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 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.