Of course, all great parties have to start with a plan. When it comes to events that take place around bodies of water, the planning stage takes on a few extra dimensions. In addition to showing people a good time, you’ll also be responsible for the safety of your guests, particularly the younger ones. Fortunately, this isn’t as daunting as it sounds. We’ve got plenty of pro tips on how to host a safe and epic pool party, one that will come together so naturally it will all look effortless.
Our pool party ideas include a few themes you might want to consider before firing off the invitations. We’re suckers for a good theme party, so we tend to get a little carried away with that aspect of the planning. You can scale the theming up or down according to your preference. We’ve also included lists of the best pool toys we’ve come across—plus a couple of others that we’re dying to try!
The aim of this guide is to help you plan the best summertime pool party that you (or your kids) have ever been to. To that end, we’ve broken it down into two main sections including pool parties with kids, and adult-only pool parties. We hope you’ll find our advice to be both entertaining and informative and that your parties are the better for it.
Planning a Pool Party for Kids
When it comes to planning a pool-oriented event for small children, safety is of paramount importance. Make sure there are plenty of adults present since accidents can happen in the blink of an eye. It can be difficult for just one or two sets of eyes to keep track of everything that’s happening.
Households with young children should already have adequate security surrounding the pool area along with a strict set of safety regulations. Make sure the rules are understood by all the party guests ahead of time. This goes for the adults as well as the kids.
Themes for Kids’ Pool Parties
Having trouble coming up with the perfect angle for the kids’ bash? Here are a few ideas to get you started.
Pirates and Mermaids
This fantastical theme is sure to appeal to boys and girls alike. If it fits with the flow of the party, set up a treasure hunt with prizes for every participant. Try to stay away from any props that have very small pieces attached (pirate swords, jeweled wigs, and the like), since these have the potential to get caught in the pool’s filters.
Find as many inflatable sea creatures as you can including sharks, dolphins, octopi, sea turtles, and brightly colored tropical fish. Organize a set of races to see which one is the fastest. For decorations, go for a steampunk theme to evoke Jules Verne’s 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea.
Day at the Beach
This is probably the easiest theme to put together. Blow up a few colorful striped beach balls, set up some umbrellas, and play music from the Beach Boys and the Surfaris. If you really want to go to town, you might try trucking in a boxload or two of sand and setting up a sand-castle building contest. Just make sure the sandy area is set up at a good distance from the pool, so the water doesn’t get too dirty.
This is a good bet if the invitees are on the older side—say, ages 8 to 14. Stock up on water guns and water balloons, split the guests into teams, and let the battles begin. You might also want to invest in a couple of orange traffic cones so you can designate safe zones and home bases for the “warriors.”
Fashion a cardboard cutout of a fearsome-looking shark with its mouth wide open, and position your handiwork at the pool’s entrance. Invite guests to pose for photos with their heads peering out from between the beast’s sharp teeth. Decorate cupcakes with blue frosting and secure triangular wedges of gray construction paper or fondant on the top to make fins. Offer mini plastic or rubber sharks as party favors—if you can find some that also squirt water, all the better.
Best Pool Toys for Kids
Keep the little ones occupied by supplying them with plenty of pool toys. Remind older kids to keep an eye on the younger crowd and don’t forget that floats and similar toys aren’t designed to be used as personal floatation devices. It might be a good idea to provide any non-swimmers with life jackets to be on the safe side.
Other Useful Reminders
—Set up a designated “dry zone” for kids who’ve had enough pool time for a while.
—Provide plenty of towels—at least two per guest. Kids can go through more towels than you would believe.
—Glass containers should be strictly prohibited in the pool area. This rule goes for adult gatherings, too (see Tips for Setting Up a Hip Poolside Bar, below).
—Keep a supply of hydrating beverages on hand. Water is preferable, but you can throw in a few healthy juices or sports drinks if you’d like. Keep sugary drinks like sodas to a minimum.
—Remember that busy, excited kids may not let you know when they feel thirsty. Offer them cool drinks in a shaded area from time to time.
—If it suits your budget, consider renting a porta-potty for the day. You’ll keep your floors from getting drenched, and youngsters will be less likely to hurt themselves by running and slipping on wet surfaces.
Planning an Adults-Only Pool Party
Themes for Adult Parties
Setting the tone for an adult party can be even more fun than planning a kid-centric event. Here are a few of our favorite themes. You can keep the decorations to a minimum, as long as the atmosphere nails the overall tone you have in mind.
