Jungle Cruise Party


Viola’s 9th birthday fell right after our “Animal Kingdom” trip to Disney, so we pushed the party back a few weeks until the weather was a little bit warmer--- it’s hard having an April birthday! I’m really glad we did because the weather was beautiful the day of her party and the kids had a lot of fun playing in the yard which we are never able to do in April. 

Viola loves animals and wanted to do an “Animal Themed” birthday party. Having just returned from Disney this quickly turned into a Jungle Cruise themed party--- I’m not sure whether this was more her idea or mine! On our trip we also ate at the Skipper Canteen for the first time and that was definitely another bit of inspiration for this party. (Skipper Canteen, by the way, is definitely my new favorite Disney restaurant!!)I had so much fun – maybe too much fun! – working in a bunch of Jungle Cruise nods that I’m pretty sure nobody got except me and one other person (thanks for laughing at my jokes, Doug!) So, for my own edification, I’ve included the Jungle Cruise references along with this party blog post!

You can check out my pinterest inspiration board for more ideas!


Animals! – Animals was the theme of the day, and the girls pulled up every “wild animal” stuffed animal that they had in the massive hoard of stuffed animals. We had monkeys and owls and snakes and cheetahs and tropical birds and more, oh my!


Room Wraps – We used a combination of room wraps from previous parties: the tiki wraps from our Luau party, and the waterfall wrap that we used for our Moana party  a few months earlier. Because we pushed Viola’s party back until it was warm, we didn’t cover the windows because there was no snow to hide.

Jungle Navigation Co. port – We turned our front area into the Jungle Navigation dock. The kids picked up their safari gear and animal scavenger hunt check lists here. We had lots of Disney souvenirs, props from previous parties, stuffed animals, houseplants, … not to mention all the ‘artifacts’ that we have as part of our home décor, to make a great vignette. I brought the jungle Cruise, Swiss Family Tree House, and Tiki Birds posters up from the basement playroom, along with the girls’ lemonade stand, too. I printed up a bunch of posters and pinned them to our pin board with a selection of Animal Kingdom Disney trading pins! It was cute… even if no one else got the jokes!


Our Disnspiration:


Basecamp – The girls share a sparkly pink princess teepee, which we used for basecamp. In keeping with the theme, though, I covered the pink sparkly tulle with grass skirts from our luau parties. On the jungle cruise, basecamp had been infiltrated by curious gorillas, so we added a few stuffed monkeys to our teepee. Again, I’m pretty sure no one got this joke but me…. Regardless, lots of fun was had playing in the teepee.

Our Disnspiration:

Schweitzer Falls – the water room wrap from our Little Mermaid party was repurposed as a waterfall to cover up our fireplace… Schweitzer Falls, to be exact! Some brown paper vines and strategically placed leafy vines, and the ol’ ring toss alligator completed the look…. Though I’m pretty sure only myself and 1 other person got the Schweitzer falls reference or the sign that said “backside of water”!


Our Disnspiration:


Tables - We did not bring out the spindles that we usually use for our parties because Viola and her friends have gotten too big for sitting on the floor! (gasp!) so we added all the leaves to our dining room table and had the kids sit around that… which was mayhem. I much prefer there little tables! But we were able to reuse our luau trim with some inexpensive leaf-print vinyl tablecloths I found at our local party store.



Trader Sam’s Cannibal Buffet – Our buffet for this party consisted of fruits, trail mixes, sandwiches cut in animal shapes, creepy crawly bug candy, and blue water bottled from Schweitzer falls! The biggest hits, though, were the platter full of ZEBRA CAKES and the watermelon slices cut into gingerbred shapes… what else would you expect from Trader Sam’s Cannibal Buffet?!

(The girls and I had so much fun creating our "not cannibal" menu!)

(The girls and I had so much fun creating our "not cannibal" menu!)

Our Disnspiration:

Jungle Waterfall Cake – After the success I had with the Moana cake (http://www.princessrants.com/princessrants/2018/4/5/moana-party ), I decided to give it another go with this “jungle waterfall” cake. I followed the same instructions of freezing the layers before frosting, and used Piroulines again for that bamboo/tropical look. I alternated chocolate and vanilla and the hardest thing was keeping my family from stealing them! I purchased candy leaves, flowers, and butterflies and lots of sparkly blue sprinkles for the waterfall. Inside, the cake layers were dyed darkening shades of green. The kids loved the cake and I loved the final look. I can’t wait to make another one!  



