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One of my favorite independent booksellers is Barefoot Books. You can’t find them everywhere. They show up at farmer’s markets, book fairs and festivals, and I always search them out and find the new version of their sing-a-long stories. Our first Barefoot Book was Port Side Pirates, written by Oscar Seaworthy. It comes with a catchy CD and my kids have loved this book for years.
I read this to my 3 year old daughter’s class, and it reminded me of my eldest son’s 5th birthday party, which was a truly swashbuckling #spectacle!
This was my third major event that year, and with 60 guests coming, mostly 5-8 year old boys, I knew I needed controlled chaos and major wow factors. A Pirate Pool Party would be just want we need.
This was a rare occasion where I bypassed elegant Paperless Post to create some excitement for Mattie and his friends. I used linen paper, printed the invitations and added hand drawn details to each, creating little maps to the party destination. I singed the edges, straight out of the 90s crafting book, and rolled these up to look like real treasure maps, secured with red ribbon. It wasn’t enough. I added thin, gold wired ribbon, and tied on a key charm I found in bulk on Etsy. The matte red ribbon with white trim matched the treasure map dashes, and the gold ribbon brought the right amount of texture and balance. And the key? This was a talking point for Matt’s classmates and friends. I think it was actually what they remembered most to this day. Go figure.
40 hand rolled invitations later and we were ready to start mapping.
I have a post on event mapping because it’s critical to quick set up and communication with your team (in my case, my husband and kids and the lucky guests who show up early!)
First, I plan out my prep plan starting 4 weeks out from the party date, trying to do any possible work in advance.
I draw the overall room and place tables from the venue on the map, and determine what extra tables or chairs I might need. Then I map out the main table, trying to keep as much detail as possible to make it really clear.
I mapped out the drink station, from the individual drink choices to the signage, and how I can incorporate these flag banners I made by hand through the venue. My welcome sign was personalized with a photo of the birthday boy with his hero, Disney’s Jake. You can see from his face how he was literally about to explode with excitement when he met Jake at Disney that year for a character lunch in Hollywood Studios.
I’ve only done two outdoor only events–I hate not having a back up plan. I chose a poolhouse venue where I knew if we didn’t get to the “pool,” we would still have a blast.
See, doesn’t it look like rain? Note: To end the suspense, the sun came out and it was gorgeous. The kids ended the party by splashing in the pool. Whew.
I knew I needed a statement table, and I found ideas for “pirate” themed food from Pinterest, and this was back when Pinterest had JUST started, so there wasn’t a lot out there.
I still had my basic black and white table cloths in my #PartyPantry, and the new item I would add would be a bolt of this awesome red and white striped fabric. I actually took a black table cloth to the fabric store because you would not BELIEVE how many different colors of red there are and different widths of stripes. I needed something wide enough and bold enough to make a statement.
No sewing needed, I cut a few yards and just folded it under to create the runner. (You can see my map on the corner of the table where yes, we actually use those day of!)
For the table, creating height and variation is key to a stand out presentation, and it really allows guests to see the different food options we worked so hard to make!
We used a long conference table for the back and a low coffee table for the front, pushing it slightly under the large table; enough to present the food the way we wanted to. This gives us high-low from a macro perspective.
I staged out the serve ware, also from my #PartyPantry, which consists of inexpensive, sturdy, white ceramic platters, bowls and small plates in all shapes and sizes. Knock on wood, I have used these for over 25 events and not one has broken! I use these crates I snagged free from Whole Foods when they were done using them for a display; a great find to add to my #PartyPantry. I am sure you have seen these re appear through every party I’ve done, which shows you how versatile you can make your own #PartyPantry!
Using the crates, I can stage food on top and within the crate, as well as in front to create these lovely levels which allow you to focus on each of the food items separately without your head exploding with choices.
This cupcake tower is so impressive, and it was pretty inexpensive. It is versatile enough to use for low or very high heights, and I use it to display fruit cups, individual small bites, or in this case, classic cupcakes (well, healthful muffins with cream cheese frosting).
