Cruise-themed Anniversary Party Part 10: The Aftermath

This is the final post in this series. The party happened and now it’s over (I’ll admit, there’s a little bit of a letdown for me after every party because my mind immediately goes to “now what?”).

I am delighted to report that the party went off without a hitch. That’s not to say there weren’t little things along the way that tripped us up or could’ve gone better, but ultimately it was a ton of fun, the food was incredible and most importantly, our guests of honor had a wonderful time.

As I reflect back on the party, there are a few things we did right and probably could have done better that I’d like to share. This will help you (and future me) have an even better party experience for yourself and your guests.

Things I’m glad I did:

  • Designate a photographer – I am so bad about remembering to take photos of things, so this was great because I didn’t have to worry about it. Also, because there was so much to do and everyone was doing different things, it allowed all the hosts to see the full experience for the guests after the fact. For example, I didn’t set up their “stateroom” or even get to see it, but the photos gave me a chance to not only see it, but also to see their reaction to it.
  • Have a solid plan with room for flexibility – my thorough “day of” plan was incredibly helpful for making sure we got everything accomplished early so we could enjoy the event ourselves. It was also useful for managing our time during setup. But, we also needed to be flexible because some things took longer than anticipated, which meant others had to pitch in and do tasks not originally assigned to them. All in all, it worked out and was a good decision.
  • Be open to changing things up to accommodate your guests – when we first got there, we felt a little frenzied because we knew we had a lot to do. This vibe passed to our guests as they were leaving for their excursion. We made a conscious effort when they returned home (even though we still had stuff to do) to make them feel less rushed and not worry as much about the exact timing (this also gave us a little more time to get things done). And, we ended up switching around the order of events. After dinner, we were all too stuffed to immediately have dessert so we switched it up and moved to our activity next as a little “eating break.”

Things I wish I’d done differently:

  • Prepare better instructions for less-prepped helpers – I really thought I had solid checklists and info, but I made some assumptions about how well everyone understood the different things we were doing and how comfortable people would be making creative decisions or improvising. This led to people feeling a little unsure of what they needed to do and having questions. Overall, not a big deal, but with a little better up-front prep, everyone would have been more informed on assignments.

As you can see, I really didn’t have a lot that didn’t go well or that I’d change for next time. I think this is, in part, due to my decision to just relax, enjoy and not stress about the party. This is a critical part as a host. If you’re stressed, your guests will feel it and it will make it less enjoyable for them and you. So, do your best, plan and prep and then on the day, remember to HAVE FUN!

Here are some pics of how things turned out:

Cruise-themed Anniversary Party Part 9: Planning for the Day Of

One of my favorite things about throwing a party is the list-making. I know that sounds ridiculous, but it’s true. When I’m given free reign to go as crazy as I want with prep and organization… watch out. I spent the last few evenings doing just that for the upcoming party.

Once you’ve done all the tasks I’ve covered thus far (invites and guest lists and menus and activities), then it’s time for the Day Of Plan. This is your guide not only “on the day” but also leading up to the event. You should make this plan and then cross-reference it with assignments given to others and any pre-work you need to do for food or activities.

You can see my upcoming Day Of Plan here. Since we have a number of people who can help out, I broke the activities into time slots and then assigned them out based on who is doing what other tasks / what food assignments. (I removed the names for privacy reasons.) I also added a “before arrival” checklist so everyone knows what parts of their assignments need to be done before they arrive to start setting up.

Then, because I couldn’t help myself, I made individualized lists for each person that correspond to the master list. I figured it would be easier for each person to have their own list to follow vs. everyone trying to share the master. #socialdistancing

The final thing I’ll be working on this week is making “kits” that correspond to each list. This is something I highly recommend if you have others coming to help out. For example, one of my lists is focused on setting up the “Stateroom.” In the kit, I’m putting all the pieces of the Stateroom that I’m bringing or will be needed for setup (ice bucket, bottle of champagne, compliments card, Stateroom sign, roll of tape). On the list, I included owners of the other items not found in the kit and all the corresponding tasks that need to be completed for setup. I’ve found that giving another person all the supplies and information to execute takes some of the pressure off of you as the host as you’re trying to get other things done!

The individual lists will be used to build each corresponding kit this week, which I’ll then cross-reference against my master packing list (since the event isn’t happening at my house). This will ensure nothing is forgotten or missed! (This is something that has happened to me before and I end up kicking myself if/when I forget to execute one of my plans.)

Finally, I have a task list for each day this week that details any final party or food prep I need to do (like finalizing and printing menus and other paper materials, pre-making certain things, doing a final grocery run, etc.). I like this approach because, well, life. I have other commitments this week (work, a kid, chores) that still need to happen, so this approach helps me fit everything in over time vs. trying to do it all on Friday or Saturday.