This one might be an oldie, but it’s a goodie. Light some tiki torches, stock the bar with plenty of rum, and encourage invitees to wear sarongs, grass skirts, coconut bras—you get the idea. If you can find it, try to get your hands on a supply of POG juice—an irresistible blend of passionfruit, orange, and guava juices. Not only is it a great mixer, it also makes an appealing chemical-free alternative for any designated drivers and teetotalers in the crowd.
Wine, prosecco, and Campari soda are the cocktails of choice for this upscale theme. Invite guests for late afternoon, when the sun will be setting over your “village.” Set out nibbles like fire-roasted tomato bruschetta, arancini, and fresh mozzarella layered with prosciutto and basil. A word of caution: Try to keep the snacking station well away from the pool. This is good advice to follow no matter which theme you choose.
Think surfboard props, beach balls, poolside volleyball, and a mini replica of the Hollywood sign. Fill coolers with beer from famed Golden State brewers such as Anchor Brewing in San Francisco or our personal favorite, Lagunitas Brewing up in Petaluma, CA. You can also offer wines from your favorite California vineyards, and even organize a tasting if the mood seems amenable. Keep the color scheme muted, with tan and aqua shades to evoke sand and surf.
New England Seafood Feast
You don’t have to dig an old-fashioned clambake pit to enjoy this retro backdrop. Offer shrimp cocktail, fresh steamers, and oysters on the half-shell. If you want to get really fancy, steam up some live lobsters and serve with plenty of melted butter and warm rolls. Don’t forget the Cape Cod potato chips. For the décor, think whitewashed anchors, starfish, buoys, and wooden lanterns. Chilled dry martinis made from Maine potato vodka would be a good way to keep everybody’s whistles wet. For a less potent alternative, add cranberry juice to the vodka instead.
The Old Swimmin’ Hole
This is an amazing option if you have a waterslide installed, but it can work even with a standard pool setup. Put up signs directing visitors to your “secret” swimming hole. Decorate the perimeter with faux rope swings and wooden planks to approximate an old dock. Have plenty of cold beer and soda on hand and invite guests to laze about on floats while they sip their frosty beverages. When everyone has had their fill of the water, set up an ice cream sundae bar with a variety of flavors and toppings.
Tips for Setting Up a Hip Poolside Bar
Even if you decide to forgo a particular theme, you’ll want to go all-out on the bar for your adult-centric pool party.
You don’t have to have a fancy outdoor kitchen or pool house to set up a cool bar area. All you need is a sense of creativity; a way to keep your ice from melting too fast; and plenty of beer, wine, and/or liquor.
- Set up a bar area with weighted stools along the edge of the shallow section of your inground pool to create a “swim-up” bar effect.
- If you have a tall (or “high-top”) bistro table with stools, set it up next to your above-ground pool. Put the stools together so that the surface resembles a miniature bar. Encourage the effect by adding coasters and a small tray of bar snacks.
- Fill coolers with ice and keep them in a shady spot so you’ll always have a fresh supply for mixing cocktails. Make sure you have other coolers on hand where people can store their beer and white wine, especially if your event is BYOB.
- Don’t allow glass containers around the pool. Use plastic bottles for liquor and use canned beer if your preferred brands have that option available. If not, pour bottled beer into plastic cups before allowing guests to enter the pool area. Likewise, all cocktails should be mixed in plastic cups. Have plastic flutes available for wine and champagne.
- Use a long, low table to store your hard liquor, drinking vessels, and garnishes. Position this makeshift bar close to a building or hedge, so that you can stand on one side and face the guests like a real barkeep. You can keep your ice coolers underneath it so you’ll have easy access to them while mixing cocktails.
- Decide how much alcohol you might need for your event, and then purchase double that amount. It’s better to be overprepared rather than to run out. A bonus is that you might end up with a head start in the alcohol department on your next gathering.
Best Pool Toys for Adults
Why should you let the kids have all the fun? There are plenty of pool toys that are just as appealing to adults—better still if there are no tykes around begging for a turn. Here are our top picks:
Other Useful Reminders
—Keep invitations casual. There’s no need to send out a formal written invite. Start a group text or email letting your friends know the time and date of the event (and the theme, if there is one). This will give the party a laid-back vibe before it’s even begun.
—Set up several different “tasting stations,” rather than one large buffet table. Pool areas can be difficult enough to navigate, especially when there are many people gathered in one place. This will spread out the action and encourage guests to mingle.
