I originally started out looking for some place with go-karts that the boys might be able to drive, but couldn't find a place that would let shrimps drive. Most places had 42-48" height limits to drive the cars. While Ryan would have been tall enough to drive at some places, Connor wouldn't. And neither would some of their friends. (Ryan's actually been about 2 1/2 inches taller than Connor for a couple of months now - finally growing into those feet. :))
So back to the drawing board I went. I kicked around all kinds of ideas, but kept coming back to some sort of movie watching party. The trouble with that of course was finding a place to show the movie the boys wanted to watch (Cars 2) 6 months after it had left the theater. But the more I looked around and thought about it, the more I knew I wanted to do a movie on the lawn. In February. In Texas. In the hottest winter I could remember. But, I had already been bitten by the weather bug for the boy's 2nd birthday (originally scheduled for Old McDonalds farm, but had to be moved the week before the party to an indoor venue due to a cold snap) so I was leary of not having some sort of alternate indoor location. Luckily our neighborhood has a clubhouse that can be reserved, and while a little on the small side, would work in the event that the weather turned south. Which of course it did... :) The Thursday before the party was a balmy 84 degrees. The Saturday of the actual party a high of 56 was expected.
Of course inspiration for a cars themed party wasn't hard to come by. The boys both really liked the original Cars the movie and were thrilled when Cars 2 came out at the theater last summer and finally on DVD in the fall. We have only watched it a million or so times since then. :) And of course the internet is an amazing resource.
Before long the ideas were rolling and here's what I came up with:
The invitations were designed to look like racing tickets. As usual I am a little behind the technology curve, but finally moved to a smart phone about a year and a half ago, and relatively recently caught on to barcode or QR code scanning. Since the invitations were tickets I thought it would be really cool if the barcode actually did something - like RSVP for the party. :) Yes, I know. I am a nerd. I spent far longer than I should admit trying to get a barcode that would send an RSVP email to my email address. I finally gave up and switched to QR codes. Since they are smaller than barcodes I went ahead and added 3 QR codes, 2 for RSVPs (1 for accepts, 1 for regrets), and a link to the map of the party destination. When you scanned one of the RSVP codes it automatically opened up a compose email window, populated the email address, subject and contents ("We are coming!") into the message body. The map code linked to a URL for the address at Google Maps where you could see a map or get driving directions. I was absolutely thrilled - until I went into work to find some guinea pigs to try them out. The problem with QR codes of course, is that everyone has a different reader. While it worked beautifully on every Android app we tried, a Blackberry, and some Palm Pre's the iPhone both 3 & 4 were hit or miss with the RSVPs depending on the reader that was installed. On the bright side the map worked for everyone. :)
The biggest part of the decorations were a handful of posters printed from desktop wallpapers. Despite the fact that they were fairly low resolution, they scaled really well.
In addition to the posters I had picked up a few standee's at a great price online. The original Cars characters (Lightning, Mater, and Mack) ranged from about 3 feet to 5 feet tall and looked amazing! Holley and Finn were a little bit shorter, but still a great size for the boys. I ended up sprinkling them around the room in mini vignettes (that would have been awesome for pictures had we thought to take any!).
I also added eyes to a sunshade that was put in the front window of my car. I backed the car in so that the front "face" was facing out for folks to see as they pulled into the parking lot.
I went round and round on activities, and even changed a few plans at the last minute (like scratching Mater's redneck bowling with human gerbil balls and inflatable bowling pins) because of the weather.
As the guests arrived we had 3 stations set up inside:
- Doc's Fix it Shop - with wood puzzles ranging from 12-24 pieces
- Ramone's Paint Shop - personalized story coloring books and colors
- And Ramone's Body shop - where the kids could get tattoos
Doc's Fix it Shop was a BIG hit!
I had originally only put out 6 different puzzles, but ended up breaking out 3 more from a box set when the first table filled up and had a waiting line.
Connor in particular is a puzzle fiend. He can't get enough puzzles. And he's amazingly good at them - he regularly puts together 100 piece puzzles in not much longer than it takes me! I am pretty sure he worked every single puzzle on the table and even helped me sort out two puzzles that got jumbled together in the box.
Ramone's Paint Shop (Coloring)
At Ramone's paint shop the kids picked up personalized story coloring books.
I started out just planning to print a handful of plain Cars themed coloring sheets online for the kids to color. As I was downloading and saving off the pages to print it ocurred to me that it would be super simple to add a personal touch to the sheets and put something about Ryan & Connor's party on each sheet.
Before I knew it I had a whole story book about the party with a variety of characters from Cars and Cars 2. The boys loved it so much that they had us read it over and over, and even asked to take the proof of concept book to school to read to their friends at story time when we got to the book bag. They loved hearing their name in the story and hearing all about the party.
So I decided to print them as booklets and personalize them with the kids' names ("Dean's Coloring book") and even add them to story ("Lightning, Doc, and Mater were so glad Dean could make it to the party!"
Ramone's Body Shop (Tattoos)
At Ramone's Body Shop the kids could get a variety of Cars, Princess, or Tinkerbell themed tattoo's. Our great friends the Kunkels helped out cutting out and applying the tattoo's for the kids.