So, that’s that. Lists on lists on lists. But you gotta love it when a plan comes together…See you again after the party!

Cruise-themed Anniversary Party Part 8: Assignments & Supplies

We finally did it – our pre-party “hash it out” meeting. We’re just over two weeks out and figured it was finally time to get together (virtually) to go through the party plan again and assign out all the details for the day.

If you’re hosting solo, unfortunately a lot of this will fall on you. But, since my two sisters and I are equally hosting (with additional assistance from my adult niece), we’re able to divide up the work.

The Food: My recommendation is to start here. This is especially true if you’re a solo host. Knowing what you will need to make before the day vs. on the day, what you’ll buy, or what someone else is willing to bring will help you better plan how you’re going to tackle all of the other party elements.

  • Multi-host parties – divide up food equally by cost and difficulty level. We have 3 mains, so each of us is responsible for one. We divided the sides and desserts up equally by level of effort to prep ahead of time. We also divided up the alcohol (since this is more expensive) vs. one person buying it all.
  • Single-host parties – take advantage if someone says “let me know if I can bring anything!” (with caution… do this with reliable people you can count on to make what you ask, follow any dietary needs, and show up on time with it). And, remember that everything doesn’t have to be handmade from scratch with ingredients you hand-picked… A boxed brownie mix can taste better than from-scratch brownies that didn’t come out quite right. Make a plan for what you will assign out, buy, and make and then note down anything that can be made ahead. This is also a great time to make your grocery list for the party.

The Servingware: now that you’ve nailed down what you’re having and how you’re handling it, make sure to plan for plates, cups, bowls, cutlery, serving dishes and spoons, serving space, etc.

  • Is your party inside or outside? – outdoor parties should always have disposable items. This removes any risk that something gets broken or damaged.
  • Do you own enough servingware to use “real” stuff? – if not, get a disposible option that looks nice. Or, make the investment. I hosted Thanksgiving a few years ago and decided that an extra set of plates/bowls and silverware would probably come in handy in the future, so I purchased sets that matched what I already had.
  • Do you have food that needs to stay warm or cold? – plan accordingly with crockpots, instant pots, chafing trays, or coolers. I once hosted a party outside where I kept the yogurt parfaits in the garage fridge and put a sign on the door to direct people to them!

The Decor & Details: this is basically “everything else.” The other posts in this series have touched on determining what these other items might include. But, what’s important to think about now is how, and when, you’re going to execute on all those plans. The most stressful parties I’ve hosted were stressful because too much was left to the day of. From that I’ve learned to plan ahead. It may seem ridiculous to start planning a party and creating decorations or activities months in advance, but it allows me to enjoy the lead up and actual event so much more.

  • Everything that can be done ahead of time should be. – assembling the craft packs, making labels for the food, creating the Playlist, all your shopping for food and supplies, etc. Do it before the day. This includes any food prep that can be done early and putting up any decorations that won’t get in the way of everyday life.
  • Anything that has to be done “day of” should be well-organized. – need to fill some balloons with helium? Pick out how many and what colors and set them out with any supplies (ribbon, scissors, a few extra in case any have holes) so that it’s quick and easy for you to do (or, to assign to a party helper to do!). Be sure to think about not only what you need to do, but what other materials (or help) you need to actually do it (tape, scissors, a ladder, two sets of hands, etc.) This will come in handy as you start to organize your “day of” activities.

Next week I’ll walk through how to put together a plan for the day of the event, including how to organize all of the activities you need to accomplish before your guests arrive, without having a total meltdown. Until then…

Cruise-themed Anniversary Party Part 7: Organizing Activities

As promised last week, this post will be focused on the “how to” of all the little touches we’re bringing into this party. I’ll cover how to plan and execute them, along with some resources and templates. To make it easy to follow along with this series, I’ve keep the same breakdown of party “areas” and within each, I’ll detail the specifics of the elements we’re incorporating.

Area 1: The Gangway

  • SeaPass card – I tried to mock up this template to look as similar as possible to the Royal Caribbean SeaPass card (our cruise line of choice). To do that, I searched Google for an image of it and then built within PowerPoint. You can start with a basic rectangle or rounded rectangle shape, size it to the appropriate dimensions and then use text boxes / tables within it to include the various components on the image. To make it feel like a card, I’m going to run it through my laminator. If you don’t have one (I LOVE mine…and they aren’t all that expensive), you can get these Scotch Self Seal Laminating pouches. They are a perfect side for this type of card.
  • Our uniforms – the great part about doing uniforms is – they don’t have to be perfectly like what you’d find on a ship to make sense for attendees. I’ve done “uniforms” for other events before (see my Globe Trotter Bridal Shower for another example) and learned that the most important part is everyone wearing as close to the same thing as possible. This will create the uniform feel (because really, how likely is it that 4-8 people at your party all show up in the same color of pants and shirts of their own volition?). We decided on black pants with black shirts. Our nametags are going to be white, so we wanted them to pop against our uniform. For the nametags, I bought a pack of Avery safety pin nametags that you can print out or write on. These are my favorite because they’re reusable (and are also great with the Murder Mystery in a box kits, like my How to Host a Murder Parties on the 1960s, 1880s, and 1920s.) Here is the nametag template I’m using for our party.