Animal Scavenger Hunt – When the kids arrived their first stop was the Jungle Navigation Co. Dock, where they picked up their safari gear and their Animal Scavenger Hunt card I had created to match the stuffed animals that the girls had hidden throughout the house and yard. This was our first party where it was warm/dry enough for the kids to play in the yard, and it definitely helped having them outside for a portion of the day. This was Viola’s 9th birthday and since the kids are all getting older, I forwent the carnival style games and goodie bags that we normally have done! The scavenger hunt kept the kids busy while our main entertainment was set up. They returned their completed scavenger hunt cards to me to receive their goody bags and – of course – they got to keep their safari gear! I also bought a roll of round animal stickers that looked like badges and gave them out to the kids throughout the day and they stuck them to their safari helmets.


Goody Bags – Goody bags were fill of animal print novelty items – pens, fans, candy, fuzzy notebooks, as well as little plastic animal figurines. The kids also received binoculars, plastic pit helmets, animal print bandanas, and canteens.

Animal Education - The main event of the afternoon was a visit by Mark Rosenthal from Animal Magic and his amazing animals. The kids learned a lot about animals and were able to see a lot of different ones including tarantula, sloth, a baby fennec fox, snake, and others. Mark was so knowledgeable and the kids LOVED chatting to him. He kept them occupied for hours! If you are doing a party in SE Michigan I would absolutely recommend him!


This theme was so much fun for me! We had so much that we were able to reuse from previous parties that I barely bought anything at all for this party. It was pulled together rather quickly and looking back at the photos I keep thinking of more things that we have that we could have used --- how did I forget to bring up the African Chief’s chair and giant butterfly kite? We should have totally put the family tent up in the back yard, too! Maybe we Eva is older I will have the opportunity to do this theme again!!

Moana Party


As soon as Eva saw Moana she was hooked—get it? ;-)

She has been particularly obsessed with Tamatoa and his shiny song. So it was no surprise to me that when her birthday rolled around a few months later that we’d be having a Moana-themed event.

Unfortunately, because the movie was so new that they weren’t many party products available or pinterest-inspiration to be had. On the other hand, since we’d already thrown luau and mermaid-themed parties, I felt fairly confident putting a Moana party together and was really excited to get started!

Eva actually wanted a party devoted solely to Tamatoa, but I was able to persuade her that a Moana-themed party would probably make more sense. 

I made a little video that shows all the decorations as you're walking through the house, plus some fun snippets from the party! Check it out: 


We love re-using party supplies, which is why after every party I carefully take down the decorations, peel the tape off, wrap them up neatly and store them away in giant tubs. My husband makes fun of me, but when Eva decided she wanted her birthday party theme to be Moana, I knew I was all set and had 90% of what I would need to put together a great party for her. And, bonus, the decoration were even cut to size already, which made decorating super easy!



... after!

... after!

Room Wraps - I am a big fan of room wraps because they’re an inexpensive way to really transform a space. We like to cover our bookshelves in our party room with a room wrap to keep the kids from touching the knick-knacks on them, too. For the Moana we went with the tiki/bamboo background that we’d used for our luau party. In addition to wrapping the bookshelves, we had room wraps in the windows that gave the room a warm, tropical feel (and hid the snow outside from ruining the atmosphere!)

Table decorations – Our spindle tables, also, were reused from the luau party with cute grass skirts and tiki mugs filled with tropical flowers, as well as tiki mask plates!


Shiny! – We pulled out the trusty ol’ pirate treasure again for our Tamatoa trove of shiny gold goodies to disguise the fireplace.

Lanterns/Balloons – We strung paper lanterns across the room and mixed the saved sea turtle balloons with new hibiscus patterned helium balloons.

Moana’s ship – Years ago my husband built a little pirate raft which has been used and reused. For the Moana party he re-configured the sail from a pirate-sail to the triangle sailboat sale. Eva and her friends had a lot of fun “steering” and practicing their rope tricks! I had wanted to paint Moana’s emblem on the sail, but unfortunately ran out of time. :-(

Picture spot – I was able to find a promotional Moana standee which I paired with a new waterfall room wrap to create this cute picture spot in the front room. It was a good excuse to buy some new houseplants, too, since I’d killed all of our other houseplants (I have since killed these ones too, alas.) The waterfall was reused a few weeks later for our Jungle Cruise party!

