As the world emerges from the cocoon we’ve been living in for the past two years, one thing is certain: kids just wanna have fun again!

It’s a new time for all of us, and while the obvious places designed to delight children have all reopened to massive crowds and long lines, many parents are reconsidering exactly how to give their kids a unique entertainment experience that will resonate with them long after the immediate fun is over.

The play space has transformed over these years of isolation, too, as young children’s perceptions of having a playdate or party has often narrowed to just a few close friends, rather than a huge crowd. For some, returning to the “old normal” in a theme park or other typical summer celebrations might even be a bit overwhelming.

Recent studies are showing that anxiety and stress are part of children’s emotional reality in 2022 as a result of the changes the pandemic wrought; reducing those feelings is the key to getting kids back on track to leading happy, creative, unencumbered lives.

So in the midst of this “new normal,” how can we as parents carve out ways for our children to get back into the swing of finding the magic in the world around them?

One way is to ease youngsters into imaginative play, either by having a special experience alone or together with just a few friends. Creating a full fantasy experience for a birthday celebration has been common for many years, but since the pandemic there’s a new wrinkle in the way children can live out a magical fairy tale adventure.

Companies like Newport Beach-based Once Upon an Island host full-of-fun events for one single child – or up to 18 kids – in their Balboa Island party-central hotspot. The company specializes in creating immersive experiences there, including Mermaid Transformations, Princess Transformations and Pirate Transformations, helping each child to be transported into a whole new world. 

The experience begins as kids visit their “Jellyfish Salon”, and join a costumed character (who is dressed as princess, mermaid or pirate) who creates a world of dress-up and a special, glitter-filled hair, makeup and nail metamorphosis for each child. Each experience is centered around their favorite storyline, with different costumes, looks and play. Then it’s off to a tea party and time for photos to remember the day. This all-encompassing event can even include a beach lagoon visit for the ultimate mermaid expedition to the sea. They even offer a popular Mermaid Academy Summer Camp that lasts for five days!

Parents can provide these fantastical flights of fancy as a one-on-one experience, for their child and a few friends or even for a large group of kids. No matter the number of children included, each gets individual attention in a totally stress-free environment. Imagination runs free at these unique happenings and happiness bubbles over in laughter and delight. There’s no need to wait for a birthday, either, as Once Upon an Island is open every day of the week by appointment.