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How to Pull Off a Pirate Party

Today we held our son Max’s 4th birthday party. Usually, we do a small family get-together for these kinds of occasions, but as the kids get older, it has expanded to two separate parties — one party with the friends, and one party with the family. I’m not sure how it evolved into two parties for each child (do you do this too?), but it’s far too much work in my opinion!

So, usually I choose to “outsource” the children’s party by hiring a venue. This makes life soooo much easier — you don’t need to clean your house before or after, nor do you need to organize games or even the food. All you need to do is pick up a great cake! (I know I’m not alone in this because I only need to look at my sponsor Help! We’ve Got Kids site to see a complete list of awesome locations for kids’ parties.)

But as this year is the first year that Max has had a party with little friends, I hadn’t clued into the scheduling hiccups I’d run into with the Canada Day long weekend just around the corner. Most venues have openings for the long weekend, but most friends are away. And vice versa: most friends are in town the weekend before the long weekend, but most venues are fully booked.

You know what this meant, right? Yep, Hubby and I were going to need to pull off a Pirate Party (the birthday boy’s requested theme) ourselves. This didn’t faze Hubby one bit. But at this time of year, where both our work places tend to be running at more than full steam, I wondered how we would find the time. But, alas, I am happy to report that we managed to do it!

I sent out email invites for a Sunday party so that we’d have Saturday to pull it all together. And here’s how it all turned out …

Getting in the Mood

If it’s not Hallowe’en season, you’re going to need to hit the local party store (PartyMart in our case) because the regular stores and dollar stores won’t be stocking the right materials for the mateys.

I picked up pirate-themed temporary tattoos and plastic eye patches to help all the little invitees to get in the mood once they arrived. We held the party at a local park, so I also picked up some hanging decorations that we could drape from the trees.

Chocolate Cake (of course)

Upon being asked which flavour of cake he would like, Max requested chocolate (to which his mother replied, “of course!” since that would be my choice too). I didn’t actually want to do cake per se though since cupcakes are a no-brainer — no cutting, no forks, no plates!

Two out out of the five little invitees have nut allergies, so I was going to bake them myself on Saturday. A few weeks ago, I’d seen a pirate cupcake decoration kit at HomeSense, so off I went to find that. But of course, there were none left at my local HomeSense nor at two other Ottawa-area HomeSense stores (which my sweet friend Tanya scouted for me).

However, Google came to the rescue (as he usually does). I was thrilled with how they turned out, but owe all creative kudos to this site.

The cupcakes even managed to survive the transport and the summer heat until being promptly devoured by some very cute little pirate people!

A Pirate Ship Pinata

As long-time readers know, pinatas are a bit of a tradition around here. Stella kicked off this tradition on her third birthday and this year is Max’s first pinata request — a pirate ship. True to form, a pirate ship was indeed delivered by Hubby. He worked into the dark on it on Saturday, and it was so detailed that it really felt like a shame to let it be strung up in the tree for destruction by the little pirates!

The pinata held treasure (gold chocolate coins and candy rings) that all came sprinkling out after many bats with a hockey stick.

The Treasure Hunt

Hubby went out to the park on the Saturday to come up with a plan for a treasure hunt that he was then going to sketch into a map. And what a map it was!

He got a kick out of adding labels to the various elements in the map, like the Kanatasaurus (the park is located in a suburb called Kanata) and the Gazebo of Lost Souls. Yes, this is a nod to Dora the Explorer (Max is a fan)!

The kids really got into this treasure hunt. And when I asked them at goodbye-time what was their favourite part of the pirate party, almost every single child said, “The treasure hunt!” So, if you do nothing else, do a treasure hunt!

The Pirate Booty Loot

The treasure hunt culminated with a big “X” where a treasure chest lay waiting. The children were all told that I was a specialist with locks so we’d need to bring the chest back to the picnic area for me to take a look.

So a merry band of pirates eagerly awaited for me to work my magic. Inside lay all of the lootbags as a party finale.

While most children might prefer a bag full of sugary treats, I am that mother who gives a book for “loot.” (But I swear I don’t give out toothpaste at Halloween!)

I had waltzed into Chapters and asked for some Peter Pan books, thinking I could simply take a page out of Giulia’s party planning tricks. Uh, no so luck. Not a single Peter Pan book in the entire children’s section.

BUT, I totally did score some luck because right in the bargain books section was a pop-up pirate ship book — and in the exact number I needed! Yah!

Stella helped me prepare these by adding a pirate pencil, some pirate tattoos, and a thank-you note.

Naturally, a party is nothing without great company. Big huge thanks to all the parents who joined in the fun and to all of the little pirates for being such good sports!