Area 2: Their Stateroom

  • Towel animal – there are SO many towel folding videos available on YouTube. We haven’t decided what animal we’re going to do yet (likely, we will try a few and whichever looks the least pathetic is what we’ll go with…), but there are lots of choices and there’s bound to be at least one you can successfully achieve!
  • Cruise Compass – Just like with the SeaPass card, I looked at dozens of Royal Caribbean Cruise Compasses via a Google search (it’s crazy how many people post pics of them!). Then I thought about what elements would work for my event and came up with other ideas to fill the space where items on the REAL Cruise Compass didn’t make sense for the party. You can see my template here.
  • Engraved flutesthese are the flutes we’ve ordered for them. While it will make the evening even more special, they are also a nice, lasting gift for them to enjoy AND to help them remember the celebration.

Area 3: The Pre-dinner Photo

  • Photo location – we still haven’t landed on a spot, but when choosing a location for a photo, be sure to consider a few things:
    • Lighting – as someone who has had some really bad experiences with wack lighting (my wedding photos weren’t amazing, sadly), I’ve learned that this is incredibly important. Too bright and your subjects look washed out. Too dark and you can’t see them and feel like you need to squint. The good news is that if you’re using a standard cell phone camera (which is really quite good these days), you should be okay with light and exposure, so long as you choose a well lit place where the light allows the front of the subjects to be viewable. So, pick a place and think about the available lighting in it, as well as any natural light, time of day, sunset, etc. And, if you don’t have a great spot with good lighting, MAKE ONE! Grab an extra lamp or some flashlights and set them up to help light the area. Take some test photos before the event at the appropriate time of day to make sure the photos will come out well.
    • Background – you want a neutral / non-distracting background for your photo. This will help the subjects standout and will ensure you don’t go “wow, I really wish you couldn’t see my kids’ toy clutter in the background of that photo on Mom’s mantle for the last 10 years…” If you don’t have a good spot for this, you can always buy a background and create the look your going for.

Area 4: The Main Dining Room

  • Table setting – there’s just something about a formal table setting that makes food taste better. Whenever I want to elevate an evening at home with my hubs, I’ll whip out our fancier placemats, grab a couple of cloth napkins and set the table. It’s really not hard and makes a statement. So, for this party, we’re going full out. We’ll use white tablecloths, cloth napkins and a full setting of cutlery and glasses. (Side note: you know how when you buy silverware sets, it comes with big spoons, little spoons, big forks, little ones, etc.? Well, this is the PERFECT time to put those all to good use!) A traditional table setting has a small fork out the outer left, followed by a large fork. If you’re setting out plates, this would come next (usually a dinner plate with a salad plate / soup bowl on top, depending what you’re using). On the other side of the plate, you should have a dinner knife (typically just a “butter knife”, but could also be a steak knife depending on the meal) followed by a soup spoon (the larger spoon in your silverware set). At the top of the plate, horizontally, should sit a dessert spoon (the smaller spoon). In the top right corner, you should have both a water glass and wine glass(es). In the top left corner, you should have the bread plate with a smaller butter knife (if you have them…if not, don’t worry. People can just use their dinner knife for this.). There are lots of images of traditional table settings on Google if you need a visual or want to see other options. We’ll also be attempting a fancy napkin fold, of which there are many YouTube videos. Wish us luck!
  • Menu – while it might seem totally OTT to create and print a menu, we really wanted the experience to feel as authentic as possible (plus we have choices, so didn’t want to have to be rattling them off verbally). As with all the templates, I’ve created, I started with a Google search for a Royal Caribbean dinner menu and then built from there. For this template, I used a table in MS Word to keep the spacing and alignment. When I print this, I’ll have it printed on heavier cardstock so it feels more formal.

