Rather than being sad when the end of summer rolls around, I say, it's party time! Instead of feeling like your boat has run aground by the end of summer, why not throw a summer's end soirée that's fun for the whole family…maybe even the whole neighborhood!
If the thought of throwing a party is akin to walking the plank and jumping into the dark abyss, then think of me as your life preserver! I'll take you through the process of putting a party together using my simple formula for creating memorable events. When we're done organizing the details of your summer party into six easy-to-remember elements, you'll be sailing smoothly into an experience that your guests will treasure for many summers to come. Ahoy matey!
Element #1 – Theme, Mood, & Color: Carry Out Your Theme in Everything You Do
Every great party starts with a great theme! For your summer's end soirée throw a Shipwrecked Island Party! What is s a shipwrecked island party? Well, it's a not an island luau, although a luau-style feast could certainly be a part of the festivities. It's not a pirate party, although a few pirates in attendance might add a bit of fun, and it's not a beachcomber party, although you'll want plenty of sand and seashells in your décor. Think of a deserted island inhabited by a group of tattered castaways hoping for rescue and you'll get the picture.
When creating the theme for this party, I found it helpful to use my “imagination board” to perform a “brainstorming” exercise. An imagination board is a large dry erase board that affords you plenty of room to write and allows a free flow of ideas. To begin with, I wrote my theme name, “Shipwrecked Island,” in the center of the board and then around it wrote down everything that came to mind such as boat, sails, treasure, stranded, beach, shells, trunks, chests, mosquito nets, fishing nets, palm trees, flowers, coconuts, fish, and crabs. Then, to help get my creative juices flowing, I thought about all the great movies, TV shows, and music that had to do with shipwrecks, islands and castaways, like “Titanic,” “Lost,” “Swiss Family Robinson,” “Castaway,” “Survivor,” the “Gilligan's Island” theme song, and tunes by Jimmy Buffet and Bob Marley. I used these ideas as inspiration for my invitations, decorations, menu and signature drink, activities, and special touches.
Element #2 – Invitations: Make Them Inviting
If you were on a deserted island somewhere and needed help, something you might do is write a message in a bottle and cast it out to sea in hope that someone would get your SOS. This is both a fun and easy idea because there are many places you can find message-in-a-bottle type invitation kits both online and in brick and mortar craft stores, or you can make your own using real glass bottles.
Most craft kits include paper, but if you don't like the paper choice, you can opt for your own. Start your invitations with a great opening line that ties into your theme. Something like: “Come Get Stranded for a While” (taken from my brainstorming exercise). This opening line sets the tone for the party and let's people know they're in for some fun. Be sure to include the who, what, where, when, and why details. Encourage guests to wear tattered clothes, their castaway best, to add a fun and casual feeling to the party and another layer of authenticity. Add interest to the inside of the bottle by including some sand and a few tiny seashells. Finish the invitation off with a twine embellishment simply wrapped around the neck of the bottle, adhere your mailing label over the ends of the twine and your done! You've created a fun invitation that will make people want to come and get lost for a while!
Element #3 – Decor & Ambiance: Set and Setting Are Everything
The trick to decorating for my summer's end Shipwrecked Island Party was keeping in mind that it was all about creating illusion. My house was the ship and the yard the island. To board the ship, guests had to walk the plank which was surrounded by an interesting display of washed up treasures including a small antique chair, some sand to give the illusion of the shore, an old hand mirror, jewelry, tarnished pewter candleholders, and other items that looked water damaged and time worn.
To enhance the island feel, around the perimeter of the outdoor party space I placed a vinyl “Scene Setter” of the sun setting brilliantly over the ocean titled “Sunset Beach” (available online from Party City). A few potted palm trees, dried palm fronds, and lush bouquets of tropical flowers completed the look I was after.
However you go about creating your summer's end theme, there are two things to keep in mind to maintain the authenticity of your party: (1) Remember if you were on a deserted island, you would be surrounded by water; and (2) When selecting decorations, choose items that are found in nature, things you might actually find on a deserted island, like palm fronds, shells, leafs, driftwood, and tropical flowers, and use natural colors and fibers such as brown raffia, twine, and brown rope.
