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Celebrating a loved one's birthday — whether significant milestone or just another good productive year on earth —is the perfect occasion to gather family and friends and experience a unique, enjoyable activity together. Across the region, there are many venues poised to create a customized, memorable event to make the most of this special day. Here are just a few:
BIRD'S EYE VIEW
The thrill of flight is something that is long remembered well after touching down. For the guest of honor, a sightseeing tour or ride in a hot air balloon can provide a perspective of the area never before experienced. "I bring people over Block Island in a vintage aircraft, along the beaches, and to see the casinos," said Mark Simmons, owner of Simmons Aviation in Pawcatuck. "They're always happy with the trip." For family and friends, it becomes a major photo opportunity. "Guests gather when the loved one gets into the plane and they watch it fire up," said Simmons. "On the ground, the group can check out the rest of our planes, watch the plane flying above, and take lots of pictures." The cost for an hour flight ranges from $250 to $550 depending on the distance traveled. To contact Mark Simmons and send your guest of honor on a memorable flight from Westerly airport and beyond, visit www.warbirdexperience.com.
A hot air balloon ride as the main event at a birthday party is sure to be a hit for most guests– even those who arrive unsure at the prospect. "I've heard party guests say 'I'm not getting into that thing,'" said Brighter Skies Ballooning owner Bruce Byberg. "Once they see it go up and down safely a few times they decide to give it a try and love it." Typically, birthday parties and similar group events are provided a tethered flight in a hot air balloon to accommodate as many guests as possible. "We can go up with four people at a time, and usually can carry 40-60 people an hour depending on the weather and weight of the passengers," said Byberg. A tethered hot air balloon requires about half a football field in area to operate, and needs to be anchored at four points, generally with trees or vehicles. These criteria can be met in a large backyard or established venue. Depending on the weather, the balloon can rise between 30-80 feet, although according to Byberg, everyone thinks they're higher up than they really are because they're so excited. For more information visit www.brighterskies.com.
ROLL A STRIKE
A popular birthday venue for kids these days is the local bowling alley complete with pizza and soda. For an adult, it's just as much fun to gather in the social atmosphere and show their skill in this time-honored sport. And while pizza and video games may suit the younger set, luxury bowling provides a sophisticated bowling experience complete with the amenities and comforts most grown-ups prefer. With plush couches, two full bars, and a retro-chic atmosphere, High Rollers Luxury Bowling at Foxwoods has become a popular place to throw back and bowl. They offer several lane side party packages, ranging from $35 to $85 per person, with shrimp cocktail, Philly spring rolls, and Buffalo chicken rangoons on the menu as well as full premium bar or beer options. There's even brick oven pizza for the kids, who are welcome at the venue until 8 p.m. Check out their website www.foxwoods.com/highrollersnightlife to view packages and plan a party that brings the old and new together in style.
Fresh air and some light exercise are a great compliment to any birthday gathering. With the huge popularity of golf, chances are most people in your party either play or wish they did. A venue that has a driving range and miniature golf course will keep all levels of players engaged with the sport while they enjoy a casual outdoor atmosphere. Great Brook Sports Center in Groton offers these amenities as well as batting cages and a virtual golf simulator for colder days. There's also a sports pro shop on site for guests who may want to treat the birthday man or woman, or themselves to golf gear. Visit www.greatbrooksports.com for more information. Other fully equipped golf centers in the area include Golf Quest Family Sports Center in Brookfield (www.golfquestranges.com), and The Fairways Driving Range in Branford (www.fairwaysdrvingrange.com).
OFF THE WALL
Indoor rock climbing gyms have sprung up all over the area providing a fun, challenging birthday party activity for all ages and ability levels. Party packages typically include roped climbing, gear rental (harness and climbing shoes) and experienced staff to hold the ropes (belay). Following the climbing, guests have use of reserved tables to gather for refreshments. Some climbing gyms also provide food and cake catering, paper goods, and decorations for an additional charge. The recently opened Rock Spot in Peace Dale, Rhode Island offers "goody bags" as well, with signature water bottles and T-shirts to commemorate the climb. For more information, visit www.rockspotclimbing.com. Also check out Prime Climb in Wallingford (www.primeclimb.com), Central Rock Gym's new location in Glastonbury (www.centralrockgym.com), and Carabiner's Indoor Climbing in Fairfield (www.carabiners.com).
The indulgence of a day at a spa might be just what your loved one needs to feel younger as the candles on their cake add up. There are several highly rated spas in our area that provide services to groups of men and women in a relaxing, calming atmosphere that relieves stress and produces a serenity that lasts. Most spas offer custom packages with an individualized menu of services to suit each guest. From massage, facial treatments, spa hand and foot therapies, to yoga, Pilates and personal training sessions, a spa day will bring a sense of well being to the members of your party — a perfect way to celebrate another year. Check out The Spa at Norwich Inn in Norwich (www.thespaatnorwichinn.com), Saybrook Point Inn and Spa in Old Saybrook (www.saybrook.com) and Waters Edge Resort & Spa in Westbrook (www.watersedgeresortandspa.com).
ON THE RAILS
All aboard for a unique traveling birthday party!
With a moving train as your venue, your group can take a scenic trip through the region while enjoying a memorable birthday dinner. From Essex, the Essex Steam train company runs the elegant Essex Clipper on a 2½-hour journey while serving a four-course meal. The fine
dining experience is enhanced by a trip through the pristine Connecticut River Valley (www.essexsteamtrain.com). The Newport Dinner Train departs from the depot at America's Cup Avenue in Newport for "Romancing the Rails," a dinner train package with award winning cuisine, music and candlelight. The scenic journey of 22 miles brings guests along Narragansett Bay in authentic Pullman dining cars (www.newportdinnertrain.com). Both of these area dinner trains offer a special birthday package that may include a complimentary glass of wine, flowers, and a candle in the cake for the guest of honor.