Area 5: The King’s Lounge

  • Love & Marriage Questions – Google, google, google. (or Bing or whatever…) It is so easy to find questions from previous Love & Marriage game shows on Royal cruises. There are also lots of questions out there for bachelorette parties or wedding showers, or for “The Newlywed Game” that can work perfectly for this. I was going to make individual cards for each question, BUT, I decided I wanted to be able to record the answers of each participant, so I just created a master template with all of the questions and the couple names where I could record their answers AND keep score all in one place. In case you aren’t familiar with how this game works, it goes like this: you have a few couples, ideally 3-4. To start the game, one partner from each couple has to exit the room and go somewhere that they can’t hear what’s being said. Then, the host asks questions of the remaining partners, they give their answers and then the other halves of each couple return and are asked the same questions. For each answer where both partners give the same answer, the couple earns 1 point. It’s absolutely hilarious, as long as you’re asking the right questions 🙂 As mentioned in my last post, I’ve removed the questions from the template because I don’t want any of the party guests to see them in advance and cheat!

Area 6: Dancing on the Pool Deck

  • The Playlist – as with any good dance party, this is the most critical element. There are so many ways you can do this. My personal favorite, especially when I’m co-hosting, is to create a playlist on Spotify and share it with my other co-hosts so we can all add music to it leading up to the event. Then, the burden isn’t all on one person and you’ll end up with a much larger playlist. It’s amazing how many songs you can go through at a good dance party. And, Spotify is cool because it lets you see how long of a playlist you have (like, 2 hours, 20 mins) so you can gauge if you need to add more or not. And remember, you want upbeat, danceable songs!!

Now that you’ve gotten a deeper dive into the “how to” of each of the elements, the next step is to go about executing each element. Especially when you’re hosting with others, it’s important to get organized together and determine assignments for each person. That’s what we’ll go through next week. Make sure you have your original project plan handy for that!

Cruise-themed Anniversary Party Part 6: Bringing the Theme to Life

This week’s post is both part 6 (of 10) and part 1 (of 2). Today I’m going to give you a rundown of all the little touches and plans we have to create the cruise theme. Next week, I’ll dive into more of the specific “how to” for the various things, including how I approach the “creation process” and some templates you can use for your own future cruise party.

As you think about your next event, brainstorm a list of ideas that remind you of the theme. For example, if you’re having a barbecue, what are all the things that would make it feel authentic? If you’re having a mermaid party, what must you have to create an “under the sea” feel? Use that list to help you determine what you can do and how you want to bring various elements into the event (ex. you probably wouldn’t paint all your walls blue so you feel like you’re under water, but maybe you could blow up a bunch of blue balloons and have them float around the floor).

To start, we made a list of all the things we’ve loved from our cruise experiences and then divided our location into 6 main areas, each of which correspond to a part of the evening. Then, we took our list of elements to incorporate and assigned them to one of the locations.

Area 1: The Gangway

On every cruise ship, there is a designated point where you enter and exit the ship, both when you first board and ultimately depart, as well as for any ports of call. We’ve designated this as the room directly attached to our hosts’ garage. When they return from their “excursion”, they’ll enter from the garage and be asked to present their SeaPass card and ID. They’ll then be directed to “washy washy” their hands with sanitizer before heading to their stateroom to get ready for dinner. We’re planning to dress in “uniforms” and wear nametags that have our name, where we hail from and how long we’ve been with “the company”. For us children, we’ll list this as their marriage year and our spouses will have the year they married into the family listed.

Area 2: Their Stateroom

This is, quite logically, their master suite. We’ll be posting their stateroom number on the door. Inside, we will have a cute towel animal awaiting them, along with their Cruise Compass to give them all the info they need for the evening. And, since it’s their special night, we’ll have a bottle of champagne on ice with two 25th anniversary engraved champagne flutes.

Area 3: The Pre-dinner Photo

Full transparency, we’re still sorting out exactly where in their house this is going to go. I’d love to say it will be perfectly placed between their stateroom and the dining area, but we want to make sure that we choose a place with good lighting and a nice background. As such, we’re still scoping this out. But, on their way to the Main Dining Room, they’ll be greeted by our designated photographer and led to have a formal photo taken.

Area 4: The Main Dining Room

This will be set like a typical cruise dining room. They will have a table marker with their servers’ names listed. The table will be set with wine and water glassware, cutlery and salt, pepper, etc. We’ll also have seating placards (#covidrules) to designate where each person will sit at the table. Once they’re seated, they’ll be presented with menus to select their beverage preference along with what they’d like for each of their three courses.

Area 5: The King’s Lounge

This is where we’ll be hosting the main evening event after dinner: The Love & Marriage Game Show. This is in their family room, so we’ll take advantage of the existing furniture. The TV will be used to display the logo for our game show and two of our hosts will lead the event while everyone else participates alongside our guests-of-honor. I can’t tell you too much more about what I’m planning for this (and won’t next week either) because one of my sisters subscribes to this blog and I don’t want her to have a leg up on the competition during the game 🙂 If you want more information on this piece in particular, leave a comment or send me a message and I’ll give you the lowdown.