Fun & Games

Luau Lessons – Miss Fran from The Polynesian Dancers of Michigan joined us for this party since the dance lesson from the original Luau was such a big hit. The kids loved learning about the types of dancing native to island cultures like Moana’s.


Games – We do carnival style games where the kids can collect the ‘prizes’ for their goody bags. For our Moana party we did the Limbo, pineapple bowling, and collecting seashells and shiny treasure from the sand traps. The sand relay race was also a big hit again!

The prizes were pretty much the same as our Luau party, so if you’re looking for ideas definitely check out that post here. Hula skirts, luau bears, hibiscus patterned toys and little party games, candy, etc.

Coconut bowling ended up being cut short because the girls were really curious to find out what that "sloshing sound" was inside of the coconuts, so we broke one open and they tasted the coconut milk ... which they all agreed was 'deeescusting!' and tasted like soap!

Coconut bowling ended up being cut short because the girls were really curious to find out what that "sloshing sound" was inside of the coconuts, so we broke one open and they tasted the coconut milk ... which they all agreed was 'deeescusting!' and tasted like soap!


Buffet – We did a scaled-down version of the same food we served for our luau party. Despite the fact that I LOVED the pineapple upside down cake and dole whip, those weren’t huge hits with the kids, so we stuck to candy sushi, sand dollar cookies, and I ordered a pineapple pizza which perplexed many of the kids who chose cheese instead. Le sigh. For party candy, we of course had to have a dish full of all the shiny gold candy we could find!


The cake - Eva is a bit ‘spoiled’ in that she has seen several of these parties now and has opinions when it comes to what she wants for her parties. She was particularly particular about the cake which she described in detail and even drew a picture of! This was my first time doing the cake myself (our friend Becky had done our Ariel and Luau cakes, and I had to call her several times for advice/support as I was going through the cake making process!) I learned a lot of tricks that made it easier than I was anticipating! Namely, Becky told me the secret was in freezing the layers before frosting so that the frosting would go on smoother. WHAT?! That would have never occurred to me, but it worked like a charm!


Eva wanted a cake that was “the ocean” and went “down to the realm of monsters”. I carved out a section of the bottom of the cake (which I reinforced with a hidden Tupperware) to create Tamatoa’s cave full of shiny gold coins. For a first try at making a birthday cake, I’m very proud of how this turned out!


The exciting unveiling of the party was Eva’s ‘big present’ which was actually a very small HERMIT CRAB! Which, of course, was named Tamatoa! 


All in all, we had a lot of fun and made great memories. Now that we've thrown a handful of parties, I am getting more comfortable taking on more things myself, like the cake and photography (which was done by my husband) than I was with earlier parties when the girls were younger. I can't wait for the next one! 

Mermaid Party


You know how it is with second children—they seem to get a little less than their first born siblings. Less photos, more handmedowns, etc. With Viola we had birthday parties every year. In hindsight, I wasn’t sure that that was time, money, or effort well spent as those early parties she didn’t really enjoy or even remember. With Eva I decided that we would only do “big” parties from age 5-9 (10 and beyond I figured both girls would be wanting to do slumber parties instead of the themed extravaganza’s we’d been having). The early parties with Eva were simple family affairs. We got our cute photos of her eating cake or smashing an ice cream sundae and that was that. Easy peasy lemon squeezy.

All was going well until a few months before Eva’s 4th birthday when she started planning her party—herself! She began telling anyone who would listen (grandmas, nanny, preschool teachers) all about the birthday party she was going to have when she turned 4, and they relayed the information to me much to my surprise. She was very particular: it would be an Ariel birthday party, with fish balloons, and a “tall, tall, tall” fish cake, and Ariel and Prince Eric would be there, too. Suffice to say, this was all news to me. But she was so adamant about it and so adorably particular that I just couldn’t help but break my own rule. And so we had an Under-the-Sea themed birthday party!

(For more ideas, you can check out my Pinterest Inspiration board here).