Element #4 – Food & Beverage: Never Stress About Food and Drinks
The menu for my summer's end Shipwrecked Island Party included a signature cocktail I created called “Blue Lagoon.” Made with blue Curacao, a liqueur flavored with the dried peel of the laraha citrus fruit grown on the island of Curacao, this delicious drink, with its lovely deep blue color and served in a large clam shell punch bowl, is reminiscent of a tropical lagoon. If you've taken the time to prepare a great cocktail, the best way to do it justice is to serve it in an appropriate glass. Using the right glass for the right drink can accentuate the smell, texture, and flavor of the beverage. So for my signature Blue Lagoon cocktail, I chose coconut cups, although another fun idea would be to use mixed-matched glasses, mugs, and cups that have seemingly washed ashore after a shipwreck. Both are reusable, environmentally friendly options over plastic or paper cups.
Which brings me to serving pieces — to create a clever and unique buffet table for this shipwreck party, use mix-matched serving pieces that again, have seemingly washed ashore or that you would find in nature, such as palm fronds, tropical leaves, bamboo mats, driftwood, and shells. Luau fringed place mats are fun, as are beachcomber hats, which also make great serving bowls when turned upside down. Additional table décor might include an eclectic mix of clear-glass bottles wrapped with twine and filled with seashells and flowers.
Element #5 – Activities: Engage Your Guests in An Activity
“Ahoy Matey! This is the spirit of Captain Blue Beard of the once dreaded pirate ship the Marine Pearl. If you are reading this [ARGH] it means you've found me treasure maps! So, make two teams and give a map to each. If you wants to find me gold, you gotta first find me clues. The maps will show you the way. When all the clues are found, join teams to unscramble the words. This shall point the way to me treasure chest and your reward!”
A treasure hunt can be great fun at a party yet challenging to pull off. I'll break it down, however, into seven easy peezy steps using the treasure hunt created specifically for this Shipwrecked Island Party Plan.
For this activity, you'll need: – 2 blank treasure maps – A Sharpie pen – Gold coins – A treasure chest with booty or treasure – 2 pieces of note paper – Twine to tie up the scrolled maps.
Step 1 – The maps. Start with a blank map (which can be bought online). Customize it to reflect the key areas of your party space where the treasure hunt will take place. Make a copy so that you have two identical maps, one for each team.
Step 2 – Decide where to hide the treasure chest and make up a clue that describes the location. I hid my treasure chest in a back corner of my yard so my clue read: “Between two gates on the Southwest shore.”
Step 3 – Using a Sharpie pen, write your clue using letters, combinations of letters, and words on 16 gold coins, so that there are 8 clues/coins per team.
Step 4 – Separate the coins into two piles. While hiding one set of coins, mark one of the maps with each location of the hidden clues. Repeat the process with the other map and set of coins using another part of the party area.
Step 5 – Roll up the maps and tie them with twine.
Step 6 – Type the above note from Captain Blue Beard and attach it to the maps so that everyone knows the rules of the game. If you're working with small children, it's a good idea to have at least one older child on each team who can read and help the others understand.
Step 7 – Hide the booty-filled treasure chest.
For a variation, put a lock on the treasure chest and ask your guests to do something fun or silly to win the key to open it. Done right, this treasure hunt can be fun for adults too. Think of all the creative things you could put inside the chest. I'll leave that to your imagination.
Element #6 – Special Touches: Set Your Party Apart, Give Them Something From the Heart
Get your guests in the mood for your summer's end Shipwrecked Island Party with a favor to enhance their experience during the party itself. Upon arrival, give each of the adult men a lei made of tropical fern leaves, orchids, or seashells; the women, flower hair clips. Give the children something extra special. Fill goody bags with a pirate hat, an eye patch, a hoop earring, a telescope, chocolate gold coins, and a few other fun costume pieces that will transform them into pirates. Outfitting the kids as pirates ties in beautifully with the treasure hunt they'll be doing later as an activity. To enhance their pirate experience, create a Pirate's Cove or a place where they can congregate and play during the party.
A clever and simple way to tie in a birthday element is to have your young buccaneers sing Happy Birthday to the birthday guest of honor in exchange for the key to the treasure chest at the end of the Treasure Hunt.