Some of our muffins had these great pirate ship wrappers and sails from Etsy, and others had umbrellas and pirate swords.
Creating the Ambiance
It is all about what to wear. We had bins of pirate costumes for the kids as they entered the party, including pirate hats, vests, eye patches, pirate hooks, skull necklaces and no-sew red pirate sashes I handmade by using plain red fabric and cutting the ends into fringe.
We created a beach background and a giant cardboard pirate ship for an amazing photo background. It was gigantic and could fit 20 five year olds!
Even the adults got in on the costume action!
Pirate Party Food and Beverage
We draped these pirate flags over the main table and created these handmade tent cards to label each item. The PB+Jellyfish below are these goldfish sandwich thins I made using thin bread and cutting them into the shape of fish. We had cheese tortellini as “life preservers” and melon balls as “fruity booty.”
We used chafing dishes from Crate and Barrel to keep food warm. For kids parties serving hotdogs or kielbasa (sea dogs, in our case), I always cut the sausages and the buns in half. No use wasting food since small kids are often too excited to eat much. The parents, however, chow down!
I keep the preschool snack-friendly food within reach, like the “peg leg” pretzels, “bait+tackle,” and “gold nuggets,” along with my favorite, chocolate krispy “cannon balls.”
I used regular vases from my house and hot glued red and white striped ribbon around it. Hot glue peels right off if you aren’t going for a pirate motif in your regular home decor.
We really try and keep our parties healthful, so along with the Grilled Parrot Wings, we served fish eyes (blueberries), deadman’s fingers (carrot sticks) and sand dollars (snickerdoodles).
The seaweed salad was a hit–#Semi_handmade style meaning right out of a Costco remade salad bag!
I just love these little “Sail the Seas” Jello cups. I found pictures on Pinterest and made these my own with blue raspberry jello, mandarins (well drained) and flags I made myself. You could buy these on Etsy too, but I chose to make these because they were easy and saved money.
Again, presentation is key with the high-low effect!
For drinks, we wanted to really extend the theme, with “sea water” (blue lemonade–could also be pool water for a pool theme), “fizzy ale” (cherry limeade) and “mermaid punch” (lemonade). I used striped fabric ribbon and hot glue to secure the labels and ribbon, which of course comes right off when you’re done, because you’ll probably notice this same drink dispenser from our #PartyPantry at most of our parties!
That no-sew table cloth is simply some discount pirate fabric I purchased from the fabric store, and I draped it with “fish netting” you can find in the luau supply section of a party store or website. I used ribbon wrapped mason jars to hold utensils, just like I did for condiments!
Pirate Party Games
Polly Want a Cracker
We had a number of games perfect for ages 3-8. The first game was Polly Want a Cracker, vintage game I played as a child when my mom was the one throwing these ‘over the top’ amazing parties. This is a relay game where kids stand in 2-3 lines.
When it is your turn, you run to the strings with crackers tied to the end. With your hands behind your back, you have to eat the entire cracker before running back to your team and tagging the next person to go. First team to finish, wins!
Swab the Deck
This game consisted of mops we bought from the dollar store and a paper bag full of bean bags for some weight.
Another relay, the kids formed two teams and took turns pushing the bag of pirate loot across the floor, around a cone, and back to tag the next teammate in line!
The gift table housed our handmade ship mast, and the red cloth was re purposed from the farm party!
And of course we had the most amazing pirate ship piñata, full if pirate gold, stickers, and other pirate loot which went into these amazing reusable skull totes we found. One of our friend’s parent ended up reusing it as a gym bag. Hilarious.
Each bag was labeled with each child’s name, which by the way, I will never do again. I thought it was a nice personal touch, but it was chaos trying to find the right person. At least I had the forethought to make a few blank ones in case people who had not RSVP-ed showed up–which of course they did! And we love it!