One of the reasons I offer online party planning services (like The Party Course and The Party Plan Club) instead working as a local event planner, is that I don’t want to spend weekends away from my daughters, running birthday parties for other moms’ kids but missing time with my own.

Under the stars sweet 16 party by The Party Teacher
Socially distanced sweet 16 party by The Party Teacher
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Surprise Sweet 16 Party by The Party Teacher

But when the mom of two of your daughters’ closest friends asks you to please help her plan a surprise party for HER twin daughters — in just two weeks’ time — I couldn’t say no. FRIENDS! TWINS! HEARTSTRINGS!

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The huge trick — in addition to the surprise part — was that … have you heard? — we’re in the middle of a pandemic. Our family has been very cautious, especially because of my Baby A’s medical status. But when we considered the strategy for this party, we felt good about it. (Better than we felt about our school system’s plan, but I digress…)

Big disclaimer: I’m not a doctor, not a public health specialist, etc. I’m not promising that what we did is a full-proof plan to hosting a COVID-19 safe party. But, we took safety very seriously.

Since the party, our county went back to school without a mask requirement. Of course, cases are now rising. So, I honestly wouldn’t recommend even our safety-conscious party any more. Still, it’s full of fun ideas for teens and cute decor, so I wanted to share it for those reasons. One day, we’ll have normal parties again, but for now, it’s looks like we just need to plan those normal parties waaaay in advance.

Pandemic Party Plan

Here was the mom’s strategy for planning a party in a pandemic:

  • Outdoor party
  • Keep the guest count low
  • Masks mandatory
  • Hand sanitizer everywhere, used repeatedly
  • Social distancing
  • No hugs
  • No close group photos
  • No buffet or dessert table
  • No guests touching anything communal (like grabbing waters or party favors)
  • Wiping down the one common item (wiffle ball bats) with bleach wipes
  • One-at-a-time games
  • Two-hours together max

I should also say that infection rates in our county were low at the time and we checked our city’s website for any guidance or rules about gatherings.

These girls — all 15 or 16 — were just great sports, followed the rules, and laughed all night.

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Look at that spacing! Love those girls.

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I’m telling you: hand sanitizer everywhere.

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Party Style

Mom had already asked her sister to sew face makes for all the guests using two “starry night” fabrics. So, gold and silver stars became our jumping off point. We tried to keep the style of the party fairly streamlined for a more modern feel for these sophisticated young ladies.

The background color of the masks were purple and teal, so in our printables, we used a galaxy background for a little color.

To take the party from dusk into night, we decorated with ribbon buntings that I made as well as gold paper star garlands and star lights. We also used ribbon on the chairs, cupcake stand, and tables to tie the whole look together.

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Dining Tables

I loved our dining tables with simple white tablecloths, silver star organza overlay and handmade 3-D paper stars as a table runner of sorts. We also ran star balloons down the table, and of course they were all over the place as the breeze changed. Our centerpiece was a jumbo 3-tier stand of 24 cupcakes.

Since we were eating finger foods, our only place settings were plates and napkins. (We topped the napkins with star-shaped stress balls just to keep them from flying away in the breeze.)

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Each chair was dressed up with either a gold or white ribbon.

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Social Distancing

We had a great neighborhood pavilion for our setting. The stage area is about 30 feet wide x 16 feet deep. We played around with a few table arrangement ideas but settled on this combo:

  • Six 8-foot dining tables
  • 48-inch round favor table at one end
  • Two 36-inch round prize and gift tables at the other end

We spaced out the chairs as much as possible at the dining tables, keeping my twins together closer than the other girls, and the birthday twins together closer than the other girls. (Here are my goobers; put your mask up, Baby B!)

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Here’s a tip that works wonders for deciding on table arrangements at any party: grab some graph paper. Each box = 1 foot. Now, sketch out the possible arrangements. Going through that exercise helped us decide that 8-foot tables would work better than 6-foot tables. It also helped us visualize spacing out the chairs.

Party Tip: If you are dealing with rentals, make sure to assign someone else to handle pick-up if the rental company doesn’t deliver, which ours did not on Saturdays. You will be plenty busy with other party details that only you can handle, so outsource the manual labor.