—Remember that wet bathing suits can get quite uncomfortable once the sun goes down. If your party is expected to extend beyond daylight hours, make sure you’ve provided your guests with a comfortable and private place to change clothes. You should also make sure there are plenty of towels and cover-ups nearby.
—Never be tempted to keep extension cords near the pool. You can come up with other ways to add music to the mix, without putting you and your guests at risk of electric shock.
—Don’t allow guests to charge their phones in the pool area. Let them know where they can plug in their devices inside the house, instead.
—Keep an eye out for any rowdy behavior, and don’t allow anyone to start pushing or horsing around in the pool area. Even if it’s all in good fun, you’re dealing with a lot of wet concrete and sharp edges, not to mention a body of water.
Pool Party Planning: A Step-By-Step Primer
We get it—this is a lot of information to take in at once. To help ensure that you don’t forget anything when the time comes, we’ve provided this handy step-by-step guide to throwing the perfect pool party.
Three Weeks in Advance
- Determine the date, time, and theme of your event.
- Draft a guest list. Now would be a good time to determine whether your party will be geared toward the kiddies or be more of an adult-oriented fiesta.
- Send out your virtual invitations. As people begin to respond, you’ll get a feel for how many guests you’ll be hosting.
Two Weeks in Advance
- Begin stocking up on non-perishable essentials such as sunscreen, towels, and pool toys.
- Plan your menu and cocktail list. Make detailed shopping lists, scouring recipes to make sure you don’t leave out any essential ingredients. We like to start by listing everything we’ll need for each drink or dish, then go through the kitchen and check off any ingredients that we already have on hand. If you’re not sure whether you’ll use a certain ingredient up before party time, make a note next to it and check again before your major shopping haul.
- Plan out any organized events like treasure hunts or trivia contests.
- Create a killer playlist on your smartphone or smart home device.
One Week in Advance
- Follow up with invitees to see who’s in and who’s out.
- Shop for groceries and beverage supplies. If time allows, you might want to break this up into several smaller trips to avoid sticker shock.
- Work on creating any props or special lighting that you’ll need to suit your theme.
- Check the weather forecast to make sure your party is still a go and reschedule if things look discouraging.
Two Days in Advance
- Do as much advance prep as you can for your menu and bar setup. If you’re a creative bar chef and want to make your own infused syrups and shrubs for the mixed drinks, do it now so you’ll be more relaxed when the big day is here.
- Make sure the pool and the surrounding area are sparkling clean.
- Reach out again to everyone who’s responded to let them know how psyched you are for the hangout.
One Day in Advance
- If you’re looking at a dry forecast, feel free to set out any props and furniture the night before.
- Blow up your inflatables and store them in a safe place. Don’t keep them out in the pool area or they might blow away or suffer damage from curious nocturnal animals.
- Go over your menu and plan a timeline to make sure everything will be ready when guests arrive. We also like to make sure we have enough appropriate serving dishes to accommodate all the menu items. You don’t want to be scrambling for a large enough platter when your crostini are ready to be served.
One Hour in Advance
Put any finishing touches on menu items and set out any dips or other appetizers, as long as they won’t suffer from a little time in the sun. If you’re serving anything that needs to be consumed in short order, wait until most or all of the guests have arrived before trotting out those dishes.
Bring out any inflatables and pool toys and arrange them so they look inviting.
Set up your bar with ice, beer, wine, liquor, mixers, garnishes, and drinking vessels.
Don’t forget the cocktail napkins. Anchor them with a prop or a heavy paperweight. Even a large stone can do the trick, as long as it doesn’t upset your theme.
Change into your swimsuit or other poolside apparel.
Crank up the tunes and get ready to party!
No matter what type of party you’re planning, the bottom line is the same: Don’t allow yourself to get too stressed out. As long as you have enough food and cold beverages to go around, the festivities are sure to roll along steadily once the guests start to arrive. Organization is a good thing, but it should be approached with good humor rather than with an excess of nerves.
Speaking of which, it’s also imperative to exercise a degree of restraint if the adults are enjoying alcoholic beverages at a kid-centric party. By all means, have a good supply of hooch on hand but consider sticking with beer and wine, especially if it’s an afternoon event. One member of the household should be assigned the post of “designated safety attendant,” staying sober enough to keep an eye on the kids and other adults. This isn’t a matter of ruining anyone’s fun—it’s a safety measure intended to make your party a wonderful memory rather than a recipe for tragedy.
No matter how many pool parties we’ve put together, we’re always anxious for the next one. If you’re anything like us, you’ll be just as eager to hone your reputation as the hosts with the most—the most fun in the sun, that is. Cheers!