Room Decorations


Room Wraps – I am a big fan of room wraps because they’re an inexpensive way to really transform a space. We like to cover our bookshelves in our party room with a room wrap to keep the kids from touching the knick-knacks on them. For the Under-the-sea party we found ocean themed room wraps which we added a coral reef overlay to.

Seaweed – I used twisted green crete paper to create seaweed around the room, too.

Fish, Fish everywhere – I bought several types of paper and inflatable fish which we strung from the helium balloons overhead, and attached to the walls. We found helium balloons in various fish shape, including sea turtles and dolphins, which we let loose in our high-ceiling’d room. I attached green streamers to the strings to look like seaweek and enhance that “under the sea” feel. Small clear and blue balloons (half inflated) served as bubbles.


Sunken pirate ship – We reused the pirate ship from our pirate & princess party as well, and pretended it was a “sunken ship”.

Ariel’s Grotto - We covered the fireplace in fishnet and re-used some of the pirate treasure from our Pirate&Princess party to create Ariel’s “grotto”, complete with inexpensive candelabra full of silverware of course!


Table settings – We reused the spindle tables (honestly, those things have gotten so much use!), with Ariel-themed tablecloths and more fishnet. I also found fish confetti which we sprinkled about. We re-used the stacked clear dishes as centerpieces that we had from our Frozen party, which I filled with seashells, and the shabby chic teacups/teapots from our Pirate/Princess party as well.


BUBBLE MACHINE – no under the sea party would be complete without a BUBBLE MACHINE. I personally hate bubbles (gasp!) but when I commit to a theme I commit 100%!

Treats / Food

Buffet - The buffet included starfish sandwiches (PP&J cut with a star shaped cookie cutter), “SeaFoam” (blue cotton candy), candy sushi, seaweed grape kebobs, goldfish served with a fishnet, clam cookies, seaweed salad, a watermelon sharp, blue jello cups with happy banana dolphins, and more! I found cute sea creature kabob sticks which I liberally stuck into all the food!


Cake - The bakery where we usually get our birthday cakes had gone out of business a few months before our Ariel party. Our friend Becky offered to make the cake and WOW! did she outdo herself! I bought ready-made blue icing and a variety of sugar fish; because Ariel is Eva’s favorite character, we already had on hand lot so Ariel decorations from her doll set that we were able to use for the cake. Becky used crushed nilla wafers to make the sandy sea floor bootom and green sour straws for seaweed. BEST.CAKE.EVER!



Facepainting - Eva remembered the facepainter we had had for her sister’s party, and this was one of the details she’d ‘planned’. She wanted everyone to have mermaid scales facepaint. Unfortunately, since we were planning this party super last minute Cindy was unavailable, but with the help of the internet and a little experimentation I figured out how to get the mermaid scale effect using fishnet stockings and blue/green face paint!


Storytime – Prince Eric and Ariel came for storytime and to visit with the kids and to take photos. The kids LOVED chatting with them and singing along to some of their favorite songs. 


Games – The kids played a variety of games to fill their goody bags with prizes. We had octopus ring-toss, magnetic fishing, and ducks floating in water like at the carnival (does that game have a name?), as well as crab sandbox that the kids could dig through and keep the treasure that they found (reused from our pirate party). Once again: sand throughout my house for weeks, but SO WORTH IT!



Each girl received a sandbucket to collect the goodies she won in the carnival-style games (every one was a winner!), which included seashells with fish and seashell shaped soaps/bath fizzies (fishing station), mermaid-themed rubber duckies (duckie station), seashell necklaces (ring toss station), pirate treasure (sand station), and fish-themed candy from the buffet.


 Re-use is a big theme in our house and part of how we are able to have such “big” decorated parties is by creatively reusing and recombining elements from other parties. The Mermaid party was two months before our Luau party, so a lot of the same decorations were re-used for that party, which helped me justify the cost knowing that they’d be used at least twice. At the time of writing this post they’ve gone on to be used 3 more times… for Eva’s Moana party, Viola’s Jungle Cruise party, and as set decorations for a community theater play the girls were in!

I’m so glad I “gave in” and let Eva have a party a year early. She still talks about her Mermaid party. I learned lots from this party – how to facepaint, and how to bake tiered cakes! – and have so many great memories! 


