Stress-free shindigs: All-in-one parties popular with parents, kids

Jennifer Carraher wanted to do something special for her daughter's fourth birthday without turning herself and her home inside out.

Her daughter, Cassandra, loves princesses and playing dress-up. So Carraher booked a princess party at Tiny Tots Tea Room in Clifton Park.

"The fun factor coupled with the (low) stress factor made it a really good time," she said.

A growing number of places around the Capital District offer birthday parties that cater to the younger set. Kids can get makeovers. They can take cooking lessons. They can make personalized pottery and stuffed animals. They can play laser tag and video games and scale indoor rock-climbing walls.

There are a variety of reasons parents are turning to these types of parties instead of simply serving the traditional cake and ice cream at home. These parties take less time and effort. They ensure the birthday child will have a memorable day. They expose kids to new experiences.

All of this has turned birthday parties into a big business, and not just in the Capital District.

"It seems to be all over the country," said Bill Doherty, a University of Minnesota professor who has studied the trend. "It's urban, it's rural, it's rich, it's poor."

Stacy Myron can attest to the popularity of planned parties. Myron, who owns Tumbling Tykes on Route 7 in Latham, unveiled her new "party on the go" plan at the recent Kids' Expo at the Empire State Plaza. So many parents liked the idea of having a Tumbling Tykes staffer come to their house to lead an afternoon of party activities that Myron, who hoped just to get the word out about the parties at the expo, already had reservations booked when the expo wrapped up.

The draw of the plan is similar to what attracts people to her indoor play facility for parties: "We do it all," Myron said. That means parents don't have to worry about planning games or entertainment, or even food -- Myron can supply cake, ice cream and pizza.

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