No More Boring Birthday Parties

Surprise! From space flights to dinosaur digs, spice up your child’s next celebration by hosting it at one of these oh-so-unique party places.

 John Huibregtse, lead flight director at the Lower Hudson Valley Challenger Center in Airmont, Rockland County, could almost see the stars in their eyes.

 The youngsters attending the birthday party last December 19th had just successfully completed their moon mission, despite an oxygen emergency and being hit by micrometeoroids. But the real icing on the cake came when Huibregtse moved the children outside. In the clear sky above, two white dots — the International Space Station and Space Shuttle Discovery — twinkled back at them. “Even the parents were wowed to see history flying over our heads at the end of the party,” he remembers. Of course, most parties at the Challenger Center don’t end this dramatically, but they all make a lasting impression.

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 “It was a great deal of fun, and a learning experience too,” says Tricia Scobey of New City, Rockland County, whose eight-year-old son, Jared, had a blast at his birthday celebration. “You knew you were someplace different — it was nothing like a classroom.”

 Challenger Centers nationwide honor the pioneering spirit of the Challenger astronauts. A simulated space ride, in conjunction with math, science, technology, social studies and language skills, combine to help children solve real-life situations and problems.  

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Guests of honor age nine or older can choose one of three missions: Return to the Moon, Voyage to Mars, or Rendezvous with a Comet. On the big day, the group is briefed upon arrival and all the revelers are assigned a job. Half take their place in the Mission Control simulator; the others don blue vests and enter the Spacecraft simulator.

  There’s no motion or anti-gravity sensation in the simulators; rather, high-tech tools such as computers, cameras, robotic arms and monitors — along with soaring imaginations — send partygoers to new heights. “One of our simulators looks like a Mission Control room, just like the ones you would see in Florida or Texas. It contains three long consoles that have TV-screen monitors and computers. The Spacecraft simulator is a room that looks like the inside of a space station laboratory. It, too, contains consoles with computers, TV monitors, and headsets. The kids get to play the role of researchers, scientists and astronauts,” says Huibregtse, who can rattle off astronauts and NASA missions the way many kids do ballplayers and teams. (He confesses that he still longs to be an astronaut.)

Scobey says the party “flight directors” warmed up her 14 guests in the Command Center, capturing their attention with cool experiments demonstrating things like air pressure and gravity. A hunt for hidden aliens acquainted the attendees with the simulators before they were split into groups to work on team tasks. Perhaps a Spacecraft team has discovered a dangerous increase in temperature or decrease in oxygen. Alarms sound and lights flash; the Mission Control team works to solve the problem, and communicates back to the Spacecraft. Flight directors are ever present to offer guidance and keep the mission moving. There’s also a party room so the young scientists can fuel up on goodies after their space exploration is complete.

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 “Some of the tasks weren’t that easy, but the whole party, and mission, moved along really quickly,” Scobey says. “It really exceeded our expectations.”

The age nine-and-up party is $330 for up to 16 guests. Each additional child is $10, with a maximum of 30. The Secret Moon Mission for younger children (which includes hands-on activities, a look at the sun through solar glasses, a scavenger hunt, and a rotation through the Spacecraft) is $260, with room for a maximum of 16 space travelers.

 The  Lower Hudson Valley Challenger Center is located at 225 Route 59,  Airmont. For more information, call 845-357-3416 or visit


Terry Bernardo knew that birthday celebrations would be keeping her on her toes when she and her husband, Len, built Skate Time 209, a 30,000-square-foot roller skating rink and indoor skateboard park in Accord, Ulster County. Armed with a degree from Birthday University (a national workshop that teaches businesses how to run children’s parties), Bernardo and her highly trained staff know how to keep each event rolling.

The birthday child and guests begin the party in the private VIP Lounge. Here, the kids gather while being kept busy by the “Party Hero,” who plays games, does magic tricks, and has the group sign a tote bag or T-shirt for the birthday girl or boy.