Photography by: Natalie Gelman Photography

Prince Eric / Princess Ariel: Magical Memories Entertaiment

Ruffle Dresses from: HotTotsCoolKids on Etsy (and reused on many Disney trips!)

Decorations & prizes were purchased from OrientalTrading, PartyCheap and Amazon.

Luau Party

Remember way back when, when I was lamenting the fact that Frozen came along and hijacked my plans for hosting a Luau-themed party? Well, since then, Viola's favorite character has changed to Stitch -- from Lilo & Stitch -- and guess where that movie takes place? Hawaii!  

Eva is still into Ariel. Her birthday is earlier in the year and she was dead-set on a Mermaid Party. There was the opportunity to re-use a lot of the same decorations for both parties which helped cut down on the cost. 

Viola's birthday is in mid-April the weather is often hit-or-miss. We decided to do an indoor Luau because we weren’t sure whether it would be muddy outside or not. It turned out to be a cold, rainy April and so it was extra fun to have a little ‘tropical vacation’ in our family room as an escape from the dreary weather! 

I have to say that the luau turned out to be one of my favorite parties that we've ever done -- and we've had our fair share of fun parties! I was recently asked to share the details of our luau party with our local MetroParent online magazine! I wanted to make sure that I shared all the details with those who want more information on the games and decorations and snacks that we served! 

You can see the Pinterest Inspiration board for the Luau I put together way back when, and lots of pictures from our party down below taken by the very talented Miss Natalie Gelman who has expertly documented several of our parties now (because I'm completely hopeless with a camera!) You might also want to check out some of the other parties we've done, too! 


I was really lucky with this party because I found someone on craigslist who was selling a big bin of Luau-themed decorations, so I ended up with a lot of tiki-masks and such. The other items I purchased online from Oriental Trader and Party Cheap website.

  • Room Wraps – I am a big fan of room wraps because they’re an inexpensive way to really transform a space. We like to cover our bookshelves in our party room with a room wrap to keep the kids from touching the knick-knacks on them. For the Luau we also cut up a large room wrap and put it in the glass doors which created a really sunny atmosphere in the room!
  • Tiki Masks – We put these everywhere there was wall space!
  • Inflatable Surf boards and Palm Trees – These were great and inexpensive decorations that I thought I’d be able to use again. Unfortunately, the palm trees barely made it to the end of the party.
  • Real Sand & Seashells – We filled the inflatable palm tree coolers with real sand and seashells!
  • Hanging lanterns – We are lucky to have a family room with cathedral ceilings. We were able to string lanterns from flower ropes across our party room!
  • Pineapples - We needed lots of pineapples for pineapple bowling, but before the games portion of the party we had these spread around the room as decoration. After the party we had more pineapples than we could possible eat so we were giving these away to everyone who happened to stop by the house for any reason in the week afterward!
  • Helium Balloons – The morning of the party we went to our local Party City and bought some helium balloons. Some of animal balloons (sea turtle, fish) we actually re-inflated from our earlier Mermaid party!

Table decorations – Remember those little tables I upcycled for our Frozen party? We used grass table skirts, fish netting, and beige fabric from the thrift store to decorate them for the luau. We purchased a set of Tiki Mugs and filled these with fresh flowers as the centerpieces! The snowflake pillows we re-covered to as seats from a tropical-looking patterned set of curtains that I found from the same thrift store (I do love my local thrift store!) We found tiki-mask themed plates and napkins to go along with our theme!


My husband is my secret weapon when it comes to party food! I showed him the snacks I’d found online that I wanted to for the party and he was able to recreate it all! And it was delicious as well as adorable!

  • Dole Whip Pineapple Ice Cream - We used our ice cream maker to make ‘Dole Whip’ pineapple ice cream from a recipe we found online, inspired by the Disney favorite!
  • Dessert Sushi – We first had ‘candy sushi’ WDW's California Grill and really wanted to recreate it for this party! It’s made by rolling rice krispie treats in fruit roll ups! Delicious!
  • Pineapple upside-down cakes – We used cupcake pans to make individual pineapple upside down cakes which were delicious!
  • Sand Castle Cake – We made the sand castle cake ourselves by using a castle-shaped cake pan and covering the cake in crushed Nila Wafers and Cinnamon. For extra decoration we used sugar seashells. It was messy and a lot like building a real sand castle with everyone pitching in!
  • ALSO: Sand Dollar Cookies, ‘Seaweed’ grape kabobs, goldfish & chips


How lucky was I to find Polynesian dancing instructors  local to us? The girls were delighted to participate in dance lessons (set to the Lilo&Stitch soundtrack!) as well as being entertained while they ate by the teacher's demonstrations of different dance styles and cultural costumes from several different islands. They learned a lot and had a bunch of fun!