Area 6: Dancing on the Pool Deck

Since they don’t actually have a pool, some imagination will be required, but we’re planning a space where, should everyone be up for it, we can do some late night dancing. Weather depending, this will either be on their outdoor covered patio (we’ll hang up some pretty lights and set up a Bluetooth speaker) or in their basement bar (pretty similar setup plan…) Most importantly, we’ll craft a playlist of “their” music, which will probably be a lot of 60s and 70s hits. And then, of course, the wedding classics like “We are Family”, “YMCA”, and “The Electric Slide”.

As I mentioned at the beginning, if you want more of the ins and outs of organizing all of these various pieces and the components that go into each area, check back next Monday for a deeper dive into each.

Cruise-themed Anniversary Party Special Edition: The Primer

As I’ve written about in previous posts, priming your attendees before your event can be an important part of setting expectations and creating anticipation for the big day. There are many ways to do this – the save-the-date, the invite, the “rules”  or even through a pre-event gift or activity.

As we were selecting the location of our event, we were presented with a conundrum. Based on space size, geographical location and a few other factors (like kids and pets), we decided that the best place to host the gathering is at the home of our guests-of-honor. But, we knew we’d need time for food prep, setting the space and getting ready, which means getting them out of the house.

So, one of my brilliant sisters (yes, they are both brilliant) came up with the idea of extending our cruise theme by sending them on an “excursion” to get them out of the house before “the main event”. This would give us time to get everything ready and then they could return home, get ready in their “stateroom” and join us for the evening activities.

Now, under normal circumstances, this wouldn’t be all that difficult – we could have sent them to have a drink somewhere or to do some sort of activity. But, in the midst of a global pandemic where being in public isn’t really something anyone wants to do, our options were severely limited.

Not one to let limitations stop us, we came up with the idea of sending them on a drive. Since we need to somewhat control how long they’re gone and didn’t want to say “just go drive around,” we’re putting together an excursion packet like you’d receive on a real cruise.

When we arrive at their home on April 10, we’ll hand them an envelope with their Seapass cards, a Starbucks gift card and information on their drive. We’re using some cute information to direct them through the journey, as you can read below.

To begin your adventure, you must fuel up. Use the enclosed card to give you a boost for the task ahead. (Starbucks) Then, hit (road name) and head toward the place where your youngest granddaughter entered the world and your oldest granddaughter now delivers other babies into the world (specific hospital) On your way, reflect on how delightful your grandchildren are and what you love most about each of them. Don’t get too lost in thought and miss your Right turn onto (road name). Head down the hill and enjoy the scenic view another Right onto (road name) will afford you. As you follow this winding road, think back on the winding roads of your lives that brought you here, to this milestone, together. This route is all about what’s right, which is your next turn on the road named after America’s Roller Coast. Head up the hill and find your way on a road that leads toward home… Well, your waiting cruise ship… And your wonderful hosts. Spend this last leg of your driving thinking about how amazing, fabulous, thoughtful, attractive, intelligent, giving, talented, awesome and perfect they all are. Have your SeaPass card ready when you arrive. Entry to the ship will be denied without it. 

When they arrive home, we’ll be waiting to greet them as you’d expect when you return to a cruise ship… in our coordinated uniforms, by checking their IDs,  encouraging hand sanitizing and with a cocktail. Then, while they get ready, we’ll put the final touches on dinner, get ready ourselves and be ready for their assigned “dining time” in the “Main Dining Room”.

For more about the activities we have planned for the rest of the evening, stay tuned to the next post, releasing on Monday!

Cruise-themed Anniversary Party Part 5: The Menu

Ah, the food. The thing most often scrutinized (read: judged) and talked about long after an event takes place. No pressure, but if your food sucks, it will leave a bad taste in the mouths of your attendees (pun very much intended).

So, how do you prepare everything for a party, from cleaning to setup to activities and STILL manage to have food that wows your guests? Well, it comes down to planning, of course.

As with many of the elements of a party that I’ve covered so far, you need to think about a few key things to get started:

  • Who – the who is important for a few reasons:
    • Does anyone have dietary restrictions you need to accommodate? (vegan, gluten free, keto, dairy free – I have seen it all!)
    • Are you responsible for food for a few attendees or a large crowd?
    • Can you rely on anyone that is coming to prepare and bring part of the meal?
  • Where – this will help you determine if you should plan more hot or cold food, how far in advance food needs to be prepared / ready and what accommodations you have available for serving (both space and things like power for a crockpot or a fridge to store cold stuff)
  • When – the timing of your event should help you decide the heartiness of the meal. For example, a 2pm birthday party could be served by snacks and dessert only, whereas a 12pm baby shower should provide a full lunch.

