32 locations in ten states
Photo courtesy of Michaels
The plan: You choose from 16 themes -- ballerina to trains, space to animal safari -- most of which involve either making your own dress-up items (such as fairy wings) or putting on a costume like a pink tutu from the location's stash. All parties also include gym activity such as freeze dance or an obstacle course relating to the theme.
The experience: Shannon Sutherland, of New York City, had her 3-year-old daughter's superhero party at Kidville in March. "Amelia wore her Wonder Woman costume, but all the kids made capes," she says.
The details: $495 and up, depending on location, for a 90-minute party with up to 11 children, including food, cake, decorations, digital invitations, and two favors you choose from a dozen or more options.
20 locations in 12 states
The plan: Partygoers pick up vibrantly colored lightweight balls and head to designated lanes in this upscale alley. You let the location know whether you want bumpers and ramps to make the experience easier for younger kids.
The experience: "The quality of the food is terrific; it's not your typical bowling-alley fare," says Dawn Loritz, whose son, Matthew, celebrated his tenth birthday at the Fort Worth location.
The details: $20 and up per child, based on location, for a two-hour party including bowling-shoe rental, pizza, drinks, and a personal message on the score screen. You can add cake, balloons, favors, and a pin the kids can sign at an extra cost.
California Pizza Kitchen
More than 100 locations in 30 states
The plan: Before the restaurant opens on weekends, partygoers gather at a large table to make their own pizzas with any topping they want. "We give older children, usually ages 8 and up, a ball of dough and tell them how to form it into a crust," explains Julie Castro, manager of the Huntington Beach, California, location. "Younger kids get their dough rolled out and everyone adds sauce and toppings." While the pizza is in the brick oven, mini chefs tour the kitchen.
The experience: "We only had one lull, and my husband read a book during that time," says Stacey Natal, founder of the blog TotalCityGirl.com, who booked a party for her daughter Ruby's fifth birthday.
The details: $10 per child (20 kids max) for the two-hour party and a personalized chef's jacket for the birthday child, plus the cost of adult meals ordered from the menu. "Since the price includes dessert -- either a brownie or an ice-cream sundae -- you can save money by not having to bring a cake," says Castro. "About half of parties don't have one."
51 locations in 16 states
The plan: Staff members lead water games, rafting, and relay races with kickboards for an hour in the indoor pool, which is generally 4 feet deep. Adults are encouraged to go in the pool if they want at no extra cost. Kids can also borrow life jackets. After swimming, it's off to the party room, which is decked out in one of ten-plus themes you choose from, including mermaid and monsters.
The experience: In February, Kristin Cheuvront, who lives near Chicago, held a luau-themed party for her daughter who was turning 7. "Everything was decked out more than I expected," says Cheuvront, cofounder of TheLittleStyleFile.com. "They even had a large birthday banner with her name on it."
The details: $329 to $379, depending on location, for up to 15 children, including cake, balloons, themed decorations, and drinks. Pizza is available at an extra charge.
47 locations in 18 states
The plan: Partygoers (and at least two staff) play for 45 minutes in each of two private rooms filled with giant inflatable slides, obstacle courses, basketball nets, and more. For an older crowd, you might want to opt for a "cosmic" bounce: The kids get glow-in-the-dark accessories and bounce with the lights off. You can also add a Click's Pics package to your party -- staff will take photos for you and give you a code to access them on the Web. They also show the photos in the party room.
The experience: "It's great for parties where kids are of mixed ages," says Paulette Marcus, of Orange, Connecticut, who has held four of her 10-year-old daughter's parties there. "Even when we had 27 kids at one party, because she invited her whole class, it never felt crowded."
The details: Starting at $99, depending on location, for a weekday party of up to eight children. The drinks, decorations, and invitations are included; you can add pizza, favors, and more kids at an extra cost.