After the group has assembled, it’s off to the roller rink or skateboard park for 50 minutes of some “wheelie” good fun. The Party Hero has previously called the parents to learn a little about the guest of honor. “If she likes Barney, we’ll make sure the Barney theme is played while the group is skating,” Bernardo says.

 The Party Hero focuses on the birthday boy or girl, so it’s recommended that parents consider the $15 option of a skating helper. “Nothing brings a party to a screeching halt like a kid who can’t skate,” says Bernardo.

 The roll theme continues even after the wheels are at rest. A signature après-skate option is the Cool Dog — vanilla ice cream shaped like a hot dog on (you guessed it) a roll that’s really a cake. The Cool Dogs or a sheet cake follow pizza and drinks in the party room. Later, the children troop into the arcade, where the games are all family-friendly (no violence) and include favorites such as Dance Dance Revolution, air hockey, and various racing games.

Watts Your Hobby, a hobby/skateboarding store located inside the rink, runs a gift registry so the birthday child can sign up for specific gifts. Registering for an expensive items, such as a customized skateboard, can be broken down into affordable parts; one guest can purchase the wheels, another the grip tape, several can contribute towards the deck, and so on.

 The Ultimate Skate Package (two pizzas, two pitchers of drink, paper goods, invitations, roller skates, arcade tokens, Cool Dogs and goodie bags) is $199 for 10 kids. The Super Skate package (no Cool Dogs or goodie bags, and fewer tokens) is $175. Skate Time 209 is located at 5164 Route 209 at

Mettacahonts Road

in Accord. For more information, call 845-626-7971 or visit


Imagine your child starring in a version of the Ben Stiller movie Night at the Museum. All right, the exhibits won’t come to life, but pretending you are a red blood cell traveling through the heart and lungs is still pretty fun.

The Mid-Hudson Children’s Museum in Poughkeepsie has more than 50 hands-on exhibits that pump, play and pique the interest of kids up to 12. And it is a little like the movie: you can get the whole museum to yourself.

Youngsters love the bubble machine — where they step inside, pull on a cord and find themselves encased in a real soap bubble — or the new Hudson River Dive Bell, the museum’s own yellow submarine (and yes, the song is played), where special lights and sound effects give the sensation of descending into the depths of the Hudson River. And there’s a live fish tank full of slimy eels.

 Another favorite is the new history exhibit. Children can visit an old jail or ride a coin-operated horse and pretend to be Sybil Ludington (the 16-year-old girl who alerted settlers to the advance of British troops during the American Revolution). Buttons to push and robotic arms to manipulate keep kids busy for hours — well, minutes, until they’re rushing off to pull on something else.

 From the party room, there’s a breathtaking view of the Hudson by day or a magical vista at night when the Mid-Hudson Bridge displays its dazzling lights.

 “Parents bring the food and paper goods. We provide the space and free use of the museum,” says Sara Capozzoli, director of media and community relations. “You can have pizza delivered and just bring dessert. We make it easy on parents to just have fun with the kids.”

 The cost is $150 for a party with 14 children; $7 for each additional child. The cost to rent the entire museum when it’s closed is $200 to $250. The museum is located at

75 N. Water Street, Poughkeepsie

; call 845-471-0589 or visit


Looking for a party concept that’s sure to score a home run with your little slugger?

 Consider loading all the bases with a celebration at a Hudson Valley Renegades game at Dutchess Stadium in  Wappingers Falls. While this ever-popular minor league baseball team gets down to playing ball, the birthday boy or girl will certainly be having a ball.

 The festivities begin when the gates open. The birthday “team” is ushered by a hostess to a tented area near Playland. Everyone gets a food voucher for a hot dog, hamburger or chicken sandwich plus chips and a soda. Of course, there’s a personalized cake, and paper goods are supplied. Guests receive a Renegades pennant and two Playland coupons; the guest of honor, typically age 14 and younger, gets a team-autographed ball.