Once you have a sense of how many people you need to feed, what size of meal you need to give them, what limitations you have on what you serve and an idea of who might be able to help, then you can start to brainstorm on the actual foods you want to include. This is the fun part. I like to circle back to my theme at this point. If you’re having a bridal shower tea, you should stick to traditional “tea foods” like finger sandwiches, mini snacks and cakes, and fresh fruit and veggies. A backyard Baby-Q would be well served with barbecued meats and traditional southern sides (think coleslaw, cornbread, collard greens, and the like).

If your party theme doesn’t help clarify your menu, then pick foods that will be a favorite of the guest(s) of honor. If your kid loves pizza, have pizza at their birthday party. If you’re secretly addicted to Chick-fil-A chicken, order a party tray of nuggs. Food that will please you and/or your guests is far more important that something overly fancy or novel.

And, while I’m at it, a quick aside about home-making vs. ordering – I’m always a fan of home prepared foods at parties. For one, it’s way cheaper and two, it gives you more control over ingredients, especially when it comes to allergens. However, there is NOTHING shameful about ordering food. This is a great option when you’re not great at cooking or have your hands full with other elements of the party. Don’t feel like you have to be a super-host and handcraft every single element of the event. Good food is good food, no matter whose hands prepared it.

Hopefully by now you’ve been able to brainstorm a number of options for your food. Now it’s time to review and edit. During this process, think about the following:

  • Do you have the major food groups represented? (protein, grains/starch, veggies/fruits, dairy)
  • Is your menu appropriate for your attendees? (think back to dietary needs, allergens, pickiness)
  • Can you pull it off? (4 dishes that all need to go in the oven won’t work, but neither will a stove top meal that needs to feed 50)

This last bullet, in particular, was a major factor in planning the menu for our upcoming party. We wanted the full cruise dining room feel, with a menu our guests of honor can order off of. This means multiple appetizers, main entrees and desserts. But, we didn’t want to be stuck in the kitchen right up until dinner is served. So, we did some googling and got creative. Here is the menu we landed on:

Appetizers

  • Polenta Cakes – these are easily made ahead and re-warmed before serving or served at room temperature; we’re using a recipe from Recipe Girl
  • Squash and Apple Soup – we need vegan options for some guests, so this checks that box and is easily made in a small crockpot; thanks Nerds with Knives
  • Shrimp Cocktail – thaw the shrimp and you’re done! Can’t get any easier than that

Mains

  • Beef Tips – these are easy to make in an Instant Pot and can be kept warm until ready to serve; they also can be dairy free; we’ll serve these over herbed rice, the only thing we’ll be cooking on the stove all night
  • Chicken Marsala – this will be made in the oven and served over mashed potatoes, which we’re keeping simple by buying some Bob Evan’s trays you throw in the microwave to warm
  • Sous vide steak – this will also be served with mashed potatoes; I bought my hubs a sous vide for Christmas and we love it! You cook the steak in a bag in water for 2-3 hours and then right before you’re ready to eat, use a grill, hot oven or torch to brown the outside and create a delicious crust. It is so tender when prepared this way!
  • All of our mains will be served with a side of green beans with bacon and feta cheese, which we’ll keep warm in a small crockpot (I bought a mini trio crockpot a few years ago, so it’s getting put to use for this party!)

Dessert

  • Chocolate Peanut Butter Mousse Cups – we’ll make dairy free chocolate cups and fill them with this divine pudding from Mr. Food
  • Apple spice dump cake with ice cream – this is another dairy free option and can be made in a crockpot!
  • Cheesecake bites – another “make ahead” option that we can even plate ahead of time; check out the recipe from Crazy For Crust

Drinks

We will have coffee, water, wine, and spirits with a specialty cocktail called Giggle Juice.

One of my next steps in planning is to sort out the presentation of each of these options – the soup will need an attractive bowl and I’d love to use martini glasses for the shrimp cocktail. The rest still needs some work. I’ll be back with more on that as I get into assignments and supplies needed to pull the evening off.

But, as a quick update, our party date has changed (again) and we’re back on for April 10, so, as a special edition this week, check back on Friday to learn more about what we planned as our event “primer” to get our guests of honor out of their house so we could take it over for the event.

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Cruise-themed Anniversary Party Part 4: The Invite

Creating an invite is usually one of the first things I do once I decide to host a party. In fact, outside of my initial brainstorming, it’s the first thing I did for this event, even though I’ve posted about a few other activities before it. For me, it sets the tone for the event, both in how I start to think about and plan for it, but also in the minds of my guests. It provides valuable clues for what they can expect at the gathering. And the invite for this party is no exception, but more on that below.

