activities, and we’ve gotten great feedback from kids and parents,” says Brian Colonna, co-owner of Code Breakers, in Ross.
The experience immerses kids in a scenario in which they are “trapped” aboard a broken-down alien spaceship far out in deep space. The kids work together to repair the spacecraft by solving a series of puzzles. If successful, they return safely to Earth. But no pressure. Clues are given to make sure no one is, ahem, lost in space.
A second experience called The Cloning Experiment is expected to open this spring, allowing the business to accommodate larger parties. Right now, the recommended party size is between six and eight kids.
(Code Breakers is offering the promo code KIDSBURGH for a $5 discount through April 30.)
4. Have a ball
Be the party planner who really steps up to the plate for kids who love baseball. You’ll hit it out of the park with a birthday celebration at Bianco School of Baseball, where kids with dreams of making it to the Major Leagues can play like their favorite All-Stars.
The Canonsburg facility has an indoor field where kids can take a crack at playing Homerun Derby and swing away just like Andrew McCutcheon. Kids who prefer other sports can use the facility to play football, dodgeball, soccer or kickball for their birthday party session.
Pizza and drinks are part of the package. You bring the birthday cake. Parties can accommodate up to 18 kids.
5. Go wild
Few things elicit more excitement than seeing a wild animal up close and personal. But organizing a carpool to take a birthday party on the road can be a bit exhausting.
Grant Kemmerer makes it easy. He brings his Wild World of Animals to your backyard with his traveling wildlife show.
Choose 13 different animals out of a list of 85 creatures. Some are a bit creepy — the scorpion, toad, alligator, and snake. Others are more exotic – a monkey, jackal, leopard, and tiger. And some are the sort you might find in your own backyard — a skunk, opossum, fox, or porcupine.
Kemmerer puts an emphasis on education, along with an entertaining delivery. Kids learn about each animal and how to interact — or not — with wildlife. Your birthday boy or girl gets to play a role in the show, too.
6. Take in a show
If getting kids to giggle is the goal, Pittsburgh Puppet Works has a cast of characters up to the job. For kids raised on Muppet antics and lessons from Mister Rogers’ King Friday and Daniel Tiger, a live puppet show seems a natural transition.
Puppet Works presents lifelike characters with professional voices, staging, and lighting. A variety of shows are available, but you might want to check out the birthday specialties first. The Loonies and Laughs Birthday Bash is filled with songs, jokes, and dancing. Fiesta Follies is packed with Latin tunes and skits.
Puppet Works offers performers skilled in ventriloquism, magic and face painting, too.
7. Get the royal treatment
A special visit from a beloved fairytale or fantasy character can make any party more magical.
Fairytale Princess Visits has a cast of princesses that is certain to include the one your little girl loves the most. The classic princesses — such as Cinderella and Snow White — are available. And the more modern stars from hit animated movies about strong-willed young women – the Little Mermaid, an Aloha Princess, or Ice Queen, for example — will be delightful additions to a themed party.
Little boys might be more interested in Star Force heroes, a Caribbean pirate, or Captain Hook.
The family-owned company offers an array of packages, including interactive storytelling, singing, dancing, and photos.
Fairytale Princess Visits has an ongoing partnership with the non-profit Beverly’s Birthdays and donates services and funds to the organization throughout the year.
8. Get pampered
Spa days are not just for grownups. Pampered Parties Pittsburgh mobile spa services can add a touch of indulgence to a party. Owner Bethany Shea will customize activities according to the desires of the birthday girl. And she offers a few set packages catered to specific age groups.
A Rock Star Treatment party for ages 8 to 12 includes karaoke and make-your-own spa slippers or flip flops, while the Teen Dream party for ages 13 and older lets guest make their own facial masks.
Even the smaller girls can get in on the fun. Pampered Princess Parties for ages 4 to 7 include a scavenger hunt, tiara decorating, and a dance party.
Each package comes with a variety of add-on services. Kids can make lip gloss to order. They can be pampered with mini manis, pedis or facials. Hair chalking adds temporary color for an edgy punk look. Or their tresses can be dolled up with princess hair bows and buns.
9. Take to the skies
Accelerate party fun to new heights! Altimate Air Trampoline Park, in North Versailles, offers multiple levels of excitement. With 30 connected trampolines, a ninja course and climbing wall, there’s something to keep all those energetic party kids active and entertained. Yes, they can literally bounce off the walls.
Altimate Air offers birthday packages featuring a personal party attendant, party supplies, pizza, soft drinks, and jump socks. The guest of honor receives a T-shirt and pass for a future visit. The staff takes care of party set up and clean-up for an easy-peasy experience for Mom and Dad.
10. Unleash your inner artist
Hatch Art Studio in Point Breeze throws 90-minute parties, including a teacher-led project that results in a piece of take-home artwork for each guest. The birthday star leaves with a banner specially decorated for them by their friends. Parents can bring cake, snacks and paper goods.
“We just opened our new upstairs event space and so can offer more parties all weekend long,” says owner Shannon Merenstein. “We specialize in designing a super unique and creative experience for children of all ages.”
The studio offers a range of options depending on the size of the party and age of kids. You can arrange an off-site party in your home for groups of 16 or more.
Bonus: Beverly’s Birthdays
For families experiencing hardship, a party is not a possibility. The nonprofit Beverly’s Birthdays was formed to chanaged that.
Founder Megs Yunn named the organization after a young girl who never had a party of her own. Since its launch in 2012, the group has brought birthday cheer to thousands of children in the Pittsburgh region. Beverly’s Birthdays partners with shelters and housing programs, as well as other agencies, to host celebrations for children. Each celebrated child receives a birthday cheer bin filled with customized gifts.
The organization provides treat bags for kids to distribute to their classmates on their birthdays and pre-assembled bags filled party necessities, such as cake mix and party hats.
All of this volunteer-driven work is done with the goal of giving children the brightest possible outlook for the next year of their lives.