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An Illustrated Guide to Throwing the Perfect Nautical Themed Birthday Party

Updated on November 2, 2012

30th Birthday

My sister’s boyfriend, Eric, was about to turn 30. “I want to throw him a surprise party!” she would say all too excitedly for months leading up to his birthday. “Ok, Danielle.” I would mutter, annoyed…geesh, it was still so far away. “Take it easy,” I wanted to tell her, “We have time!” Talk about being overly eager. But she was excited and darn her, her enthusiasm soon became contagious. I, too, started to get the party planning bug.

Developing a Theme

Take one step into Eric’s house and you will know exactly what he lives for and what he’s passionate about. Anchors, shells, large model sail boats, whites and blues, are found all over his home. His décor is simple but tasteful, and one thing remains painstakingly obvious; he has a love for the sea. Naturally and very easily, a theme for the party was selected; we would go nautical!

We quickly began searching the internet for nautical themed parties. Scanning Pinterest and Google, as I do for everything, I looked for some killer party planning ideas. We used keyword searches such as: nautical party, nautical theme, nautical décor, nautical food, nautical invitations; we tried literally any keyword combinations with…you guessed it, nautical. By reviewing an onslaught of pictures, my sister soon decided on a color scheme that she liked: red, yellow, blue, and white.

It is important when throwing a party to first choose a theme and then a color scheme. These two sets of criteria will serve as a template of sorts, for which you can adhere to when shopping and planning. Having clearly set guidelines for what you want and what you expect everything to look like will help to add a designer element to any event. Everything will pair nicely together, looking well organized and well thought out.

The Save the Date I made in Microsoft Publisher
The Save the Date I made in Microsoft Publisher

Invitations/Save the Date

Next up was the invitations. She decided to use Facebook as the distribution hub for her invites, as she would have ready access to all the people she wanted to invite, would be able to track the status of her guest list, and would have instantaneous exposure to her guests. Not to mention, Facebook event invites are free and simple to set up.

However, she still wanted the classic “Save the Date” type set up even though she was using Facebook. This was an adult party, after all. And so, in Microsoft Publisher, I made her that classic Save the Date she was looking for, which she used as the image for the event on Facebook.

I am no expert when it comes to graphic design and utilizing Publisher, but if you search around and find a few formats you like, you can play around and try to replicate a combination of style ideas. And play I did. It didn't take me long, but I did have to utilize some creativity and problem solving when getting the look I wanted while not really knowing how to use the program to its full potential.

Event Timeline

When planning a party it is easy to get overwhelmed by all the details. You have to organize a "punch list" that illustrates what you want to accomplish and when each item needs to be executed. By doing this you reduce the risk of forgetting what needs to be done, you do things in a time appropriate manner, and you are able to prioritize more effectively.

Danielle and I first discussed what she wanted for the party. There would be decorations, food, music, tents, chairs and tables, all of which we needed to finalize. So, we sat down and ran through exactly what needed to be done and when. Once decisions were made, Danielle developed a quick but concise to-do list. This list developed overtime as we thought of new things we wanted to incorporate.

Food Selection

In order to develop that To-Do List we needed to decide on food. When planning a party you have to be realistic. Danielle expected attendance of 40-50 people and, in order to keep cost down, she wanted to personally cook a full dinner, desserts, and hor d'oeuvres for everyone. It was at this point that I told her her plan was ludicrous! After buying all of the ingredients, heating the the ovens for hours and hours, and the overall value of her own time, it just wasn't worth it to prepare and cook EVERYTHING! Instead, i told her to make food items that she was really excited about, such as small and easy to put together side dishes and desserts. Dinner, I told her, should be left to the professionals.

When ordering prepared food for your party, don't neglect to use suggestions from friends/family/coworkers, etc. One of my friends told me that a local barbecue restaurant had amazing food, great prices, and had extensive experience with catering parties. I shared this suggestion with Danielle and she ran with it.

When calling a restaurant or catering company, don't be afraid to ask questions and ask for suggestions. This is their business and they have extensive knowledge about party planning. So she called, and instead of asking for the party to be catered, she opted for the more inexpensive option of ordering large quantities for takeout. This is a great way to save some money. Whatever you can do on your own will reduce the cost of having others do for you. Therefore, she called and told them how many people were attending, what kind of foods she definitely wanted, asked what dishes were most popular for her to order additionally and how much to order of each. She then gave them a time frame of when she needed the food ready for pickup. When ordering large quantities of food for a party, be sure to call well in advance. Danielle called the restaurant 3 weeks prior to the party. Then, as time draws near, be sure to call and confirm that your order will be ready for the premeditated time.

