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Saturday, May 25

Gapers Block

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The other day, a co-worker and I were discussing the preliminary plans for my son's first birthday (even though it's five months away -- I am very anal when it comes to party planning). We both agreed that any place was better than that popular pizza place, which we decided no matter which one in the city you visited always smelled like stinky feet. You know the place, it rhymes with "stuffy breezes."

I haven't decided yet if I would like his party in our home, or somewhere else. Of course, the pros of having it elsewhere are that there will be no clean-up afterwards for my husband and me to deal with, the children will have entertainment that will not bomb -- my puppet show may not go over well with the tiny mob, no matter how much fun I may have performing it -- and once it's done, it's done. Everyone can go home at the same time.

Of course, having the party at home means that it will be exactly how we, as a family, want it to be. A cozy, intimate home environment, where if my kid barfs all over himself, I can just change his outfit in the comfort of his own room. Need a nap? There's your bed. And of course, the games, the cheesy traditional games, can be played with relish. And don't forget the puppet show!

Still undecided and curious as to what my party options were, I found the following information. While most of these choices are probably too overwhelming for a 1-year-old, there are several options and styles to suit your child should they be older.

Ben & Jerry's Chicago - Chicago, 312/252-2900
Woo-wee! Who doesn't like ice cream? Adults and children alike can partake with great joy in a Ben & Jerry's ice cream party. You can have the party in their shop or they can come to you and take care of the set-up, serving and clean-up afterwards.

There are a few drawbacks, however. For parties where they come to you, there is a minimum of 50 people ($6.25 per person). And if you have an ice cream party at the store, it isn't really equipped for a "party" party -- it's more like a visit to an ice cream parlor with a bunch of your friends. There is no designated party room or special extras.

Bubbles Academy - Chicago, 312/944-7677
Bubbles Academy offers parties which are appropriate for children as young as one. In a colorful, warm environment, the birthday boy or girl and 15 of his or her friends can enjoy yoga, creative movement and arts and crafts. The parties last up an hour and a half, which is perfect for a younger group -- not too overwhelming.

Bubbles Academy provide the entertainment and space, but you provide all of the food, including the cake. Parents can also choose from a long list of age-appropriate party themes: boogie bubbles (music and movement), art and action, and more. Additionally, discounts are given for children who are attending the party and are currently enrolled in a Bubbles Academy class.

Enchanted Castle - Lombard, 630/953-7860
This castle-themed entertainment center in Lombard has a child's playland, more than 100 arcade and skill games, laser tag, mini golf, karaoke and a 3D motion ride.

Birthday packages start at $9.75 (which include pizza, soft drinks, 20 game tokens and one attraction pass) and go all the way up to $19.50 for additional items, including a round of laser tag and ice cream.

Haunted Trails - Burbank, 708/598-8580
With a haunted house theme, Haunted Trails boasts the best-rated miniature golf course in Chicagoland for four years in row. Besides mini golf, Haunted Trails has batting cages, go karts, a child-size roller coaster, bumper boats, a video arcade (with Dance Dance Revolution) and another arcade featuring games of skill such as skee ball, shooting hoops and, I kid you not, a Bozo Grand Prize Game.

Birthday packages include pizza, soft drinks and game tokens for guests. You provide the cake.

Lillstreet Art Center - Chicago, 773/769-4226
For the more artistically inclined child, Lillstreet offers parties for 3-year-olds and up (starting at $195) which feature multimedia projects, metalsmithing and sculpting with clay. Parents bring their own food and drinks, and a fridge is at their disposable.

Located in new facility at Montrose and Ravenswood, Lillstreet now offers storage lockers and a café.

North Beach Club - Chicago, 312/255-7842 ext. 35
With sandy indoor courts for volleyball and other games, North Beach parties include a private room, age-appropriate activites, a server, separate menus for parents and children, and serving ware. Each party is a two-hour event, and packages begin at $295. Parents are responsible for the cake and room decoration. Additional party options include a treasure hunt, moonwalk, cosmic bowling, tug-of-war and potato sack races.

For parents who are technology geeks and have slideshow presentations to embarrass their children with, North Beach can arrange audio-video equipment rental.

Odyssey Fun World - Tinley Park, 708/429-3800 and Naperville, 630/416-2222
A very big and clean place, Odyssey Fun World has many, many activities for older children, but caters to the younger ones as well. Parents can join their younger children in "Little Tikes Towne," which has slides, games and yes, that giant pool of those balls you can dive into.

For the older children, there is a 4,000-square-foot laser tag area and an indoor ferris wheel.

One potential downside to the Fun World in Tinley Park is that it is directly across the street from the Tweeter Center. If you are there on the same evening as a concert, expect to be stuck in traffic.

Waveland Bowl - Chicago, 773/472-5900
A bowling staple for years, Waveland Bowl on Western Avenue, offers Cosmic Bowling for children's parties on Friday, Saturday and Sunday afternoons. Lane bumpers are also available, so everyone can bowl a fun game without disappointing gutter balls.

Packages start at $80 and you are allowed to bring a cake, but Waveland takes care of the rest of the food. Also, each child in the party will receive a coupon for a free game.

Windy City Fieldhouse - Chicago, 773/486-7416
If your child is a sports nut, the Windy City Fieldhouse may be perfect for them. Adults and children can participate in basketball, volleyball, football, batting cages, kickball and more. You may either bring your own food (there is a kitchen near the party room) or use the fieldhouse's catering. A party coordinator is there to assist with the games.

Since it is across the street from the Target on Elston, expect parking to be a bit of a hassle. Even though the fieldhouse has its own parking, there is always congestion in that area.

Wonderworks - Oak Park, 708/383-4815
Wonder Works, a children's museum in Oak Park, has packages starting at $125 that include the use of the party room, a balloon bouquet for the birthday child and admission to the museum of up to 20 guests. Since it is at the museum, a ratio of one adult per every five children is required.

This is just a smattering of choices to consider when planning their child's birthday celebration. When trying to narrow your choices, keep these factors to keep in mind: the child's age, approximately how many guests will be attending and the personality of the child. Are they artsy? Do they enjoy more active pursuits? As for me, the time is still ticking so I better get some decisions under my belt. Only 144 days left to get this thing organized!

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About the Author(s)

Alejandra Valera is a new mom and writer. If there's a baby- or kid-friendly place, product or event you think she should cover, email her at .

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