We planned to have:
- Musical Tires (inflatable swim rings to Life is a Highway from the movie)
- And then time permitting either Pin the Headlight on Mater or originally Mater's redneck bowling (using human gerbil balls and an inflatable lawn bowling set) which was swapped out with the Scavenger Hunt at the last minute.
- And the Grand Finale - Cardboard race cars
I had planned to have two stations of Pin the Headlight on Tow Mater - simple 3" white cardstock circles that the kids would attempt to put where Mater's missing headlight goes after being blindfolded (with a sleep mask for easy on/off) and spun around. However, with 26 kids we opted to skip the game and get them headed outside to run off some energy with a scavenger hunt.
Cars Scavenger Hunt
I stumbled across a bingo like Cars Scavenger hunt game at the party store that I thought would be fun for the kids.
The set contained bingo like cards with pictures of all 4 of the cars that the kids would have to find as well as 3" round circles that could be hidden. We decided to hide one car from each card in 4 different areas - the playground, the tennis courts, the trees, and the kitchen. One car from each card was put in each location and clues were written on the back of first the bingo card and then each respective card to be found after that telling them what card could be found in the next location.
On the back of the bingo card it might have said "Lightning McQueen plays tennis to stay in shape in the off-season. Look for him on the tennis courts." And on the back of the Lightning card it might say "When he's not racing Francesco loves to cook. Look for him in the kitchen!" And so on.
We had a pretty large group - 26 total kids. And the cards came in sets of 8 so the kids had to play in teams. In addition some of the cards in a set would repeat (i.e. there were multiple Lightning McQueens that weren't easy to tell apart - despite putting team numbers on all the cards we had at least one group end up picking up two other teams' cards making it a bit more challenging for them to find all their cards. :)) Overall though I think the kids really enjoyed the game.
Grand Finale: Cardboard Car Races!
The cardboard race cars were definately a hit!
I made 6 race cars out of cardboard boxes representing various cars from both the original Cars and Cars 2 movies (Lightning McQueen, Mater, Finn, Holley, Jeff Gorvette, and Red the Fire Engine). The kids took turn racing back and forth across a stretch of open lawn.
The cars were made from a variety of large boxes I collected over the last couple of months (Amazon, B&H photo, even a toilet paper box I snagged from work. :)) They were cut to shape, painted with spray paint, and then had faces, tires, and decals taped on.
I was pretty thrilled with how they came out!
And the kids definately had a good time racing in them. Ryan loved the yellow Jeff Gorvette, while Connor had to fight the girls off for his favorite - Holley. :)
At the end of the races each of the kids recieved a piston cup with their name on it.
I had originally planned to make a relatively healthy dinner with mini sandwiches, fresh fruit, carrots, chips and dip, etc.
But as the RSVP's topped the 70 people mark we opted to switch to pizza instead.
Food was setup at Flo's V8 cafe (in the kitchen). I created a menu card so folks would know what the options were and then made placards for each of the 6 different varities of pizza.
We kept the kids drinks simple as well with 4 different flavors of Cars themed Juicy Juice boxes and a lucky find of cars themed water bottles.
The juices were iced in tubs with matching labels.
And for dessert/cake - we had tires (donuts) from Luigi's Casa Della Tire showroom.
Ryan doesn't actually like frosting so isn't a big fan of cake or cupcakes. The boys both love donuts so the "tires" were a no brainer.
We picked up the donuts from our local Shipley's. I ordered a variety of iced donuts with sprinkles (mud tires, Radiator Springs white walls, and Michael Shumacher Ferrari racing tires) as well as some bullseye donuts (iced donuts topped with whipped cream and sprinkles).
The donuts were laid out on pans in the Casa Della Tire showroom both to keep them pretty and make them easy to distribute.
After the games and dinner the party ended with an indoor showing of Cars 2 the movie.
We set up the projector and screen in the party room as we cleared away some of the tables. The kids sat in the floor in front of the projector on the rug, and the adults ranged around chairs in the back of the room.
It was our first time using the projector for such a large group and the internal speakers even turned up to full volume were a little hard to hear over the noise of the crowd if you weren't close enough to the projector. The great thing about the projector we have is that it has everything built in (DVD player, speakers, etc.) so we don't have to lug around and setup alot of extra equipment. On the downside, however, plugging in external speakers requires an amplifier & speakers... We have some portable wireless outdoor speakers that I think would work really well to provide a little more volume if we decide to do something like this again - we will just have to find an amp.
About half way through the movie as some of the kids started getting restless we called a 10 minute Intermission and turned on the lights so the folks who were ready to head out could see to make their way safely to the door. Once they were out we turned the lights back off and the rest of the group finished the movie.
All the activities plus the movie made for a pretty long party - about 4 hours total. A little bit long for 4 year olds - particularly at the end of the day. We had considered cutting out some of the activities or showing some Mater's Tall Tales shorts instead of the movie to cut the time down, but the Birthday boys really wanted to watch Cars 2 so we did.
I had been incredibly lucky over the last year to catch all kinds of Cars and Princess themed stuff 50-75% off clearance and had quite a selection for the goodie bags. :)
All the boys got a metal tool box filled with a scene setter with stickers, sheet of Cars magnets, a cars necklace pen, Cars notepad, box of Cars Colors, some Cars Candy racers, a sucker, and a real die cast race car from Cars the movie.
The Thank You cards...