3. Be ORGANIZED. I use a spread sheet to plan my parties. Neurotic? Maybe. But it definitely helps me keep track of supplies that need to be purchased, things I need to DIY, and I even create a to do list for the week before the party. IE: what to bake on what day....etc.
5. Details...a spectacular party always has the best details...the little things like cute labels...a special presentation of a simple item....ribbon wrapped around utensils....I like to mentally "walk" through what I imagine the party will look like and think about what I could add to make it more special. I think these little details make all the difference!
When all the guests arrive, I try to get them all together and take a picture (I like to do it early, so everyone still looks nice and clean). I then use this photo on our "Thank You" cards. It works great for kids parties if you also include a picture of the child blowing out the candles (I love those shots, don't you - where the glow of the candles is on their face?) These days, I have used the walmart photo printing for the "Thank You" cards - they have a collage feature where I can take a few pictures from the party and add a "Thank You" caption and that works well... I like the personal touch, so I still make the kids add personal thank you's for the specific gift they received, but I love visiting and seeing the collage on people's refrigerators!
A friend of ours took their son's graduation photo, added a "Thank You", and everyone attending the graduation party took one instead of sending out individual "thank you's." As I mentioned above, I believe in the written thank you, but if it is this or nothing, this is better than nothing!
As far as the "planning" part, some themes we've done are:
2. Pirate Party - The invitations included a "pirate map" (found online). At the party there were eye patches for everyone and lots of red and black. But the funnest part was a "treasure map" where the children each had to collect a clue to find the treasure.
If only I'd done this series BEFORE my kids' birthdays...