To celebrate the end of the school year back in June, a friend organized a little cruise on the Chesapeake for a group of us. But not just any cruise. This one included some jolly good adventure — of the pirate variety. And it made for one mighty fine time on the high Chesapeake seas.
We set sail from Annapolis with Pirate Adventures, a company that specializes in, well, pirate adventures for children. (I mentioned them a few months ago in this post about birthday parties.) And it truly is an adventure, one that begins even before the Sea Gypsy pirate ship leaves port.
After checking in and getting their pirate names (Octopus Owen & Sea Star Sasha), the kids were invited to suit up for the experience by donning some pirate togs — vests and head gear — and having their faces or arms painted with curly mustaches and beards or mermaids. The crew then had the kids line up as they explained the rules of the sea, then got them psyched up for the adventure with some pirate chants.
Dressed (and painted) for adventure!
We all boarded the boat together, the kids sitting on a low bench along the bow, the adults finding seating towards the back. This experience was all for the kids; we were just there to watch them enjoy it. Once seated, the crew explained the mission — to find sunken treasure, of course.
Learning about their mission
On the lookout for loot
And it’s all an adventure from there. On their quest for treasure they find a message in a bottle and discover another pirate has the keys to the treasure chest. When they encounter Pirate Pete, the kids battle him with water cannons and win, then get what they need to finish their mission. With the treasure chest on board, everyone gets their pick of the booty, along with a cup of grog (orange soda) to celebrate. And all this happens with a soundtrack of “adventure” music and sound effects in the background, adding to fun of the whole experience.
Little mateys battle Pirate Pete
The cruise takes over an hour, and I have to note the crew was absolutely crucial in making it a fantastic excursion for the kids. They directed the mission with enthusiasm, giving the kids special tasks and gathering them together to discuss important plans. I think my kids really believe they triumphed over Pirate Pete and discovered sunken treasure. They still have their plastic gold coins and jewels as proof.
The Sea Gypsy at port
Pirate Adventures operates daily until Labor Day, then just weekends through October. There are six sailing times throughout the day, starting at 9:30am and the last at 5pm. Reservations are highly recommended, but you can pay upon arrival. Tickets are $19, $12 for children 2 and under. If you go, I highly recommend wearing sunscreen and bringing a water bottle. There is shaded seating on the boat, but the kids will be in the sun for most of the ride.
The kids’ joint party at Watkins Nature Center – double the birthday fun!
Every year since starting this blog, I’ve done one big post about birthday parties. They are kind of a thing for me, and rather than reiterate why, I’ll just direct you to this post and this one, which not only cover the background on my quest for good party venues, but also have a bunch of recommendations for places to host a bash for your child. And in keeping with the once-a-year tradition, here’s another post dedicated to the birthday party, a compilation of potential locales to celebrate our kids’ big days. And if you know of a good one that I have yet to mention, feel free to add it in the comments.
Welcoming another party guest
Watkins Nature Center
I’ve suggested birthday parties at nature centers before, but Watkins now gets individual mention – and huge props – after I hosted my kids’ bash there earlier this year. It couldn’t have worked out better for us. Since Owen and Sasha’s birthdays are just two weeks apart, we once again took advantage of the opportunity to throw a joint party. However, that meant we needed a venue that could accommodate guests of both kids. It also had to be indoors for their mid-winter party. On top of that, we wanted an activity that both birthday honorees, ages 3 and 6, would enjoy. Watkins came through in spades. Their party room accommodates up to 50 guests – 25 children and 25 adults, which was way more than other nature centers I checked out. We played up the “bringing the outdoors in” concept during what’s usually a cold time of year (it ended up being an unseasonably gorgeous day and the kids got to enjoy the trails, pond, and rescued birds around the center along with the animal and nature exhibits inside). But best of all, both Owen and Sasha were thrilled about the main event: A live animal show, a 30-minute viewing of some of the center’s feathery and reptilian residents. As far as logistics go, you can’t beat it. The cost for a three-hour rental (that includes set up and clean up time) is $155, which is pretty stellar in the DC area. You bring your own food, cake, and supplies, and plenty of tables and chairs are there for you to set up as desired. The party room is cute with big, colorful insect and amphibian paintings on the walls, and there’s much more to awe kids in and around the center. I recommend booking well in advance, as they only have two party time slots per weekend – from 1-4pm on Saturdays and Sundays. For reservations, call 301.218.6702 (Update: Rates & options have changed since this was published. Check with Watkins for the most current info.)
National Building Museum
The NBM was included in my first birthday party post, but with some new options available, it makes the list again. Craft Activity Birthday Parties are available in a variety of themes: Castle & Crowns and All Aboard! Train Construction are for children 3-6, while Tower Power and Crazy Creations are suitable for 6-11-year-olds. Each two-hour party includes a building orientation, hands-on craft, and party time in a museum classroom. All guests also receive complimentary tickets to view exhibits after. Cost is $250 for 10 guests, $15 for each additional guest. Another option for kids 6-11 is the Brick City Party, a tour of the Lego Architecture exhibit, a chance to construct their own brick buildings and create a Lego city, and a birthday celebration. The two-hour party costs $300 for 10 guests, $15 for each additional guest. You must be a member at the Family Level or higher to book a party at the NBM, but I highly recommend getting the membership, anyway – at $80/year, it pays for itself if you and the kids visit the Building Zone and exhibits even just a few times.