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Surprise Arrivals

Of course, since this was a surprise party, we asked guests to arrive about 15 minutes early. As soon as guests arrived, we gave them party masks and handed out sparklers.

Party Tip: Over 4th of July, we heard that hand sanitizer and sparklers don’t mix, so we asked the guests to NOT use hand sanitizer until AFTER the sparklers arrival of the birthday twins.

Mom texted me as her family began to “walk to dinner” — which was her cover story for her birthday girls. I started lighting the sparklers a few at a time and then those guests used their lit sparklers to light another group of sparklers and so on. (These were 3-foot wedding sparklers and worked great!)

We had the guests space out down both sides of a sidewalk, holding up their sparklers to form an archway. As the birthday girls came into view, we shouted, “Surprise! Happy Birthday!” and had them walk down through the sparkler arch.

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Party Food

We kept food super simple. Before the party, I assembled plan white pizza boxes and added a custom Sweet 16 sticker that I made on Zazzle. I dropped those boxes off at the restaurant, which delivered the pizzas right after the birthday girls’ arrival.

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Drinks were a choice of water or Coca-Cola. We labeled bottles with the girls’ names before the party, so we could hand the bottle out and no one would accidentally drink from another guest’s bottle.

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Dessert was cupcakes (inspired by these). I loved the galaxy swirl frosting, and star toppers. To the top few cupcakes, I added gold and silver toppers that we made up using a star punch and scrapbook paper. (To keep the cupcakes cool until just before the party, we stored them at a neighbor’s house, then just ran across the street to pick them up.)

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Games & Prizes

Pinatas are a huge tradition for this family, so they were a party must-have. Two weeks’ notice was not enough time for a large custom pinata, so we ordered gold and silver star pinatas from Party City. Each guest pulled her mask over her eyes as a blindfold and then got several swings at the pinatas. (Dad controlled the pinatas on a rope, so they bounced up and down and were definitely challenging to hit!)

We used two wiffle ball bats, wiping them down with bleach wipes in between each use. Girls also had to use hand sanitizer before taking a turn.

Once the pinatas were broken open, guests were not allowed to all rush for the candy together. Instead, each girl got a paper bag and 5 seconds to gather as much candy as she could. (We did a second round of candy gathering.)

Four prize winners were chosen based on:

  • Most candy
  • Most candy of one type
  • Most mini star stress balls
  • Least candy of one type

We did have one tie breaker that we tried to resolve with another 5 seconds of candy-gathering for pair, but they came out tied again, so we finally chose a winner with rock-paper-scissors!

Mom did the prizes and (like the paper favors) they were awesome! Each prize bag had a theme with a variety of goodies:

  • I love when I’m shining bright like a diamond (gifts that glittered)
  • I love it when I’ve got my life together (organizational gifts)
  • I love a day of movie watching and snack munching (cuddling and snacking gifts)
  • I love a day of cuddling (pampering gifts)
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At the end of the night, we took socially-distanced photos with the Happy Birthday yard sign, and then let the girls play with the extra sparklers. So much fun!

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Party Favors

I usually teach that you should keep party favors around $5 plus packaging. But as Baby A said, this mom “does party favors like you do dessert tables!” The party favor assembly took up my whole dining room table and each basket included:

  • Body wash
  • Bath bomb
  • Snacks
  • Candy
  • Lip gloss
  • Water bottle
  • Makeup bag
  • Journal and pen
  • Nutella and spoon
  • Spray chalk
  • Loofah
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The best part of the party for me may have been a few days later, when the twins dropped of thank you notes and gifts for us and raved about the party, saying it was the best ever. I was so thrilled — you never know with teenagers. Will they think it’s lame or throw-back fun? These girls really got into the spirit of things. I think were just so glad to be in person instead of on FaceTime or a group chat.

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What are you planning for your next party? Will you do a Zoom party or try something outdoors while the weather holds? Let me know in the comments below and stay safe!

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Get the 12 worksheets I use to plan all my parties!

Plus, you'll get all the latest blog posts from The Party Teacher.

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