 During the second inning, the hostess guides the group to their reserved grandstand seats. The birthday child — the day’s most valuable player — is photographed on top of the dugout with the team’s raccoon mascots, Rookie, Rene and Rascal. There’s recognition of the birthday child on the scoreboard, and another pitch is made over the loudspeaker.

 “The kids really get into it,”  says Ticket Account Manager Kristen Huss. Kids have often been heard saying  “I want to take Rascal home with me,” which leads to another birthday option: hiring the mascots to come to your party. One or more raccoons will arrive with an assistant, a boom box and music, and entertain the youngsters for up to two hours.

The Dutchess Stadium  option costs $225 for 15 children and adults.  The stadium is on Route 9D in Wappingers Falls. For more information, call 845-838-0094. To rent a raccoon,  call Michael Branda at 845-838-0094, ext. 228. Prices vary.



Perhaps your child’s imaginary flights of fancy travel back in time rather than above the Earth. In that case, a party hosted by Dinosaurs Rock could be the ticket. 

 Ever since Rockland County resident Neil Brown opened his first geode (that’s a round volcanic rock) and exposed a gorgeous crystal, he’s been hooked on the mysteries of geologic and prehistoric treasures — including, of course, dinosaurs. Seven years ago, he and his wife Leslie Freund gave their son a birthday party centered on dad’s delight with  dinosaurs, and the concept of a fossil-fueled business mushroomed from there.

 Dinosaurs Rock regularly appears in public places such as the Bronx Zoo, but it is also known for the  fabulosaurus parties it stages in private homes. Depending on the package selected, some 40 pieces of prehistoric skeletons — including a nine-foot-high mastodon leg or a five-foot wide T. rex skull cast from real fossils — transform the backyard into your very own Jurassic Park.

  “Our goal is to give an authentic learning experience in a fun way,” says Freund. “We recently did a party with 163 kids and parents. Everyone stayed riveted for 50 minutes. There was absolutely no wandering, either mentally or physically.”

 Laurie Landgarten still can’t believe how Brown mesmerized 25 seven-year-old boys in the garage of her Scarsdale home for half an hour. “He arrived an hour before the party started, which took away all the stress for me, to set up the life-size  fossils that included things like big bones and imprints of dinosaur feet,” Landgarten says.

 “He’s very engaging. The kids ask a lot of questions,” Landgarten continues. “And he’s very good about catering to the birthday child. He used Noah to illustrate the difference between the size  of a child’s head and a dinosaur’s.”

 After the presentation, Noah and his guests got to dig through huge tubs filled with dirt, rocks  — and real fossils (each child gets 10 to take home). Brown and Freund have cultivated sources from around the world, which keep them in a steady supply of genuine geodes, fossils and minerals. A prehistoric treasure hunt followed, and the party wrapped up with a ring toss around the toes of a dinosaur bone. While Brown cleaned up,  the boys ate and shared dinosaur tales. They’re still talking about it, Landgarten says.

Parties range from a Little Raptor gathering ($395) for three- and four-year-olds to a super-sized Extreme Party ($1,250) that’s geared for ages up to about 12. Prices are for up to 20 guests.  For more information, call 845-368-3466, or visit



If your birthday bambino is especially hard to please, consider these options:

The Inner Wall: 4000+ feet of climbing wall will keep your little cragsmen entertained for hours — book a slumber party for climbers who need to rest after their hard day’s work. New Paltz. 845-255-ROCK or

Kelder’s Farm: Time at the petting zoo, hayrides, cow milking, and a picnic lunch are all included in this farm-themed festivity. Kerhonkson. 845-626-7137 or

Museum of the Hudson Highlands: Book a private party room, choose a nature theme (like Nature Sleuths) for a fun but educational  birthday bash. Cornwall. 845-534-5506 or

Musical Munchkins: Your little guests will have a ball singing, dancing, and playing
instruments and games. In Orange, Ulster, and Dutchess counties. 845-895-1387 or

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