Dessert Table


Danielle really loved the idea of having nautical cupcakes. She wanted the frosting to be blue in order to represent the ocean, and then she wanted to top each cupcake with a chocolate sailboat or anchor that she would make from molds. After some searching, she found chocolate molds on Amazon. She then bought colored chocolate melts at a local craft store in their baking section. The result of her hard work can be viewed below.

I have provided links below the picture for the chocolate molds she purchased.

Devil's Food Cake Cupcakes with Almond Flavored Butter-Cream Frosting.
Devil's Food Cake Cupcakes with Almond Flavored Butter-Cream Frosting.


Danielle next wanted to make sand dollar cookies, which is an idea she came up with from Pinterest. For these cookies she bought sugar cookie, pre-made dough and slivered almonds. She laid the dough out on a cookie tray as directed on the package. She then placed five slivered almonds on top of the dough, pressing down gently, in a star-like pattern. These cookies are shown below.

Sand dollar cookies
Sand dollar cookies

Chocolate Covered Pretzel Sticks

Danielle happened to luck out when shopping for ingredients to make chocolate covered pretzel sticks. The grocery store had individual tubs of sprinkles according to color. She was able to pick up exactly what colors she wanted to fit her theme: yellow, red, and blue. The white, she decided, would be represented by the white chocolate she would dip the pretzel sticks in.

She simply melted white chocolate over a double boiler, stirring constantly to ensure proper consistency and to reduce the risk of carelessly burning the chocolate. Once the chocolate was melted she dipped a pretzel stick into the chocolate about three-fourths of the length of the stick. She then rolled the chocolate length of the stick into a plate of already color mixed sprinkles. She then placed the completed stick onto a baking sheet lined with wax paper for cooling. She continued this process until she ran out of pretzel sticks.

Cheese Cake

For the party, my mom wanted to make her famously delicious cheese cake. Sticking with the nautical theme, she wanted to make an anchor design out of berries to top the cheese cake with. I went online and found an image of an anchor that I liked. I then printed the image to the dimensions of the cheese cake. My mother then cut out the anchor and laid it gently on top of the cake. Carefully, she used the tip of a knife and traced the outline of the anchor. She did not push down heavily with the knife, she only used enough pressure to make a tiny indentation that would serve as her template to lay the berries. Once she traced entirely around the anchor she removed the paper cutout. Then, she carefully lined the inside space of the anchor with fresh raspberries and then filled the rest of the space on the cake with hand placed blueberries.

Berry Anchor Cheese Cake
Berry Anchor Cheese Cake
Sail boat jello shots
Sail boat jello shots | Source

Jello Shots

My sister couldn't just have food at this party, she needed some feel-good alcoholic beverages to slosh every thing down. On top of buying a multitude of alcohol and mixers and making a mean sangria, she also wanted some nautical themed jello shots. You can't go wrong with these sail boat jello shots, featured to the right. For instructions on how to make them, visit:

For these fun shots, she she purchased clear plastic shooter glasses and bamboo knotted cocktail sticks off of Amazon. The links to these items are featured below.


Aside from the food, Danielle needed to focus on decorations. The Christmas Tree Shop was great for finding nautical themed knickknacks. Here she found red and blue miniature lanterns which served as a center piece at every table, nautical picture frames that Danielle used to display Eric's baby photos, miniature white starfish that she spread around on the buffet table area, and sea horse cheese knives to use for the antipasti platter. Danielle also picked up red napkins, plates and cutlery from here, along with some inexpensive martini glasses which she later filled with red and blue candy. Many of these items she displayed on the front door, entry table, which served as a nice focal point for welcoming guests.

Decorated Entry Table
Decorated Entry Table

At each table, Danielle had a set of three items that served as the centerpiece. A potted plant, which she adhered sailor designed ribbon to, a blue candle which was lit when the sun began to set, and a miniature, blue or red lantern. Each table was set with a cutlery set, which consisted of a fork, knife, and spoon wrapped in a napkin and fastened closed with a ribbon. The ribbon she had cut to size and sealed into a napkin ring with a glue gun. I apologize for the picture, it was the best one I took that day.

A lot of work went into the party but all of the details weren't overlooked. Everyone was extremely impressed with the time, effort, and outcome, and no one seemed to be short of compliments. The guests raved about the food, drinks, and decoration, all of which far exceeded their expectations. The pairing of detail-oriented and upscale decorations with grassroots games like beer pong and flip cup really helped to balance out the atmosphere of the night. It was grown adult meets fun and carefree. Overall, Danielle did a wonderful job of throwing the party. Eric was thrilled and completely surprised!

#nautical #themed #party #nauticaltheme #decorative #decorations #food #sweets #cupcakes #nauticalcupcakes #sailboats #redyellowblue #sanddollarcookies #anchor


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