The whole concept of “priming” your guests for an event, of which the invite is an important part, is something I read about in the book The Art of Gathering: How We Meet and Why It Matters by Priya Parker. I highly recommend it if you enjoy hosting gatherings, personally or professionally, which I assume you do if you’re reading this. The basic idea of priming for a party is no different than in any other context the word may be used – you prime something to prepare it. You prime a wall before you paint it, you prime a lawn mower before you start it, therefore why wouldn’t you prime your guests for your event before they arrive?

So, how can you start this business of priming with your invite? Well, there’s a few things to plan for in what you create (or have created… or buy…):

  • Include the basics:
    • Who – the host / the invitee / the guest(s) of honor
    • What – the type of event
    • When – date & time + when RSVPs are due, if you’re requesting them
    • Where – the address and if the event is indoor or outdoor
    • Why – the reason for the gathering
  • Highlight your theme – unless you’ve already sent a Save the Date or shared details of the event with all of your guests some other way, this is your first chance to give your invitees a taste of what to expect at the party. A child’s birthday invite might be colorful and fun and contain their favorite characters who will decorate the party. A backyard BBQ invite might be simple and homey. A Mother’s Day tea invite might be fancy and whimsical. Let your invite introduce not only the important facts of the invite, but the mood as well.
  • Remember you’re in charge – now, this might seem high-handed, but it’s your event. You get to set the rules. And the rules are there to ensure all your guests (especially the guest(s) of honor) have the best experience possible. If you have specific ground rules, state them up front so that anyone who does not wish to comply can opt out of attending.
    • Ex. Stating that a murder mystery dinner requires all participants show up on time, in costume and actively role play.
    • Ex. Asking guests to bring a book in lieu of a card to a baby shower.

Here’s the invite I’ve created for my upcoming party. It’s nothing more than a highly customized table created in PowerPoint. You’ll see that I’ve conveyed all the important facts (who, what, when, where, why) in some way, shape, or form. And, I’ve used the structure of the invite, mocked after a Royal Caribbean Set Sail Pass, to start to set the stage for the cruise-themed event. I’ve also set some expectations for attendees: they must wear formal attire for dinner, they need their reading glasses and masks for the event, and they must come ready to party. 🙂

Using a non-traditional invite format is probably one of my favorite ways to prime guests for an event, convey important information and personalize it. Check out my Globe Trotter Bridal Shower post for one of my favorite invites of all time.

In addition to all of the above that I’m conveying with this invite, I also threw in a few other details to make it truly special for the recipients:

  1. The cabin number – their anniversary date is April 6, so I used this in numeric format as their assigned “cabin number” on our “ship”.
  2. The King Kruises name / logo – originally I built the invite using a Royal Caribbean logo, but we decided that personalizing even further was worth it. I used a free logo creator website and whipped it up in 10 minutes or less.
  3. The “prepaid excursion” – I referenced this last week in my post about the location. This is the activity we’re sending them out to do so we can set their house for the party. More on this in a future post!

You’ll note that the date on the invite doesn’t match previous posts. Due to some scheduling conflicts (aka work), we had to bump it back a week, which means 1 more week of posts and anticipation before the big day.

If you want specific advice on your invite or help designing one for your next event, leave a comment below and I’ll be in touch.

Next week is all about the best part of any event – the food and drink. We’ll walk through how to plan what and how much and I’ll run you through how we’re tackling a multi-option 3-course menu for our event. Stay tuned!

Cruise-themed Anniversary Party Part 3: Choosing the Location

Depending on the type of event you’re planning, choosing the location can either be a big to do (like a wedding / reception) or a total no-brainer (where else would I have it but my house??). Nonetheless, like any event decision, it shouldn’t be a throwaway.

There are a few important considerations you should account for when selecting your venue:

