The Glamorous Life: Kiddie Birthday Parties

Who doesn't have glorious memories of those first few birthday parties -- with all your friends gathered around the dining room table, as your mom brings in the cake and your friends sing, "Happy Birthday"?

Remember those days?

Well you can forget them.

This is 2007, and yesterday's birthday party has become today's multi-media extravaganza.

It used to be that major milestones like sweet 16 parties, bar mitzvahs and weddings were the occasions when parents spent big bucks on their kids, but parents these days are coughing up cash for less significant celebrations and birthdays, even those that their children might not remember.

"Parties today have gone over the top," Cookie magazine's Rebecca Ffrench said. "They are so extravagant. People are having parties at the Four Seasons hotel. People are renting out huge spaces. They are not birthdays, they are almost like bar mitzvahs."

A spiraling level of competitiveness to keep up with the "baby Joneses" is driving parents across the nation to pull out all the stops and their checkbooks to make sure that Junior's birthday party becomes the talk of the town.

"Extravagant parties are happening in cities and in rural areas, not just New York and Los Angeles," Ffrench said. "People everywhere are really pushing the limits. They are spending a lot more than they would have five or 10 years ago."

Families are forgoing "pin the tail on the donkey" in favor of renting out mega toy stores like FAO Schwartz for upwards of $25,000. Other attractive options include booking sleepovers at zoos and museums, even reenacting entire Broadway shows with professional actors.

Arthur Backal has been in the party planning business in New York City for more than two decades, and as the founder of his company "State of the Art" he has literally seen it all -- from celebrity-studded bar mitzvahs to million dollar weddings. So when his own daughter Amanda turned the ripe age of one recently the pressure was on.

"People coming to a first birthday party don't really know what to expect," Backal explained. "But because I'm in the business and people have been to a lot of parties that my wife and I have planned, they always expect something special. But this one, I think, we really exceeded their expectations."

Manhattan's exclusive Mandrian Oriental hotel was the site of the Backal shindig. Cherry blossoms overflowed on tables set with the finest china, and while the adults enjoyed the all-you-can-eat buffet spread, the kids were treated to a mini-amusement park with a magician, face painter, arcade games and even an inflated castle for jumping and playing.

While Backal won't disclose the cost of his bash, he said the price tag for a similar party would cost about $50,000.

Backal and his wife said the festivities had a deeper significance than just fun and games.

"Even though it might have seemed very extravagant, the party itself was very meaningful because we also combined it into a baby-naming ceremony for our child," he said. "So our family and our friends were not only treated to a great first birthday party but it had a spiritual meaning."

If a fancy hotel isn't your style, there is always New York's premier party spot --- Dylan's Candy bar. The 10,000-square-foot modern day candy land is stacked with 2,000 types of candy and 1,000 varieties of chocolate. Beth and Sam Benalou wanted to give their 4-year-old son Zach a birthday party to remember so they chose Dylan's.

"Every time we would walk by Dylan's Candy Bar, Zachary wanted to go in," Beth Benalou insisted. "So this location was a no brainer for us."

Sam Benalou added, "The bar is set pretty high. I mean, if I go to a birthday party of one of his classmates and it's at a club, I can't do it at a club. We have to find something else."

And so far as his daughter's second birthday, party planner Arthur Backal isn't quite ready to commit to a venue. But he's clearly begun thinking about it.

"Now as far as looking ahead to two, I don't know if it will be the same party every year," Backal said. "But I think we want to have something fun because every birthday is an important celebration."

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