How to Host an Outdoor Movie and Ice Cream Party
by Rae Schrock, DOP Chief Editor
I hosted my first outdoor movie and ice cream party the summer I lived in a tiny city apartment. Since indoor space was limited, I had to get creative with accommodating large parties, and happily put my large backyard to use. Since then, I have moved, but the movie/ice cream party has become an annual tradition, and this summer I hosted my third. Around 35 friends showed up, and we spent the evening sipping iced coffee, licking drippy ice cream cones and playing lawn games. There was also a twilight balloon launch – all the children had filled out cards with a little message and their return address, and attached them to helium balloons which we sent off in one big, colorful bunch. The final event of the evening was a family-friendly movie, enjoyed from lawn chairs and blankets scattered across the lawn.
If you’d like to host your own outdoor movie night, I highly recommend it! It’s a super fun way to expand your community, get to know neighbors, and delight your friends with a memorable evening. There were three main categories to the party I hosted this summer: the ice cream bar, the balloon launch, and the movie. I’m letting you in on my secrets to pulling off each one successfully, so let’s get started!
The Ice Cream Bar
You can make this as simple or complex as you like, but I have found that less is more when it comes to choosing ice cream flavors. I stick to only three choices. This summer the menu offered basic vanilla, blackberry, and moose tracks (chocolate with peanut butter cups). Those opting for a healthier option enjoy the lighter fruit flavor; vanilla creates endless topping options; and a richer chocolate ice cream works well with people who don’t enjoy a lot of toppings.
Since the group was so large, I asked the ladies of each household to help bring the toppings, which I specifically assigned so as to avoid overlap. We had about a dozen total, creating a great variety.
-sliced fresh fruit
To serve your icecream, have plenty of disposable bowls on hand, as well as a variety of cones. In years past, I have dipped the edges of the cones in chocolate and rolled them in various toppings. Super fun, but lots of work! This year, I simply stacked waffle cones at the end of the table and included Styrofoam dessert cups that I found at a local party store. Cute, colorful icecream cups can be found online.
Alongside the ice cream bar, I like to offer some unique drinks. Last year, we had a DIY Italian Soda bar; I made a variety of syrups (lavender, basil, lemon, strawberry) which could be added to club soda to create a refreshing drink. This year, I made an iced coffee mix (credit to my friend Rachelle Martin for the recipe!) which could be measured out and combined with milk. Hint: use decaf coffee so your guests can enjoy it worry-free on an already-late night!
ICED COFFEE SYRUP
3 1/2 cups boiling water
1 cup instant coffee
1/2 cup vanilla coffee syrup
1/4 cup caramel coffee syrup
1 cup white sugar
Bring water to a boil; remove from heat and add all ingredients. To serve, use 1/3 cup syrup poured over ice cubes and fill with milk. Top with whipped cream and drizzle with caramel ice cream topping. Yield: 12 servings
-set out all the topping containers and serving spoons ahead of time. Make sure you have enough and think through where things will be placed on the table. Ice cream melts fast in the summer heat so you want to be sure you’re not scrambling for space at the last minute.
-For a pretty presentation, pre-scoop the ice cream into colorful serving bowls/crocks/buckets, then freeze. At my party, when we were ready to eat, I placed ice in the bottom of rustic buckets, covered it with linen towels, and set the ice cream bowls on top. This helps a bit to slow down melting.
-As guests arrive, dish up the toppings they’ve brought, into the serving bowls. When it’s time to eat, carry out toppings first, and follow with the ice cream.
The Balloon Launch
Since there were so many children attending this year’s party, I tried to include a few fun elements just for their sake – like the vintage-sheet teepee and huge swing in my oak tree. The “balloon launch” is a fun memory from my own childhood and made a great activity for the children after they’d finished their ice cream. The point is to see how far one’s balloon travels by attaching a card that can be returned to the child by whoever finds the fallen balloon (I have friends whose balloon traveled several hundred miles!). Really fun, right?! It’s a novelty that little AND big kids enjoy.
I ended up creating my own cards to attach to the balloons; you can click here to download and print the sheet to make your own! To make them more eye-catching and durable, I glued each card onto a brightly colored index card. On the night of the party, the children wrote their name and return address on the back of the card, slipped it into a sandwich bag, and attached it to a helium-filled balloon with a string. When everyone was ready, we gathered together, did a countdown and released the balloons. Hoorah!
-Helium: Your local natural gas resource may rent helium tanks, but in the event that they don’t, an economical option is to buy one from Wal-Mart. You’ll find the tanks in the party supply area; there are two different size tanks available and each comes with a roll of ribbon and a bag of balloons. Voila!
-For privacy purposes, children may want to not use their full name or personal address on the cards. Using their first name only, and listing a church or business address on the return label is a good option.
-Do a test run before the launch to make sure that the balloons will actually lift off with the weight of the card + bag. I went with a cheap (and light) sandwich bag, and we still had to cut off the closure strip to lower the overall weight. You may also need to blow the balloons a little bigger to get adequate lift.
-Keep a few extra supplies on hand in case anyone’s balloon pops or gets stranded in a tree at the last minute (speaking from personal experience!).
The Outdoor Movie
The grand finale of the evening was the movie, projected on a massive screen in my front yard. This is the part that is totally out of my league, but thankfully I have a boyfriend with creative skills, and friends who help make it happen. Tim and Jeff spent the afternoon before the party lugging in lumber, saws, drills, and sound equipment to create the mother of all projection screens. They built a frame using 2x6 pieces of lumber, screwed a painting dropcloth (available at Lowe’s) to it, and then hoisted the whole contraption up into the air. The screen leans slightly back against my roof, and they used braces to secure it in place. A projected mounted on a small stand, and several large speakers completed the operation for a truly amazing cinematic experience.
At each of the three parties thus far, we have only watched animated films; this works well with the wide age range and media preference of the guests. Films like Finding Nemo, Inside Out, Despicable Me, Up, etc. are all great options that everyone can enjoy.
-Set up an atmosphere for relaxation and fun. Alongside the teepee I laid out blankets, comfy pillows, and a beanbag. The children hung out in this area a lot. Have an arsenal of lawn games set up and ready for people to enjoy: cornhole, bocci ball, crocquet, spikeball, etc..
-Direct your guests to the drink table when they arrive; they can sip a beverage while they mingle, giving you time to finalize the ice cream bar.
-Have trashbags available near the food tables for easy cleanup.