TOTALLY WORTH IT!
I hate throwing parties and having people in my house. My mom throws great parties and loves doing it. Apparently, that gene was not hereditary.
Signing up online is very easy. There is a spot to sign up for guests and another spot for additional guests. In other words words, how many kids and how many adults. The additional guests number reserves seats for the parents. We wrote "This is not a drop off party" on our invitations because I did not want to be responsible for a slew of kids that weren't mine. Some kids came with both parents. I was very happy that all the kids did not come with both parents.
CEC offers two Star and Super Star party options. I did some research on the web and with other moms about the party options. The Super Star has goodie bags included and everyone said they sucked. I did my own. The kids get fancy cups and a balloon and the birthday kid gets a few other pieces of junk...uh...fun toys. To me, the extra money for the extra objects wasn't worth it.
Since we demanded the parents join in the noise, we opted for some extra food. We got the vegetable platter offered on the site. Ours offered wings, fries, sandwiches and would even make the cake for us. We used coupons from the CEC site to order extra pizza and cups for the parents. They allow multiples of the same coupons. Collect them from your newspaper and from other CEC promotions to get the best deal. Ours was a large pizza, four cups and a bunch of tokens for $19.95.
Each party gets a 'party host'. Ours was about 17 and had no personality. I had to remind her of a few things. She miscounted the cups and didn't understand that I didn't want to add a kid, I wanted the correct number of plates and tokens. I told her more than she told me. Even with her lack of personality, she kept the party moving.
As the guests came in, I gave them a cup of tokens and told them they had about 45 minutes to play games before the food came out. When it was food time, Dippy pushed a button and a goofy voice came over the loudspeaker and told the birthday guests to come to the table.
The rest of the party was automated. The screens and the automated CEC told the kids to enjoy the food. It told the kids to chant and when to sing Happy Birthday. Oh, someone came out in a CEC costume. The parents were noisier than the kids. The kids wanted to eat their pizza and could have cared less about chanting Happy Birthday. It was very funny. The loud birthday recording lasted about 15 minutes.
The parties are made to run about 90 minutes from the start time. We picked Sunday at noon so they didn't rush us out but, Dippy did clean up as the kids got up from the table.
I got a lot of extra coupons from the adult pizzas and from on-line promotions so I gave the parents extra tokens to keep the fun going. Some parents gave back their extra tokens and their tickets. It costs 10 tickets to get a Dum-Dum pop. The other pieces of crap...uh...wonderful prizes start at 10 tickets and go up in increments of 10. I grabbed our extra tickets and rounded up when our guests came up short.
Worth mentioning: all games cost one token. Husband and a few of the guests mentioned how happy they were that the big games (driving games and basketball) cost only one token to play.
If you ask questions using the live chat on the site, they will give you the "official" answers. We had 3 kids with allergies. According to the live chat, we could not bring *any* outside food, except for cake. According to the manager, they understood allergies and would work with the parents to find something for the kids to eat. The allergy parents came with their own food and no one mentioned it. The managers were very helpful.
For 15 kids and 17 parents we came in under $300!
This was at the Gaithersburg, MD location so, your mileage may vary. Check your store rather than taking my word. :-)