Our family dressed in inexpensive Hibiscus patterned outfits I found on Amazon, and the birthday girl wore a hand-made dress ‘Like Lilo’s’ and an ‘authentic’ leaf skirt and anklets which we purchased from an Etsy, you can find them here.

Games & Prizes

I'm set on doing ‘carnival’ style games now, ever since our first Pirates&Princess party. The kids get to go at their own pace, with prizes given out at each game station instead of the traditional goodie bag at the end of the party. For the Luau we looked for beach-themed games: 

Limbo Pole

Sand bucket relay race

Craft Station - design your own tiki mask

Hula Hoop Competition

Tiki-themed Pinata

Bowling (with coconuts for bowling balls and pineapples for pins!)

Pass the Coconut

Goodie Bags

The prizes for our game stations (to fill the bags) were:

  • Luau bear
  • Sand Dollar bath fizzie
  • Ukelele ball bouncer
  • Hibiscus-patterned sunglasses
  • Hibiscus-patterned temporary tattoos
  • Hibiscus-patterned beach balls
  • ·Hibiscus-patterned Pen
  • Luau rubber duckies
  • Hawaiian Punch flavored lip gloss

Each girl also received: 

  • a Luau bag with her name on it
  • a grass skirt
  • lei necklace and lei anklets.
  • Coconut Cups 

As I mentioned in the beginning, this is probably one of my favorite parties that we've thrown. Even though we made a mess and were cleaning up sand for weeks, we all had a great time! Even the cat managed to get in the Aloha spirit... sort of... 

The dogs quite enjoyed disposing of the coconuts for us. When they were puppies we used to give them chilled coconuts in the summer as an alternative to rubber kongs because they were very destructive chewers. They haven't had them in a while, but clearly remembered what to do when given the opportunity! I think they had them opened in something like 5 minutes flat!

The pineapples, on the other hand... we ended up with more pineapples than our family of four could possibly eat, so for the next week we were handing out pineapples to anyone who happened to stop by for any reason. Dropping off a book you borrowed? Take a pineapple! Hanging out for movie night? PINEAPPLE! 

"What do you mean 'take a pineapple or else'?"

"What do you mean 'take a pineapple or else'?"

Birthday Parties

The first birthday party we threw for my daughter was at a local "Princess Tea Party" place and we quickly realized that partying "out" was not for us. We preferred to celebrate at home, with a small number of close friends. But my girls also like big, elaborate, themed events (they're Disney spoiled, and so am I!) so our parties tend to get a little over-complicated.

I made a deal with each girl that they could have exactly 5 of these over-the-top shin digs each --- from the ages of 5-9. Before 5 and it's more work than it's worth, and by 10, I figure they'll be into slumber parties: I'll order a pizza and rent a movie and they'll have to take it from there themselves. In the meantime, I'm enjoying playing hostess and party decorator. I do try to keep them as thrifty as possible, though I'll admit that it's hard sometimes with all the enticing ideas on PINTEREST! It's my achilles heel!!

Now that I have two girls in the 5-9 bracket, which means 2 parties per year, it's a bit more overwhelming, but again it's just a small sliver in time so I'm happy to give them each 5 parties that they'll always, always remember!

Below is a list of the themed parties we have thrown! Enjoy!

2012 - Tea Party Castle (away from home - coming soon!)

2013 - Pirates & Princess Party (coming soon!)

2014 - Frozen-themed Party, feat. Elsa and Anna! (details here!)

2015 - Luau feat. Polynesian Dancers! (details here!)

2015 - Mermaid Party feat. Ariel and Prince Eric! (coming soon!)

2016 - American Girl Grace-themed Paris/Cupcake Party (coming soon!)