  1. chantal_mc says:

    I gave books at my middle sons 4th birthday party and almost all the kids love them (all except my nephew who cried cause he wanted a toy). The parents really loved them so that counts as a win in my books. Pirate parties are awesome. I can’t wait for D2 to request his!

  2. That looks like an awesome party! We held my daughter’s 6th birthday party on Saturday (her birthday is actually June 30 so we have the same issue as you with friends being gone on vacation) I’m just thankful the weather was okay so the kids played in the backyard. My craft project and game did NOT last as long as I had anticipated 😉
    I’m waiting to see what my other daughter requests for HER birthday in a few weeks :)

    •  @Carrie Rogo Hi Carrie! I think this is the first time you’ve commented here on Coffee with Julie – welcome and thanks! From your blog, I can see that you are a Canadian writer …. that’s amazing and I look forward to following you blog too! (let me know what your daughter ends up picking for her birthday theme!)

      • I’ve been following your blog for a while and I think I’ve commented before (but it might have had a different name since you switched to livefyre)
        I’m hoping she keeps it simple…she’s turning 4 as well.

        • coffeewithjulie says:

           @Carrie Rogo Well it’s great to have you here! (Simple is always sooo much easier. Like any girl who picks a princess, butterfly or fairy party is a no-brainer for the organizer!)

  3. wow, that party looked awesome!!! that pinata was out of control amazing, it would be almost sad to see it smashed. and i agree about treasure hunts, i use them for all kinds of subjects, i even did a math scavenger hunt – kids love it!!

    • coffeewithjulie says:

      It seems like the treasure hunt is such a great way to get kids engaged! You are the coolest teacher ever to use them for math!

  4. This party looks like it was a BLAST! Kudos to you for those darling cupcakes, and kudos to your husband for making that awesome pirate ship! And I would have loved to get a book in my goody bag after a party. Then again, I read all the time when I was little, so maybe that’s just me! 

  5. This was fantastic Julie! We tweeted about you needing to bake the cupcakes – you sure rocked them! And that pinata is something else. The whole things just looked like such fun. What a lucky little pirate. 

    • coffeewithjulie says:

      Yes, I am so impressed with myself over the cupcakes that I’m thinking I might need to change my name to Martha 😉 It was super fun!

  6. hstardom says:

    Hey Julie!  Wicked cool party.  I got shivers because it was eerily similar to my son Max’s 4th pirate-themed birthday party last September.  We also did a treasure map, cupcakes, pirate garb, etc.  Kerry helped with the craft station (decorate your own treasure box). The pinata is AMAZING and the pop-up books are an extra great score.  What a great idea to look in the bargain books section!  I’ll be tucking that one away.  SO much better than more dollar store crap. The cupcakes look great too. Kudos to you too for putting this thing together without the benefit of Halloween gear everywhere around.  You can check out a few photos of my Max’s pirate party here – 

    • coffeewithjulie says:

       @hstardom I checked out your party – yeah, you guys totally rocked it!! I especially loved the red bandannas and how each child had their very own treasure chest! (Is Kerry the same Kerry I went to NYC with? I’m slow … help me put the pieces together!) One other tip for books as lootbags … in years where I’ve been more prepared, you can score amazing deals on books online since you have access to better quantities than the one or two random ones you might find at the store itself. 

  7. hstardom says:

    Yes, Kerry of NYC fame is my BFF. We’ve been friends since undergrad and she stood up for us at our wedding 11 years ago.  It’s odd; between the blog and Kerry’s anecdotes, I *almost* feel like I know you.  Hopefully we’ll get a chance to meet in person at some point.  Thanks for the book tips.  I’ll keep that in mind for the birthday barrage in the years to come with three boys.  Max’s 5-year old request for September is a “pilot’s party” so I can probably start looking for airplane books now!  His big idea is pilot uniforms so Kerry and I have been brainstorming how to make that happen.  The latest is white dress shirts with make your own badges/chevrons.  I know it is a lot of work but didn’t you feel an enormous amount of satisfaction when you had your Martha moment?  I know that I certainly have in the past.  

    • coffeewithjulie says:

       @hstardom Ah, well, then I know exactly who you are too! :) So funny! Now, is this a “fighter pilot” or “airline pilot” we’re talking? By the white shirt, I am guessing airline! Now, that really does sound like a lot of work … but if the parents think it is fun too, why not! However, if a parent is not into it, well, I say .. skip it and pick up a cake from Costco! Life is too short to spend time doing things out of some strange “Martha-esque” obligation, right?!

  8. Nice post, i really love reading this article.

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