A cool way to celebrate a kid’s big day is on ice… make that, at the ice skating rink. And there are several in the area that host parties. Kettler Capital Iceplex has a package for $185 that includes party room rental, admission for 10 kids and 2 adults to the public skate session, skate rentals, food and drinks, party host, and party supplies. More guests can be added for extra cost. Cabin John Ice Rink in Bethesda rents a party room for $50/hour (you bring food, supplies, etc.) and a studio rink for $185/hour. You can also forego the private rink, and guests can skate during public skate sessions (admission is $3.50/ages 3-4, $5.50/ages 5-10, $6.50/ages 11 and up.) Be sure to book a party room during public skate times. For an ice skating party under the sky, the Pentagon Row Ice Skating Rink is a great option (though only open November – March). Their birthday package includes a 25-minute skating lesson, then skate time, and tables can be reserved for party time. Cost is $12/person with a six-person minimum. These are just three suggestions; for even more ice skating options, check out the venues listed in this post.
When I was a kid, I probably had at least three birthday parties at the roller skating rink. I can even recall donning a sparkly headband (one that went around my forehead, not on top of my head), scrunching my legwarmers around my ankles, and circling the rink as Xanadu blared in the background. Surely, that’s not completely a thing of the past (Olivia Newton-John is due for a major comeback, right?). At least it’s not at a few area roller rinks. One of them is Wheels Skating Center in Odenton, Md., where birthday party packages for up to 10 skaters are available. Packages include admission and skate rental, pizza and drinks, 45 minutes at a party table, supplies, a free skate pass for each party guest, and special goodies for the birthday kid. Skate Zone in Crofton, Md., is another place to get rolling, with a few party packages starting at $195, are available. The basic includes admission and rentals for 8 guests, food and drinks, game tokens, an hour at a party table, supplies, and goody bags.
Pirate Ship Parties
Buccaneer-obsessed kids can fulfill their pirate dreams on the high Chesapeake “seas.” Two different companies in Baltimore and Annapolis offer party packages for swashbuckling birthday boys and girls. Owen has attended – and had a blast at — parties at both locations. And if his birthday fell at a different time of year, he’d probably opt to celebrate it at one of them. Urban Pirates in Baltimore offer three birthday packages starting at $275 for 15 guests, 30 minutes of boarding activities, 60 minutes of sailing on the Fearless, a special Pirate birthday song and goodies for both the honoree and guests. Cake time costs extra, so you may have to plan for another venue, perhaps a nearby park, for that. Visit the website to see all of their party options. Pirate Adventures in Annapolis has a few packages available, all of them including 30 minutes of face painting and dress-up before a 75-minute cruise aboard the Sea Gypsy, a ride that takes party-goers out on the Bay and includes fun and games of the pirate variety. Depending on the package, there may or may not be time in a party room after, so you might have to figure out another option for cake. Package prices begin at $675 for 45 passengers, and while that sounds steep, you might consider doing what a friend of mine did, and sharing the party with a friend.
After attending a Mother’s Day cupcake decorating session here, Sasha declared Sprinkles as her next birthday party venue. And I completely understand why: Cupcakes! Ones you get to frost yourself and adorn with all the pretty and fun toppings you like. In an adorable pink-walled (and floored) party room above the shop. Sprinkles provides the bare cupcakes, then sets out several flavors of frosting along with a variety of cute, edible sugar decorations — sprinkles included, of course — so that party guests can make their cupcakes look and taste exactly the way they want them. And you’re welcome to bring your own food and drinks for party fare other than the scrumptious treats. The cost for all of this is $500 and includes two hours of rental time, 4 dozen full-sized cupcakes or 6 dozen mini cupcakes , all decorating tools, Sprinkles to-go boxes, and a party coordinator to assist, and set up/clean up by Sprinkles. The rate might sound steep, but as the room accommodates 20 guests seated and 30 standing, it could possibly be a shared party.
ComedySportz 4 Kids
This improv show at The Comedy Spot in Ballston Common Mall is how Owen wants to celebrate his next party. We’ve never been, but I looked into this option for the kids’ birthdays this year and learned they were too young, as it’s recommended for first graders and up. The fly-by-the-seat-of-the-pants show encourages audience participation and even invites theatre-goers to get in on the act, too. Afterwards, groups can stay for a party on stage. Rates are $10/person for up to 30 guests, plus $100 for the post-show celebration. You bring all the food and supplies; they’ll help you clean up when it’s over. And if you want to go big for the occasion, you can buy out the entire show and have the place to yourselves for $600 (another joint birthday possibility).
A friend claims this is a must on a list of area birthday party recommendations. And by the sound of it, I couldn’t agree more. I would have adored a soiree like this when I was a little girl. Catering to budding ballerinas and young entertainers, two party packages indulge the dance enthusiast’s fancy. For children ages 3 and up, there’s the Ballerina Party that includes a story, dance session in ornate costumes, tea party, and a fairy-dusted birthday cake. Kids 5 and older, can turn their party into a production with the Musical Theatre Birthday that includes a song and dance from a popular Broadway show, “auditions”, then a chance to perform the show for parents. Afterward, the party moves to a disco club where guests relax with music, apple cider, and birthday cake. Rates start at $650 for 16 guests (again, one to possibly share to cut costs). Ballet Petite has locations in both Bethesda and McLean.
The venue full of cute, themed rooms encouraging pretend play and hands-on fun for little ones gets loads of raves from parents as a great place for everyday play (Sasha, for one, loves it there). I’ve heard their birthday parties are fantastic, too. They offer a few packages at different price points, depending on the number of guests and activities included. The basic ($150) gets you an hour of playtime and cupcake decorating, and story time for 6 children. A more-frills one ($300) includes an all-day play pass, a private party room for two hours, a themed story time, and Playseum dollars to purchase a toy or activity. For more details and other party options, see the website.