Kids Birthday Party: Bear Bus Style

Regarding kids birthday parties, I’ve made the following statements in the past:
  • You can only invite as many friends as you are old – and that’s it
  • I am keeping it really small this year
  • There will be no goodie bags
  • We aren’t going overboard

I would say these things meanwhile, come the day of the “small” party, somehow two dozen small children and an entire petting zoo found its way to my front yard:

Does a guinea pig dressed in a cowboy hat signal small party?

So this year, I wasn’t going overboard. And I meant it. I struggled with the guest list. I struggled the entire time. Down to the day of the party, guilt pains still ricocheted through my body for not inviting siblings of friends we are particularly close with, neighborhood kids we played with all summer long or whose parties we’ve attended in the past. But I had to draw the line. It seemed perfectly reasonable for 12 kids to attend the party, including my two girls whose birthdays we were celebrating. I couldn’t waver. And this year, I was taking the advice of experts and keeping the party to 90 minutes and not feeding the kids a meal. A few games and birthday cake were good enough when I was a kid, why did I need to do more than that, I reasoned.

But, I am a sucker for entertainment (as if the cowboy guinea pig didn’t give that one away). And when I was researching the top area birthday party vendors for my piece in Washingtonian Magazine’s “Best of Washington” July issue, I found The Bear Bus through word-of-mouth. After interviewing Kelly, who owns and operates the beltway-area franchise of The Bear Bus, I booked her back in July for the November party.

What is a Bear Bus, you might be wondering? It’s kid-heaven on wheels is the short answer. But the longer answer is this: think Build-A-Bear workshop on wheels. Kelly has converted a small school bus into a bear workshop. She pulls up in front of your house and for about 45-minutes, the kids board the heated bus, to choose their animal, stuff it, name it and dress it. Interestingly, I don’t think one kid picked a bear – a unicorn, a pink kitty, penguin and poodles were the top choices for this crowd. Except for my 3-year-old daughter, who picked a green dragon. My mom also noted that each kid came away with a totally different looking stuffed animal – even if they picked the same pink poodle – they all picked entirely different outfits. It was remarkable. And really sweet, actually.

Hanging out inside the Bear Bus...waiting to stuff their new friends

The Bear Bus is equally as appealing to little girls as it is boys because of the variety of animal choices and outfits. My nephew happily stuffed his penguin and then dressed him as a fire fighter. Kelly also said that slumber parties are a popular party theme she books. The teens will pile out of the house and onto the bus to stuff their animal of choice, to then have for the night. What a fantastic idea!

Not only did my kids love having the chance to pick and stuff their own animals, me and the adults loved having the kids entertained on the bus (versus inside my house), so we could hang out, enjoy each other’s company, and even sip some coffee. One dad wondered if the bus could just drive away with them for a while…I sort of loved that thought.

After helping each child individually stuff their own animal, Kelly gathers them around in a circle, they name their new friends and are given a name tag. It was such a sweet and personal experience for each kid and their happy smiles told the story as they exited the bus and headed for…my front door…

But with my 90 minute party half consumed by the Bear Bus, there was little time left but for a game of Pin the Tail on the Donkey, some song and cake. It only took me six years but I’ve finally successfully cracked the secret to hosting a low stress and totally enjoyable kids birthday party – one that didn’t break the bank and that I could soak in and enjoy. And for the record – the goodie bags were the stuffed animals – so I really wasn’t full of hot air this year in my threats and bold statements.

Now that I’ve experienced it first-hand with my kids, I can say that Kelly’s Bear Bus is absolutely worthy of its inclusion in the Washingtonian “Best of Washington” issue last July. She charges $19.95 per animal/kid or $24.95 per kid/animal if they also choose an outfit for the stuffed friend. That’s it – no other overhead – and remember – she keeps them out of your house but parked out front. There was plenty of room for the 12 kids on the bus and for several adults (many of whom not-so-secretly also wanted to stuff a friend – the monkey led the charge in the adult favorite friend).

Kelly is based out of Northern Virginia but she travels all around the DC-area (I’m in Montgomery County) and she noted a new franchise is opening soon for families in Prince William County.  She was so personable and patient with each of the kids, who ranged in age from 3-to-7 at our party. I really can’t recommend this party theme enough. She does book up in advance, so I’d recommend calling her at least six weeks before the party to make sure you can book this fabulous treat for your kids!

Happy kids with their new stuffed animals..who doesn't want this parked in front of their house?

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