  • Number of guests – you won’t know your final attendee count when you choose the location, but a good rule of thumb is to plan a space big enough to fit 75% of the guests you invite. Inevitably, some people won’t want to come, will have to work or will have other plans, so this will give you an idea of the space you need to comfortably fit everyone.
  • Activities – this is important for a few reasons. Firstly, if you’re serving food, you need a location that has any needed food prep / storage / warming or cooling accommodations. Secondly, it needs to be big enough to set out tables for guests to eat. I always like to have a minimum of one chair per person when I’m serving food, even if they aren’t all at a traditional table setting. Depending on the type of party, everyone may or may not sit down to eat at the same time, but it’s nice to have the option should that happen. Finally, if you have other things planned beyond eating, you will either need space to fit those activities too, or you’ll need to either move to a new location (a different room, another part of your yard, etc.) or “flip” your space. This might include breaking down tables or putting food away and should be planned into your event flow.
  • Weather – I talked about this a bit in Part 1, but does the geographical location and time of year dictate that you’re indoors? Does a likelihood of unpredictable weather mean you need a backup plan or do you have a covered outdoor location that’d work either way?
    • Funny story about covered outdoor locations… I went to a baby shower for my SIL toward the end of May. This was some years ago now, but I’ll never forgot her shower. It was outside under tents / in the garage, so definitely well covered from the beautiful sun. However, when it randomly started down-pouring with hail and huge gusts of wind, the tents weren’t a whole lot of help to the guests under them!
  • Safety – this is even more important for any events happening now with COVID social distancing measures, but also applies to general safety and well-being. Here are some things to think about:
    • Do I have adequate room to allow guests to safely move around the space and one another? (think 6 feet distancing and fire safety)
    • Are there any dangerous elements I need to protect my guests from? (think grills, fire pits, stairways without railings, sloped yards, uneven pavement, pools or hot tubs)
    • Will all guests be able to attend without restriction? (think wheelchair access, if required, safety for small children, pet allergies)

Sometimes, with all of these items considered, you may land on a location you never thought you would. Let yourself think outside the box and keep the happiness of yourself AND your guests top of mind.

For our party, we landed on the home of the couple we’re celebrating as our location. It’s the biggest, has two spacious areas where we can host the different parts of the evening and has everything we need for food prep. It will also mean the couple doesn’t have to drive, so they can imbibe freely.

At first this seemed like a bad idea because we have a lot of setup and prep to do and don’t want them to be there for that. But, after some creative thinking, we’ve come up with a way to get them out of the house for some added fun and “priming” for the event since it ties perfectly into our theme. More about that in future posts…

Speaking of, next week I’ll be walking you through my process for creating the invite, a critical part that sets the tone for your guests. Stay tuned.

Cruise-themed Anniversary Party Part 2: The Project Plan

Depending who you ask, you’ll get different answers to the question, “what makes a party great?” Some might say it’s the food, others the location (especially if it’s somewhere fabulous) and then there are those who think it’s the activities that make an event memorable.

I’m a firm believer that it’s all of these things – the full experience – that truly make a party. Unfortunately, it can be any one thing that can also “break” a party, so it’s important to do your best with all the major elements. In order to help with planning all of the details and working with others involved in putting on the party, I like to create a party project plan. I even create these when I’m throwing a party solo (because usually my husband is helping or someone has volunteered to bring food or something else). I find they are a good way to keep myself from regularly worrying about when I need to do certain things or if I have everything accounted for.

There really isn’t much to a project plan. As a project manager by trade, I’m used to writing these day in and out and I’ve seen tons of variations. But, I like to keep mine simple so it’s easy for me to keep updated and share with others without them thinking I’m totally crazy. The core basics to include on a solid project plan are:

  • Activity name – what is the task or action that needs to be accomplished?
  • Owner – who is going to be responsible for doing whatever the activity is?
  • Status – what’s happening with the activity?
  • Due date – when do you absolutely have to have it complete?
  • Comments – what info is relevant about the activity (decisions, input, issues, etc.) that you want to note?

You can see my sample project plan here that I built for the upcoming anniversary party. This is just my first draft and it’s likely that as I start to get into some of the activities in the plan, other things will arise and need to be added. It’s not important to get the plan 100% complete and perfect from day 1…just to get it started and keep it updated as you go so nothing slips through the cracks.

Once you have a simple tracker started either on paper or digitally (feel free to download and edit mine!), then you can brainstorm all the activities that you think need to go on it and assign owners and due dates. Here are some rules of thumb I use for due dates and owners:

  • Owners
    • Assign the person who is going to be responsible for getting the activity done, even if they need to consult others for their input on it.
    • Be up front with your expectations for owners of activities – are you hoping they will keep the plan up to date or will you manage that?
    • It’s okay to generalize activity names by owner – as long as the owner knows what they’re supposed to do as part of the activity, you don’t need to write out every little detail.
  • Due dates
    • Start at the end and work backward.
    • Send invites 1 month before your event.
    • Request RSVPs 1 week prior to your event (and then use this date for final food / seating planning).
    • Remember they are “drop dead” dates – aka the latest possible date the activity can be done to stay on track. Ideally, work ahead when possible.

While it might seem a little OTT to create a project plan for your next event, I promise it will be worth the 10-15 minute time investment by reducing your stress levels and helping you feel more prepared overall. Give it a shot!

If you have any questions or a unique situation you want advice on, leave a comment below! And, stay tuned for the next installment of this series where I’ll cover the process of choosing a location.